One of the things I love about D&D is that it gives players an opportunity to be epic. Sometimes life can be mundane and meaningless, but epic life… that’s a horse of a different color. What’s different about life when it’s lived epically, you ask? Here are my 4 marks of an epic life:
1. Epic living has lasting direction. There is movement and progression. An epic life doesn’t stand still. I mean, imagine playing a role playing game where you just sat there. It’s not much fun is it? Furthermore, this direction is one that lasts. It’s possible to live a frantic life pulled in many directions, different every day, but that’s hardly epic. It’s more just plain exhausting.
2. Epic living has higher purpose. An epic life participates in something greater than itself. In Dungeons & Dragons player characters are often caught up quests and circumstances that go beyond themselves: slaying a nasty marauding dragon to save the town, restoring the worship of a lost God, fighting in a massive war to protect the homeland from an invading army.
3. Epic living has real risks. An epic life forgoes safety and comfort for the sake of direction and purpose. In D&D your character Gina the Fighter is much more likely to survive to a ripe old age if she doesn’t venture into the lair of the big nasty giant. The game isn’t very fun for the players or the DM if the characters just bulldoze their way through every monster. Their decisions should have consequences. If they make bad decisions, the risk that their character would die has to be real.
4. Epic living has unexpected rewards. An epic life is rewarded in unforeseen ways. A life’s purpose might include the seeking of a certain reward: say Gina the Fighter has the purpose of acquiring wealth, which leads her to take the risk of entering the giant’s lair in search of his hoard of gold. But having striven for that purpose, Gina also wins an unexpected reward: she returns to the village where she’s surprised by the villagers who now praise her as GINA THE GIANT SLAYER and elect her mayor of the village. She might also find that through this experience she has new unexpected courage to face even larger foes.
Direction, Purpose, Risk, Reward. These four marks help to identify an epic life.
Now there are many different ways that an epic life might be pursued. The direction, purpose, risk, and reward for one person is likely going to look very different from that of another. But there are equally many ways to retreat from epic living. In my experience, comfort and safety often seem to trump any sense of a higher purpose. We live in predictable patterns taking predictable risks for predictable rewards. Maybe that sort of life works for some people, but for me that sounds like the downright doldrums.
D&D is being used today to teach people all sorts of things. Some teachers incorporate it into their classroom to help kids learn math. Some psychologists use it to help teach social skills and empathy to autistic children. Others have found that playing D&D helps people to unlock their creativity and improvisational skills. I think this game can be used to teach us to recognize and to live a more epic life.
There are a lot of people out there who talk about using a role playing game in this sort of a way. One of the best for me was Dan Harmon when he was interviewed on the Dungeons & Dragons podcast.
— Rory Philstrom (@TheDMPastor) May 18, 2016
This is a game where we can really wrestle with the tension between who we are and who we want to be.