Things By Simon

Life Lessons Learned From RPGs

You can learn a surprising amount about life from a 20-sided die.

Role playing games (or “RPGs”, like the famous Dungeons and Dragons system) are a fascinating human invention. Essentially they take all the complexities of human existence and boil it down to a relatively simple system of statistics and dice rolls. You can then use this system to simulate all kinds of imaginary situations, for fun, profit, or whatever else you’re into.

At the core of nearly all of these systems are two things.

First, something called a skill check: testing whether your character succeeds or fails at a task. If you want to attempt to do something (fight a monster, pick a lock, impress a girl, etc), you roll a die. You then add points to reflect how good you are at that thing, and subtract points to reflect the difficulty of the situation. If the result is high enough, you succeed. If not, you fail.

Secondly, the concept of experience points and levelling up. Every time you face a challenge, you gain experience points (or “XP”) from it. Once you accrue enough XP, you gain an experience level (“levelling up”). Every time you level up, your skills increase and you become more likely to succeed at any given skill check.

Even though this is a huge simplification of the way life works, it’s a remarkably effective one. That’s what life is, after all: trying to do things, succeeding and failing based on a combination of your strengths and experiences, and gradually improving over time.

I found that understanding this simplified system of RPGs taught me a lot of lessons that translated very well back to the far more complex system of real life.

Lessons such as:

  • Always look for chances to gain experience points. Face challenges. Do things. Keep doing them again and again. No matter how they work out, you gain experience and level up faster as a result.
  • No matter how good your skills are, you’ll sometimes fail a skill check. No reason to beat yourself up about it; sometimes the dice just roll badly. And there is every reason to keep trying and hope for a better roll next time.
  • No matter how weak your skills are, you’ll sometimes succeed at a skill check. Unless there is a very severe consequence to failure (death, dismemberment, etc), step up and roll the dice. You never know when you’ll hit a natural 20 and kick ass unexpectedly.

Thinking of life as a series of dice rolls, enhanced by your skills and experience, has often made me more likely to approach a challenge that I would have otherwise shied away from.

Rolling for a job interview. Rolling for a seduction check. Rolling to find a last-minute assistant for your competition act so that you don’t embarrass yourself severely in front of an international judging panel.

Success is possible. Failure is possible. But I try to remember, particularly when faced with an intimidating situation, that the right move is almost always to roll.




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