“As you stumble through the trees, you see Sulaiman grappling with what looks like one of the rangers you narrowly evaded earlier. What do you do?” my uncle said right before he intoned the question which is the basis of all Dungeons and Dragons games.
“Well…” I started off, thinking aloud, then finally making my decision, “I go to them and try to help Sulaiman overpower the ranger and tie him up.”
In a game of Dungeons and Dragons, players use their characters to make decisions in the world with their skills, languages, and alliances. When a character wishes to make a decision that is challenging or difficult to execute, they must roll a multiple-sided die to determine their chances of success or failure in the action they are trying to do.
Did I mention that the entire game is played in your imagination and by speaking aloud? No need for a clunky playing board, or anything of the sort, just a piece of paper for menial character statistics and illustrations of important objects and places in the world, your imagination, and a quick mind.
My two cousins, Sulaiman and Yusuf, our friend Ziyad, and I were playing Dungeons and Dragons with my uncle, Rashid Khalu. Dungeons and Dragons is a game in which a Dungeon master, my uncle in this case, creates long and short term adventures and scenarios for the people playing. All players start out with their own character, having fully customizable features ranging from their race and profession in life, to their moral alignment in the world and their skills. My character was a Human Mage, a spell-casting class which specializes in magic, and a True Neutral character, meaning my character would generally only do things that furthered his own aspirations.
It was getting late and the sun was setting, both in the real world and our imagined world. We started to interrogate the ranger in the game and my uncle, who determines what all the non-player characters say, told us the ranger said that he was tasked with defending the world from the powerful sorceress whom we saw in custody with the ranger’s party. I thought that my cousins were being a little too harsh with the interrogation and afterwards I told the ranger that he had a friend in me. While the others trusted a mage we had previously talked to and didn’t trust this ranger, I trusted neither, but still had a fairly strong sense of justice and what was best for my character. That night, the ranger somehow undid his bonds and walked up to me when it was my watch, tapping me on the shoulder. He told me that if I would let him go, he would give me his ring, which would make me a member of a powerful order. He said I could use the ring to get training from a very powerful mage in a city northwards. The session ended with the others waking up and finding out the ranger had escaped on my watch–I avoided the blame, saying that I didn’t even hear him when he walked out of the camp.
While we put away all of the Dungeons and Dragons related material and finished cleaning up, I thought about what I had done. I justified letting the ranger go with the knowledge that my character had no idea who was ‘good’ or ‘evil’ and that one should not be punished if the prosecutor doesn’t truly know what the other character’s motives are.
One of the most important life lessons I have learned from Dungeons and Dragons is not to judge anyone.
I recognize how astounding it was that my uncle, a busy lawyer, Dungeon Mastered for us. Now I know why–facing moral dilemmas in a made up world where your character’s decisions do have consequences, allows you to recognize moral qualities you may have in your own life and either strengthen them, if they are good, or try to stop them, if they are unsavory. Another marvelous thing I recognized at the end was that in this media focused age, there are very few families that sit together on a carpet and play four-hour-long games which enrich their own lives with each other. All of a sudden I was very grateful that Rashid Khalu had taken the time out develop a world that allows for true self-discovery and real bonding between family and friends.
Khalid Husain is 14 years old and in his sophomore year at Stuyvesant High School. He enjoys playing video games competitively in tournaments, playing football, and writing.
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