If I ask you to pretend to be drunk right now, you might try stumbling around the room like a marionette with half its strings cut. Or you might emulate the inebriate’s native language; the slow-drawl moist-lipped slur. Or, if you’re especially imaginative, you might act confused, like a geriatric with dementia waiting to be wheeled back into your room. These are the common signs of intoxication the media has embedded in our minds. These are the behaviors players will adopt if they check the “alcoholic” box on their character sheet’s list of flaws. And, without exception, these are wrong.
Not that drunks don’t slur, walk funny, or get confused. But these are the less-frequent yet over-represented symptoms of a greater disease. And if you want to play your character as accurately as possible, you have to know what kind of “drunk” you’re actually trying to emulate.
Note: Parts of this article will probably come off as glib or disrespectful toward those struggling with alcoholism. Although humor will be included, our intent is to educate readers on the realities of the types of alcoholism vs how it’s represented in pop-culture. Hopefully in doing so you will be better prepared to play an alcoholic, based on the 5 types of alcoholism as identified by the NIAAA.
1) Playing The Bombastic Frat-Boy Drunk
Identified as the Young Adult Subtype, this is your 20-25 year old party drinker. They don’t drink every day, but when the bottle hits their lips they’re committed to making the night as memorable (read: miserable) as possible for everyone around them.
In pop culture this is your power-guzzling, field-streaking, ping-ponging, beer-bonging, frat-boy drinker. In movies this type of drunk is played up for laughs, and they carry with them all the impaired motor functions we mentioned at the top of the article. They’re the first to tap the keg and the first to try tapping the waitress, and we see this misconception carried into tabletop gaming 100% of the time a player tries to “act drunk.”
This kind of character, in no way, would ever be trusted in to join a team of mercenary adventurers. In real life this is the loud, awkward, oafish ass who’s constantly trying to steer the group towards a sick party his friend’s friend’s friend told him about, despite what everyone else wants. “I just want us to all have a good time.” is the gutless defense they’ll give when confronted.
Do not try applying this type of alcoholic to your character. It’s unrealistic. Your character wouldn’t be in the tavern chugging rum while dancers sashay around them. Your bard wouldn’t come off as suave getting toasted in public and throwing spells around. In reality you’d be the first one cut from the team, and your advice to the party would be heeded as often as Trump heeds anything outside the demons in his wig.
2) Playing The Cynical, Anti-Social Drunk
Identified as the Young Anti-Social Subtype. In pop culture these are the young, brooding drinkers you find sitting in dark corners. Too awkward or angsty to interact with the public, except when it’s time to bludgeon the blowhard at the bar with superior wit and intellect. Think Good Will Hunting or 2012’s The Raven.
Unfortunately this type of character doesn’t exist in real life. Oh, sure, some witty drunk might lay down a sick burn once in a while. But the young anti-social drunk isn’t out looking for an opportunity to throw their big brain around. They drink because they come from a family of drinkers. They statistically start earlier with the hooch than any other alcoholic on this list. And they’re the most likely to have genuine anti-social disorders holding them back.
In your next game, if you try playing the dark and brooding drunk, just remember that you’re doing it because your character knows of no better way to cope with life than to blot it out with bourbon. That scene where you emerge from the dark corner of the tavern to scald your unwitting enemies with a laser-guided insult that leaves them speechless? Yah, no. Your character is more likely to lash out violently at an inappropriate time, without provocation, at someone who didn’t deserve it whatsoever.
3) Playing The “Functional” Drunk
Identified as the Functional Subtype. In pop culture these are Tony Stark, Don Draper, and Denzel Washington’s character in Flight. According to the NIAAA the average age of a functional alcoholic is 41, they work full time, and they have the highest income of any subtype.
The functional alcoholic is the most likely type to embark on high-stakes adventures. If you’re playing a character who has more demands on him than your basic military grunt, then in all likelihood he or she is a functional alcoholic. And here’s the problem with that; nobody around the table will notice.
There’s a reason less than 20% of functional alcoholics ever seek help for their dependency. They’re generally not a danger to those around them. Their habits barely go noticed. And drinking doesn’t usually impair them enough to set off anyone’s radar. A functional alcoholic will repair your television without his hands shaking, or pour a concrete driveway without any of the comical stagger and swerve we see on TV. The only way the other players will ever realize that your character is, in fact, a for-reals drunk, is when they have a bit too much grog and oversleep a duel they’d scheduled at dawn.
4) Playing The Drunk Uncle/Aunt
AKA Intermediate Familial Subtype. This is the most common type of alcoholic outside the Young Adult drinker, and the easiest for us to overlook in pop culture. They have the highest employment rate, drink less on average than functional alcoholics, and usually prefer self-help methods when it comes to kicking the sauce.
This type of alcoholic shows up in so many movies and shows that they’re practically camouflage for the other four types on this list. Office Christmas party revelers, flask-ferreting family members, and boxed-wine mothers have all appeared on screen to represent the “safe” type of drinker.
If a functional alcoholic is tough to portray in-character, this one’s damn near impossible. If at every new town your character visits the bar, calmly has a few drinks, and takes a nap without causing trouble, nobody at the table will bat an eyelash. Yet this is one of the most likely drunks you’d be portraying.
5) Playing The “Falling Apart” Drunk
This is known as the Chronic Severe Subtype, and it’s the last step of alcoholism this side of the grave. For examples think of late-season House, Bad Santa, or Nic Cage from Leaving Las Vegas. In real life Chronic Severe alcoholics drink nearly every day of the year, and more than half of those days are binge-drinking days.
When I said before that the bombastic, bratty, frat-boy drunk wouldn’t be trusted by a group of adventurers, this type of drunk would be passed over in favor of a starving xenomorph. This is one of the few times that pop culture actually gets some of the behaviors of alcoholism correct. Unfortunately, they leave out most of the horror symptoms of persistent binge-drinking.
To accurately portray this type of drunk in game, which I absolutely don’t recommend, I’ve made a handy set of rules to help you stay immersed in your character;
Your character cannot operate tools, cast spells, or make skill checks after they wake up from a long rest. They must first have a drink of hard liquor. Or ale, but this requires one hour of ale-drinking before their shakes abate.
Once your character takes that first morning drink, keep drinking.
Roll a d100. On a 1 or 100, your character dies from heart complications.
As the day continues your character must roll a d8. This will represent the hours you can remain awake and functional before your character is either too drunk to articulate complex thought, or unable to remain aware of their surroundings. You must have an ally locate a place for you to rest.
Roll a d20. On a 1 your character dies from a sudden accident, be it by falling under a moving wagon, striking a hard object, or suffering an unexpected trauma.
Once your character wakes again, roll a d4. This represents the evening’s “second wind” during which your character can interact with the party verbally or take minor actions that require no physical strain. Your character must continue to drink until they pass out for the rest of the night.
Roll a d10. On a 1 your character ends their own life due to complications with depression.
At the end of the day your character must make a long rest while under heavy alcoholic sedation. Roll a d100. On a 1, your character asphyxiates in their sleep. If you roll anything between 80 and 100, your character suffers violent spasms throughout the night.
If you character has survived to see another day, congratulations! Please repeat again from the top of this list.
Or maybe just pick a different flaw. Like compulsive miming.
Feature image from Wikipedia – The Wine Mocker