One of the best things about Dungeons and Dragons is that, in order to play the game, you have to play “let’s pretend” a lot. You start with the notion that you have to pretend to be somebody else besides who you really are. Possibly you can pretend to be someone who is impossible and could never be real. You can be an elf, or an orc, or a dwarf… but if you decide to be a hobbit, you can’t call yourself a hobbit because that name is the intellectual property of the Tolkein family… but you can be a halfling… and somehow that gets you by. And if you are, like me, the “Dungeon Master”, it becomes your responsibility to become the voices for all the NPC’s or non-player characters. You get to be a multitude of people who are really not you. And you get to do things that the real-life you would never do… either because it is simply not possible, or you haven’t finished studying magic in the real world, or because you are really not such a terrible person in real life… or not such a good and wonderful person in real life as the elf paladin you play in D&D.
Ditty Bytcha was my son’s first D&D character, rolled up with dice to be a human fighter and an artificer (a maker of useful mechanical and magical devices). His name was a bit of a joke. His back story included a father named Willy Bytcha and a mother who was a paladin of the god Aureon (the blue dragon god of wisdom and knowledge) named Gunna Bytcha. His grandpa was named Gummy Bytcha. But as time went on, he acquired a sword named Stormgaar. It was a magic sword, imbued with the intelligence and memories of the secret agent from Breland that gave the sword to him. It served as his conscience. It kept him from stealing from the poor and murdering women and children. It guided him through moral dilemmas like what to do with a captured enemy. And it gave him a way to add to his power to defeat evil. By playing this game of goblins and dire wolves, dragons and surly dwarves, my son learned to negotiate his problems. He learned that every problem does not lend itself to being solved by hitting it with something heavy or something sharp. It gave him leadership skills that I truly believe have influenced him as a present day U.S. Marine, and may have led to the leadership responsibilities he has taken on there.
My number two son decided to take over an existing character, the halfling rogue Gandy Rumspot. This character was a hard-drinking, charismatic, and thoroughly outgoing little hobbit… er, I mean halfling. He was really the opposite of my son in almost every way. My son is shy and over-cautious to a fault. Gandy, however, took to the sea and took to the air. He turned himself into a designer and builder of ocean-going ships. And when they encountered other halflings who rode on trained pterodactyls, he had to have one. They captured and tamed one, and he learned to glide through the air on the saddled back of a pterosaur. He has learned to take risks and try the things that might seem scary. When he wanted to get a job, without prompting, he went up to the manager of a tea-seller’s booth in the H-Mart Asian market and asked for an application. They immediately gave him an interview and hired him. He has already earned enough money to buy himself an electric guitar which he has taught himself to play very, very well.
Mira is my daughter’s character. It took a while to convince the other two that their icky little sister should be allowed to play the game too. They were worried that she wouldn’t be smart enough to keep up with what they wanted to do, wouldn’t be resourceful enough to help them overcome evil, and would be too squeamish to kill stuff and kill guys when it needed to happen. So, she became a cerebral Kalashtar, one of those ESP brainiac characters who can do mind-reading and telekinesis because they share their body and soul with a bizarre creature who fled oppression in another dimension entirely. In one adventure, she took possession of a mystically powered intelligent throwing knife named Xulo-Mira that would always hit the target (assuming she could make the dice roll) and would always return to her hand. She became a reader of magic scrolls, a lover of magic books, and, in real life, she fell in love with reading, particularly the Percy Jackson novels of Rick Riordan. Her grades in school improved. She has become inventive, creative, and artistic… enough so that she was accepted into the special METSA program for high school next year where she will be able to get college engineering credits and do the things she loves to do while getting her high school diploma.
I cannot claim with a straight face that playing the D&D role-playing game allowed me to train my three kids into wonderful people. That is just an opinion from a doting father who gets off on playing god in an imaginary universe. But I have found role-playing to be a useful way to teach things. Over the years I played a lot of RPG’s in the classroom and at home. I used role-playing exercises on kids whose behavior needed a lot of molding and modeling. It can be done in real life, and I am not merely a D&D nerd who only lives in a fantasy world of his own making. I am a D&D nerd teacher who teaches through a fantasy world of my own making.