Everything I Know, I’ve Learnt from D&D

Part of the Bloggers Carnival on D&D

It is no exaggeration to say that D&D taught me many of the skills I use everyday.

Back in the early eighties, I was spotty, awkward teenager and had already discovered Tunnels & Trolls and Traveller. Attempts to play these games with my brothers had failed miserably and none of my friends were interested so I was left to play them by myself. Then I discovered the Asgard’s Games Club and a whole new world was opened up to me. The world of D&D.

Lesson 1: Learning to have Fun

For the first time I had found a group of people who were interested in the same things I was and they all played D&D. In no time I had brought the books and got to work learning the rules. Being dyslexic and having had problems at school, this was not a natural activity for me but I discovered how rewarding learning could be if properly motivated.

Instead of my school experience of “Memorise these facts and regurgitated them in an exam”, something I truly suck at, I was discovering a new form of learning. The people round the table helped and supported each other. Being able to check the rule book when I liked gave me confidence in my understanding and above all, what I learnt was useful. In a few short months, I absorbed vast quantities of information on every aspect of D&D but the most important thing I got from it was that learning can be fun if it is done properly.

Lesson 2: Less of Rule, More of a Guideline

D&D’s next lesson was that rules don’t matter.

At that time, I dabbled in the shallow end of the autistic spectrum. Subtleties and nuances were lost on me (even more than they are on the average teenager). So having learnt the rules, I obviously thought following the rules was what you did. GMs who broke the rules or ignored my interruption of the rules were a cause of great frustration.

Over time, and it was really quite long time, I become to realise that the fun was not in slavishly following the D&D rules but in the subtle social interaction that decides how rules are used, misused and ignored. These negotiations takes place constantly during a game and is not about the game at all, but the relationship between the people at the table. All the arguments I’ve ever seen at a gaming table have really been about social status and nothing to do with whether a dwarf with 18/00 Strength can catch a boulder thrown at him by a giant.

Dealing with the many weakness and contradictions of those early D&D books taught me how to listen, compromise and stand my ground at the appropriate time. Something far more useful than all those years at school learning to simply obey the rules.

Lesson 3: Teams Work

All RPGs are about team work. It is why I prefer them over the more confrontational war games or board games but D&D has something other games don’t have – Alignment.

By having evil and chaotic alignments in the game practically guaranteed party conflict when played by bunch of teenagers and young men. Every session, one or more party member would be be killed by another party member. When favourite characters were murdered, this resulted in grudges that could last for years.

Over time, this constant cycle of back-stabbing and in-fighting wore thin and it became obvious how counterproductive it was for both our characters and the players. Characters died and players had less fun. Slowly, week in and week out, we learnt the benefits of cooperation and how to achieve it. This has been a massive help in work and social situations. In fact, whenever you are trying to get something done, lessons in team work from around games table are invaluable.

Lesson 4: How to be Creative

It was not long after learning to play D&D that I that started writing my own adventures and this taught me the skills needed by anyone trying to be creative.

Schools generally work very hard at rubbing out creativity and imagination. They may encourage you to write stories or paint pictures, but they judge you on your technical ability – how well you spell or draw – not on the quality of your imagination or your creative process.

But D&D isn’t like that.

Many, many nights of entertainment have been derived from a few hastily written notes on a scrap of paper and this allows something very important to take place – experimentation. GMs can try out ideas incredibly easily and see what works and what doesn’t work very quickly. Often adapting their ideas on the fly as better ideas present themselves.

From this process I learnt how to dig myself out of creative dead ends, to recognise good & bad ideas, the importance of flexibility and not becoming too attached to an idea. These skills are not adventure writing skills but skills for life, for problem solving, for design, for engineering, for anything that requires a creative spark.

D&D – Life’s Playground

The skills I’ve learnt around the games table are not unique to me or to D&D. Many other games or situations can teach exactly the same lessons but for me D&D was the catalyst. This is why it will always be important to me. It gave me one the most precious things possible – somewhere safe in which to learn the rules of life.


  1. I loved this article, you and I had a very different time finding D&D, and it seems a pretty different time playing it as well.

    But somehow, the lessons that we took away from the game, the truths we established for our daily lives thanks to it, those are the same, Universal.

    Francis B´s last blog post..Camilla, Human Druid by Gillian Wiseman

  2. @Francis – That is the great thing about D&D (and all role playing games) – we can do everything differently and yet have so much in common.

  3. I’m actually noticed the exact same things with regards to the dyslexia and reading the rulebooks. I’ll devour them purely because I’m so interested. It takes me an age to do it but once it’s in there I’m sorted 🙂

    Bob´s last blog post..Prerolled

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