Dungeons & Dragons Makes You a Better Jew

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Author and gamer Matt Staggs just wrote an article for Random House’s science fiction site, Suvudu, about plans to revitalize and relaunch the old Dungeons & Dragons red-box set.

dungeons & dragons red boxThe truth is, although Dungeons & Dragons is commonly associated with antisocial geeks, the one facet of the game’s play which the media never picks up on is this: it’s necessary to play it in a group. At the very least, you need somebody playing a character (you know, a knight or a magician or a demon warlord) and a Dungeon Master, who’s the person who tells the story and looks at the maps and decides what happens to you.

Of course, that’s for most people. Even among the D&D world, I was an odd one: I learned to play alone.

I didn’t stay that way for long. Even I had some friends, even at 13 years old; and, eventually, I suckered them into playing. D&D can be addictive: once you start the storytelling, you don’t want to stop. It’s not uncommon for a game to last for weeks or months. It’s all about long-form storytelling, and it’s probably more analogous to a TV show like Lost than a board game like Monopoly or Scrabble — everyone plays characters, and you’re wandering through a land, encountering some people, and beating up on others (of course).

One other thing that was addictive about my early teenhood: Orthodox youth grouping.

Here’s what I said:

“I got into D&D about the same time I was becoming religious, when I was 13,” said Roth. “I was in this Orthodox Jewish youth group with a bunch of my friends. We started playing on Saturday afternoons at the rabbi’s house. We couldn’t write anything down, of course, but we had our sheets, we could roll dice, and the DM, my friend Mike Seltzer, had all these charts and maps that he would try to keep hidden from us. Then the rabbi’s six kids would run in, and all the tiny kids, the kids of anyone who was there visiting the rabbi, would come in and want to play. In a few months, there was this whole flock of tiny yeshiva boys who were schooled in D&D.”

For more stories of authors and their Dungeons & Dragons experiences — and to read my mini-commentary on what I think of about using D&D as a teaching aide for Torah texts and cultural experiences — check out the original article. And, wowzas, the article (and my quote) was picked up on io9, the Gawker science fiction website, as well as Mediabistro and on the official Dungeons & Dragons site as well. Geekitude!

Posted on March 3, 2010

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