Dungeons & Dragons: An Educational RPG
“My greataxe swings down on the goblin dealing seven damage”. It is not uncommon to hear someone say things like that while playing or observing a session of Dungeons & Dragons. Like a family heirloom or a sacred artifact the game’s dice and books are often handed down from the previous generation or shared among friends. Yet, there are still those among the general population that consider the game a waste of time, a form of devil worship, or even a game that entices the players into insanity, leaving them unable to distinguish reality from imagination. Those who have never played sometimes stereotype the players as pale-skinned fiends in the basement of their parents’ home constantly snacking on chips and drinking soda. But there are many positive aspects to the game that many choose to reject and never evaluate Dungeons & Dragons for what it really is – an educational experience.
Dungeons & Dragons was first played and created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and was first published back in 1974. Based on their interest in war games the two developed Dungeons & Dragons to apply to players on a personal level. The game is moderated by the dungeon master, “DM”, who decides to build the world from scratch using the supplemental books or the DM uses a generated adventure already published. The fantasy role-playing tabletop game focuses on storytelling and is limited only by the imagination of the players and the DM. Exploring dungeons, mediating political situations, solving puzzles, fighting monsters, and gathering treasure are just some of the things people can do when playing the game. Although the focus is on entertainment and using imagination to drive the story forward much of the game’s mechanics and functions promote educational skills that are vital to developing younger players and older players alike. Dungeons & Dragons gives the players an avenue to improve skills such as reading and writing, basic mathematics, critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork that otherwise are lost in day-to-day life.
Reading and Writing
As a beginner to the game a player is tasked with getting familiarized with the basic fundamentals and how to create a character. This involves massive amounts of reading and writing to become acquainted with the rules and procedures for creating and maintaining a player character. Once a character is created the goal of the players is to level these characters and gain new abilities and skills. Some players may choose to play a character that casts spells while others may strive to be a melee character. Whichever path, the player must decide how to build their character to meet their goals.
The amount of work required to craft a character exercises a person’s reading skills because of the complexity of character creation. For example, once a player chooses a race (dwarf, elf, human, halfling, etc.) and class (fighter, rogue, wizard, cleric, etc.) certain skills and feats fit certain classes and races better than others. So a person playing as a rogue may choose to put skill points into hide, move silently, and climb which would focus on the strengths of the rogue – to be stealthy and agile. Feats are like skills but enhance the character further and create a stronger sense of specialization. Does a player want their rogue to fight with two hands or one? Does a player want to fight from a distance or in close quarters? These are just a few examples of the complexity of character creation and because of this complexity the player is required to continue to read the books to gain knowledge about what their character can do.
For a player to become attached to their character the role-playing aspect of the creation process adds a bit of flavor to the game. Players are encouraged to write background information for their characters which may include where they come from, how they look, family history, personality traits, etc. This character biography helps players flex their creative writing muscles and builds a bond between player and character. Not only are writing skills used creatively but critically as well. Some DMs encourage players to keep notes of quests, characters, and other bits of information to help the players learn and interact with the world around them. The importance of reading and writing begins at character creation and continues as the players level their characters, allowing them to choose new feats, increase skills, and learn about their world.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Once characters are created the players are finally able to explore an already created world by using supplements from Dungeons & Dragons or they make their way through an adventure that is published. Players will come across monsters, quests, treasure, as well as towns and cities while exploring the world around them. This part of the game requires role-playing with the dungeon master and fellow players. This role-playing rouses the imagination and helps players build social skills and problem solving skills to complete tasks. For example, these tasks may involve coercing a non-player character to help the players carry out a duty, gain information or just simply solving a puzzle in the game. These problem solving and social skills are essential to developing people, especially if the players are in their early and mid-teens.
For example, the players may come across a puzzle located in the bottom of a dungeon. To open a door they must solve a riddle or perhaps find another path to their destination. These puzzles and roadblocks give the players a chance think critically about their environment, information they have gained, and give the players the opportunity to work together to complete a quest that they would not be able to finish alone.
In addition to building problem solving and critical thinking skills Dungeons & Dragons promotes another important aspect of social interaction – teamwork. Arguably the most important social skill the game helps build, teamwork is at the core of the game and is vital to allow the game to run its course. Teamwork is important because each player’s character has special skills that make them ideal for certain tasks. Some characters are stealthier than others and make great spies and rogues. Other characters are strong and bulky and do well in melee to absorb damage that could otherwise destroy another player’s character. And some characters use magic to change the tide of battle in their favor. No matter what a character’s role the player quickly realizes that often they need their allies to carry out tasks that benefit the group.
For instance, the players may find that they are to make their way past a blockaded door or that they must find a way into a guarded keep. The blockaded door is very strong, ruling out the possibility that a weaker character would be able to break it down. However, if two characters work together to open the door they have better chances of succeeding. For the players to get into the guarded keep they might have options like breaking in, sneaking in, or using diplomacy to get into the keep. No matter what direction they choose the players must work together to complete their goals. Like critical thinking and problem solving, teamwork is an essential part of the game that comes naturally and is used frequently without players realizing that they are participating.
Not only does Dungeons & Dragons promote critical reading, writing, problem solving and social interaction but the game also requires the continual use of common mathematical skills such as addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication, and sometimes requires players to read tables of information. Based on dice rolls, players use these numerical results in battles for determining success or fail of skill checks, determining randomized items, randomized events, and for moving combat forward. Math is first used in the game when characters are being created to determine ability scores. Melee characters, like fighters, typically have a high number for strength such as eighteen. Having a high strength ability score give the character a better chance of succeeding at physical activities like climbing, jumping, and swimming, while also adding more damage to a character’s attack. A person playing a rogue may choose to have dexterity be the character’s highest ability, which may prevent the character from getting hit often and contributes to skills such as hide, move silently, and balance.
Setting aside the role-playing aspects of Dungeons & Dragons, the role-playing game relies heavily on mathematics for nearly every aspect of fight encounters. For example, to decide what order the players will act in combat requires an initiative roll and is determined through simple math to illustrate how soon a player’s character can act in battle. If a player rolls a higher initiative check than an enemy the player is allowed to act first. Doing most actions inside and outside of encounters requires using a 20-sided die, “d20”, to determine the outcome of the action. Players might use the d20 to bluff to a non-player character about information they desire, to determine if their character is successful at sneaking past an enemy or perhaps to check the success of a climb check over a wall. The d20 is also used to find if the character is able to land a melee or ranged attack on an enemy. A player may roll the d20 to attempt casting some spells and if successful the player is able to roll other dice to determine damage the enemy will receive. Later in the game, when character levels are higher and more damage is being dealt and received, players are required to do math more often. Whether the math is simple like in the beginning of the game or complex like later in the game, the actions that the numbers represent add value to the amount of imagination when acting out scenarios. Players get excited to do the math because the numbers illustrate the amount of damage a character might deal or how much damage the player’s character might receive. At times, mathematics in Dungeons & Dragons really is a matter of life and death for the player’s character.
Dungeons & Dragons is not just a role-playing game, it is an educational RPG. Dungeons & Dragons helps the players build academic skills like reading and writing, basic mathematics, critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork. These academic skills are important to developing people at a young age. Yet, the positive aspects of Dungeons & Dragons is not only academic but the game requires a large amount of social interaction amongst players. Through normal game progression of the story players are challenged by obstacles that require teamwork and coordination that is comparable to participating on a baseball, soccer, or football team. Dungeons & Dragons promotes skills that any educator strives to teach and build in developing people. The game is beneficial not just for the young but for the old as well. From the younger person that has trouble focusing on academics or struggling to develop social skills to adults that wish to exercise their problem solving and critical thinking skills Dungeons & Dragons may be the answer. So the next time someone around you mentions Dungeons & Dragons, or invites you or your child to take part with others that play, or even the next time you walk past the shelf of books at the local bookstore, think of the academic and social benefits the game offers to all people, young and old alike.
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