Most people know me as Mickayla. To family, I'm Kayla or Kay. But to a select few, I'm also known as tiefling druid Leilani, an unassuming tank of a girl with a flying cat companion.
For the uninitiated, I'm talking about Dungeons & Dragons, the tabletop role-playing game that started in the '70s and has been bringing nerds together ever since.
In late March, my friend's partner wanted to start a campaign as a means of staying connected when social distancing was a new thing. I didn't know anything about D&D, but the dungeon master (the person who runs the campaign) was more than gracious with his time and patience.
Before I could think too much about it, my character Leilani quickly became a vessel for me to express myself and make friends in this made-up world.
She's a tiefling druid — tiefling being her race, which is kind of a human-esque fiend, and a druid being her class, which means she feels at home with nature and its bounties.
Playing as Leilani allowed me to interact with other players effortlessly, as these were mostly strangers and in-real-life Mickayla gets nervous with new people. When playing, I'm equal parts Leilani and Mickayla, this interwoven being that basically acts as my ideal self.
And these strangers — now some of my closest friends — were amalgamations of both themselves and their characters.
Arah is a sweet, loving and charitable character; Ax is smart beyond their years, the brains behind the missions; Rurigrim is the protector of the group; Lo Kag is a barbarian with a heart of gold; Anira is the group's firey thief; and Jebadiah is a moody former detective. And most of these characters' best qualities are ones their players also share.
In the early days of the pandemic, this real, human connection was essential for survival. The campaign fed the flames that would forge several new, beautiful friendships in a time where social time with friends was a delicacy.
The dungeon master, who is now one of my best friends, creates more of his fantasy world for us to explore every week. He artfully curates plot points to his characters, and frequently goes out of his way to add small things in the campaign for each person to enjoy. Any time it's someone's birthday, he makes sure their character gets a dedicated, day-long event to celebrate.
Every Friday since last March, we've all gathered over voice chat on Discord, a website where one can host different groups and do voice and video calls and messaging.
Some people have left the campaign and others have joined, but the group as a unit never changed.
Together, we've explored haunted houses, made our way through several dungeons, tackled big bosses and saved villages. Through Leilani, I've lived many lives and have worn many different hats.
And when our characters aren't trying to save the world, we, the players, are in group chats, daydreaming about events or talking about real-world struggles.
We host game nights and hang out virtually, even when we're not playing as our characters. We've gotten each other through breakups, bad work experiences, friendships ending and other incredibly human moments.
But, we've also relished in accomplishments, an engagement, recovery from COVID-19, and many other beautiful life events together.
The pandemic has brought an incomprehensible amount of grief and distress to the world, but there have also been glimmering moments in the darkness. For me, perhaps, the brightest shining moment is a made-up world that I get to immerse myself in every week.
Because when life is too hard to handle on your own, it's much easier to be a spellcasting nature lady.
Mickayla Miller is a website producer for LNP | LancasterOnline. “Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.