There is a sad misconception that D&D is a refuge for the socially inept. I would say that is probably born of the fact that, as an intensely socially educative game, it enables people who would otherwise fall out of contact to find a framework. You notice them when they are playing D&D when they would normally have scuttled out of sight. That has to be a good thing, liberating and enabling.
I have written before about D&D for kids but since then a few things have occurred to me that have convinced me that everyone who has smart children should play D&D with them...
Some quick generalisations about smart kids. Full of ideas. Easily bored. Challenged by working with others. Tendency to grandstand and demand attention. Outliers from the herd who are challenged to fit in and have a hard time finding peers.
Take a few typical attributes of D&D and see how they can engage and develop your smart child.
- It is a team game. When you venture into the catacombs you have an elven wizard (Maria, from your class) at your shoulder, a shaggy barbarian fighter (Joe, who shares your passion for dinosaurs) watching the rear and the stout Dwarven cleric (Luke, Joe's older brother who is very good at math) struggling along behind. Fellow players immediately have common ground and temporarily many shared goals. People who game together develop friendships.
- It is a game of the imagination. D&D stimulates and rewards imagination. It presents a living story, a realm of fantasy. Just for once having vivid ideas that do not fit into the day-to-day of school has a payoff. Just for once you can share a world of imagination with others.
- It is all about problem-solving. The goblins are attacking and the mysterious rune-encrusted door will not open. Which of the three gems you have found will fit? How can I swing across the chasm without being shredded by the dire bats? Ideas zip across the table and advice and cunning plans are everywhere. I have never yet run a session where someone did not solve the problems I set them in a way I did not expect.
- It demands cooperation. Anyone that has ever played D&D knows that you need each other just as much as the players in any other team game, but with an added twist: each character is different. So each player has a unique contribution, a specific set of skills an capabilities that will not always be fully in play, but which will certainly at some point be utterly crucial. My son plays a rogue, a slight but light-fingered fellow, skilled at opening locks, defusing deadly traps and avoiding danger. The heavily armoured fighter stands between him and the fangs and claws, but waits (far) behind him while he disables the explosive runes on the the door of the treasure room.
- It structures communication. D&D has a lot of crucial moments, traps, combat and test of skill in which the whole table of players participates. That means that people have to take turns speaking, listen carefully to what others have said and thing on their feet. It is like being in a meeting with committee rules but without the stifling boredom and frustration. It is highly structured (though chaotic shouting does break out on occasion) and teaches communications skills, brevity and listening. Anyone that does not listen when the dungeon master is speaking may well miss a vital clue, not hear the troll creeping up from behind or the secret door creaking open.
- It rewards creativity. It is a game in which almost anything is possible. Though there are rules and limits, (jumping off a high place remains a bad idea... unless you can fly of course..), there is always another way to approach a problem, a wierd, out-of-the-box way of solving it. Creativity is rewarded. The problem-solving part demands creativity, but story-making and world-building do too. You need to flesh out an imaginary character. Imagine how she would talk to the local king, or to the butcher who's wife is a witch. I recently challenged a highly numeric and analytical boy who plays in a game I run to describe what the spell he was casting actually looked like: arrows of fire, luminous serpents? He had to step out of his analytical comfort zone to do it... Similarly, the story-teller at the table often has to concentrate to work out if his character's glittering shurikens actually hit the target.
- It is fun. Fun with people who think like you and revel in ideas and cleverness. It is a space in which football, physical coordination and the social pecking order do not count for much, so for the geeky kids it is a heady taste of freedom from conformity.