I’ve shared a lot of posts about the act of running the game from a mechanics and stylistic point of view, but now I’d like to spend a bit more time on the interpersonal aspects of D&D.
By now, it’s more widely understood that playing D&D can have profound impacts on someone’s confidence, coping mechanisms, and social skills, and there is a growing community of psychologists and counselors who help children and teenagers overcome a multitude of challenges through RPG-based therapy. It’s an aspect of the game that has always inspired me profoundly. Though a behavioural psychologist myself, I did not set out with the family D&D campaigns with the goal of counseling in mind, but I have observed significant growth in the people around the table. Kids who began shy and reserved have found their voice. They are actively engaging in problem solving as a team, learning things about themselves along the way. It’s a beautiful thing at has driven me explore ways to facilitate that growth in a more deliberate manner.
Here are some things I’ve learned:
Growing confidence is probably the easiest change to see, and one that requires the least additional effort to encourage! The hardest step for most new players is just getting over that feeling of self-consciousness in role playing with unfamiliar faces. If your group isn’t welcoming and inclusive, many won’t even make it to the table. Once they’re there, it’ll take some time for them to warm up.
Some of the kids in Heroes of Iyastera were quite shy and reserved at first, preferring to listen rather than take the lead and looking to me or the parents in the group to set the tone. If I pushed too hard to pull them in, they would withdraw even more. With time, some gentler questions (“what do you think about this?”), and gradual increases in engagement with NPCs, those shells began to melt away. I found that providing plenty of downtime opportunities when running errands in town and traveling to new destinations helped them familiarise themselves more with the feel of their characters. As they became more comfortable even in the mundane scenarios, they began to take bolder actions in problem-solving and combat situations as well. Now I have to find ways to pull them back in from the animated discussions that erupt!
With confidence came the ability to solve problems more collaboratively. A reserved player may have the best solution, but not feel comfortable speaking up. Once the players got used to their PCs, they began to think about how their characters would handle different issues. We often pause gameplay to ask “what would my character do?” and the group has become much more aware when they slip into metagaming and pull themselves back into perspective.
They now are actively discussing, and even debating, solutions as a team, comparing pros and cons and finding ways to compromise when there are disagreements. Inter-party conflict has become less intimidating as well: when a wizard (Gojira) in one campaign accidentally set fire to their rogue (Kratarus) during combat, the relationship between them took a hit along with the rogue’s now-singed robes. Kratarus found that he didn’t fully trust Gojira and was wary of him for a few sessions past that moment. They have only just started to confront the issue in-game, and will hopefully find ways to repair the relationship. Whether or not they find a solution has yet to be seen, but the important thing that the characters are interacting and talking through their different perspectives!
Reading and Writing Skills
One of the best “success stories” I’ve had so far for the family sessions and workshops, came from one of the mothers. She said that her son had a test in school after the workshop series was over, and his grades in English Class had improved! After learning more about storytelling, plot, and characters, his comprehension increased and he, like many other children in the group, is becoming more interested in reading.
Yes!! D&D inspires a love for reading!!! As a bookworm myself, few things bring me more joy than children loving to read! Parents have found that the kids are more and more engaged in stories and have even begun writing adventures of their own. Some have even started DMing for their friends and might hold clubs at school!
The fact that they are still engaged in the story after leaving the table, have the confidence to start forging their own paths, and are actively creating tales of their own is more than enough evidence for the positive effects of RPGs.
In an increasingly virtual world, D&D still brings people together and inspires creative thought.
I love this game 🙂