I don’t, and never have, made any attempt to hide the fact that I am a HUGE “geek.” I read comic books, obsess over Doctor Who, own some rather nice Lord of the Rings replicas, and play…Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a little known fact that playing Dungeons & Dragons is what led several people to becoming human marshmallows during the Salem witch trials. The 1950s McCarthyism was not about rooting out “communists,” it was about exposing people who played Dungeons & Dragons. The crash at Roswell? A major Dungeons & Dragons cover up conspiracy. Nobody could know that top military brass played Dungeons & Dragons and that there were prototype d20s on the defense budget.
It was never “cool” to play Dungeons & Dragons. There was (is?) a stigma attached. Pfffttttt……..whatever.
Dungeons & Dragons is what got me writing stories in the first place. I remember being a 12-yr-old, listening to a handful of teenagers collaboratively telling stories, taking on the role of their own unique character, making choices, responding to the Dungeonmaster’s narrative, rolling dice and responding to the results. They were sitting around a picnic table in some Pittsburgh suburbia backyard, but their minds were far, far away. I listened, rapt, eyes wide – I was there, with them, in some place both magical and wondrous. There was a dank, decrepit tomb, and skeletal warriors with rusted scimitars and mildewed shreds of clothing and armor. There were wizards casting spells and warriors fighting through the undead horde. These kids were creating a story…together. It was oral storytelling at its best. It was synonymous with early man sitting around the fire and sharing folklore. It was enchanting. It fired so many imagination synapses at once that I was hooked…addicted. I wanted to not only live in those fantasy worlds, I wanted to create my own tales, let loose my imagination through the art of storytelling – I wanted to tell stories.
So, fast forward – 30 years later. I still play, I always have. Sure, it’s waned a bit in recent years with schedules and workloads and such, but it’s never gone away. My boys have finally reached the age, where they can begin to play. And THEY approached me, “Dad, can we play Dungeons & Dragons?” My heart might have skipped a few beats. My boys were asking me to play Dungeons & Dragons. You have to understand, as much as I push reading, getting fresh air, limited screen time, unplugging (I don’t even own a TV in my apartment), it’s a major struggle to get them off the electronics. It’s our society, it’s the world we live in – kids are growing up with buttons to push and screens to stare at. But D&D offers them a chance to use paper, pencil, some dice and their imagination. No electronics, no screens. AND…as a writer, it was going to help my kids learn to actively share in storytelling. We could create stories together. As someone who thrives on imagination and creativity, it is an opportunity to help them feed that part of their young minds.
While I expected the game to be a gateway to creativity, and an opportunity for shared storytelling, I never expected what occurred during our first weekend of playing. On Friday night, we made characters. Shane (13) created a Dark Elf rogue (going so far as to Google the Dark Elf language and create his own name using two different Dark Elf words – this was an allowable use of screen time). Logan (10 going on 40), a human wizard, and Sawyer (7 – young, but don’t want to exclude him), a half-orc ranger. They ate chips and Doritos and drank root beer, it was like Geek Nirvana. Then we began the adventure: They were hired on by the council of merchants of the village of “Ravenswood” to discover what had happened to the logging camp a day north, and see if there was any truth to the North Woods being haunted. The first encounter of the first night involved a few traps and a lone goblin scout. They were getting their feet wet.
I was not prepared for the next day. After finding the logging camp and defeating the remaining goblins and their hobgoblin overlord, things got interesting.
1. From the moment of finding the logging camp, to the end of the battle, Shane and Logan argued over the proper tactics for approaching the camp in the first place.
Shane: “I’m going to walk into the clearing. Is there hay in the wagon? I’m going to search the wagon.”
Logan: “I’m following.”
Shane: “No you’re not.”
Logan: “Yes I am.”
Shane: “Stop following me. You’re going to give me away.”
Logan: “No I’m not. You’re walking in the open. I’m going too.”
Argue, argue, argue. You’re stupid. No, you’re stupid. You got us shot with arrows. No, you got yourself shot with arrows for walking right out in the open. argue, argue, argue.
2. Concerning the two wounded goblins that surrendered to them: An intense moral argument erupted about what to do with them.
Shane: “I’m going to make them our slaves.”
Logan: “No! Slavery is wrong. We are not taking them as our slaves.”
Sawyer: “Put them in a sack!”
Shane: “Yes, we are. They deserve it. They shot us with arrows.”
Logan: “We are not. That means they’ll get mistreated. Slaves get mistreated. We’re not doing that.”
Sawyer: “Put them in a sack!”
Shane: “Yes, we are.”
Logan: “No, we are not.”
This went on for about 15 minutes or so…
3. Which led to the next argument…about politics:
Logan: “You don’t get to make all the decisions.”
Shane: “I’m smarter than you. I know more.”
Logan: “No, my character has a higher intelligence than you. Besides, we should all have an equal say.”
Shane: “So, you think everyone gets to share equally? That’s communism. I’m not being a communist.”
Logan: “No. I’m saying we all get a vote. Majority decides. That’s a democracy.”
This political argument lasted another 15 minutes. Sawyer just ate chips.
4. Working on team-building skills:
The bleed over of who gets to call the shots, led to how they make decisions, led to what to do with the goblin’s equipment. For whatever reason, Shane and Logan insisted on arguing over who got the goblin’s scimitar and who got the short bow. They already had decent equipment and this was, after all, just crappy goblin weaponry. Nothing exciting. Nevertheless, the great goblin equipment debate ensued.
While it was frustrating at the time, and we had to pause the adventure and put the books and dice away lest they kill each other, I realized how awesome what had just transpired was. Arguments aside, my kids were engaging in a healthy debate about morals and politics. They were discussing and figuring out how to work as a team. They were engaging their imagination and taking on the role of their own character, collaboratively telling a story. All of this around some fictional goblins, some polyhedron dice, an original scenario and some character stats on a piece of paper. They were unplugged, excited and engaged. And despite their differences, they wanted (they want) more.
Dungeons & Dragons, and role-playing games like it, offer kids and adults alike an opportunity to really stretch their mind in a multitude of healthy ways. It is such a wonderful tool that it saddens me to think of the stigma attached to it – the trepidation with which adults approach the mere mention of the name. D&D is a wonderful, rich, imaginative tool just waiting to teach, inspire and exercise our minds. Give it a try – you’ll be wandering through fantastic worlds in search of adventure before you know it. Returning is optional. ;)
P.S. – The fate of the goblins is yet to be decided.