Monday, March 13, 2017

The Games We Play Part 1: Dungeons & Dragons

With a bit of tweaking, I believe that any tabletop RPG can be used as a teaching tool. However, I have found that some game systems are better suited to particular skill/skill groups, whether due to the background material or the rule mechanics. I've decided to write a bit about some of my favorite systems, and give a review of the advantages of each as pertains to the teaching of various life skills. I had previously wrote an entry about the 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu entitled "Whatever you do, don't say Hastur!" today I will begin with a tride and true classic of tabletop RP. The grand daddy of them all; Dungeons & Dragons.

A bit of background
I, like many other role players, have a very special place in my heart for D&D. Though it wasn't the first RPG that I've ever thumbed through (that would be White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade), it was the first that I ever facilitated. D&D is a medieval fantasy role playing game set in a world of myth and magic. The Participants in the game take on the role of wizards, fighters, rogues and other archetypal fantasy staples. Their characters may be human, or they may be one of a variety of fantasy races such as elves, halflings or my all time personal favorite dwarves. The characters somehow meet up, join forces and set out on quests, battling monsters, bypassing traps and exploring lost ruins in search of power, riches and glory. Dungeons & Dragons was the brain child of the late Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson,

two war game enthusiasts. War gaming in Gary and Dave's time was largely the simulation of historical battles. Players commanded armies of painted lead miniatures across scaled terrain using a set of rules to govern the enacted combat. These rules which sought a high level of historical accuracy were transformed by Dave and Gary to incorporate fantasy elements. In this new vision, rather than playing the part of a General moving squads about, the focus shifted to individual characters. Check out the documentary below, it provides a great overview.

Skill Check
So, what can a game about wizards, dragons and magical items teach more effectively than say horror based or sci-fi? What are the strengths of D&D as a vehicle for skill acquisition? Before jumping in I'd like to say that much of what I'm highlighting here is true for most medieval fantasy games regardless of a specific title, not just D&D. That being said, here's a quick breakdown of a few strong areas that I find key when using Dungeons and Dragons (any edition) as a system for Skill Centric Role Play:

  • Any Thing Is Possible In D&D: In a multiverse governed by magic, not physic's or even logic at times, anything is possible. This presents an invitation to apply some truly out of the box thinking in regard to problem solving. A collapsed corridor in the way? Having trouble getting by? Cast "Reduce Person" and squeeze your way through. One time a group I was running found the stout resident dwarf fighter Agar stuck and unable to fit through a passage. The group thought it through, not having reduce person at their disposal, they did have lantern oil. Agar stripped down to his under garments and slicked up to be pulled through, a bit humbled but no worse for ware.

  • Memory Recall: How do the rules for grapple work again? What are the race granted bonus's for an elf character? D&D (especially 3.5) can be a bit heavy on the rules which require a constant challenge to memory. Though the ability to recall rules is a part of any RPG, D&D in particular takes it in a whole new direction. From how spells work, to what dice to roll, memory is constantly tested at the gaming table. 

  • Reading Comprehension: Teleport 3.5 is my go to for examples of long winded descriptions of rules and game effects. The entry for teleportation in the 3.5 Players Handbook is nearly 1,000 words! For one spell! That's the lower end word count of a short story. As a player or a DM such spells challenge reading comprehension as the spell entry consists of various uses of the spell as well as limitation and special exceptions to use. The need to consider the situation in which the spell is being used along with the spells parameters requires a bit of close reading and case by case interpretation.

  • The Celebration of Diversity: The members of an adventuring party are rarely from similar backgrounds. In fact they are often from disparate species. Elves who champion the natural world, living within cities built in symbiotic unity with surrounding forest. Dwarves who live within the depths of great sprawling mountain halls. Humans who, so highly adaptable, stake their claim wherever the world will accept them, yet always eager to expand and explore. These  and many others put aside their differences to embrace both their unique gifts and common goals. The concept of diverse people finding commonality is a staple of fantasy that is well represented in D&D, acting as a analogical reflection of what it could mean for us as humans to see past our difference to a greater end we all share. Gets me a little misty.

The above examples are just a few of the striking merits D&D has as a teaching tool. If you haven't played this all time classic of RPG's...what are you waiting for!? Get out there, gather a party and delve into dungeons deep! Up next World of Darkness, but until then I leave you with an old Dwarven classic...