As a young teenager in the ’90s, I still remember when my parents sat us down to have the “talk.”
In some Christian households, it was inevitable.
My parents had to make sure we knew all about the dangers of. . .
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D)
They told us it was evil. Satanic. Witchcraft.
They told us it drove kids mad and caused them to murder others — or kill themselves.
They described it as a demonic addiction over which we would lose all control.
I was thoroughly scared straight.
And as a dutiful child, I obeyed my parents and never touched the stuff.
But as an adult, I was finally convinced to explore the issue for myself. And what I learned is that there was far more fear than fact in what so many Christians believe about D&D.
As you are most likely aware, tabletop role-playing games like D&D are making a huge comeback in America. Adults who once played as children or teenagers are rediscovering their love of the hobby.
Others, like myself, are trying it out for the first time.
It’s become so popular, it was a central element of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things.
It appeals to people of all social types — not just the quiet nerds. It’s even gaining a strong following among women and girls.
So, should you be staging an intervention for your adult son?
Is D&D right for your teenage daughter?
I’d like to give you the information to answer those questions for yourself.
This is my attempt to give an honest, unbiased review of just what D&D is — and just as important, what it is not.
There are pernicious myths to be dispelled, but there are legitimate pitfalls that must be navigated.
So what is D&D?
At its heart, it’s a cooperative, imagination adventure set in a fantasy realm, bound by rules, in which all players work together to play through a story overseen by a volunteer “game runner.”
These fantasy realms are typically inspired by the Lord of the Rings, but they also draw on the many myths and supernatural tales from the real world.
The “game runner” is also known as either a DM (Dungeon Master) or GM (Game Master).
They will typically invest dozens of hours preparing a campaign (series of missions, quests, and adventures) for the remaining participants to experience as players.
And please note, Dungeon means nothing more than an underground lair or cave system.
The use of that word has for some reason taken on a connotation of evil things. But in fantasy terms, the Mines of Moria from Lord of the Rings would be a dungeon.
GM’s love to use dungeons because it presents a controlled space for players to navigate — as opposed to wandering all over a forest without any walls to constrain them.
The players create a character that they will play throughout the campaign. These characters can be complex or simple, but the game encourages the players to be as creative and imaginative as possible.
Back stories, motivations, quirks and flaws — a good character has them all.
In my own experience, creating a character for gaming is not too different from a writer creating a character to use in a narrative story. Some characters reflect who the creator is, or who the creator wishes they could be. And some are just fun explorations in creativity.
Once the campaign is written and all the characters are created, the real make-believe begins.
Gathered together in real life at a table — without any monitors or tv screens separating them — these players and the GM start to create a story together.
The GM presents opportunities or obstacles, and the players make choices on how to react to them. Players can choose to “hack and slash” their way through every encounter with combat, or they can use charisma, diplomacy, and cunning to win the day. Dice are rolled and combined with other calculations based on the characters unique abilities to determine the outcome of any challenging action.
Players must work together cooperatively if they hope to be victorious. As characters successfully navigate more challenges, they accumulate Experience Points, and begin to “level up” their characters and gain new abilities.
In a nutshell, this hobby provides many of the social experiences lacking in modern childhood.
It’s low-tech. It’s social. It’s creativity driven. And it’s cooperative — generally speaking, it’s everyone versus the game. Either everyone wins, or everyone loses together. The only one not “winning” is the GM strictly speaking, but their reward is the satisfaction of creating a fun and challenging experience for others.
So what are the Christian concerns of Dungeons and Dragons?
There are several different “Classes” that a character can be, more or less the career path the character follows.
Rangers are woodsmen (think Aragorn from LOTR). Rogues are especially skilled at breaking and entering, as well as disarming dungeon traps, both very useful skills when exploring ancient ruins (think of the traps faced by Indiana Jones).
There are noble Paladins who are basically your knight of the round table type, and rage-driven Barbarians trained for war.
And then there are the Spellcasting classes.
Yes, D&D and all related games are magic driven. I know for many Christian parents, this might be THE deal breaker, but magic is at the heart of all fantasy stories.
Even Lord of the Rings, which was written with strong Christian themes by Christian author J.R.R. Tolkien, was replete with magic.
But as is the theme of this article, it’s really not as bad as it sounds.
While the spells are said to require “rituals and ingredients,” these are never specified in any detail. No player casting a spell chants an incantation or moves their fingers in complex patterns. There’s no “Eye of newt, sweat of dog” or anything like that.
Spell casting is no more involved than saying “I cast…” It’s certainly possible there are players out there that go to the effort to roleplay this out, but I’ve never seen or met them. And the game certainly does not encourage it.
Simply put, the game does not train players to practice magic or witchcraft.
It is meant to give a player the opportunity to take on the role of a Gandalf-type character in a fantasy setting, not to introduce them to any type of actual, real occultism, which any Christian is right to stay away from.
There are several types of spellcasting, but for the layman Christian the only major distinction is between the clerics and all other casters.
Clerics are priests who are able to cast their spells due to the divine favor of the god they serve. Every morning a cleric is said to conduct rituals to ask for and gain his spells for the day.
Again, that makes it sound far more involved and pagan than it really is. “Preparing” for the day, at most, involves the player saying “I prepare these spells for the day.” No actual rituals or words are ever utilized.
The game books do not typically even say what these rituals would be. There is no attempt to get players to actually go through any ritualism. It’s just a box to check. And a boring box at that.
Druids might also give a parent pause, as these could be compared to how modern practitioners of wiccan/witchcraft present themselves, even if that comparison is rather weak.
In the game, druids draw their magic power from nature. But again, no substance to the nature of their religion is given. Nothing approaching modern witchcraft is included. It’s nothing more than a nominal similarity.
The nature of all D&D-type worlds that I’m aware of includes god pantheons. These are modeled on the real historic mythical pantheons — Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse.
Within the fantasy setting of the game-world, these gods are very tangible and often involved in the affairs of the normal people. Much like the real-life myths, they are tied to concepts (justice, love, death) elements (water, fire, earth) or even to drunken revelry.
There are good gods, evils gods, and even neutral gods. These gods live on other planes of existence but interact heavily with the “material plane” — i.e. normal reality.
Every character has the option to be aligned with an in-game god, but for most classes this plays very little role in game play. Clerics and paladins are the only exception, as stated above.
The best I can offer you about this, is that these gods are presented as beings of limited (albeit, a great deal of) power. These are not YHWH-type gods. They are not omnipotent or omniscient. They can be killed — and they can be created.
If this concerns you — and it did me when I first started playing — my advice is to talk it through with your child. Explain the nature of mythological pantheons of gods. Encourage them to downplay the gods in their imagination, so as to not be confused theologically.
Make sure they know the difference between Truth and make-believe and you should be fine.
Set in the proper context, this shouldn’t be a stumbling block for your child. But it’s absolutely something every parent will need to carefully consider.
Now for the roughest part of D&D: The “Undead” and Demons.
These have not traditionally been a part of fantasy worlds, but they’ve been included in D&D to present the opportunity to play in more horror-type campaign settings.
Ghouls, zombies, vampires, ghosts, demons and devils. Campaigns can include them all.
The undead are likely less troubling for most, compared to the demons.
And the demons are…well, demonic.
They are evil and foul beings. They come from the Abyssal Plane — which is analogous to Hell. Many of their names are drawn from real demonology. For a Christian like me, it’s quite unpleasant.
So what’s the silver lining? For starters, the demons are bad guys and viewed as such. They are shown to be demented and disgusting. Killing and defeating them is the entire purpose and motivation for the characters in these settings.
Secondly, they don’t have to be in a campaign. Excluding them could be as simple as talking to the group your child is playing with and asking them to leave such monsters out of it.
A GM never has to include anything, so restricting a campaign to only classic fantasy monsters is easy and straight forward.
As for the enduring myth that D&D causes social disorders, violence, and even psychotic breaks…
That’s pure fiction.
Ok, maybe there really was one kid who got lost in his character and started attacking people, but I doubt it. It’s more like an urban legend. But if it did happen, that young man brought those issues into the game — he didn’t find them there.
Players certainly aren’t encouraged by the system to fixate on their characters to the extent that they lose themselves in the fantasy of them. In fact, most active players will make several characters a year and move on regularly.
But far from creating social disorders, role playing gaming actually encourages social interaction. It builds friendships and teamwork. Instead of isolating gamers in their own bedrooms or basements where they stare at screens, it brings them together in the real world.
So, does it expose players to the ideas of spells, false gods, and demons? Yes, there’s no getting around that.
But it does not encourage the players to dabble in witchcraft or demonic rituals.
With a reasonable amount of guidance from a parent for context, D&D is no more a challenge to Christian faith than any other gaming system.
If this run down hasn’t completely turned you against the concept, I’d highly encourage you to familiarize yourself with any of the game books your child is using so you can see for yourself where a conversation needs to happen.
And if your child is in fact an adult who loves to play D&D — take a deep breath and try to relax.
This game is not brainwashing them, stealing their soul, or turning them into a pariah.
In fact, it might be making them more popular than ever.