In many gaming circles, especially if participants are underage, alcohol is not served or imbibed, so it is a non-issue.(Coffee, Cherry Coke Zero, Mountain Dew, tea, or water will work just fine.) However, there are other gaming circles that meet in bars, cons, darkened basements, or restaurants where people may or may not enjoy that frosty mug, a glass of wine, or a spirit.
Imagine this scenario: you are participating in Dry January, Sober October, or becoming sober on a more, let’s say, permanent basis. You may be giving up alcohol for Lent or for another spiritual observance. Or you want to pay more attention to your health and fitness. You still want to participate in RPGs and other gaming activities. How do you navigate the social aspects of gaming groups and gatherings without drinking and without people asking about it?
In this article, I will share my journey with gaming before sobriety, and then discuss and provide tips on not partaking. (For those of you over 21 who drink socially, this is by no means an anti-drinking article. Carry on and Cheers!)
Drinking and Gaming
I started travelling to Indianapolis to Gen Con with my husband, Steve, back in 2010. We met up with friends, participated in gaming sessions, and I would sometimes attend the Writer’s Workshops. Meeting for dinners in Downtown Indy was always a treat.
Until recently, I didn’t notice that wine remained a constant companion, and I would indulge in several glasses of wine late into the evenings. Cabernet was my BFF. I didn’t think anything of it. Drinking was part of the experience. Every year, we would do the same thing, rinse and repeat. I’ve lost count of the number of glasses of wine I’ve had in the past ten plus years. If alcoholism was a class in D&D 5e, it would be a high-level rogue assassin, both stealthy and deadly, for me.
Fast forward to March 2020, around St. Patrick’s Day, when the world shut down due to the pandemic. To distract us from the fear of the outside world and of this unknown plague, our group started a campaign in April 2020 via Zoom. The game provided us a respite while we were sequestered to our homes. Right next to my gaming sheet and dice bag was—you got it—a full glass of wine. I was drinking. A lot.
My character, Veara, a rogue assassin that I have mentioned in a previous article, tended to be angry and combative in our game. I remember drinking while playing, numbing out, and trying to forget what was happening in real life.
The wine drinking eventually caught up with me, and on September 17, 2020, after a sobering diagnosis of AFLD (Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease), I was scared into abstinence. I put away the wine glass for good and joined AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).
At this writing, I am over a year and a half sober and pleased to report that the liver damage is reversed. During the difficult journey in sobriety, Veara emerged into a better character, and I became a better player. In fact, I was able start with a new character named Thia.
In 2021, Gen Con was held later in September. The “soberversary” date happened during the time. So, Steve and I invited our core group of friends, and at midnight, we celebrated with donuts. (Note to self: don’t eat sugared donuts in a black t-shirt. Trust me. It’s not pretty.) I celebrated the con as a newly sober gamer.
If you are cutting back or in recovery, here are some tips to help you navigate sobriety in a gaming setting:
- Have a list of numbers programmed in your phone in case you need to call someone. Gaming groups or DMs are not equipped to counsel you during a campaign but do share with a trusted clergy, therapist, friend, or family member who can provide guidance if you are struggling. Again, planning is ideal.
- Please do not expect others to stop drinking around you because you are not. (This was a hard lesson to swallow.) Have some beverages in hand: coffee, soda pop, tea, or water are my staples. There are also nonalcoholic beer and wine you can purchase and bring to games.
- If you are gaming in a bar or restaurant, it helps to sit at the end of the table in case you have to leave the table to take a break without being disruptive. (Be sure to communicate with your DM beforehand.)
- If you are out of town at a con, consider attending meetings in-person or on Zoom, especially during times you are not gaming and are tempted to drink. (Happy Hour comes to mind.)
- If the drinking in your gaming group interferes with your sobriety, you may want to consider joining a group that does not partake during the game. Or, if possible, check with your DM to see if you can Zoom in so you have some distance.
- Sometimes you may feel pressure from family or close friends to partake and it can be hard to say no. A good comeback is to tell them that you are allergic. (If you are an alcoholic, that is not a fib.) You can always say you are cutting back for health reasons, or you can offer to be the designated driver. A simple no thank-you will suffice. No one, even family, has the right to make you feel uncomfortable about your preferences, especially in sobriety. Protect yourself
- There are sober groups out there, but Alcoholics Anonymous is the one I am affiliated with: https://www.aa.org/
I have shared my story about drinking and gaming, entering sobriety, and provided tips on navigating sobriety at a con or another group setting. I hope this will help you or someone you care about in the gaming world who struggles with sobriety or just wants to cut back. As a DM or a PC, what are your experiences in the gaming group?
The impact of players consuming alcohol during the game is an important issue that I’ve seen almost no discussion of before. Thank you for raising it here, Lori.
I’ve seen how alcohol affects RPGs– and generally for the worse— through my own actions and those of others at the table. For my own self I know that while one drink helps me loosen up and get into the flow of the game, a second drink slows my creativity and blunts my attention to detail too much. That’s certainly a challenge as a GM. When I’m a player often that second drink is fine and it’s the third drink that becomes of tipping point between “having fun” and actually making the game less fun– for my fellow players if not for myself.
It’s through seeing fellow players drink too much during the game that I’ve tightened my own limits on how much I think it’s appropriate that I drink. Inebriated players become, basically, unserious players. “How seriously do we take this game?” is a question I always raise in Session Zeros. If one person wants to play it for maximum short-term laughs and absurdist fantasy and refuses to pay attention to things like roleplaying a character consistently or what just happened in the game 5 minutes ago– e.g., “That guy’s annoying, I’ll whack him with my hammer./Dude, he just introduced himself as the mayor!”– that’s a huge conflict for everyone else who didn’t sign up to play in that style.
Discussing alcohol (and other intoxicants) should be part of Session Zero. Groups should discuss acceptable limits on social drinking during the game and what reasonable remedies will be applied when someone exceeds those limits and harms the game.
Hello! Thank you so much for your kind words. I like that you brought up the term Session Zero, as I’ve not heard of that phrase.
I’ve always found it hard to cut back on alchohol. I love how I feel after a few weeks without it (more alert, less anxious, motivated, etc) but my social life takes a massive dip.
I’m a pretty introverted guty and just I don’t enjoy role-playing and social events as much when I’m dry. I’ve been trying to strike a balance but social drinking can quickly turn into problem drinking on a bad day
Thank you so much for writing and I commend you for your courage to share your story with us.
If you feel that you can’t stop at one drink, I recommend attending an AA meeting just to check it out. You don’t have to commit to anything, you don’t have to say anything, you can opt just to listen. In fact, on Zoom, you don’t even have to show yourself on video. There are both Zoom meetings and in-person meetings. I promise you, the connection helps with the feelings of isolation and aloneness, which is one of the reasons why we drink.
The website for AA.org is https://www.aa.org/. You are not alone. 🙂
My return to D&D after a three decade absence came in my then step-son’s game. He was in recovery (still is) as was everyone else at his table. I had asked to just sit in and see “5e in action” since I’d been an old AD&D DM. I enjoyed a beer or two back when I played (over a 6 hour session) so I came to his game with a different history. It’s a GREAT table. They’re supportive. They’re a community. And their games are sharp.
When I started running a game again (couple years back) my Session 0 includes a no mind altering substance policy with the exception of caffeine. Ah the healing power of TTRPG
Thank you so much for commenting! It makes my heart happy to hear that your step-son is in recovery and doing well. I love the sober gaming circle. What a terrific idea to have recovery/RPG groups. It is important that expectations are clear about what substances are prohibited or permitted. I think open communication is the key so everyone is comfortable and there are no surprises.