James Waller, Staff Writer
When a person thinks of Dungeons & Dragons, a mental image of a couple of poorly-adjusted shut-ins sitting around a table in a dimly lit basement playing out a Lord of the Rings fan fiction might come to mind. But tabletop role-playing games require successful use of many adult social and problem-solving skills.
Some people might be unaware of what a tabletop role-playing game is. A tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons in particular, involves the creation of a fictional persona by several people who then play a part in a fantasy story world crafted and narrated by a person taking the role of the dungeon master, sometimes simply called the game master. The game master determines success and failure of actions taken by players’ personas by rolled dice and statistical values derived from game specific rulebooks added to said dice rolls.
Dungeons & Dragons, despite the immature, escapist reputation, has helped me build skills that I would not have had, had I never played. As a socially awkward, autistic, sheltered teen transitioning into collegiate life in 2015, I was a babe in the woods who lacked many of the essential skills needed to succeed in academics and later in the professional world.
Just planning a game session requires and promotes time management and scheduling skills. Creatures like dragons, orcs, elves, and wizards all have their own character sheets and numerical statistics which need to be studied and kept on hand as notes for when their die rolls need to be made. The game master must also keep an outline of what directions they expect a storyline might take based on the actions of their players. Very few people can invent an engaging story on the spot, and, even with good notes, improvisation becomes necessary as players’ actions deviate from the expected story paths.
When a group meets in play, skills like teamwork, reading comprehension, critical thinking, and creative problem solving become necessary. Rulebooks must be kept track of, and the rules therein understood by the game master.
The game master, as the most important component of the game, without whom a game session cannot even be held, exercises and develops, along with all the previous skills, group leadership. As game master, more than once I’ve found myself needing to arrange events within my fantasy worlds to keep a willful group on task, usually with an imaginary incentive such as gold or experience points dangled in front of the players’ noses and promised to them in case of completion of a goal: “Slay this frightful dragon and you will receive all the gold and magical artifacts within its hoard!”
I recall one interesting session as an example of trying to lead a group and their situation into a more appropriate direction: I was game master to a party of players that were intent on challenging a powerful vampire in combat, but the group’s current level of power was nowhere near great enough to challenge a monster like that. The party would’ve perished swiftly in an attempt face it, and, unknown to the party, this vampire had no wish to do them any harm. I dropped a clue to the power of the monster by having him hypnotize one of the players’ characters, and, finally, had the vampire flee when they removed its coffin from its resting place, endangering it—vampires in Dungeons & Dragons require specific criteria be met for their daytime resting places. I could’ve simply had the vampire destroy the party of adventurers then and there when they threatened it, but there’s little fun in ending a story half way through.
The teamwork skills are the most obviously benefits one gains, especially as a game master. The game master plays as arbiter of the game’s rules, setting boundaries and breaking them, as well as keeping their team of players on task, crafting the world around them, setting story’s pace, and weaving the story into an enjoyable and interactive form. This is incredibly useful in gaining experience leading group projects, both academically and professionally. A game master must appreciate and challenge the skills of their story’s characters by delegating proper tasks to them in such a way that keeps them focused and makes them feel like a part of the group.
In the process of play, the game master most often sets up some sort of obstacle, puzzle, or foe which players must bypass, solve, or defeat. Sometimes this comes in the form of a dangerous trap in a secluded ruin, a person that needs to be convinced to help the players, or a powerful monster, such as a dragon, that needs to be defeated. Sometimes a solution is straightforward, in the case of combatting dangerous monsters, but often players must exercise caution and a perspective that allows them to take in all of their options, or even invent new options creatively with the tools of their imaginary environment. An adventure in Dungeons & Dragons runs much like a complicated heist, wherein everyone has an assigned role they can fulfill. This promotes a goal-oriented mindset, one wherein a person can see an objective, think creatively and realistically how to reach that objective, and mobilize as part of a group to reach it.
Players of the game quickly learn that working together and paying attention to the details of their fantastical environment allows them to succeed. A group of heroes on a quest to slay a dragon or retrieve treasures from a trap filled catacomb are not likely to succeed—or survive—if they refuse to play to their strengths or utilize their environment to gain an advantage.
Role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons get people to make use of what they know to make an enjoyable, unique, cooperative, story experience—all within a consequence free, simulated environment.