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Well, it’s about time. We’re playing some D&D. In school. For the good of all.

Anybody who knows anything knows D&D is the greatest game that ever was. I certainly know this and expressed that here five years ago. Forget it, you chess lovers and Scrabble nuts and FortNite fans: D&D rules.

In terms of learning, D&D basically does it all, and, as a Mindshift story reports, teachers are using D&D (and other role-playing games) as “tools for teaching, learning and social-emotional development. And many report that the potent alchemical elixir of role-play, learning and storytelling has, in many cases, been transformational.”

Damn right.

Of course, “we” always knew this. Who’s “we”? The scores of people I have sat at the table (or, back in the day, an old chest in my house) with since about 1979, the year my friend Pete’s mom, the inimitable Mrs. Ralston, bought me the boxed set for my birthday. Pete and I, by the way, are still at it together.

Image result for dungeons and dragons boxed set

The original boxed set.

A video accompanying the Mindshift story is quite good. It includes a distillation of the game into three fundamental elements: “Describe. Decide. Roll.” I like that, because the game really is simple. Sure, players can spend hours (or a lifetime) arguing nuances of the rules (as we often do), but as long as someone knows the rules in your group, you can play with a basic understanding of the game’s mechanics, simply following those three core elements: The Dungeon Master (DM), describes a scenario, sometimes with the table-top aids. Players decide what to do. And most of those decisions result in rolls of a bunch of dice.

The Mindshift story opens with a description of a “timid” first-year high school student who built confidence through the game. From there, the the article describes how D&D can help in “hacking the educational narrative,” drawing that idea from a D&D can “save the world” talk at SXSW EDU.

We have known this for a long time; the game can build your brain in so many ways:

Stories and narrative. The world is stories, as one of the SXSW speakers, Maria Laura Ruggiero, says. D&D helps you refine your ability to think narratively.

Reading and literacy. D&D is reading-intensive: Just look at the rule books. And to enhance their understanding of/feel for a particular campaign, players often turn to other texts. Once, in a maritime-themed adventure, for the holidays (in real life) I purchased for my player-friends fiction and nonfiction works about pirating.

Math. Probability drives the game: Characters basically improve by increasing their probability of success. It struck me that I’ve been thinking in probability for nearly 40 years — it’s hard to see the world otherwise.

Collaboration. The game forces people to work together in tremendously challenging team-building tasks that, by their nature, force players to discover and draw on various assets and strengths. A party that doesn’t have a good mix of talents is destined for the ash heap. “Escape the Room”? — D&D players have been doing that for decades.

Imagination. The video narrator says, “In most games, how you play is limited by the options the game designers give you.” I try to get this through to my boys: In most games, including video games, you are bound by the world of the game designer. In D&D, anything goes, and that narrative is often tremendously complex, “written” in multiple levels by a game designer and then the DM and then, sometimes, the players themselves, the people participating in the game. My players, properly paranoid after decades of being slaughtered in every way imaginable, will see a random villager and determine, “She’s up to no good!” They follow her. Well, while that person initially had nothing to do with the adventure, I can change that, because of the players.

There’s nothing like it. D&D has tremendous education potential, and I for one, proud DM since the late 70s, think it’s about time we’ve realized that.


Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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4 Responses to “Hacking the educational narrative with good old D&D”

  1. It’s hard to believe that there are still people out there that don’t realize what D&D is, or what it does for the players. To be so immersed in it and for so long has truly been a boon. We’ve been playing since 1979, my kids starting playing years ago, and I can’t imagine it any other way. I’m not sure the enjoyment and benefits of D&D can be overstated.

  2. I would like to reinforce this message and comment that role playing strategies are employed by marketing, sales, legal and human resource professionals to communicate goals and predict business outcomes. A Comfort level with these techniques should not be under valued.

    The sited links are worth listening and reading. They further expand the set of values that Scott has relayed. Realize that every listener is part of the story as well and influence how the story is told.

  3. Wow this sounds really cool. I wish I knew more about it. Can you publish your D&D session log. I promise not to judge.

  4. Oh and please include any hand drawn pics…that would be really helpful to get an accurate flavor of the game.

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