Dungeon Ethics!

The Cincinnati Ethics Center (CEC) has partnered with the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library System in a seemingly unconventional way; through a well-known role play game! Dungeons and Dragons® is a tabletop game in which you follow a character sheet and journey with your team of players as you use magic, meet fantastical beings, and fight monsters and, yes, even dragons.

The CEC has discovered that through this journey, players are forced to find solutions to problems they would never have to think about in the real world, like whether or not to slay a water serpent (an issue the kids at Anderson Branch Library encountered), and that these issues usually have some sort of ethical and moral reasoning behind them. So what better way to get kids interested in how to solve problems with ethical thinking than by playing a game where their characters have magical powers? Middle school-aged children in the Cincinnati area were invited to do just that. They meet up at the libraries in the evenings and play dungeons and dragons with their fellow adventurers!

When the kids get there, they have the option to pick a new character or keep the one they had before. They then review their character sheet to see the characters’ personalities, powers, strengths, and weaknesses. The students are able to name their characters and choose incredibly unique names ranging from “Frank” to “Nightshade”. The Dungeon Master, the person who makes up the story, then introduces the players to the adventure for the day, where they are, and who they will be meeting. For example, one of the dilemmas they encountered happened after one of the characters got their hand stuck to a magical chair. During each of their turns, the other players had to decide whether or not they wanted to try attacking the chair to save their friend or solve a riddle that had been mentioned before.

Through playing this game, the kids had the opportunity to practice putting themselves in the perspective of someone else (their character) and use their moral reasoning to decide how to approach things the game threw at them. The Dungeon Master, Cleo, said at one point that “even though fighting may be desired, there are advantages to thinking” in regard to how the kids handled the chair incident. Through observing this party as it progressed, volunteers noticed how after each session, the kids leaned more and more towards peacefully resolving situations, assessing and taking in all the information, and calmly approaching solutions compared to when they started.

The kids thoroughly enjoy this experience of role playing. Even before the game begins, they are just excited to be there and ready to put their imaginations to work. As the game begins, even the kids who were playing for the first time slowly come out of their shells as they all goofily interact with each other. Through listening to what each other decides, they have smiles on their faces and laughs on their breaths the entire time. They were asked why they wanted to join the party, and the resounding response was the opportunity to experience new rules not present in real life, invent personas and inhabit that person, and for the friends they imagined making. And the reason they stayed, was for those friends that they did make. Lisa Soper, the Youth Services and Programming Coordinator, comments that “the kids are having a great time with this experience! It is an amazing way for them to have fun and make new friends while learning how to approach conflict with resolution in mind. Due to the pandemic, many middle schoolers missed out on an integral parts of growing up, such as is learning to co-exist with others and socializing with them in a meaningful way. Dungeon Ethics has become a great facet for them to learn these skills in a way that appeals to them

The participants and volunteers gather for a private movie screening

This after school and summer club has come with additional benefits as well, including the opportunity for the kids and volunteers to attend a private movie screening of the new movie Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves . This was the perfect occasion for the kids from all three library branches to meet. We look forward to creating more group events such as this one in the future.

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