Dungeons & Dragons and the deaf community

Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome! Today I just want to chat a little about Dungeons & Dragons, and the almost nonexistent relationship it has with the deaf community. This is somewhat based on a Thursday Thoughts video I did a while ago for my Patrons, but that was completely unscripted. For this video, I’m planning it a bit more and making my thoughts more coherent. Also, just to be clear, I’m talking about the original roleplaying D&D, not the spin-off games like Lords of Waterdeep, Dragonfire, and such.

In case you’re not really familiar with D&D, here’s a quick intro. At its core, it’s a collaborative storytelling game. You have the Dungeon or Game Master, often abbreviated to DM or GM, and Player Characters, PCs for short. The DM is responsible for the world and lore, encounters which is where the PCs fight monsters, baddies, and such. The DM also takes on the role of all the non-player characters, NPCs, like the townspeople, other adventurers, villains, creatures, etc. The PCs are the ones who move the story along, decide on what they want to do in this world. Yeah, there can be a bit of dice rolling, but it’s always up to the table for what style of play they want. Roleplay-heavy, combat-heavy, a mix of both, gritty or light, the possibilities are endless. So what is my background in D&D anyway? I have none. In all seriousness, of course I knew about D&D growing up. It’s everywhere in pop culture, movies, TV shows, and such. But I’ve never actually played myself, mostly because no one around me did and it never really occurred to me that it would be something I’d want to play.

Lately though, I’ve been kind of consumed by it. I blame NerdSync and his video about D&D, which I will link! Because of his video, I’ve been watching a lot of Dimension 20, a comedy-based D&D actual-play show on Dropout and YouTube, and their vodcast Adventuring Academy, where they talk about the ins and outs of D&D and tips, how to be a good Dungeon/Game Master, different styles of play, community, and a lot more. A lot of the earlier seasons are available on YouTube for free, and most are captioned. I decided to sign up for Dropout though, because I caught up on all the free episodes, there are some that will ever only be on Dropout, and it’s guaranteed there will be captions. Plus, it’s only $6 a month which is a great deal for all of the content they have on there! Quick detour for those who don’t know, Dropout is a subscription service under CollegeHumor, and all the shows on there are comedy, but also very adult so plenty of swearing, references to sex, and so on. AND completely ad-free. This isn’t sponsored, I just think they’re neat, that’s all.

ANYWAY, back to the topic of D&D! I think it’s quite unfortunate there aren’t many deaf people playing D&D visibly online, because I think our language is uniquely suited to this game. Before I go into that, I want to acknowledge that there are many reasons why there aren’t many deaf people playing in the first place. Access to knowledge of the game in the first place. It requires a group and someone willing to DM, which is already difficult for hearing people, so it’s even more difficult for deaf people to accomplish this. The information, like the DM’s Guide and Player’s Handbook, aren’t very accessible to many deaf people because it’s in dense English and not necessarily easy for people to understand if English isn’t their primary language. Many D&D actual plays are in podcast/audio form only which automatically excludes deaf people, and if a transcript is even provided, we come back to written English. And transcripts frequently lose a lot of the nuance that comes with seeing facial expressions, body language, and so on. So with that said, there are some people doing some streams. Check out Deaf Board Game Convention, I’ll link them below, they’ve been doing some streams for various games, including some D&D campaigns. There is also a Facebook group specifically for Deaf D&D, but I haven’t joined the group yet. While I was looking for deaf D&D groups, I also came across a couple of articles talking about it. Unfortunately, these articles are well over a couple years old and the social media accounts mentioned are defunct now. So there isn’t really anything recent apart from the Facebook groups which are somewhat active. Just want to point you to what I know about!

Now, why is ASL or any sign language suited for D&D? First of all, it’s obviously a visual language, and it is FANTASTIC for storytelling! There are some things that a DM could do or describe that’s just impossible to do in English. They could even describe things happening in slow motion or sped up. The possibilities are endless. Roleplaying is, in a way, literally built into our language. There’s a linguistic term: role-shifting. If we’re recounting a conversation we had with someone, we establish the sides of the conversation. When my shoulders and body is this way, I’m the one speaking. And now I’m saying what the other person said in our conversation by rotating my body. We also have other ways of shifting roles by changing our signing style to maybe match the other person, generalizing it into an attitude, mimicking the body language people had, changing facial expressions, and others. That’s a very simplified explanation, and the possibilities are truly varied. Of course, not everyone is a master storyteller—and you don’t have to be to play D&D!—but the fact that it’s already baked into the language gives us a boost.

I put up an informal survey on my Instagram stories, and interestingly, I got the same number of responses for people who did and who didn’t but were interested. Looking at who, there weren’t all that many deaf people who already do play but there are quite a few who want to. This doesn’t surprise me at all, and I really look forward to the day when there are a lot more deaf DMs out there and there’s more visibility for D&D in the deaf community!

Funny that I haven’t even played a single game of D&D myself, but I have quite a lot of thoughts about it!! Let me know in the comments if you play, or any thoughts you have about this. I’d also love to know of any resources you would recommend I take a look at!

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Published by Rogan Shannon

Hello there! I'm Rogan, a queer deaf guy who has a passion for leadership and advocacy. I create YouTube videos about a lot of different topics - being deaf, queer, reading, language, and whatever else interests me!

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