Monday, May 13, 2013

Christians Playing Dungeons and Dragons Part 1

Christians Playing Dungeons and Dragons

By Steve Weese (a Christian who plays D&D)

Recently I have seen a resurgence of discussion on this topic, and since it is central to Fans for Christ, I thought I should address it. Since Dungeons and Dragons has long been described by certain Christians as a ‘doorway to occultism’ and a ‘manual for magic’ I will first address what D&D is. This will include describing a typical game session, including examples of games I have been in. Then I will address specific claims and charges about the game, which I believe are patently false.

Part One: The Game of D&D

What is Dungeons and Dragons?

Dungeons and Dragons (or D&D) originated from an already existing game of medieval warfare. This game, Chainmail, was further developed into the first true role-playing game. (Wikipedia, 1) A role playing game is where the player takes on the role of someone else, and acts out that role. This may seem a bit strange at first, but people actually do this for a living; they are called actors. So, this game gave people a chance to become actors, playing a part.
            The director of this movie, if you will, was known as the Dungeon Master. This person was sort of the referee who created the world and the other characters that the players would interact with in their own movie. (Now this person is usually called the Game Master, since role-playing games have evolved to have many settings beyond fantasy.)
            The genre, or setting of this game is fantasy. It is very similar to the world of Middle-Earth in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings novels. The general fantasy world is the world of wizards and knights, fair maidens and dragons, elves, dwarves, goblins, trolls, kings and peasants. Of course, this world in some ways is similar to our medieval and renaissance times, in terms of government, clothing, weapons and armor.
            So, a player of D&D creates this persona, the role they would play, which is known as their character. A character in D&D has ability scores that describe how strong, smart, fast, and charming they are, for instance. They also have a sex, height, race (such as elf, dwarf, or human) and a class, which is their job. The current version of D&D, 3.5, allows many choices for this class. A character is some type of adventurer (obviously, you’d get bored playing as a peasant farming all day or scrubbing in the kitchens.) The classes a player can choose for their character are based loosely on different fantasy stereotypes you have probably seen in movies. Here are a few examples: warrior, barbarian, wizard, rogue, priest, ranger (a woodsman or hunter), paladin (like a knight), monk (think Kung Fu.)
Usually, characters are part of a group of adventurers whose strengths compliment each other. This group is referred to as a party. If you have seen Lord of the Rings, think of how Gandalf can use magic, Aragorn can use swords, Boromir can fight and shoot the bow, and the hobbits are good at hiding and sneaking around. In different situations, different party members’ abilities are needed. This actually promotes a sense of teamwork within the group of adventurers.

Playing the Game

Once the characters have been created, it is time to play. The Game Master will usually start the adventurers on a long-term quest usually referred to as a campaign. The characters meet in the fantasy world, join together and begin on their quest.
            There are many rules that determine what a character can and cannot do. They are based on the abilities mentioned before, such as strength, and also skills that the character learns. As a character gains experience in the game, experience points are awarded. This is a way for characters to advance their skills. As they gain experience, skills and abilities improve.
            The game in some ways tries to simulate what it would be like if your character was actually there in the fantasy world. Let’s compare this to a task you would perform. You have a bow and arrow, and you are fairly skilled with it. So, you go practice at the archery range shooting at the targets. Now, even though you are good, do you hit the bull’s-eye every time? No. Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you don’t even know why you missed. However, if you had no skill with the bow, you would probably never hit the bull’s-eye, or, if you did, it would be total luck. To represent this situation in D&D, your skill is added to a random dice roll. Here is an example of how this would work. This time, it is your character Visk that is skilled with the bow. To represent this skill, he gets a skill score of 8. (Zero would be no skill at all and 20 would be the best possible.) To represent random chance each time you fire, a dice roll is added to your score. Hitting the bull’s-eye is represented by a difficulty of 15. So, each time you roll your dice, you add your score of 8. If the total is 15 or above, your character hit the bull’s-eye. So, this sequence describes the action rolling a 20-sided die (results of 1-20):





Visk hit the bullseye
Visk just missed the bullseye
A perfect shot
Visk missed badly

The player would roll the die (die being singular for dice), and the Game Master would tell you the result of the action. This is how many actions occur in D&D. Other actions, such as getting on a horse or picking up a rock on the ground, are simple and do not require a dice roll. It is assumed that you are able to do it. To do something like this, a player just says, “I get on my horse.” So now the rest of the gamers all know that that player is on his horse.

An Example Gaming Session

As luck would have it, I played in a D&D game just a week ago. There were seven of us who went out to a gaming cafĂ©. We sat around a table and got comfy on the couches. A TV was playing in the background and Rocky II was on, though I don’t know why.
            Many people assume that when gamers role-play they totally take on the character. Usually, this is not what happens at all. In fact I have never seen this happen, and if I did, I would think that the person doing it was a total nutcase. Instead, we all have a picture of our character in our minds, doing the things we are trying to do with him or her. Besides that, its not much different than friends gathering around to play monopoly or cards. We talk, laugh, joke, and play the game. During this session, for example, we took a break and walked next door to get pizza and subs. Let me give you an example dialogue from this game.* The players are Scribe, Adryn, Steve (myself), Brad, John, and Lex. The Game Master is Dan.

Dan: Okay, so last time you guys played you had just killed all the wolves that the warrior guy had sent after you.
Steve: Yeah, I had just climbed up to the platform and then collapsed there bleeding. So I’m up there. Bleeding.
John: Okay I go look back to the room the wolves came from, behind the gate.
Dan: What gate?
John: The one to the room with the wolves.
Dan: Oh, that gate rose up into the ceiling, there’s just an empty room where the wolves were.
John: Oh ok.
Scribe: Oh, this is such a bad movie.
Steve: What? Rocky II is a great movie! Its like… nostalgia.
Scribe: No it’s not, it’s just bad.
Brad: See I think watching movies is like a meal, sometimes you want something really healthy, but sometimes you want some junk food. So movies like this are just junk food.
Adryn: Yeah, I can see that.
John: So anyway, I guess we all climb up to the platform.
Steve: Yeah, is anyone going to heal me?
John: Okay, let me see. I have one Cure Light Wounds spell left.
Steve: Well? Heal me!
John: Okay, I cast the spell. (John rolls some dice.)You heal seven hit points.
Steve: Okay, thanks. Now I’m up to 10.
Dan: Alright, what are you guys going to do now that you all climbed up to the platform?
Steve: Well I guess I will scout ahead. I signal to the rest of the party to be quiet and wait where they are.
Steve: So much for stealth.
Dan: Okay you see a door on the right and a room over to the left.
Steve: Okay I go into the room.
Dan: This room right here, you just walk in?
Steve: Okay no wait, I check for traps first.
Dan: Alright give me a roll.
Steve: (Rolls dice) Total is 31.
Dan: Yeah, you find a trip wire going across the floor here.
Scribe: I walk up behind the rogue.
Steve: What are you doing? I told you guys to stay back! There’s a trap here.
Scribe: Well, get rid of it, rogue!
Steve: What do you think I’m doing? Okay Dan, I get out my grappling hook and move back away from the trap and have everyone else back up. (Meaningful look at Scribe)
Dan: Okay. (He moves our miniatures on the map to show where we moved to.)
Steve: Alright I throw the grappling hook across the wire and use it to pull the tripwire.
Dan: Ok roll. (Steve rolls dice) You hear a loud thunk.
Steve: Okay I go carefully check what happened.
Adryn: Wow Billy Dee Williams sure looks different in this movie.
John: Yeah but you can still tell that’s his voice when he talks.
Steve: What? That’s not Billy Dee Williams.
John: Remember in Star Wars he was the only guy who called Han “Han”, everyone else said it like “Hahn.”
Scribe: Yeah, that’s right.
Steve: That is so not Billy Dee Williams… its… its some other guy.
Lex: I think he is right.
John: No way that is totally him.
Steve: No its this other guy who went on to make this other movie… its Carl Weathers, that’s it. Carl Weathers.
Scribe: I’ll settle this. (Gets out her cell phone and calls someone.)
Dan: Okay well you see a bunch of metal spears that are stuck in the wall now.
Steve: Wow glad I found that trap.
Brad: I walk by and look at the spears. Hmm.
Scribe: (on phone) Okay you know that Rocky movie? Yeah. Who plays that guy... (pause) Apollo Creed.
Steve: No, that’s the character’s name not the actor!
Scribe: Oh. (pause) It’s Carl Weathers.
Steve: Ha! I told you.
John: Okay but he still really looks like Billy Dee Williams.

*This is from memory and not exact.

As you can see, this is hardly an occult experience we were having. Instead, it is like a bunch of friends getting together playing a game. I have played D&D for almost 20 years, and this experience is very typical. I have played with probably a dozen different groups of people, and it all has been very much like this.

Part II: Christian Perspective on D&D


Spellcasting 101: Don't Try This At Home, William J. Walton

Should a Christian Play Dungeons & Dragons? William Schnoebelen

Straight Talk on Dungeons and Dragons, William Schnoebelen

Dungeons and Dragons, Players Handbook, 3rd Edition, Wizards of the Coast

Wikipedia entry for Dungeons and Dragons:

Dungeons & Dragons - history, versions, and revisions

Dungeons and Dragons™ and other fantasy role-playing games, B.A. Robinson

Japanese Mythology

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