A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Dungeons & Dragons was a big influence on my writing; this past weekend’s article from the New York Times says I’m not the only one. Authors like China Mieville, Cory Doctorow, and George R.R. Martin (you might have heard of his little series of heartwarming, whimsical tales) were (and some still are) gamers.
Some folks like to sneer that gamers need to “get a life,” but gaming’s taught me some valuable life lessons. Such as….
1. Potions in you are better than potions in the bottle. In D&D, magic potions are one-use items that a player-character (PC) can drink to give themself some sort of wondrous (albeit temporary) ability, or healed damage they had suffered.
I’ve seen plenty of times when a player considered but ultimately eschewed taking a potion in a situation, thinking they had the wherewithal to handle whatever was happening. Sometimes it would work out, sometimes it wouldn’t…and when it wouldn’t, the results could be fatal to the PC. Whereupon, the player would often exclaim, “I should have taken that potion!”
Real-life application: Be willing to accept help when it comes along: sometimes, you can’t do it alone. Also, look after your health: there’s no point trying to do something if you kill yourself in the process.
2. If you yell, “Anything but a ‘1’!” you will almost always get a “1.” Role-playing games (like D&D) and wargames (like Warhammer 40,000, another favorite of mine) often rely on dice to determine what happens. Almost always, a roll of “1” on either a 20-sided or a standard 6-sided die is a Bad Thing. Want to ensure that you get a roll of “1”? Announce that it’s the number you DON’T want as you roll the die. It almost always comes up.
Real-life application: If you focus on the negative, you’re sure to find it.
As you can see, my dice hate me
3. If you yell, “I need a ‘6’!” you often get one. Conversely, a roll of “6” in Warhammer 40K is almost always a Very Good Thing. Shouting that you need a “6” as you roll the die doesn’t seem to happen as often as the inverse, but it does seem to happen more than it should.
Real-life application: There are no guarantees, but if you focus on the positive, you’re more likely to get it.
4. There could be monsters anywhere. D&D has hundreds, if not thousands, of monsters for PCs to fight. Dragons, of course, but also orcs, goblins, giants, dark elves, mind flayers, basilisks, werewolves, vampires, gelatinous cubes, etc. But one of the most unnerving is the doppelganger, a murderous creature that assumes human form, gains its victims’ trust, and strikes when unexpected.
Real-life application: Monsters do exist, but they all look like people; fortunately, they’re very rare. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of one’s surroundings at all time, and to be aware of suspicious behavior, even from people you’ve known for a while. Especially from people you’ve known for a while.
5. Always be prepared for a random encounter. In D&D, a “random encounter” is a dice-generated event whereupon the PCs come across strangers, be they potentially dangerous (evil monsters, human bandits, non-player character adventuring parties, etc.) or potentially helpful (merchants, pilgrims, townspeople, etc.). Depending on what sort of strangers the PCs meet and how each party reacts, random encounters can be astonishingly deadly or amazingly helpful.
Real-life application: You never know when you might come across someone who might change your life forever, for good or ill, so be prepared to seize opportunities and/or avoid folks who don’t mean you well. Hand-in-hand with that…
6. Sometimes, Charisma is the most valuable ability. Player-characters in D&D have randomly-generated numerical values for Strength (how physically strong they are), Intelligence (how smart they are), Wisdom (how well they use what smarts they have), Constitution (how tough and resistant to illness they are), Dexterity (how agile they are), and Charisma (how well they influence people). When creating a PC, usually, you’d roll dice and assign the results as you saw fit, with warriors wanting high Strength, wizards with high Intelligence, thieves with high Dexterity, and so on.
Many gamers I was acquainted with considered Charisma a dumping ground for low dice rolls, but encounters with non-player characters usually hinged on a PC’s Charisma. Trying to get a better deal on some gear from a merchant? Trying to bribe a guard into ignoring you as you sneak into some place? Trying to get some information out of someone? Often, Charisma (or the lack thereof) made all the difference in a game.
Real-life application: If you’re an adult in the business world, you’ve surely heard the expression, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I’ve seen extremely talented, extremely dedicated people falter or fail in their careers because they can’t get along well with others.
7. Race: Human. In D&D, you can play a human, an elf, a dwarf, a halfling, a gnome, or (depending on what edition of the game you’re using) several other options; these categories are considered “races.” In D&D, a human is a human is a human: skin tone, hair color, eye shape, etc. are not covered in the rules, provide no advantage or disadvantage in the game, and are left up to the player who is creating the character to determine as they see fit.
Real-life application: Once you spend some game time interacting with characters who aren’t human, you tend to see fewer differences among people you spend time with when you’re not gaming.
8. Everything is math. Warhammer 40,000 is a game built around math, summed up by the motto, “He who rolls the most dice, wins.” In 40K (as it’s nicknamed), you want to maneuver your army into prime positions where they can inflict the most casualties on the enemy while minimizing their own. A good grasp of geometry and probability is essential for success, as is an understanding of timing.
To a lesser extent, D&D depends on math, too: the most obvious example is that a warrior with higher Strength scores will find it easier to hit and hurt opponents (and thus succeed and survive) than another warrior with mediocre or poor Strength.
Real-life application: I was math-phobic as a young man, but as I got older, I realized how crucial a good understanding of numbers is. For example, a single percentage point can make a BIG difference when you’re talking about a 30-year mortgage. In that vein…
9. Doing XPs trains you. “Experience points” (or XPs) are a numerical value that PCs earn when they slay monsters, claim treasures, and/or accomplish goals. They’re awarded by the Dungeon Master (DM), or referee of the game, and when a PC accumulates enough of them, they “level up” and become more capable and powerful.
After each gaming session I ran as a DM, I consulted the rulebooks, determined how many XPs were earned for each activity, tallied them in long columns, divided them appropriately among the PCs, calculated bonus percentages (earned for high ability scores) for those PCs who had them, and added them to each PC’s running score of how many XP they had earned to date..
Real-life application: Adding up figures and subtracting out/dividing when necessary, calculating percentages… hmmm, what does that sound like? Oh, yeah: keeping a checkbook. Or doing taxes. And speaking of XPs…
At this point, wondering how many XPs they might get should be the last thing on any player’s mind
10. “Variables preclude a fixed number.” The XP charts in the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide listed values for most monsters, but not all. Monsters of the same general type (for example, dragons) could sometimes have additional abilities that would make calculating their XPs difficult (in that case, no standard XPs would be listed—the DM would have to calculate them based on a table). In those cases, the XP chart would note, “Variables preclude a fixed number.”
Real-life application: As we don’t have XP outside of games, there is no one-to-one correlation to be made. But I have adopted the phrase “Variables preclude a fixed number” when reconciling the element of unforeseen chance that affects daily life and disrupts plans. Perhaps you are headed to a wedding and there’s a traffic jam that delays you: “variables preclude a fixed number.” After paying your bills, you see there’s enough money leftover so that you can spend the weekend at the beach—but then your dog gets sick, and you have to take them to the vet: “variables preclude a fixed number.”
Unexpected change doesn’t have to be bad: on your way out of the vet’s office, you find a $20 bill on the sidewalk: “variables preclude a fixed number.” Stymied by the traffic jam, you take an alternate route to that wedding, and pass by a store or restaurant or other place that you note and visit on your way back—and it becomes your favorite: “variables preclude a fixed number.” See what I mean?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to start prepping for my next game. Hopefully, I’ll learn something from it.
Kenton Kilgore is the author of DRAGONTAMER’S DAUGHTERS, a two-part young adult fantasy novel based on Navajo culture and belief. Look for his next work, LOST DOGS, a young adult sci-fi novel, coming this summer.