Reader Review: Dungeons and Dragons: Family Time or Bad News?

I’ve never been able to get into Dungeons and Dragons or any tabletop role playing game, really.  Too much math for my tastes.  That’s why I just stick to Final Fantasy games.  And even then just the old school ones.  But most of my other brothers really like Dungeons and Dragons.  For instance, my brother Jeff once ran a long running DnD group at his local library.  And another one of my brothers, Benjamin Woodham, wrote this neat article I’d like to share here.  So please read his article below. –Cary

DnD: Family Time or Bad News?

I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition for 5 years at the time of this writing. I began playing in 2017 with a group of players I met at GameStop, that evolved into playing with another group of players I met at a comics shop for 2 years, and I still play to this day through Discord with some friends I met online. I also regularly play DnD with my wife in a hybrid 2-player version of the game we developed during the pandemic when both of us were trapped at home for long periods of time. My answer for the title is, of course DnD can be a family affair, but I’m going to present both sides of the argument to the best of my abilities.

I consider myself a Christian and I am the father of a 2-and-a-half-year-old boy and I have twin daughters on the way. I plan on playing this game with my kids when they are old enough. I’m not the only dad who has played this game with their family members, in fact, playing with your children dates back to the very first DnD campaign when Gary Gygax played with his son Luke. Luke’s character was Melf, a character who still has spells named after him in the current edition of DnD.

Christian Origins

DnD was originally based on Lord of the Rings, a franchise made by a devout Christian, J. R. R. Tolkien, who is well respected and incredibly famous, whose works are among the favorites of many Christians around the world. One of the playable races in the original version of DnD was called a hobbit, and the description of this race came right out of the novel the race is named after. This race was eventually changed to be a Halfling in some editions, and a Kinder in the DnD related Dragonlance novels, the first of which was developed alongside a campaign setting for DnD. Many elements of DnD owe direct lineage to Tolkien’s writings. Elves, Dwarves, Humans, Half-elves, Hobbits, Goblins, Orcs, Half-orcs, Hobgoblins, and Bugbears are pulled straight from the pages of Tolkien and expanded upon in the first editions of DnD, which became incredibly popular in the 80s as people imagined their own worlds and spent time together around a table playing a hybrid of a shared story, and a war-game.

Just like the writings of Tolkien, demons and devils exist as monsters in this game. To say that this is odd for the setting or inappropriate would also be to condemn the works of Tolkien, however, the existence of these darker monsters fueled paranoia in the 80s and early 90s surrounding this tabletop game.

The Risks

To be fair, to say there aren’t risks associated with this game regarding what your children consume would be a lie, however, those risks reflect the same risks your children will run into when playing video games. This is why my policy is to be involved in the types of media my children are watching, playing, and consuming. What information gets into the mind of your child is an important enough that every parent should be as informed as possible about it.

DnD is half war-game, meaning that combat plays a central role in the tabletop game. Thus, monsters and enemies are created, and players are given a reason to fight those monsters. Typically, this means making the monsters as evil as humanly possible in order to give the players a motivation to fight the monster or stop it from fulfilling its goals. Because of the creative nature of the game, and the fact that it pulls from mythology and religion, a large number of the enemies are demons and devils, each having their own categories, powers, and lore surrounding them. These demons are devils are almost always portrayed as evil. That being said, some classes, like the warlock, can make pacts with an indeterminate “Fiend” for one of the subclasses. This is what grants them power in the game, however, the game makes no illusions about the alignment of the fiend – it is evil. Thus, the classical deal with the devil trope can be used within the game if the player so chooses. However, this is just one subclass, within a class that makes deals for power.

Even though that may seem risqué, the thing to remember is that this game is not real. You can easily avoid this class in particular if that idea offends you and create your own setting that is a little more family friendly. I represented that particular class because that is the closest thing to what the paranoia of the 80s and 90s claimed about the game.

There are also video games that explore that idea as well, as well as several forms of media, including comics with Ghost Rider and American mythology surrounding a few blues musicians. The iconic “Deal with the Devil” scenario or character backstory is a well-established story-telling device. However, despite its place in mythos and media, I can understand why that would not be appropriate for children.

The Modern Era

If you decide DnD is not for your kid, that is up to you, however, this website is called gaming with children… so we are catering to people who decide to let their kids play games, including tabletop RPGs, and giving them the best advice to have a safe and fun time enjoying that type of entertainment.

Today, I think it best to embrace DnD’s re-emerging popularity. Critical Role in particular has done a lot to make the game a mainstream hit amongst people of all ages, meaning avoiding it instead of embracing it will be an uphill battle.

However, letting your kids have at it the game without being involved isn’t the best idea either. Instead of fantastical demons to fight, the biggest problem with DnD is the culture surrounding the game. There is no profanity filter on Critical Role. The players have twitter accounts that are extremely political in only one direction. Wizards of the Coast fully embraces Critical Theory. The Newest Amazon TV show based on Critical Role has rated-R violence, profanity, and nudity in it. And basically, every problem surrounding modern media also surrounds modern DnD as well.

The Rewards

So, what’s the point of playing DnD now if there are so many dangers surrounding it? What makes this game worthy of spending money and time on for someone who has family values? The answer is simple. You get to tell stories and spend time with your family.

The beauty of DnD, is that you can become the filter to protect your kids, and even in a limited setting, allowing your kids to participate in a story, to imagine their own characters, and to make decisions that affect the setting of your shared story is something no other game has replicated to the degree Dungeons and Dragons has. The setting can be whatever you decide it to be. You can play as many or as few classes as you want, or you can make up your own classes. You have more control over a Dungeons and Dragons campaign than you do over any other media your children might consume, especially if you play with them… and dads, especially if you make yourself the DM. You can buy as many Wizards of the Coast related books as you like, or you can just get the basic rules and make everything up yourself. The framework of the game beyond the Players Book and the Dungeon Master’s guide is all optional.

Bloom’s taxonomy puts creation as the highest form of learning, so participating in a DnD game with your family can be highly beneficial to the learning abilities of your children, and it can build bonds between you and your family members you wouldn’t otherwise have explored. The memories associated with a Dungeons and Dragons campaign tend to last years, and even sometimes a lifetime.  In a way, this is the best video game – that isn’t a video game – that you can play with your family.

So even though there are risks, criticisms, and imperfections with the game, that’s true of every single video game as well. I highly encourage doing your own research and trying out Dungeons and Dragons if you haven’t yet and you are open to the idea. Just make sure you are informed enough about the hobby to protect and inform your kids while playing. As long as you keep a close eye on what they are learning and doing, there will always be fun to be had with this tabletop game.  –Benjamin Woodham

One Response to “Reader Review: Dungeons and Dragons: Family Time or Bad News?”

  1. Good stuff.

    D&D was seen as a threat when I was younger, so I played a bit without telling the folks.

    Currently I’m playing with my 2 sons, a good friend, and his son. We’re having a great time semi-weekly for a few years now. It’s a nice way for our kids to play together and for us to play with our kids.

    We’re both pretty conservative types so tend to stay away from demons/devils by preference, and generally stay away from gods, etc… Clerics tend to be more domain-focused rather than focusing on any given deity.

    One thing I’ll note is the deadliness of D&D. Often combat results in one or the other side getting killed. Not a bag thing if the “bad buys” are really bad, but what if it’s just a band of goblins in the way? Maybe they have kids? etc… so we try to run things so bad guys needing killing are really bad, and others have options. (Actually, undead work great as they’re pretty much 100% “bad”…)

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