By Dennis Tahirovic, Guest Writer

Grogmar Grushnag, the barbarian full blood orc, can be a devastating foe to face. Which is why the party uses him as a shock trooper to rip through anything and anyone in front of him to ensure that his friends can venture on safely. However, this is not some sappy plot for a fantasy movie. The ferocious Grogmar Grushnag is played by Jake Stewart in the tabletop roleplaying game, Dungeons and Dragons.

Jake Stewart has autism and for him that means he can’t understand certain social cues. I met Jake in high school and I didn’t really understand why this kid I had class with was a tad “off.” I was curious and approached him to introduce myself and surprisingly to this day we remain friends. About two years ago I read an article stating that Dungeons and Dragons can help kids with autism and other special needs. I approached Jake’s parents with this article and asked if they thought Jake would be interested in Dungeons and Dragons. After confirmation with his parents, I invited Jake to our games.

Jake has a very eager personality and likes to be the front man in most situations which is why Grogmar fits him. But has planning surprise attacks on goblin camps really helped him? Well I sat down with Jake and I asked him if he thought he was learning anything or if there was any value to Dungeons and Dragons other than having fun. Jake told me that having a scheduled game night where he knew his friends would be, put his mind at ease during the week. Jake dislikes random hang outs and prefers planned and scheduled events. He even told me that since he has an active mind that puts him everywhere all at once he can focus two or three steps ahead of the Dungeon Master (the person in charge of running the campaign or the “referee” of the game). Jake also told me that playing has taught him to understand what patience is. Since you can only speak or act out when it is your turn.
Jake is not the only friend with special needs I DM (Dungeon Master) for. I decided that if I can play my all-time favorite game and help out a few new friends than why stop? In order to run a bigger game I needed help. I’m not a psychological professional, so I got help from Dr. Raffael Boccamazzo who spearheads the Aspiring Youth camp in Seattle, Washington that specifically deals with games that teaches social skills and empathy. Though he does confess to being a Dungeons and Dragons nerd as well.

Dr. Boccamazzo explained to me that there are many programs that use role-play to work a number of issues in society. He states that using Dungeons and Dragons as a tool really teaches these kids perspective and can really teach them in a 360 degree kind of way. Dungeons and Dragons grants an amazing framework that isn’t too daunting which makes it great because that means anyone with enough knowledge on the mechanics of the game itself can really just sit down with some new friends and play. At the same time it teaches certain lessons that everyone around the table can grasp. As long as we have a fun game planned and pizzas, some type of social lesson will be taught without even bringing up autism, anxiety, or introvertism.

People from all places and creeds may benefit from Dungeons and Dragons. As backed by Jake and the other players and as studied by Dr. Boccamazzo. As long as no one rolls a natural 1 that is.