Someone Finally Made D&D Nerdy

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You know what Dungeons & Dragons fans probably get tired of? Just, the persistent air of “cool” that hangs over the game.

You know, when everyone hears D&D and assumes “bad-ass, good-looking loner.” That must get old.

Every Dungeon master tires of being asked, “So, how many varsity sports did you letter in?” Or, “Do you ever get tired of all the sexual intercourse you are having?” You walk into a bar, hoping for a quiet night sharing drinks with friends, then some stranger overhears you discussing mage armor, and now you’re awash in free drinks and romantic propositions.

Listen, people. Just because you imagine adventures in fantasy, swords-and-sorcery realms while rolling 6-sided dice, that does not automatically mean you are a sex god who can’t make it to tonight’s party because you have too many others to go to and because of all your dates.

But finally, someone has done something to nerd up fantasy role-playing games a bit. It’s about time. Blogging for the World Science Festival, Roxanne Palmer writes that casting water-breathing spells can come with the side effect of a basic statistics lesson. That is, to play the game, it helps to understand probability: What are your chances of rolling the 4 you need so that your sword-hit lands on the owlbear, Palmer asks? You find that out fairly simply by adding up the total number of dice outcomes and dividing into that the number that would produce your owlbear-slaying numeral.

Basic probability. And so, a good thing. Few sources of authority are so frequently misused and abused as statistics. Plenty of people say, “It’s true because God said it!” but statistics is a god that can even fool the atheistic scientist, if she’s not careful. It is a malleable and confusing god, with impressive intonations like “standard deviation” and “confidence intervals.”

After all, Mark Twain didn’t say “Lies, damned lies and logical fallacies.” (He probably didn’t say the other thing, either, or at least, did not originate it, but that’s beside the point.)

Playing Dungeons & Dragons may not, by itself, keep you from getting hoodwinked by unscrupulous political pollsters or poorly written pop-science. But it’s a start. And maybe next time a tragically handsome D&D-er saunters into the bar, you’ll mention Bell Curves and significance instead of asking to polish his rad motorcycle.


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