Now I’m truly going to let my inner dork explode onto the scene and talk about a childhood passion and a hobby I still enjoy: Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). I don’t know that D&D needs to be explained that much anymore, but to give a succinct definition, it is a table-top role playing game (RPG) set in a low or high fantasy world. It’s all about storytelling and adventuring, and pretending to be the big hero – usually. There have been some very fun exceptions. Think the world of Tolkien, whose work served as mighty inspiration for D&D, and of course Norse mythology. There are elves, dwarves, orcs, and halflings. And of course plenty of magic.

I’ve been playing D&D since the 1st edition of Advanced D&D (AD&D) came out, which was an expansion on the original boxed set. AD&D expanded on rules and it was a lot more interesting to play. But after all the years of playing it, something really profound just hit me out of the blue today. In AD&D, there are four basic character classes (professions): fighter, rogue, magic-user, and cleric. I realized today that these four classes represent the four areas of one person’s life that need to be developed to really be fulfilled.

The fighter is just that: someone trained in (armed) martial arts and combat. The fighter’s most important attribute is strength, with constitution (bodily health and toughness) and dexterity ranking high as well. The rogue is a thief, break-and-enter artist, burglar, safe-cracker, expert climber, and sneak. Most important to the rogue is dexterity. The magic-user is also known as a wizard. This individual is a caster of arcane spells, like a witch/warlock. The magic-user’s most important attribute is intelligence, because their art is based on knowledge. Something Lovecraftian about this one. Finally, the cleric is a representative of some divine power, and they have the ability to cast a different type of spell. A cleric’s spells are inspired by what Christians would call miracles – healing wounds and diseases, creating food and water, raising the dead, etc. The most important attribute for the cleric is wisdom which, in D&D, is differentiated from intelligence.

The four aspects of life are pretty clear at this point: the fighter represents the physical; the rogue represents skill development and mastery of object-oriented skills; the magic-user represents the intellect; the cleric represents the spiritual life. Now the pieces of the puzzle of life should start falling into place. Physical development includes being healthy, but also being strong and tough. Skill development is about being able to do a lot of different things at least competently. But it’s also about having enough skills developed over time that, when presented with an unfamiliar situation, you’ll be able to improvise a solution reasonably well. Some might think that intelligence is the key to good improvising, and I don’t doubt it helps, but ask yourself: is it better to have read about how to swim, or to have actually swam in a variety of waters?

The magic-user’s intelligence is about more than raw horsepower, it’s also about knowledge (the more you know! G.I. Joe!). That’s good news, because there’s not much you can do about intelligence, it seems to mostly be a “nature” driven factor. But you can spend time reading, taking classes, listening to lectures, participating in discussions, and so on, to improve your knowledge. An hour or two every day will do wonders.

The final one, the cleric, represents wisdom but also connection to the divine. In D&D, polytheism is pretty much a given, although a cleric will devote him/herself to one god in particular usually. However, I’ve been in adventures where the divine was recognized as a force rather than a god, or even as a philosophy (kind of Buddhist). No matter the form, this is about being connected to something beyond the physical world, even in a mytho-poetic way. I mean that you may believe no spirits exist, and that’s fine, but mythology and epic poetry can still bring wisdom and a connection to something greater than ourselves. It is both humbling and uplifting.

So there you have it – better living through adventure gaming! And best of all, you can get a few others together and go have a week-long adventure in the woods.