Dungeons and Dragons has taken over popular culture once again. With the success of Netflix’s Stranger Things and D&D podcasts like Matthew Mercer’s Critical Role, it is safe to say that Dungeons and Dragons will be prominent in our culture for a little while at least.
Still don’t believe me? Google Trends data indicates that searches for ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ are the highest they’ve been in over a decade. This means that, if you’re a teenager or a young adult, someone will more than likely offer you a chance to play. If you’re a fully-fledged adult, someone might offer your kids a chance to play. So, the only question left to ask is, should you or your kids pack some dice and fight some dragons or just stay at home?
Well, since the decades-old debate over whether it is a game for Satanists or not is pretty much finished, there isn’t anything to worry about. You won’t be inducted into some cult and your kids won’t be sacrificed to some demonic lord. The worst that could happen is, maybe, you or your kid get a paper cut from your character sheets.
So since that is all that could really go wrong, are you ready to pull up your bootstraps, unsheathe your sword, and slay some monstrous beasts?
…No? You still aren’t convinced? Well, I don’t blame you, as I mentioned above, Dungeons and Dragons has had a dicey (hah, get it?) past. It was painted by fundamentalist religious groups as the devil’s game in the 80s and was attacked nationally by the mainstream media of that time. So much so that an organization called B.A.D.D (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons) sold pamphlets, lectures on cassettes, and even booklets claiming that D&D was a fantasy role-playing game about “demonology, witchcraft, and cannibalism.”
Well, as we’re seeing right now with video games, the media attacks anything it doesn’t fully understand or anything it can pin blame on for the troubles of the day. Today, video games are in the crosshairs of the media. In the 80s, it was Dungeons and Dragons.
Considering over 20 million people now play the game, we either have a lot of roleplay-loving, dice-slinging Satanists in the world or we had a lot of scared people in the 80s who simply didn’t understand this new phenomenon. I’d like to believe it is the latter. So, other than the assurance that it isn’t a game for cultists, what else does Dungeons and Dragons offer?
Well, actually, quite a lot.
Stories of Adventure and Action
Dungeons and Dragons is about a story. A story of great villains and even greater heroes. A story of strife. A story of heartbreak. Maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but sometimes you can get emotionally attached to the characters you meet along the way.
Depending on how the Dungeon Master is running the game, you will more than likely either be playing a D&D official module or you’ll be playing in a world of the Dungeon Master’s design. You’ll slay otherworldly creatures and you’ll save countless innocent princesses. Or you won’t. It’s really up to how you roll and what your Dungeon Master decides to throw at you over the course of the campaign. One thing is for sure though; you will have an adventure you couldn’t possibly have known about beforehand and that surprise factor will keep you invested and entertained.
Improving Your Improv and Creativity
One of the greatest parts about D&D is that no one truly knows how the adventure is going to form. Sometimes, not even the Dungeon Master knows. For the most part, it is up to the dice.
Improv is a critical part of D&D and it is equally important for both the Dungeon Master and the players. Whether the Dungeon Master throws something at you that you weren’t expecting or one of your dice rolls ends up with you failing in ways you wouldn’t expect — improv is critical to succeeding in almost any D&D campaign. It is something that you will definitely get better at every session.
Improving your improv is extremely important. Even if you’re not planning on hitting Broadway anytime soon, the art of improv is extremely useful when it comes to making conversation or having to think quickly on your feet. Improv can even improve your self-confidence in your ability to handle the unexpected problems and crises that arise every now and then.
Creativity is another key aspect of D&D. Without creativity from the Dungeon Master, the battles you have will be boring and the storyline will fall flat. Without creativity from the players, the Dungeon Master will have a hard time getting his or her story off the ground and it’ll be incredibly tough to get emotionally invested.
D&D is a naturally creative environment. You are given the choice to create almost any kind of character you can think of with almost any kind of background. You could be a helpless maiden-turned badass or you could be a gnome just trying to learn Spanish. (yes that did happen in one of my campaigns, it wasn’t his main goal, but it certainly was a goal.) The point is, D&D gives just as much creative power to the players as it does to the Dungeon Master, so no matter what side of the Dungeon Master’s screen you’re on, your creative abilities will be tested and enriched by playing.
Enhancing Your Teamwork and Social Skills
Much like in our own world, you will not survive in nearly any campaign for long without teamwork. There is a reason D&D is meant for groups of people and not just for one player and one Dungeon Master. One character by themselves cannot possibly have all the skills required to defeat any challenge that lies in their wake. You need to have multiple people that you can count on and that can fill in for your character’s weaknesses.
Now, if you have a bad player, it doesn’t matter what their character’s skill sets are or how many languages his or her character knows — it will suck playing with them and it’ll be hard to work with them.
That’s why everyone should try their best to be the best player they can possibly be. However, with most people, D&D bolsters and encourages teamwork. Some Dungeon Masters even award effective teamwork with EXP. In order to survive, you have to make sure every member of your team thrives and you have to ensure that you’re doing your part to help the cause too. The ability to work well with others is required in almost any job and is definitely a plus for just dealing with people in general.
It has always been a general stereotype that those who play D&D are socially awkward and some people believe that the game is what causes that, but I would actually argue the opposite. I think D&D requires the players to socialize more than most games, because not only do your characters have to socialize, but you yourself have to do so at the table with the other members of your party. And as the game attracts a more diverse group of people, it actually ends up being a common interest from which many friendships can launch. Heck, some of my greatest friendships have sprung out of this game with the most diverse cast of high school kids from theater nerds (I can call them that because I, myself, am one) to football players to graphic design kids.
Learning Problem Solving Skills
Dungeons and Dragons is just layers of problems with extra problems on top.
Oh, you killed the baby dragon? Awesome! Now, how do you think it was born?
Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t boring or stressful problems, although I suppose that depends on how invested you are in the story. They should be fun problems! Puzzles that need solving, people that need saving, and villains that need beatings. Your party should be tested pretty consistently by the world and the NPCs within it. If that’s the case, you and your party members will need to become excellent problem solvers.
Not to mention that not everything is about combat. There are political encounters that sometimes need to end peacefully in order for the party to avoid a beheading. Some NPCs who will sell you important items at a price you can afford if you just haggle them properly. The problem solving in D&D is not just about how to bash in an ogre’s skull as effectively as possible or how to use the environment around you to your advantage. D&D is a diverse game with diverse characters, diverse lands, and extremely diverse problems to solve.
D&D will teach you to become the world’s best and fastest problem solver. You will begin to use your aforementioned creativity to think of solutions to problems no one else can. You will be able to solve these problems while working with absolutely anyone in the world and you will become the wittiest late-night comedian at your local comedy club.
I’m exaggerating, but in all seriousness, D&D does help build skills that are key to being successful in your daily life. Will it introduce you to friends you’ll have for life or make you so creative you become the next Tolkien? Maybe, maybe not. I can’t guarantee anything. But what I can guarantee is that you’ll never know if you’d enjoy D&D until you try it. And if you’re a parent who is afraid to let their child play D&D, I’d like to leave you with my actual mother’s words that she legitimately said to me on a drive home from one of my first sessions:
“I’m glad you’re doing that kind of D&D and not the other kind of D&D — you know — drinking and drugs.”
Ultimately, there are much worse things your kids or teens or dogs (or whatever you have that wants to play D&D) could be doing. There isn’t any harm in rolling dice around and having a fun time with friends in a fantasy world that they ultimately control. We’re far from the scares of the 80s and time has proven that this game has many good qualities about it and an even better community that supports it. I’d like to politely suggest you at least let them try it out once and, perhaps, gather some buddies and give it a go yourself!
Now, what are you doing still reading? Go out there and slay some dragons!