Dungeons & Dragons, and other tabletop role-playing games (RPGs), are one of my great pleasures in life. There’s nothing quite like getting to explore a world with your friends, solving puzzles and defeating enemies as you go. Or maybe there is. For there’s another activity I like to do in my spare time: escape rooms. In an escape room, you get to explore a different world and solve puzzles with your friends…sound a little familiar?
Now, I want to be clear, these are definitely not the same thing. Playing an RPG like Dungeons & Dragons gives you a lot more freedom than participating in something more tangible like an escape room, but there are definitely elements that they both share. And as someone who does enjoy both, I really do believe that playing Dungeons & Dragons has made me a better escape room player and vice versa. Let me explain.
Dungeons & Dragons help with escape rooms
One of the most important skills you quickly learn how to use when playing Dungeons & Dragons is your imagination. Everything takes place in the “theater of the mind” and so every location, every action, and every person in the world is made up collectively in the minds of the players and Dungeon Master. Many problems you encounter in this world also can be solved with creative or just downright weird solutions. I always have the most fun when people start thinking outside of the box, whether what we choose to do ends up being successful or not.
In an escape room, imagination and creativity are also incredibly useful. The room itself is more enjoyable when you are able to truly immerse yourself in the environment, playing into the story and world as they’re set up for you. My first escape room was themed around a heist and one of the reasons I had so much fun was the way my friends and I all were willing to roleplay like we were actually robbing a bank. At one point, we all huddled under a counter in order to “take cover” from a fake C4 explosion!
It was genuinely an experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, and having some experience in using my imagination to engage with a fake world helped me really get into it. In addition, there are often puzzles where you have to think outside the box in order to be successful during an escape room. Even though these riddles almost always have set solutions, which is definitely not the case in Dungeons & Dragons, it still often requires a certain amount of creativity to see the path ahead.
It’s not just creativity that can help you get through an escape room. Dungeons & Dragons is a game where you are often confronted with problems, whether interpersonal, political, or on a world-saving level. Sometimes, when participating in the dungeon aspect of the game, the problem in question can just be a puzzle in and of itself. Whatever the case, dealing with these issues in the game world can help translate to learning how to solve problems in the real world.
Taking into account escape rooms specifically, traversing dungeons can honestly be a very similar experience to playing through an escape room. Learning the mindset you need for solving puzzles in that setting is incredibly useful in an escape room itself. When I played my first escape room, we did well, but we ended up not escaping. After playing several other rooms, it became clear that your mindset and experience does matter for your success, at least to a certain extent. So getting to do that kind of problem-solving beforehand, even in an imaginary setting like in Dungeons & Dragons, really can help give you a leg up in that regard.
Escape rooms are group games. I have never played or seen a room that doesn’t have at least a two-person minimum. Similarly, Dungeons & Dragons is a game where you have a party that you have to work with. In fact, the best campaigns I’ve played focused heavily on character interaction and inter-party dynamics. It’s way more fun to explore the world when you truly try to inhabit your character and build relationships with other players and non-player characters (NPCs) alike.
With those relationships come conflict. Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs truly challenge you to learn how to work with others, both within the game as characters and outside of it as players. Sometimes a group just doesn’t work, but other times with a little effort and compromise, it can become something incredible. Having that experience in figuring out group dynamics can be essential in an escape room.
Knowing each other’s strength and weaknesses, especially if you’ve played an RPG together before, allows you to easily figure out which puzzles and tasks each person will excel at in the room. And even if you haven’t played together, just knowing how to deal with other people in that kind of setting can help you keep a cool head under pressure, something that can be the difference between success and failure in an escape room.
Escape rooms help with Dungeons & Dragons
I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons for many years, and in my time with the game, I have been both a player and a Dungeon Master (DM) or Game Master (GM). DMs and GMs are in charge of running an RPG. They provide a setting for the players, keep the story moving (to the best of their ability), and are the ultimate arbiters of how any action plays out.
There are many different ways to run a game, and there are many tools available to help you structure the experience. However, I’ve only ever been in charge of what is known as homebrew games, which means that the world is entirely created by myself and my friends. This requires me to create my own dungeons and puzzles within that world as well.
Inspiration for creating and filling a world can come from many different places, and escape rooms are one such source. Now, I would never just steal a puzzle from an escape room and insert it into my game. Many escape room puzzles wouldn’t even work in an RPG setting. But the way that these puzzles are often fully integrated into the theming of the room really does help model how to do something similar in my own dungeons. Even beyond just the puzzles, the immersive environments and the characters that are created for stories in escape rooms can also be great inspiration for settings and characters in something like Dungeons & Dragons.
RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons require a fair amount of strategy in order to be successful. As a player, you need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the player characters (and the people playing them) in order to create a plan that will actually solve any of the problems that you encounter. As a DM, you need to know these strengths and weaknesses as well in order to create balanced encounters that are a challenge without being completely impossible. In general, you need to understand who you are playing with and how they like to tackle problems.
Escape rooms, with their required teamwork, are a great way to learn the strengths and weaknesses of your friends in these puzzle and problem-solving settings. Lots of escape rooms are only possible if you know how to divide up the tasks that need to be done. When I do escape rooms with my friends, sometimes I don’t even fully know what they’re working on until that puzzle is solved or we decide to switch tasks in order to get a fresh perspective on a problem.
Learning how to work separately towards a common goal in this way can be very helpful in many situations in an RPG. For example, in a battle, you need to take care of your own character while also keeping in mind how the people on your side tend to fight so that you don’t get in their way.
Having a background with the imagination required for Dungeons & Dragons can help enhance the experience in an escape room, as I discussed earlier, but this can also work the other way around. If you play into the story of an escape room normally, letting yourself get fully immersed in the environment, I really do think that it can help you become better at roleplaying and interacting with the world in an RPG.
Escape rooms feel realistic in a way that RPGs don’t, as you are physically present in the environment and interacting with it in a real, if somewhat controlled, manner. This can make it easier to let yourself interact with it as if you are really there and buy into the stakes that the story of the room sets up for you. Many of the thrills in an escape room can come from this suspension of reality and the physical setting around you helps facilitate it.
With Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs, there often is no, or only very little, part of the world that you are interacting with in the real world. It can be difficult to successfully immerse yourself in that intangible world right off the bat. Thus, escape rooms, with their physical reality, can help you learn to use your imagination in a way that allows you to fully engage with the mental reality of an RPG.
Try it for yourself
If you also play escape rooms and RPGs, you might have some idea what I’ve been talking about. If you don’t, I’d encourage you to think about it for yourself and see if you can make some of the same connections I did. These experiences aren’t going to be the same for everyone, but some similarities likely do exist. It can be fun to recognize how your hobbies have been building on each other, even if it was happening unconsciously.
For those who only play Dungeons & Dragons or a different RPG, if you have a chance, take your party to an escape room and see how you do! You might be surprised at how well you can work together in a different setting. And if you’re an escape room enthusiast who has never tried an RPG before, maybe it’s time to sit down and check one out. I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it, but I do think there’s a good chance. Maybe, like me, you’ll also become someone who loves Dungeons & Dragons and escape rooms.
Get some dungeons & dragons inspiration
Come play one of our escape rooms! It may give you some ideas for your next D&D game. Call a host or book your escape room online today.