Learning about life from Dungeons & Dragons

Before you stands a dark cave…

and the musty air fills your nostrils. Your horse shifts nervously and you recall the stories from the innkeeper of strange beasts lurking in the dark unknown. You draw your sword and creep inside, the flame of your torch flickering.

Roll a D20 save

You groan. The Dungeon Master offers the faintest smile as he looks at you. Was he smirking about your imminent demise? Was he ecstactic that his late night designs for his made-up world were coming to fruition? Was he anticipating your heroic adventurer’s initating from novice rat-slayer to goblin-slayer? It was often hard to tell with some DM’s, and the best kept their secrets close to their vest.

There were many a time as a kid when I would research combinations of talents and specs for the ultimate character. Then the time would come when I would have a chance to roll the dice for my new character’s abilities in front of the usual group. We didn’t quite trust each other to not turn out characters with all 18’s for everything. This rolling of the dice was asking Fate to manifest, it was a gathering of the stars, it was hopes and dreams resting on a die-role.

And when the epic character was born, new in the world of our imagination, limited only by what our devious little minds could conjure (think Descartes’ demon), we usually started out with nothing more than a rock. Seriously, our character would have a rock and some basic clothing to start out with. Perhaps the stars had shined on us and we rolled a high attribute score, perhaps we had a low score (which we usually allowed one re-roll), and it might be that manifested on our sheet of looseleaf paper was the level 1 character that would someday rise to greatness and legend… that character still had to start out with a job.

That’s right… a job. The jobs we wanted were clearing caves of goblins for treasure, battling dragons for their hoarded gold, and defeating lichs for their accumulated power. But before we could do great things we had to do small things. Our lowly level 1 characters had to get odd jobs cleaning stables, working inns, clearing fields, saving money to save up for a sword. Then it was animal threats in the area, some armor, and then moving up to humanoid monsters… goblins.

Humanoid monsters began to introduce another element into our understanding. Unlike animals and simple monsters, humanoid were intelligent and could use tactics… they could lay traps… or they could offer us aid. We had to begin to predict the motives of others. The monsters, while devious enough, had the added benefit of being played by the Dungeon Master, who had complete control over everything. At the whim of this god, Fate could intervene with something to help or hinder our adventurers. Sometimes, no matter how well our plans were laid out, how skilled we were in our application of tactics and strategy, the monsters would escape.

Also, during the creation phase of our character we had to choose an alignment. We chose to be either good, neutral, or evil and along with this we chose a proclivity to order with either lawful, neutral, or chaotic. Go here to find your alignment (I came out neutral). Over time the Dungeon Master would reward or punish us with XP (experience points) depending on how well we played our alignment. As a person I might want to do something that in our world we would consider morally good, yet in the world of our characters it was a different matter. We had to do as our alignment would dictate. We learned that morality was anything but etched in stone. A lawful good paladin in the hands of one player is a traveling monk looking to defend the weak, while in the hands of another person it is Don Quixote, ignoring those in need around him while he looks for the large and grand monsters to fight. Morality, we learn, is fluid and open to interpretation and just like in the real world, in our world of dragons people die because of their adherence to a code of morality with no more, no less, claim to any grand truth than anyone else’s.

I’ve found this to be the truth. There is, so far what I’ve seen, no greater claim to any one Truth than any other. Adherents of one religion are fanatical in their insistence that their way is the best, or is the Truth, yet when it comes down to it, it is all a matter of opinion for which we’ve established no manner of determining who is correct. And while we quibble about the details, those with the most swords are able to marshall the most leverage in such an argument. Those with the most gold pieces are able to marshall the most swords.

And just when you think you’ve got it figured out… BAM! Roll a d20 to save against something that the Universe throws at you. Nice.

From Dungeons & Dragons I’ve learned:
– People and things have their own motives.
– People are not either good or bad, but there are different shades, and that their actions are not always in accordance with their alignments.
– Nobody is born epic but that it takes development, quests… work to get there. Every master was once an apprentice.
– When you fail… try to do so magnificently because those stories often live on longer and with more nostalgia than the great successes.
– You can always begin again.
– Who your fellow adventurers (friends and coworkers) are matters
– Have a plan
– Have a back-up plan
– Be flexible
– Invest in healing potions
– Rest often and set out guards
– Repair your equipment and double check your gear before you depart
– The world has an infinite number of concerns that are not concerned with your’s
– The dice has a 1 and 20 on it… luck, both bad and good, happens and you can trip while walking to kick a goblin, or amazingly dodge a dragon’s fireball on a rocky ledge in a windstorm.
– Your values are your’s… revisit them from time to time, re-assess them, and live by them. You may be more good or evil than you thought.

Thank you Gary Gygax for creating Dungeons and Dragons.


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