Thoughts Concerning Tabletop Role-Playing Games

What are your thoughts concerning tabletop role-playing games?

Some in the church took issue with Dungeons & Dragons about 40 years ago. (Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the issue addressed in a sermon.) Games like D&D have had a resurgence and are now more popular than ever.

If you’re interested in the arguments made against these games here is a small booklet that was published in 1987: A Christian Response to Dungeons & Dragons, authored by Peter Leithart and George Grant

  • If you are against dice and cards like some I have met from the Old-Reformed Congregations in the Netherlands, well, that’s not exactly where I’m aiming to take this discussion.

As someone who’s spent a decade reading and playing these games I’d like to offer a few of my thoughts.

There are many games that do not take place within the Sword and Sorcery genre that Dungeons & Dragons take place in. It is this genre that is being attacked in critical articles. And for good reason. High Fantasy games carry with them pantheons of gods and demons as well as page after page of spells. To be fair, these spells are closer to limited use super powers. There is little regard to rituals, chants, or components.

Honestly, on the rare occasion that I get to play with adults I’ll play whatever genre.

However, the rest of my comments regard playing these games with children.

  • I don’t allow sorcery in the games I run. Children do not need their curiosity sparked in that direction.

It is wonderful to be able to play with your children in an imaginary world. Children do this all the time, but as adults we need a little bit more structure to appreciate/tolerate the games they already enjoy. (Dice work very well for settling arguments in these shared stories.)

I’ve played games lasting two to three hours in one sitting with a 4, 5, 7, & 8 year old. They are still able to retell the stories of our adventures together. Adventures from the comfort of our dining-room table!

As the adult, I run the games. This means I am the main story-teller and referee, so I get to choose the genre and difficulties the players face. I’m not at the mercy of an author of a book or the director of a movie for this form of entertainment.

It does take some work to have an outline of a adventure beforehand but I think the payoff is easily worth it. From an educational aspect these games are beneficial. I find myself explaining many situations that children are not familiar with. There is normally some explanation of technology (historic, current, or theoretical) and almost always some amount of buying, selling, or bartering.

Lastly, I’ve learned that I did not appreciate what their young minds were capable of working through and solving. The things they’ve picked up just listening to adults, even the one-off comments they’ve heard, and poof they extrapolate some crazy plans from there.

TLDR: Tabletop role-playing games are fun and educational for children. If you’re running the game you are in control of the elements at play. If your games are an excursion into the occult it’s because you choose to take them there.

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Something nerds do. :wink:

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Can you give us some examples of the kind of role-playing games you’d play with your children?

I generally don’t like movies because of how godless they are. This includes children’s movies and older movies. This is a bit of a conundrum, because what do you do for family night with 6 small children?

More and more, my wife and I have decided to invest in board games for this purpose. The trick is finding a board game that is still fun while being simple enough for even the youngest to participate on some level.

So I’m curious to know what you’d recommend for role-playing games specifically.

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This is something that I am a bit interested in with my kids, but I have never actually gotten into it much myself. One thing that concerns me with the adventure/role playing type genre is that it seems more oriented towards the sorts of things God designed men to do. So if I want to play something with my daughter, am I encouraging her imagination in a Titus 2 direction?

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I played D&D back in my younger (non-Christian) days. A year ago it occurred to me that some of my children have a personality that would enjoy that sort of role-playing game, so I found an open-source D&D clone that I could adapt to my purposes. It was an even bigger hit than I expected, and my children wish we would play much more often than I have time for.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend it uncritically, nor for anyone to take something off-the-shelf without modification. I lead the adventures, and I take out all of the pagan and necromantic elements. There is a limited amount of magic present, but as Joshua says above, it is more like comic book superpowers. Female characters can use bows, as in Narnia, but they do not engage in hand-to-hand combat or other masculine activities. I also decided to avoid any Christian religious element since it seemed there was no way to do that rightly in a role-playing game.

Overall, I think it has been a positive experience. It has helped my children develop problem-solving skills and learn to work together as a family team. Moreover, it has been a maturing process to have the opportunity to act like an adult, make adult decisions, and receive adult consequences (within the framework of the game world).

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@Joel you and I are looking at a lot of the same things when we approach these games. And I also agree with you about not being able to just pull something off the shelves. This includes what’s at my house as well as in the stores.

@ldweeks and @josiah.alldredge 'll give a few basics of what a game is and how a game is run.

A tabletop rpg can be boiled down to a story with multiple authors. As a way to keep the level of chaos to a minimum one player will take up the task of running the game. Everyone else focuses on the actions of their character. Each player will control the thoughts, words, and deeds of their own character.

  • The player running the game can be thought of as a referee.
  • The referee is responsible for everything that happens in the story not specific to the players’ characters.
  • This does not mean the referee is against the other players. Yet, along with speaking for the allies and other welcome interactions, the referee must describe and play the role of the antagonists as well.

If the characters visit a shop, the referee is the shop keeper. If they get on a bus, the referee is the driver and all the other people. If they go into the woods, he might be a squirrel.

So the referee creates and describes a scene - where the other characters find themselves and what’s going on. You could explain that the kids are camping in a tent at night and they hear a noise. (Now it’s on them to explain what they do, so this is where the story becomes shared, even though you, as the one setting the scene, have complete control over what happens after they make a choice. If they ask a question their character might know, tell them. If they ask for something they would not know without investigating, well, they’ll need to investigate to find out.

Their choices will be wise or foolish depending on your story.

  • it’s a bear. (Don’t feed it.)
  • it’s a raccoon. (Don’t feed it.)
  • it’s an alien. (He likes Reese’s Pieces.)
  • it’s Old Man Jenkins. (Yay, he’s a family friend!)
  • it’s Old Man Jenkins, and he’s been dead for years. (A zombie? He faked his death?)

With children it might be helpful to think of Scooby-Doo style scenarios. Lot’s of strange things happening but not super scary.

Note: most game systems in stores will be hundreds of pages long. Rarely do the rules require that. They contain a lot of fluff like setting history, monster encyclopedia, items, maps, adventure outlines, etc., which is not required to play a game.

The game we play at home is simple. (It’s a super slimmed down version of a game called Dungeon World, which is itself a derivative of a game called Apocalypse World. I don’t mention as an endorsement, but to give credit.)

If a character is trying to do something that is possible, but has a decent chance of failure roll two 6-sided dice. These are the normal dice everyone knows and has lying with their board games.

If the sum of the dice are:

  • 2-6: Bad happens.
  • 7-9: Good happens, but there’s a catch.
  • 10-12: Only Good happens.

“Good” and “Bad” are to be understood from the players perspectives, and your decisions should be used to drive the story forward. Don’t just say “No”, try to use “No, but…” and “Yes, and…” or even “Yes, but…” so the story doesn’t grind to a halt.

Admittedly, the dice results are skewed toward bad/good with a catch, so I let them roll 3 dice if another character is helping them at the task or if they have really put some thought into what their trying to accomplish. (It’s a reward for thoughtfully approaching the problems and for cooperative play.)


If you’re not sure you could come up with a story, steal and change. Children do not know the stories you do. When you think, “Oh no, I can’t do that, they’ll know I’m ripping off (movie/book/videogame title)”, they probably won’t, especially if you change distinguishing features.

  • Other times it’s good for a laugh to bring in a character they do know, but deny it. Like an italian plumber that wears red overalls and hat, has a mustache, and a brother that wears green.

I push my games toward exploration and investigation. This way when confrontations occur there is more than the route of violence. There will be danger, because sometimes that has to happen. (I don’t like killing off characters, especially the protagonists, but there are many ways to get these ideas across. Like accompanying redshirt characters in Star Trek, characters that I control, that have helped the children’s characters, are always in danger of becoming an example. You give the players pets and friends in the game so that there are consequences for foolish decisions.

The actions you take against the players can be thought of as on a spectrum. Soft moves and hard moves. A soft move might act more like a warning: a problem is made worse or equipment is diminished. A hard move is damage done to the characters, destroyed equipment and even death to a character. I like to give the players a turn to react to a warning (soft move) without going straight to a hard move.

It’s simple, it’s how children play anyway, but the arbitration of dice keep the whole thing on the rails. Now you’re not being mean, the dice take the blame. The referee always has the final say, just don’t abuse that power. Creatively interpreting the dice results will solve most issues far better than just saying “No.”


A simple setting that could be a lot of fun would be to let the children pick a favorite toy and play as that toy in a dream, either fighting or convincing generic “monsters” to help a child sleep instead of causing nightmares. (I’m sure I read about this idea somewhere, but I don’t remember where.)

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Hoo Boy! I like this topic.

I play D&D and other rpgs with my kids regularly (ages 14, 12, 9, 7, sometimes the 4 year old too! We started playing when the eldest was around 10 I think).

My experience is similar to @joshuah in that I used to play with adults, but (life!) now play with children, and I have found that playing with children is more fun than playing with adults! On the whole, they are more creative and imaginative during play, and they are less concerned with the rules (which are extremely loose) and more concerned with having fun.

The difference for me is that I allow magic. However there is a distinction between the kind of magic the characters use (ala Lewisian ‘white magic’) and the dark magic which is reserved for the bad guys. I also don’t go all in on the pantheons, etc.

The ‘fantasy world’ that we play in is essentially a bootleg Tolkien/Lewis Fairy Land, mixed with a healthy dose (depending on the adventure) of Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Princess Bride.

I run pre-written adventures (currently playing Tomb of Annihilation for those in the know…) but I tailor everything for our own personal enjoyment, but that’s probably true for everyone who runs a pre-written adventure. That sometimes means more work and going way off script but the payoff is worth it because it’s more fun for everyone.

Playing video games or a board game is easier, but nowhere near as fun or memorable as a D&D session. Every session is a new adventure no one has ever had. It’s like reading an amazing book with friends and family that you can participate in. We don’t even use miniatures. Sometimes we’ll get the graph paper out for reference, but mostly the game is played the entire time in our imagination.

We use the latest edition of D&D rules, honestly because I’m most familiar with them and they are easily available, and extremely flexible, but there are tons of different game systems and rules of play out there that are even more simple or more complex.

We also played Star Wars (the old d6 version is the most fun!) and I recently grabbed the Princess Bride roleplaying game via Kickstarter which looks like a blast!

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I genuinely enjoy listening to the kids tell my wife all about their adventures. I like to top it off with, “as grand as it sounds, we were doing all this in our minds in the dining room.”

I hope this doesn’t sound heretical, but it’s just as God spoke the world into existence, He has through storytelling, enabled us to take part in our own little sandboxes in our minds. If we can communicate well enough with each other we can share in those pseudo-realities. Books do a similar thing, but are static in nature. We ride along. In these games we get to take the wheel for a bit.

It reminds me of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and I’ve thought of video games the same way. What if I wanted to do something that wasn’t programmed, something that wasn’t bound to a button on the controller. That’s a role-playing game.

I should stress this. You can do anything. (Or at least you are able to try.)

  • This is why I opt for a lighter rules system. Once things become too programmed you get back to not being able to try some other type of solution.

For example. in too many games you fight the enemy, no question, no options. You should be able to persuade, intimidate, and even purchase allegiance. A good game referee will not just create blood thirsty enemies, but enemies that have their own purposes and goals. Staying alive or making a profit often gives Generic Bad Guy#3 second thoughts.

You’d need artificial intelligence to truly do this with a video game, since we don’t have that yet we’ll just use good old regular intelligence.

@deepermagic if we do magic I always bind it to some artifact. For me to say that some trinket has the ability to bend reality puts it in the realm of technology and not some other place I don’t want to explore. I put a stop the whole “look into yourself” and “bring out the power within” stuff right now. And I have no patience for “summoning” anything. That said, I steal ideas liberally from all manner of settings and systems.

  • It’s like electricity before we lived in a world surrounded by it. Static electricity? I don’t know how it works, it just does!

I think I’ve gone on far too long about these things, clearly I enjoy them. That said, questions have been asked by others who have not played them.

@Joel and @deepermagic is there anything you would recommend to someone who would not want the darker side of this hobby in their homes, but are interested in spending time with their children in place of a board game for an evening?

I’ve been trying to think of an “out-of-the-box” suggestion and I run up against these walls.

  1. The lighter the system the harder it is for the referee.
  2. Heavy (more structured) systems have far too many rules for young children.
  3. Between the dark aspects of fantasy and the SJW drivel that gets in the “story games” it’s really hard to recommend anything 100%.

Here’s what I recommend. (But I’ll keep looking.)

  • Pick a genre or theme that your children are interested in. (Anthropomorphic Animals, Space Travel, Minecraft, Summer camp adventures.)
  • Look over The Big List of RPG Plots. Write down some ideas, like three problems to solve before achieving the goal. (And maybe a couple characters to introduce because role-playing is fun!)
  • And keep the system a simple roll vs. roll comparison. (If a player rolls higher than the referee give them a good outcome. If they roll lower complicate whatever they’re trying to achieve.)
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Yes, the connection between “science” and “magic” is interesting. Much of technology today is nothing but the magic of yesterday.

Edit: By the way, I want to come over some time and watch this!

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I don’t even get into how magic works in our games. It’s more like superpowers or how Gandalf does magic. He just does.

But I can see how magic could be an issue for some. I like to think we’ve been somewhat successful in baptizing our children’s imaginations in such a way that they sort of innately understand ‘good’ magic and ‘bad’ magic. Reality and fantasy. A heavy dose of fairy tales from birth on up has gone a long way in providing them with extraordinary discernment in that area.

I mean, you sort of hit the nail on the head in your first post. The freedom you have with an RPG is that you (the game master/referee) get to decide virtually everything you want to do. So just don’t do it. And if you come across anything you don’t like, filter it out. Ignore it.

I have some D&D books on my shelf that contain stuff I’ll never play with other adults, much less my kids, for all sorts of reasons, one of which is that there are elements I don’t feel would honor Christ. But that goes for all sorts of things. The internet for starters. We’re all using it for this forum and other places of encouragement or information or whatever, but it’s wise to avoid certain places that do not honor Christ. There’s some dark stuff, or dumb stuff, but it’s mostly fun stuff. Pick the fun stuff.

So, like almost everything, you have to be discerning. I’d say if you’re cool with Lord of the Rings, you’ll have no problem enjoying and discerning Dungeons & Dragons.

It might be a little different if the parent isn’t the game master. I let my older kids peruse some D&D books, but I wouldn’t let my younger kids. But I have other game books that are fully family friendly that I’d be happy with letting my kids read anything in it (Star Wars or The Princess Bride RPG for example). But again, wisdom, discernment in how you handle those things will vary.

The best advice I can think of if someone wants to play with their kids–who has never played before–is to try to play a game before you run a game. It’s extremely intuitive and way more easy to play than it seems from the outset with the rules and the character sheets, etc. But the more experience you have with a game, the easier it will be to adapt (and you will always adapt regardless of what rule set you use). We use the 5th edition rules for D&D mostly and I don’t even come close to playing by the rules. I’m making up rules most of the time. Fudging dice rolls. I typically run a game by this rule of thumb: if it’s fun, say yes. I really only use a rule set as a basic structure, mostly for combat. Everything else is basically just ‘did I succeed?’ rolls.

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Sorry, no, I haven’t surveyed what is out there enough to make unqualified recommendations. I am mainly working from what I was already familiar with. I initially looked at the latest D&D version but that seemed too complicated so I looked online and found an open source clone of the simple original “Basic Set” version I started with as a kid.

For me, I wanted a relatively simple set of rules and an archive of pre-set adventures that I could modify since I don’t have the time to prepare things from scratch and am not good at improvising the fundamental arc of a story on the fly.

One thing I have noticed is that D&D is undergoing a nostalgia renaissance, and friends of my kids are playing these games. So leading my own adventures with my own modifications gives a chance for my kids to play in controlled circumstances a game they hear about from friends. Probably in the future I may let their friends play (with permission and understanding of how I will run the game from their friends’ parents).

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Any chance you’ve got a link to this?

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By turning magic into technology, are we just indulging our godless culture’s atheistic materialism? We do not live in a merely material universe, and there is real magic, even if it’s not accessible to us in day-to-day life in the United States.

Now, whether you want your kids pretending to use it in D&D is a different question that I do not have well-formed opinions on, but I know my temptation is to look down on magic, whether in our own fairy tales or in other cultures and despise it as lesser thinking. But believers in magic know what we have forgotten, which is that there is more to the world than what can be touched.

Perhaps more to the subject, I did forbid my children from Player Characters that we’re other than lawful-good in orientation. I would not say it’s always sinful for a person to play an other-than-lawful-good character, but my children need to think over the best parts of heroism and play those.

Someone had a suggestion up-thread that female characters not engage in hand-to-hand combat. I may adopt that rule. Female characters adventuring and fighting hasn’t been something I’ve been comfortable with but I haven’t had any good ideas for how to manage it.

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Well said throughout!

I think the Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons comparison is good. I mean, there is a Lord of the Rings RPG system, and I’ve never looked into it because, well, there’s just so much overlap already.

That’s a solid thought on playing an RPG before running one. (I think the bar is low when running for little children, they just love that you’re playing with them.)

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Hmm… the only aspects of magic that I entertain as real are those which Scripture forces me too. Maybe if the Book of Enoch or the the books contained in the Deuterocanon were held as being on par with the rest of the Bible I’d give it more thought. It is interesting to consider the way demons appear in the New Testament and the writers mention it like we’d all say, “Well, of course there were.” That really is a strange thing isn’t it? (Subject of another thread perhaps.)

I’d be a liar if I didn’t agree with that sentiment. I don’t travel or read on the Charismatic side of things, nor do I have a history in any pagan religious involvement or in psychedelic drugs. Apart from being raised by the godless public school system. Never gave much thought to Eastern Orthodoxy either.


When creating these games I’ve considered these things.

  1. To create a fictitious world and bring in the God of Scripture as a character there, with me speaking for Him, is blasphemous.
  2. To create a fictitious world and fashion some other god or pantheon of gods is dangerous at best and idolatrous at worst, though I think a lesser offense than point 1. Why lesser? As children grow up they are able to better contain the fiction they consume to that imaginary world. (My children are still very young so I’m not toying with this.)
  3. This leaves the option of playing in a fictitious world where I do not relate to the players the genesis of the things that inhabit the theater of the mind.

If this is why you ask about atheistic materialism then I think I understand your concern. I don’t have another option so far as I can tell. I consider this when selecting works of fiction for my children to read or watch too. If it is permissible for writers to create works of fiction, then I’ll take hold of that same license.

Excellent point and it’s funny that so many of us with a background in D&D have failed to mention it. I think we can attribute this oversight to playing loosely with the rules. I took about as much concern with alignment in the games as I did with the accounting work required to track encumbrance, ammo, and torch life. Unless someone was acting like a complete murder-hobo psychopath it wasn’t an issue.

Yes, @josiah.alldredge had mentioned the role of women in these games, often taking up arms just like the men. Thanks for mentioning that. It’s been on my mind for a couple days now. It seems to me that women are especially fit for the rogue/assassin class. See Judges 9:53, Judges 4:21, and if the court would permit as evidence Judith 13:6-8.

No spectators, you gotta play! ;^)

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The world of the New Testament is a spirit-soaked world. Whether Simon Magus could actually control the spiritual world or was a charlatan isn’t especially clear from the text, but Peter and Phillip didn’t confront him as a modernist Westerner “There’s no such thing as magic,” but rather with the power of the gospel.

What that means for a D&D game, I don’t know, but I do know that my kids are much more likely to categorize the New Testament as a fairy tale than they are to start practicing magic, though both are possible.

It’s also a lot easier to tell my kids that ghosts don’t exist when they’re awake at 10 pm than it is to explain that Jesus is more powerful than any ghost, but I still do the latter.

I am very uncomfortable with a female being an assassin of any type. The scriptures you cite are descriptive and not prescriptive, and if circumstances called my wife or daughter to drop a millstone (or a firearm’s hammer) on someone who needed it, well and good. But to aspire to this even in fiction seems a bridge too far for me.

I’m even uncomfortable with the idea of female adventurers as such in these games. Sometimes adventures come upon us in the form of adversity and pioneer women certainly had their share of both, but at least the way I’ve always seen D&D run, adventuring is basically a career, and the adventures are largely voluntary. I would discourage my daughter from pursuing adventure in almost any form in her life in favor of hearth and home.

Again, what this all means for D&D, I don’t know.

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A new thread would be good to have on this, but I’ve such a small inkling of what to write concerning it that I’ll leave it to someone else. I tried in vain to find a quote this morning that was from an apology for the Septuagint or the Apocrypha, I can’t remember which book, that dealt with why we have such a jarring transfer from the Old to the New Testament with regard to demons and magic. I can’t find it. Essentially it argued that these things are discussed, but the church tossed out those works.

I appreciate the bit about the “firearm’s hammer”, nice. Yes, those citations are descriptive, but I like to think of them as good examples either way. Judges 5:24 praises Jael beyond being a cog of Providence. I grant it was a special circumstance, just as you pointed to, “if circumstances called”, and to bring this back to Role-Playing Games - these special circumstances are exactly the things we aim for, it is the extraordinary and the uncommon situations that make these games fun and educational.

It looks as though Jael would agree with you. She was home, and the “adventure” presented itself.

What you’ve brought to this discussion has been fun to chew on, and I haven’t given much thought to how a daughter should interact in these games before this past week. So when you say that you’re uncomfortable with the idea of female adventurers I have to say that I disagree, but respectfully and not easily.

If we are correct in pointing to circumstances being the validation for such actions then a thoughtful approach to the game’s narrative is what’s required. An enemy king looking for refuge, a city under siege, a widow granted special favor and access to an enemy commander. (Not sure I’d push to emulate all that may have occurred off-screen in the case of Judith.)

The possible narrative paths to take are endless, and there’s nothing saying that all adventurers must be made by voluntary career choices. That approach is popular because it removes the investment of a back story. That is the reason every other character created in these games are orphans, raised on the streets, and later taken in by some mentor who trained them in special skills… bleh.

I sent it via message since it is not something I would recommend without qualification.

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Perhaps what’s called for here is a bit more creativity in story-line creation. Something beyond the standard RPG “Your character was orphaned as a youth and was raised by the thieves’ guild to wreak revenge on the dragon that has long terrorized the town of Thraingia…”

Good talk. :slight_smile:

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Whatever it takes, as long as we still meet in a tavern, and are approached by a shadowy figure handing out quests and rumors of untold treasure. ;^)

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