Life lessons from playing Dungeons and Dragons

[Or more about how we are story formed]d201

Maybe you have seen the 20 sided dice show up in pop culture lately, or heard the name of the world’s best role playing game. I don’t know about you, but most of my childhood was spent fantasizing about other worlds, adventure quests, role playing as a different creature, and leading my siblings into that realm. Books like The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Chronicles of Pyrdain, Redwall, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH all deeply influenced my choice of games played. And like my childhood imagination, the game is all about telling stories of adventure. Around 2017, I suddenly had an enormous amount of free time handed to me via losing employment. That’s the opposite of striking it rich. However, in many ways, I have confirmed some powerful principles in life through researching the world of The Forgotten Realms and such, in the game Dungeons and Dragons.

  • Perception is seeing what’s there
03-01-Dale
Open your Senses

While adventuring through Middle Earth or the Forgotten Realms, stopping to take a look around goes a long way. The game is at it’s simplest form a series of ability checks your adventure makes in progression of the game. The dice roll determines percentage of success (by the way, the game is also great at building your math skills!) Just know that your adventurer will not usually be handed information without asking for it. However if you venture out there and look around, there’s no limit to what you can find. Quite simply, If you’re not looking, you won’t see anything! Life is first accomplished by investigation, perception and taking in what’s in front of your, or even better, looking behind the curtain. Take a lesson from Curious George.

  • You are not as resilient as you think you are
The Hobbit Battle of Five Armies 2
Help is for the Strong

As I researched the game, the rules of adventure, it surprised me at how few hit points it took to knock an explorer unconscious. 3 swipes from an raging ogre, 2 bites from a bloodthirsty wolf, or even a fall from a slippery ledge would issue enough damage to end the quest. At first, I thought, “how can you get through a campaign alive if the adventures have such limited resources on health?” But the more I thought about it, I realized that that’s pretty much how it is in this world as well. It’s easy to believe our health and stamina are invincible, but as we traverse through danger, we can only take so much damage to our bodies and minds before we find ourselves chronically ill, in a hospital, or mentally used up that we are only able to take one day at a time without caving into darkness. Of course in D&D, the answer to maintain health is partner up with healers, choose your adventure appropriately (don’t chase down the level 14 dragon if you are a level 2 rogue!) and quite simply: learn to rest.

  • Rest goes a long way and helps you stay alive

You heard it! Quite a bit of the game is going to sleep, resting and vacationing from perils in the wild. The sojourners will head to an inn, the kind old hermit woman in the woods, the hall of a great lord and enjoy the peace and quiet until their wounds and minds heal.  I’ve worked in hospice most of my nursing career and have witnessed so many people engaging in life with only 1 hit point to save. I’ve watched fellow colleagues give all to work and leave no room for rest before chasing down another week of work. I myself have fallen prey to the lure of working overtime instead of tending to my bleeding soul. Really folks, learn to rest, vacation, veg-out, unplug and the like. And really rest. Not staring at your phone swiping through an app, but rest that truly unplugs you. This will be different for everyone and I can’t recommend http://www.personalityhacker.com enough for the resources they provide on discovery of your personality and how it rests. If the travelers forget to rest, they certainly will not be prepared for the next skirmish around the corner, and may suffer death.

  • Sorry, there is always room to fail
lordoftherings
Though you fall, the story continues

In the game, every attempt the hero makes, whether choosing to convince a law master to set your party free or take a stealthy stab at an unsuspecting goblin guarding the bridge, it is all determined by a roll on a 20 sided dice. Rolling a 20 is automatic success! However rolling a 1, despite any bonuses your well-developed hero might have, is a total and devastating failure. Ugh, this is a humbling lesson because rolling a 1 does not care how much you have previously achieved in success before this roll. Imagine investing thought and time into developing an adventurer all the way to level 6, being careful to rest, wise about the pursuits, perceptive of the surroundings, planning each battle strategically and then make one unlucky move and fail. It happens. You will spend years at a church investing into the heart of the people and the mission only to have someone turn on you and your family and find yourself kicked out of the tribe. You know why it happened, but you didn’t think it was worth splitting fellowship. Or you pour your heart and soul into a company, promising your family that it will pay off and everything looks great for the promotion that will make life so much easier and then they hand the offer to an outside hire and terminate you because you are now overqualified for any other place in the company. Or you look left, look right, proceed your vehicle through the intersection and still find yourself injured in bed and without hope of healing. Should I go on? You fail your boards, you fail the relationship and find yourself sobbing on the floor of an empty house with even an emptier heart. Grief is really mourning something that was once loved and is now off limits for you to love. Your love is no longer allowed. Or at least it must be changed into a lesser version of that love. It hurts. However, at the end of every failure, there’s always another chance to roll the dice. Try again. Rest, heal up, start over, but please don’t stop playing the game.

  • Little guys win, sometimes
lotr-spider-john-howe
Nothing makes you braver than the fear of losing a loved one

You know what though, sometimes you do roll a natural 20. And win big. With superhero powers. Just like the natural 1 doesn’t discriminate failure to only failures in life but also to very successful adventures, so the natural 20 roll hands a good luck charm to those adventures starting out with very limited resources. That’s what I love about the game. It keeps the adventures humble in this large and threatening world. Even the bold remember that they too, bleed. Conversely, the promise of a bulls eye, or getting rookie of the year calls out to everyday ordinary people to step out their door and make something happen in the life around them. The first time your level 1 adventure does the perfect acrobatic and slays the fiend in one fell strike encourages them to keep going! The first time your novice cleric attempts a healing against all odds as the princess is bleeding out, and magically brings her back to life, it’s encouraging! The first time your stealthy rogue sneaks into a locked dungeon and rescues the entire party from a hungry giant, it’s encouraging! Unexpected winning can happen to you too, but you do have to roll!

  • Not much adventure happens if you just sit on the couch
gandalf_one_of_the_istari

With that being said, as Gandalf said to a polite and everyday ordinary hobbit who had just finished breakfast “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” Dungeons and Dragons is such a great game because it involves a world where everyday people with stories and backgrounds can start as level one adventures and set out to make a difference in the world. A great campaign is not one where your party simply demolishes an orc stronghold, but one where the orc stronghold is demolished and the dam freed, bringing the river back into the town, boosting the economy and encouraging free-trade in safe lands once again. Now the adventures are heroes that make the world a better place. And that’s the principle, we are all formed by the stories we tell ourselves and the stories that connect us to each other and into the world. We sing songs, share dreams and relay tales, but none of that will happen if you choose to bypass the quest to the comfort and safety of your own home and hearth. Really though, we are wanting a world of adventure so we can tell those stories by the fireside one day. As Gandalf the wizard wisely said, “do you suppose, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck just for your sole benefit?” Get off the couch and off the phone, leave behind your pocket handkerchief and share an adventure with folks who enjoy your fellowship! Because life is not just about a solo trip, but a party-shared adventure that changes the world. Prepare, be wise, use all your resources, enjoy your quirks and roll the dice!

And so, our story continues

4 thoughts on “Life lessons from playing Dungeons and Dragons

  1. GP says:

    “ If the travelers forget to rest, they certainly will not be prepared for the next skirmish around the corner, “ Thanks for the reminder. In this world of obtaining more we can forget to pace ourselves. By setting the pace at the beginning it allows me to sprint when I needed.

    • I LOVE this post!!!
      I’ve actually thought of writing something similar myself and this post has left me feeling super inspired!
      I especially love your point about resilience. It’s so, so, relevant to the real world. We always think we’re invincible until we’re not. Those little 20-sided-dice have a lot to teach us.
      I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts😍

      • Hey there! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Writing about D&D is also something I enjoy. The more I play, the more I see how the lessons intersect with life. So much wealth to mine…

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