Dungeons & Dragons or D&D is cool again thanks to D&D-inspired shows like Stranger Things and Vox Machina. It’s a game in which a dungeon master or DM (don’t say it) tells a story that’s usually set in a land that’s somewhere between Middle Ages and Middle Earth. But it’s not just the DM’s story. The group of players gathered around the table have any number of ways of changing the narrative simply by explaining what their character—knight, cleric, barbarian, bard, or rogue — will do next.
A memorable example springs to mind. Our party was faced with a battle that our DM flat-out told us we would not survive. So we rolled the dice (literally and figuratively) and tried to convince one of the friendlier dragons to take us on a bombing run. The gambit paid off since one of us rolled a natural 20. Even a wily dragon is no match for the highest possible roll in D&D. The bombing run commenced and the battle our DM thought would kill us did not happen.
In retrospect I feel a bit sorry for our DM because he spent so long preparing a grand battle he thought would take us hours to complete and had to figure out on the fly what was going to happen next since we “fought” for all of 20 minutes. But I don’t regret us doing it. It was a lot of fun. And that’s what makes D&D so ideal for teaching history. You can see straight away that nothing will necessarily happen in a certain way—even if you spend hours and hours planning it.
I am not a teacher and have no intention of becoming one. On the other hand, I went on my share of history field trips. I am fairly certain I was meant to learn something on those excursions other than that the boy near me had awful bugers. Had we played a short D&D game featuring the historical event in question prior to the trip, I might have learned more.
Studying the Alamo? Jim Bowie would be a rogue, William Travis a warlock (I’ll let you decide the alignment) and Davy Crocket very much the bard. About to embark on a field trip to Pearl Harbor? In the abbreviated D&D campaign, Doris Miller might be a monk, George Welch a rogue, Kenneth Taylor a ranger and Isoroku Yamamoto a Battlemaster Fighter. (I know that last choice is debatable given how World War II ended but that is what I think Yamamotu should definitely be a Battlemaster Fighter.)
Admit it—just reading about these historical people recast as D&D characters made you want to look them up. Which begs the question: why don’t teachers use D&D to help students learn history? History, which was once the exclusive province of stuffy specialists and self-proclaimed intellectuals, has become something to be enjoyed and even re-lived in re-enactment. That’s how people learn history these days. In many ways, history is already like Dungeons & Dragons.
Why not make it official?