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How Dungeons & Dragons Influenced a Generation of Writers (SLNYT)
July 20, 2014 7:01 AM   Subscribe

For certain writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives. When he was an immigrant boy growing up in New Jersey, the writer Junot Díaz said he felt marginalized. But that feeling was dispelled somewhat in 1981 when he was in sixth grade. He and his buddies, adventuring pals with roots in distant realms — Egypt, Ireland, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — became “totally sucked in,” he said, by a “completely radical concept: role-playing,” in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.

Related: Dungeons and Dragons Saved My Life (SLNewYorker)
posted by magstheaxe (35 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also, the radon gave us superpowers!
posted by Sys Rq at 7:36 AM on July 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


D&D was great for me as a kid. I learned almost nothing at school, but D&D got me interested in all kinds of things, as well as easily doubling my vocabulary.
posted by xammerboy at 7:37 AM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have this fantasy about being trapped with a group of people in a hardware store surrounded by zombies. I save the day thanks to my knowledge of medieval siege engines. Thanks Gary and Dave!
posted by SPrintF at 8:18 AM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


In the minds of many employers, it is important in today's competitive work environment for potential employees to distinguish easily between the glaive, the glaive-guisarme, the glaive-guisarme-voulge, the voulge-guisarme, the glaive-voulge, and the glaive-glaive-guisarme-glaive.

Not that the word glaive is freighted with a lot of semantic weight in the first place, but boy howdy typing that sentence rendered it totally meaningless in short order.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:30 AM on July 20, 2014 [23 favorites]


Plus when your character reaches 8th level you get inducted into a Satanic occult order and gain dark magical powers.

It's been a real boost for my professional career.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:47 AM on July 20, 2014 [10 favorites]


In the minds of many employers,

This puts the old chestnut "I glaive at the office" in a whole new light!

Plus it grants a +3 melee bonus against mounted enemies!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:56 AM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


D&D taught me the rudiments of collaborative problem-solving. It taught me to familiarize myself with the complete ruleset before playing a game. It sparked a lifelong interest in cartography and the representation of imaginary or virtual spaces. It greatly expanded my vocabulary.

Now I just need to write that damn book.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:01 AM on July 20, 2014 [9 favorites]


D&D taught me that most people are bad at detecting dice tampering and the ones who aren't will be happy to go do something more exciting
posted by clockzero at 9:23 AM on July 20, 2014


Not just storytelling, but also getting into the mindset of modelling, simulation and creating systems that work consistently and coherently. So a generation of storytellers AND a generation of scientists and programmers, I'd reckon.
posted by empath at 9:25 AM on July 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


the glaive, the glaive-guisarme, the glaive-guisarme-voulge, the voulge-guisarme, the glaive-voulge, and the glaive-glaive-guisarme-glaive.


YM "Bohemian Ear Spoon." HTH.
posted by dersins at 9:30 AM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


A short list of things D&D taught twelve-year-old me:

1. Spatial visualization
2. Situational flexibility/improvisation
3. Troubleshooting
4. Preparation
5. Problem solving
6. How to work with others to achieve a common goal
7. How and when to choose my battles
8. How to deal with death

It is by far the best multipurpose educational tool I ever used. I'm preparing to run a game for the first time in 20 years, and all of my players are new or lightly experienced gamers. Should be fun watching them find their legs.
posted by echocollate at 9:39 AM on July 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


I did the D&D thing for a few years as a pre-teen in the early 80s and although I never got into it deeply, my best friend and I had a good run for a couple of years.

Around the age of 12 my friend moved 90 minutes away, and I'd go over to his house for the weekend and we stopped playing the game "properly" and used the characters as a storytelling prompt, maybe punctuated by the occasional roll of the die.

It was pretty cool, we ended up essentially sitting around making up collaborative stories.

(In the oral storytelling origin of the great Fochlucan Lyrists no doubt. )
posted by jeremias at 9:53 AM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, D&D teaches some interesting skills that can take you in a lot of directions. Group work, problem identification (because sometimes what appears to be the problem really isn't), problem solving - both individual and group, and so on. Running a game - which I did for a lot of years - teaches even more: anticipating group and individual needs and wants, being responsive to those, working to build a collaborative team (because that is what a gaming group is, and the GM is a part of that, never an adversary), along with all the creative stuff as well of coming of with characters, worlds, adventures.

After years away, I'm playing again and starting work on a campaign. I have no players yet, just the ideas - and I want to indulge them even if it never comes to fruition. Because there are other aspects of it that are beneficial.
posted by nubs at 10:08 AM on July 20, 2014


In the minds of many employers, it is important in today's competitive work environment for potential employees to distinguish easily between the glaive, the glaive-guisarme, the glaive-guisarme-voulge, the voulge-guisarme, the glaive-voulge, and the glaive-glaive-guisarme-glaive.

Elizabeth Fraser's time as a career counselor was regrettably short-lived.
posted by mykescipark at 10:13 AM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


My preschooler reads really well but his fine motor (i.e., writing letters) is a bit behind and he doesn't like to practice it, so we entice him with Monster Dice Fight (self-link), a very small-person version of D&D where they draw and color pictures of monsters, give them names (and write the name), and then tell a story where all the monsters fight. They roll dice and whichever monster gets the higher number wins. When the kids got good at comparing the numbers, we started using two dice and making them add. They have to write the numbers on a score sheet, count up which monster gets the most wins. It is SUPER-EASY to sucker little kids into playing a game where they color monsters and roll dice while telling a crazy story about the monsters fighting. They barely even notice they're writing the monster's name and the numbers and doing math.

I went through the Early Childhood Learning Standards for my state when I wrote it up (linked above) for some geek friends of ours who also wanted to play. It hits storytelling (collaborative and imaginative), "responding to questions" about a story, writing, phonetic spelling, vocabulary (as adults are conscious to use good words describing monsters and telling stories) in Language Arts; in Math, they get recognizing numbers, comparing larger and smaller, counting, ordinal numbers, addition, and possibly narrative descriptive comparators (size, height, etc.); in Science, they collect and compare "data" about dice rolls and analyze the scoreboard; parents could also pick specific environments and monsters/animals. Social Studies could include map skills; Physical Development standards include fine motor and hand-eye coordination; under Arts, they do dramatic and visual arts through the storytelling and coloring; Social-Emotional standards include taking turns, following rules, expressing emotions (theirs, when they win or lose; and the monsters' in the stories), and engaging in a sustained task.

Because, yeah, there's like a billion skills embedded in D&D.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:45 AM on July 20, 2014 [24 favorites]


My husband's gaming friends monstly have babies through preschoolers now, which meant their ongoing game had to take a break, so when they all get together you see all these dads sitting around the dining room table with a bunch of babies through five-year-olds, all very seriously coloring their monsters with babies trying to chew the paper and toddlers scribbling and preschoolers making their own sheets and then everybody rolling dice to make their monsters fight. It's pretty much the cutest thing ever and we non-gaming spouses can sneak away because they all stay entertained for AGES.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:48 AM on July 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


For those of you who (a) have younger kids, (b) like 4th edition, and (c) have been looking for a way to engage your kids in D&D, you might want to consider the pre-generated characters that artist James Stowe made for a group of eight year old children that wanted to play.
posted by magstheaxe at 11:21 AM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


The kids who grew up playing D&D became writers. The kids who grew up playing Rolemaster became CPAs.
posted by MrBadExample at 12:58 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


the glaive, the glaive-guisarme, the glaive-guisarme-voulge, the voulge-guisarme, the glaive-voulge, and the glaive-glaive-guisarme-glaive.

I'll have a slice without so much glaive in it.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:04 PM on July 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


At the end of every fantasy novel chapter there should be an XP summary, and I'd like to see what perks the characters take every three levels.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:15 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Things I learned from D&D:

Any randomly rolled character will always suck. Either set up a program to roll hundreds of characters, or make sure at last one die is tilted.

They're are three types of DMs: Montey Hall (gives you whatever you want), Adversaries (the enemy), and Sadistic Tyrants (the less said the better). For some reason, other DMs respect the Sadistic Tyrants more than the Montey Halls.

It doesn't matter how cool your world or concept is: if you can't communicate it well, or if you don't give the players reasons to be invested in it, then you've got nothing.

In any group you will have three or four people who understand what the game is about, and one who is completely off the page. In a game of grim survival horror, one guy will pay Bardy McComedy. In a humorous urban supernatural game, one will play a paranoid survivalist lawyer. It always happens.

In the majority of groups, the DM's goal is not to have fun or successfully complete the scenario, but to maintain control.

It doesn't matter if the DM believes he is the LAW, that he's Gawd and the players peasants, or that he is the one wearing the Viking Hat and the players better listen to every goddamn thing he says. If the players walk, he's just a sad nobody with some papers and dice.

Actually, these insights have served me pretty well in my business career as well.
posted by happyroach at 2:16 PM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've written about this on my blog a few times. D&D taught me how to keep people entertained in real time - writing stories down is leisurely by comparison.
posted by mordax at 2:36 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'll have a slice without so much glaive in it.

"That's all right; I'll have your glaive. I love it! I'm having glaive-glaive-guisarme-glaive!"
"Guisarmes are off."
"Can I have glaive instead of the guisarme, then?"
"You mean you want glaive-glaive-glaive-glaive?"
.
.
.
"Bloody kobolds."
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:46 PM on July 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


Polearm quiz.
posted by kenko at 4:58 PM on July 20, 2014


D&D got me into craps. The dice rolls are mesmerizing

/3.5 or die!
posted by Renoroc at 6:17 PM on July 20, 2014


...to distinguish easily between the glaive, the glaive-guisarme, the glaive-guisarme-voulge, the voulge-guisarme, the glaive-voulge, and the glaive-glaive-guisarme-glaive.

Dude. DUDE. Did you ever, like….LOOK, really LOOK at your glaive? The sinuous curve of the sharpened edge, the shiny…blade-side parts, the woody handle thing… Dude.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:19 PM on July 20, 2014


My husband's gaming friends mostly have babies through preschoolers now...

Wow, surrogacy has gotten pretty weird since we had our kids.

posted by wenestvedt at 6:21 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


The kids who grew up playing D&D became writers. The kids who grew up playing Rolemaster became CPAs.

And people who grew up playing Traveller are still finishing up their first ship.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:22 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


More likely they died before they got to this point.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:20 PM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]




D&D rules lawyering was great training for tackling Electrical Code.
posted by Mitheral at 7:52 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Gygax Memorial Fund is raising money towards a memorial for Mr. Gygax, in Lake Geneva, as well as a scholarship fund and other worthy goals.
posted by newdaddy at 4:23 PM on July 21, 2014


I noticed the article's writer couldn't resist closing with a quote about abandoning D&D when the speaker got interested in girls. All the players in my current home group are female, including both my daughters.
posted by Gelatin at 2:36 AM on July 22, 2014


I would have become a CPA except I tripped over an imaginary turtle and died.
posted by longbaugh at 3:40 AM on July 22, 2014


I noticed the article's writer couldn't resist closing with a quote about abandoning D&D when the speaker got interested in girls. All the players in my current home group are female, including both my daughters.
posted by Gelatin at 5:36 AM on July 22


That's one of the things that annoyed me about the articles. In the New Yorker article, the author writes "It’s an undeniable fact that female D. & D. players are few and far between." That might have been true where he was playing in the '70s and '80s, but when I started playing in 1985, there were always girls playing, always mixed gender groups.

And after Vampire: the Masquerade got popular in the '90s, a huge influx of women came into the tabletop RPG hobby and many of them took up othe RPGs--including D&D--as well.
posted by magstheaxe at 6:00 AM on July 22, 2014


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