Roll For Initiative: How Dungeons & Dragons Helps Castle Rock Teens Cope With Real-Life Stress

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Natasha Watts/CPR News
Mult-sided dice line the table at a Roll Play Lead game held in Castle Rock.

On Tuesday nights, you’ll find a half dozen teenagers behind Castle Rock’s rec center. No, they’re not vaping Juuls or spraying graffiti. Dice are involved, but they’re not gambling.

They’re playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Every week, Jamie Flecknoe leads this group through a three-hour session of tabletop role-playing. They roll dice, check statistics and voice characters on an epic fantasy journey that exists only in their minds. The Tuesday group has been with Flecknoe since she started her company in the summer of 2019. She now leads three other classes between Castle Rock and Littleton.

Flecknoe has a master’s degree in leadership development. After stints teaching at a technical school and volunteering with kids who have sensory processing disorder, she embraced her inner nerd and started Roll Play Lead.

Natasha Watts/CPR News
Dungeon Master Jamie Flecknoe leads one of her Roll Play Lead games in Castle Rock.

“When you role-play a character, it gives you this really awesome opportunity to be different…” Flecknoe said. “Maybe you have really bad social anxiety and can’t talk to people. Well, now you have this really cool character who can.”

Many actions in Dungeons & Dragons require a roll of the dice to determine whether you succeed. Flecknoe says this teaches kids how to manage frustration when life doesn’t go their way. If they roll low, their character might fall into a trap they didn’t notice. A real-life parallel would be getting distracted while taking a test and faring poorly as a result.

As Dungeon Master, Flecknoe creates the adventures and people that participants encounter along the way. She uses a standard story beginning for each group, but after that, the gameplay is shaped by members of the adventuring party.

Often, Flecknoe will guide the story to address issues a member faces at school or at home.

“Under the guise of Dungeons & Dragons, many of the events go unnoticed as teaching moments and become obstacles the group has to face together,” she said.

Natasha Watts/CPR News
Dungeons & Dragons creatures at a Roll Play Lead game in Castle Rock.

Flecknoe is no stranger to the kind of struggles these teens face. She experienced PTSD and anxiety as a teenager that manifested as full-blown temper tantrums. She calls it her “Incredible Hulk Syndrome.” Now that she’s learned coping mechanisms, Flecknoe passes them on to her students. A few will often stay after class to ask for advice or just to chat with a friendly face.

Step-siblings Ella Reinier and Roland Chodera both attend the Tuesday session. Roland said they used to be so shy they only spoke to each other during sessions. Now, they’re excited to come to class and be with friends who share their passion for Dungeons & Dragons.

“It’s a safe place to talk about things happening at school or happening at home,” Roland said, “and you know that people won’t judge you.”

Joining the group helped their sibling relationship, too. The pair used to fight a lot, but Roland said the class has given them something to bond over.

Natasha Watts/CPR News
Step siblings Ella Reinier and Roland Chodera.

Cooper Raymond is another Tuesday night attendee. He said that playing Dungeons & Dragons has helped him be more patient.

“When things aren’t done correctly I get frustrated really easily, and I want to go over and show them how to do it,” he said. “But I need to let people figure it out on their own. . . Doing it yourself is the best way to learn.”

During class, Flecknoe enforces a no-phones rule. Unless it’s their mid-session break, the teens aren’t allowed to use any electronics.

Cooper is a fan of the rule. “I’m very happy when I play D&D because now I’m not looking at a screen. I’m looking at paper and dice and figurines, and that’s something I get very excited about.”