5 Critical Thinking Skills in Dungeons and Dragons [Learn While Playing D&D]

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In 2019, Wizards of the Coast announced that its classic pen-and-paper game, Dungeons & Dragons, was selling better than ever before and every indication is that this has continued up until now. So what if we told you this roleplay-driven game could teach players of all ages valuable critical thinking skills?

That’s right. Players could hone on their critical thinking skills in Dungeons & Dragons!

Related post: What is Homebrew D&D?

What Is Critical Thinking?

Reference books for dungeons and dragons with dice and pencil on top

Critical thinking involves actively analyzing the world around us to make objective and informed decisions. Without critical thinking, there is no logic or reason. 

Like math or reading skills, critical thinking isn’t something we’re necessarily born with. Instead, we learn how to view the world through a critical lens by following those around us. While we often hear of these skills in the context of young children’s development, it’s never too late to learn how to be a more critical thinker. 

By practising critical thinking in our day-to-day lives, we can improve our communication, decision-making, problem-solving, and much more. 

5 Critical Thinking Skills Used in Dungeons & Dragons

Based in a fantasy world — think J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings — Dungeons & Dragons (often shortened to D&D) has been a mainstay of nerd-culture for over 45 years (with no signs of fading away anytime soon). But D&D isn’t just mindlessly raiding dungeons and heroically slaying dragons.

Dungeons and dragons game play illustration

In this tabletop roleplaying game, players are constantly using critical thinking skills to explore their characters’ imaginary world and progress through the greater narrative. 

1. Analysis

Without analysis, critical thinking as we know it wouldn’t exist. In many ways, the same could be said for Dungeons & Dragons.

To progress in a game of D&D, players must interact with the dungeon master’s imaginary world. This could mean asking questions, interacting with the environment, or speaking to NPCs (non-player characters controlled by the dungeon master). 

The more players engage in these activities, the more likely they are to solve puzzles, discover secrets, and build beneficial relationships within the world.

While real-world critical thinking won’t unveil the entrance to an underground Dwarven city, there’s no denying the value of analysis in handling life’s biggest challenges.

2. Communication

Communication is one of the most important skills anyone can learn. Being a good communicator doesn’t just mean you’re fun to be around at parties; it also opens up tons of opportunities personally and professionally.

Almost everything you do in a game of Dungeons & Dragons is a form of communication, including acting out your character’s actions, speech, and emotions. In fact, roleplaying is frequently used to teach better communication in schools and workplaces

If you can put yourself in the shoes of someone with different beliefs, experiences, and cultural norms than you (even if they are a fictional game character), you’re well on your way to being an excellent real-life communicator.

People playing board game rolling dice

3. Creativity

When it comes to playing a tabletop game like Dungeons & Dragons, the role of creativity is pretty clear. While the game publisher does offer some premade content, the vast majority of D&D campaigns are built off of dungeon master and player creations.

From creating their character’s backstory to solving a Sphinx’s riddle, players are constantly exercising creativity in a game of D&D. 

4. Decision-Making

Just like real-world scenarios, poor decision-making in D&D can lead to drastic consequences. Depending on the campaign, making the wrong decision could even end in the loss of a player’s character.

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On top of handling your own character’s dilemmas, you will need to collaborate with your fellow players to make decisions that affect the entire party. Throw in a bit of roleplaying, and your D&D session could quickly turn into a lesson in conflict-resolution.

5. Problem-Solving

The ability to solve problems is a sure sign of an excellent critical thinker. After all, you can’t tackle a problem without using analysis, communication, creativity, and decision-making to reach the best solution.

From choosing the correct spell to navigating a maze-like dungeon, Dungeons & Dragons offer endless opportunities to practice these skills. And, as any D&D-lover knows, problem-solving doesn’t stop when the battle begins. 

Book showing dragon illustration

Winning a fight against the enemy often takes more than just brunt power, especially for characters with spell-casting capabilities. If you (and, by extension, your character) can’t think on your feet, you’re not going to last long in the world of D&D. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Dungeons & Dragons?

Dungeons & Dragons is a pen-and-paper roleplaying game created in the 1970s. Though the game waned in popularity for several decades, shows like Stranger Things have pushed it back into the mainstream.

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What do you need to play Dungeons & Dragons?

To get started, all you need is a set of rules, paper, writing utensils, and polyhedral dice. If you don’t have access to a physical copy of the rules, you can find everything you need online through a site like D&D Beyond.

Players can also buy character miniatures, specialty maps, and extra rulebooks, but these items aren’t required to play the game.

What age range is appropriate for Dungeons & Dragons?

According to Wizards of the Coast, makers of Dungeons & Dragons, the core game set is appropriate for ages 12 and up.

Illustration of dragons and ruins

Is Dungeons & Dragons violent?

Since Dungeons & Dragons is player-controlled, each session is only as violent as you make it. Indeed, some of the best situations for players to stretch their critical thinking skills involve how to avoid combat and violence! However, some official game content (like monster descriptions, encounters, and weapons) may be inappropriate for young children. 

Are there alternatives to Dungeons & Dragons for young children?

If your child wants to try Dungeons & Dragons but isn’t quite old enough for a standard campaign, check out the game Monster Slayers. This free tabletop RPG is a kid-centric adventure for anyone ages six and older — Wizards of the Coast even publish it.

Mark Coster, BSc(Hons) PhD MRACI CChem
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