Why I’m Thankful for Dungeons & Dragons
All this month we’re asking our various Dungeonmastering.com contributors what D&D means to them, whether its delving into their Geek past, looking at how the game currently manifests itself in their lives, or wondering what the future with it holds. Here is what Krys Underwood, our resident riddle maker, had to say:
When I started teaching last year, my goal was – and still is – to show my kids how much fun it is to read and write. For most students, my mere enthusiasm for delving into a book or bringing to life the characters from my imagination was enough to get their attention and interest. Except for this one kid. Let’s call him Joseph.
Joseph hated school. He hated books. He couldn’t write a complete sentence. He was in 5th grade and read at a 2nd grade level. He transferred to our school in 4th grade after having been written off as ‘incapable of learning’ by his former teachers. He had already failed a grade and was now in the same class as his little sister, who was a bright student and loved school. Joseph had mentally dropped out, and he was only eleven years old.
The oldest of five kids, Joseph was literally the ‘man of the house’. His mother had never married his own father, and had four other children by three other men. His middle siblings’ father had physically abused his mother in front of the children, and then abandoned the family. In the resulting depression, his mother became addicted to drugs and even began manufacturing them in the home. By the age of nine, when Joseph first came to us, he had already fought off grown men at knife point from beating his mother and molesting his little sisters and called the ambulance several times for his mother’s overdoses. In all honesty, what could I say to a kid who definitely had more important things to worry about than how to make inferences in stories that had happy endings or make sure the verbs matched the subjects in his essay on Gutenberg’s press? How do I respond to, “I didn’t do my homework because I had to clean the house yesterday before the CPS lady got there”?
His first year with me, Joseph actually made tremendous progress, in part because his mother cleaned up and kicked out the latest and last abuser in her life and his four afternoons a week and one Saturday a month of intensive tutoring demanded by me and his math teacher. Joseph’s reading and math abilities rose three grade levels in one year, but he still found little joy in reading.
After wracking my brain for a way to get this kid to truly enjoy reading and writing, he did it himself by accident. Now twelve years old, Joseph was staying late after school one day for – again – not having his homework, and my husband Casey showed up at the school with some Pathfinder and D&D books so that he could level his character in our home game while he waited for me. I had stepped out to speak with a parent, and, looking for anything, as usual, to get himself out of reading, Joseph walked over to Casey and started asking my husband questions about what he was doing. Squelching the teacher-urge to nag Joseph into “getting back to work”, I silently watched the exchange from the doorway.
“Whatcha doin’?” Joseph inquired in a disinterested tone.
“Leveling up my ninja,” Casey replied, head buried in the Ultimate Combat book.
“What? Ninja?” Joseph asked, curiosity creeping into his voice. “Lemme see!”
Casey reluctantly released the book to Joseph, who flipped through it for a moment. “What’s a bab?”
“Base attack bonus, and you say it B-A-B. It’s the bonus you get to your attack rolls.”
“What are you attacking?”
“Well, that’s up to the DM, the Dungeon Master. You can fight goblins, or evil mages, or even dragons. It’s whatever their story has in it. Krys…uh, Mrs. Underwood….has been running Curse of the Crimson Throne, so we’ve been fighting a lot of corrupt politicians and crime lords.”
“What’s crupt mean?”
“Not ‘crupt’, corrupt. It means bad or evil. They steal from people. Look, if you’re really interested, start out with the Core Rulebook. It explains how to play and build a character. Maybe you could start your own game.” He swapped books with Joseph, who immediately plopped onto the floor and began reading the 576-page book, starting with the Table of Contents.
My jaw dropped as I watched Joseph tackle a book longer than 50 pages with enthusiasm, continuing to ask Casey questions about difficult vocabulary or terms he doesn’t understand, eventually grabbing a dictionary off the bookshelf and using it to look up words willingly.
Thirty minutes later, Joseph’s mom arrived, looking beautiful in her smart business suit that she wears to her new job in the billing department at the local hospital. She greeted me happily, a new-found peace in her eyes that I haven’t seen until this year. She glanced at Joseph, and a look of surprise crosses her face. She mouthed to me, “Is he reading?” I nodded excitedly.
She had to call his name three times before he noticed her and grudgingly returned the book back to Casey. “Mr. Casey, I’m probably not going to do my homework next week either. Can you bring the books to Reading Lab?”
Sigh. Okay, well, it’s progress, right? We’ve purchased the Beginner Box from Paizo so that Joseph can play the game with his friends after school. We already have a Mouse Guard RPG club, but Joseph didn’t care for it. He wants to start a D&D/Pathfinder Club, and he’s asking me for advice on DMing, too. He’s reading fantasy novels for story and character ideas, and he’s journaling about it daily. Joseph loves to read and write about roleplaying games.
Thank you, D&D.