Christians Playing Dungeons and Dragons: Part II
By Steve Weese (a Christian who plays D&D)
The chief complaint I see about D&D by certain Christians is the magic. Specifically, that somehow D&D either teaches real magic use, or is a front for people to lure the unsuspecting into the occult. An article on the Chick web site (maker of extreme Christian tracts) references many of these arguments, and somehow claims to have researched these things. However, in many cases, no example is given from D&D as to how these things are the case. I will use this article as a source later in this section. If you read the D&D sourcebooks, it is clear it is a game. The rulebooks are just that; a collection of rules to describe how to play the game. It seems that if some of the critics actually read the books, they would see there is no way to actually perform any “real magic” from them. Otherwise, wouldn’t we have hordes of teenagers out there purchasing these books and hurling fireballs and magic missiles at each other? To defend D&D and show it does not conflict with Christianity, I will examine the criticisms of this article. I will also show examples from the D&D books themselves. To prepare for this section, I just have read the entire section on Magic in the 3rd edition rulebooks. I will also examine some other criticisms of the game and explain why they are flawed.
One of the claims that is made often is that the players (often portrayed as young, impressionable teens, though this is hardly the norm) are offered confusing choices on morality. For instance, in the game, your character has an alignment. This alignment determines your characters general moral stance. The purpose of alignment in the game, as quoted by the Player’s Handbook is “a tool for developing your character’s identity...Each alignment represents a broad range of personality types or personal philosophies.” In real life, there are good and bad people. In movies there are good and bad people. So, why not in a game? Critics often say that because there is evil in the game, it encourages people to be evil in real life. This is like saying that watching Star Wars might make you decide to become like Darth Vader.
In every epic story or movie, there is always evil to overcome. Someone has to play the bad guy. Your character’s morality helps you know more about him or her. So, you can decide what they would do in certain situations. Using Star Wars again, Han Solo was a “good” character, but not that good. Remember Luke had to talk him into rescuing the princess by offering him a lot of money.
Luke: "But they’re going to kill her."
Han might well be described as having the alignment of Chaotic Good, which is described as:
“A chaotic good character acts as his conscience directs him with little regard for what others expect of him. He makes his own way, but he is kind and benevolent. He…has little use for laws and regulations… He follows his own moral compass, which, although good, may not agree with society…” (Players Handbook, 89)
So, alignment is simply background for your character. A criticism leveled at D&D comes from a description of the Lawful Evil alignment. This is from Schnoebelen’s article from the Chick site:
“For example, you can have a "lawful evil" character. A handbook states that: "A lawful evil villain methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard to whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty and order, but not about freedom, dignity or life." Talk about a mish-mash of moral ambiguity. Our young people are having enough trouble getting their values straight without being immersed in this sort of material!” (Schnoebelen)
Yet, there are plenty of characters in the Bible who fit this description. I would say Pharaoh in Exodus is a good example. He took what he wanted with little regard for others, by enslaving the Jews. He had his order and tradition, but did not value freedom or dignity of life. Admitting that there are people like this is hardly a corruption of one’s values.
The magic that we are forbidden to practice in the Bible comes from one source – Satan. God and Satan are here in the real world with us. Fantasy stories take place in other worlds, in other realities that never have happened and never will. It is important to note that in many fantasy worlds, like D&D, magic is different than what we might call ‘magic’ in the real world we live in. Magic in these fantasy worlds is considered a natural force. I would compare it to something like electricity or even gravity. Using magic in these worlds is like turning on a lamp or making furniture. It is simply there, part of the lives of the characters that live in the imaginary fantasy world. It is not the occult magic that is referred to in the world of reality. When a character in the fantasy world accesses magic, they are simply tapping into a power source that is built into their world, not calling on evil spirits, demons, or the devil.
If a game is supposed to be set in a fantasy world, it is hardly surprising that it might include magic in that world. It wouldn’t be very exciting to play a game called “Checkbooks and Yard Work” that was totally based in reality would it? Magic adds an element for our imagination to enjoy when we are stuck mowing the lawn. It’s simply imagination. To say D&D is bad purely for including magic would be to categorize any story that includes some type of magic as evil. We would then have to classify Cinderella, the Smurfs, Lord of the Rings, Mario Brothers, and a whole horde of stories and ideas as evil and corruptive. This would include the famous Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the oft-quoted Christian writer.
D&D and arcane rituals
Often critics will claim that somehow D&D contains information on how to ‘really’ cast spells and perform magical rituals. The first page of the introduction in the Players Handbook clearly states, “This game is fantasy. The action of a D&D game takes place in the imaginations of the players…In reality, however, you are no more your player than you are the king when you play chess. Likewise, the world implied by these rules is an imaginary one.” (Players Handbook, 6) In his article, Straight Talk on Dungeons and Dragons, William Schnoebelen (who says he was a former “witch”) asserts:
“On top of that, the second issue is that the materials themselves, in many cases, contain authentic magical rituals… In the late 1970's, a couple of the game writers actually came to my wife and I as prominent "sorcerers" in the community. They wanted to make certain the rituals were authentic. For the most part, they are.” (Schnoebelen)
This is one of the most profoundly undocumented claims this writer makes. It is completely off base. Why, you ask? Because, there is no description of any ritual in the D&D core rulebooks. If the author wanted to make this point he should have provided an example. But there aren’t any. Now, in the 70’s there was Basic D&D and Advanced D&D. (D&D History) I owned original books for these versions. There are no details on rituals to perform in these books, from what I can remember. As I said, I just completed reading the entire magic section of my current rulebooks just to make certain this is the case with the new books. What is in there is very simply rules, and not ritual. This is a description of casting a spell from the Player’s Handbook:
“Preparing a spell requires careful reading from a spellbook (for wizards) or devout prayers or mediation (for divine spellcasters)… after preparing a spell, the character carries it, nearly cast, in his or her mind, ready for use…Spellcasting might require a few special words, specific gestures, a specific item, or any combination of the three.” (Players Handbook, 148, emphasis added)
Note that is the character, not the player, that is actually performing these actions. The player does not have a spellbook, nor does he meditate. It is just assumed the character does something to this effect, but it is not explicitly described. The player looks up the exact spell they want in the rulebook so they can understand the effects in the game. I’ll show you an example of one of the most common spells, Fireball.
Level: Sor/Wiz 3
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
Area: 20-ft radius spread
Saving throw: Reflex half
Spell Resistance: Yes
A fireball spell is a burst of flame that detonates with a low roar and deals 1d6 points of fire damage per caster level (maximum 10d6) to all creatures within the area. Unattended objects also take this damage…
You point your finger and determine the range (distance and height) at which the fireball is to burst. A glowing pea-sized bead streaks from the pointing digit and, unless it impacts upon a material body or solid barrier prior to attainting the prescribed range, blossoms into the fireball at that point… (Players Handbook, 204)
There is a bit more describing the effects such as things catching on fire, etc. However, there is nothing in the description of this spell or any other spell in the D&D manuals that will instruct you how to cast it for “real”. I suppose you could try pointing your finger and hoping a “glowing pea-sized bead” streaks out; good luck with that. The components section lists “V,S,M” meaning to cast the spell your character has to say a Verbal part (some magic words), a Somatic part (waving the hands and gesturing) and also a Material part, which in this case is a ball of bat guano (eww) and sulfur. There is no description for any of these spells saying exactly what the verbal and somatic parts are. Therefore it does not tell you how to cast the spell. Not that anyone can really cast a fireball spell anyway (if you have seen someone do this, feel free to correct me.)
The absurdity of the claim that D&D manuals can help you cast spells is illustrated in a wonderful article entitled “Spellcasting 101” by William J Watson. He tries to cast the spell Hold Portal from the 3rd edition books:
…the spell description says that "the magic holds the portal fast, just as if it were securely closed and normally locked." That should easily keep my two daughters from running out of the playroom every two minutes to bother me as I write this.
Test Method: The book tells me that the only thing we need to cast this spell is a verbal component... but it doesn't tell me what that magic word is. Still, a 20th level mage like myself should know all of this by now. I'll just shout a few lock-related magical power words at the playroom door.
(Watson, emphasis added.)
I highly recommend this article to illustrate the point. The fact is that players do not even say any magic words or move their hands or do any kind of ritual whatsoever. The words and gestures are left to the imagination, and the player simply says, “I cast Fireball.” That is it. No rituals, no magic words, no eye of newt. Just, “I cast Fireball” with maybe an “at those guys over there” after it.
One thing that has to be kept in mind is that D&D did come from a war game. A large part of it is based on medieval warfare. A good movie example of this kind of thing is Braveheart, with Mel Gibson. People really fought with swords and lances and shields and it was brutal. In the game, you can fight as well. Personally, one of the things I like about the game is you can fight monsters. In real life, really the only fight that could be challenging is against a human opponent. Killing people is clearly wrong but killing an evil, nasty, slimy monster with 16 eyeballs in a fantasy game is great fun. However, you have a choice, and actions have consequences just like in real life. If you take your party and slaughter a village of innocents, word will get around about what you did and good characters will come after you. In fact, I have often found D&D contains lessons in morality. If you play an evil character, you eventually make enemies. You lie and betray others. People stop trusting you. Others are after you. You often die alone and friendless. Evil reaps its rewards just as it does in real life, while good characters make friends, save lives and help others. They end up with allies and victories. Though they may make evil enemies in the process, they are trusted and known as a good hero.
I want to point out that fighting and casting spells are by no means the only things players do. Players role-play. As their character they discuss options, talk to townspeople, solve puzzles, scout the landscape, create items, and many other things. Fighting is only a part of the big story that is played out as your character goes through an adventure. Sometimes a character can even talk his way out of fighting. It all depends on the player’s choices.
In terms of violence, it is really dependent on the players. Combat is handled through hit points, which represent the amount of hits a character can take. Many gamers simply do combat by talking hit points. For instance, “Okay, I hit it with my sword for 10 points of damage.” No gory details needed. It is a game and when you are fighting the point is to survive and defeat the enemy, so you are essentially trying to get the enemy down to zero hit points while keeping yours above zero. It’s really a game of numbers. The numbers help describe who wins and loses. Some players and game masters can be more descriptive by saying for instance, “you slash the orc across the torso for 5 points of damage.” This is no more violent, however, than your typical action movie.
Another frequent criticism of this game is that it causes violence, suicide, or some type of disorder where the player loses a sense of reality. Several studies have been done testing this hypothesis, and none of them found a link between these and Dungeons and Dragons. An article I found from religioustolerance.org lists five separate studies, and none of them found links to D&D. In fact, one study found that the suicide rate among role-players is over 50 times less than the average population. Another found that gamers are less likely to commit crimes. (Robinson, 3)
What about the cases where this has happened? There are often stories you hear about D&D players losing it and thinking the game is reality, or that D&D was involved in a crime. However, many of these stories are simply urban legends, or police ended up determining that D&D had nothing to do with the crime. (Wikipedia) Of course there are a few cases where this did happen. Since we have already established that D&D does not cause these problems, it is logical to assume the people in these cases had prior mental disorders. The tiny number of actual cases where gamers are involved in crimes, again, shows that they are less likely to exhibit violent behavior than the average person.
One thing that is helpful to understand about D&D is that it takes concepts that it considers to be from various mythologies to build a fantasy world. The game master can use these concepts to create various fantasy flavors. For instance, it could be Norse, Egyptian, Oriental, Celtic, or even Native American in style. The creatures that a player can encounter come from almost every one of these possible mythologies. Christianity is not the only religion to talk about “demons.” For instance, Japanese mythology has a type of demon called an Oni.
Oni are devil-like demons with long nails, wild hair, a fierce look and two horns on their forehead like the devil images known in Western Christian cultures. They wear tiger skins and can fly. Oni hunt for the souls of those who did evil things in their lives. (Japanese Mythology)
In fact, since demons are not really given a physical description in the Bible, it may be Christianity was influenced by demon concepts from other cultures. The point is that the “demons” in D&D are not directly correlated with the Christian concept of demons.
The truth is, in the 20 years I have played D&D, I have had my characters encounter demons maybe twice. There are such a wide variety of monsters and creatures in the game that demons rarely show up.
Back in 2nd edition D&D, TSR (the company that formerly owned D&D) actually removed all references to demons, in what was believed to be a gesture toward the religious pressure on it. However, they were placed back into 3rd edition by the new company, Wizards of the Coast. (Wikipedia)
Personally, as a Christian, I will say I don’t like the idea that there are “demons” in D&D. I would rather there not be, and in any games that I run myself I exclude them. I know that demons are real and would rather not play around with the concept. Since D&D is so versatile, it should be no problem to fully enjoy D&D without including any demons.
I found out in my research that 3rd edition released a book just on demons and demon worshippers. It is called the Book of Vile Darkness and is for “Mature” readers only. This is not part of the core rules, and is definitely not required to play the game. In defense of the D&D publishers, I would say that they probably don’t believe in demons and think of this as another “mythology” to add to the campaign. For example, in the movies Young Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom the heroes were up against strange cults that worshipped evil gods and peformed human sacrifice.
Regardless, as a Christian, I would recommend for a good D&D experience just to cut out the demons altogether.
D&D is a fantasy world where characters can experience new adventures, conquer enemies, win rewards, gain experience and even find love. Since you are only limited by your imagination, your character could do just about anything, including have sex. However, this game is definitely not designed for this purpose. There are no sections or chapters on characters having sex.
Christians have certain guidelines to follow on sex, and they would apply to playing this game as well. Just as they apply to watching movies, or other types of entertainment. Therefore, a player should keep these guidelines when playing D&D.
Do the rulebooks feature some scantily clad women? Yes. This is part of the fantasy genre. If you go to the library and look in the fantasy section, there will be many of these. (I dare say the same about the romance novel section.) D&D is not marketed to Christians, obviously. There is no actual nudity beyond the occasional breast in the books I have seen, and those are the older rule books. I just paged through all 286 pages of the Players Handbook. I found only 3 pictures with scantily clad women, none of which appear sexually suggestive. They are either just standing there or casting a spell. I think this may be part of marketing also to attract more women players by having less of those types of drawings and artwork in the newer books.
Dungeons and Dragons, as we have seen from an earlier description, actually requires math skills. It does not require advanced math, but it does require regular addition, subtraction and multiplication. Practicing these things in the context of a game actually encourages math development among the players.
The Swedish National Board for Youth Affairs published a report on role-playing, describing it as a stimulating hobby that promotes creativity. (Wikipedia) The National Association of Gifted-Creative Children has endorsed D&D for its educational content. (Robinson, 3) D&D does actively encourage creative problem solving. There are puzzles to solve, social situations to resolve, and decisions to be made about actions and consequences.
I find that one of the most beautiful parts of D&D is the chance to stretch the imagination. A player can imagine other worlds, mystical creatures, endless seas, magnificent cities and more. When we were children we imagined things like this, at least I would say most of us did. Isn’t our imagination a gift from God? Where did the great painters get their ideas for paintings if they did not first see them in their mind’s eye? The great building and structures of our time were first imagined in the mind of an architect. As adults we should be free to imagine and enjoy the gift we have. We imagine differently from children, this is true, but we still imagine. We played “cops and robbers” as kids, can’t we play Dungeons and Dragons as adults? I say we can, and we can enjoy it.
D&D is not for everyone. I’m not saying that Christians have to play D&D or even like D&D. However, Christians should, after learning the facts, be able to accept other Christians playing the game. In Romans 14 Paul writes:
The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls.
Christians playing D&D are not sinning and not becoming involved in the occult. As this article has demonstrated:
Playing D&D as a Christian should be viewed as any other entertainment. Some movies and books we are ok to read, and some we should not. Just as we can eat too much cake or watch too much football, we can play too much D&D. As Christians this is how we function in the secular world. We can do many things, within reason and limits. If we have a peach with a bad part, do we throw the whole peach away? We can, or we can cut the small bad part out with a knife and eat the rest of the peach which is perfectly good. D&D is not just one game, it is really an almost limitless structure within which a player can have adventures. Christians can play easily within this structure without going astray.
I would be remiss if I did not put this article in perspective of the Bible. Interestingly, in the article on the Chick web site, the author quotes I Thessalonians 5:22 as saying: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” This is from the King James Version. This appears to be a slightly inaccurate translation in the KJV, as three modern versions, the NIV, NASB, and New Living, translate it as such (respectively):
Avoid every kind of evil.
abstain from every form of evil.
Keep away from every kind of evil.
Paul the Apostle, and author of this book, was not talking about appearances at all, but evil itself. The author of the Chick article is apparently ignoring other versions of the Bible to make his point, which is actually about appearance. However, we know God does not judge things by appearance.
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart - 1 Samuel 16:7
Just because someone dresses differently from you, or looks like what your ‘culture’ might consider evil, does not mean they are evil. The next time you hear someone saying evil about D&D, tell them to look for themselves. Not at the appearance, but at the actual game and the people who play it.