If you follow me on social media, you have inevitably seen me talk about living and thriving with ADHD. I’ll share my story about how I got to my diagnosis another time, maybe. If I remember and feel like it. But this is about how ADHD affects me at the table. And I guess more to the point, how it affects others. Please keep in mind that these are tips and tricks that work for me specifically and are not meant to take the place of talking to your own players or self advocating for your own needs. I am not currently a licensed mental health specialist or a medical doctor. The tips below are from my own experience as a person who is diagnosed with ADHD. Below are some challenges that I face when sitting down to a TTRPG session and how I work through them.
Note: The idea for this article was presented in November 2020. It is April 2021 as I start this and the publish date isn’t until June (I now moved it to August as other topics are more enjoyable for me to write about).
Notetaking. If I have to go digging for information, it might as well not exist. So I need to be able to sort through what is and isn’t important, what might be important, what seems like a plot hook and a dead end as fast as my brain can! Which obviously isn’t possible! What is possible is organizing my thoughts. Depending on the DM and how long term the campaign is has a huge effect on how detailed my notes are. Kait’s campaigns, I have a binder full of information with carefully curated tabs. I play a College of Lore Bard and read every book my character comes across in that world. It makes sense. J’s campaign started as a one shot. I have just a sheet of paper at first. As it has grown, I have a section of a notebook I use. And for Rory’s campaign, I knew political intrigue was going to be a big part, so I purchased a ready made campaign notebook. Know thyself is my advice!
Fidgeting. You know what sounds awful? The sound of someone’s falling dice tower as someone is deep within RP. You know what else is terrible? The sound of a pencil tapping being picked up as the dominant sound on a mic. Fidgeting may not be in my control but what I fidget is! I have picked up some soundless fidgets for myself and keep them by my character sheet when I play. Whenever I am about to make a dice tower, I pick up one of those instead. It’s just polite to my fellow players and still lets me move around.
Recalling details. It can be very difficult for me to remember fine details of some of the story threads. Luckily, I have shared the table with some very respectful people. Even if I don’t remember something, I am able to ask the DM if my character would remember it. This is such an empowering thing that my friends are able to do for me. It does require a bit of self awareness though. I can’t just ask “What do I remember” and expect to be given all of the answers. I can ask “I know my character met this person previously. Can you remind me of their name?”
Doodling/Daydreaming. Activities that got me in trouble in grade school are just a part of my regular daily routine. I am going to doodle. I am going to stare off in space. This doesn’t mean I am not paying attention. This one is pretty simple though. As you get to know a new group, it’s really easy to just tell them you doodle.
Session 0! I will never stop preaching about the importance of Session 0! What a great time to let your table know your habits and get to know theirs. This is a perfect time to let your players know what your needs are. For me, I typically let people know that just because I don’t look focused on the outside, doesn’t mean that I am not paying attention. It’s just a courtesy I give myself and helps the rest of the table know I am not ignoring them.
So there you are, my advice on working through ADHD at the gaming table. I hope some of my tips and tricks will help open the world of TTRPG to you. What advice do you have for others? What helps keep your focus at the table?
Final Note: If you suspect that you may have ADHD, I recommend reaching out to your doctor or mental health professional for more information on how to safely and correctly get in contact with resources that can assist. I am fortunate to have had access to learning disabilities testing through my college. While testing costs can be prohibitive for some, many colleges offer free or reduced testing costs to students and/or the community.