What can Dragonball Z teach a Dungeon Master?

Dragonball Z. Just the mention of that television series brings forth emotions from people Some good, some bad, some indifferent, and some who still don’t understand it.

A popular anime series in Japan in the early 90s, Dragonball Z gained a tremendous amount of attention when American audiences were first introduced to it in 1996. The series had just ended in Japan but Funimation hired Vancouver, Canada based Ocean studios to dub the first two seasons into English. This ran until 1998 when funding ran out for the dub. Reruns on Cartoon Network’s Toonami afternoon programming series increased its exposure and Funimation began dubbing the rest of the series as a result of that. They finished the dubbing of the series on their own and it ran until 2008.

Enough history. What does this have to do with Dungeons & Dragons?

Humans love to analyze things. We want to figure out “why” and “how”. Dragonball Z’s popularity is not immune to this. People have long discussed, debated and argued over why the series was so popular. Some say it fed into our inner child. Boys in particular loved the violence in the series but there were also many girls who loved it just as much. Its appeal spanned across gender, race, social status and age. People even wrote books about the culture behind the series.

So what can a Dungeon Master learn from this series? First, go watch it. Ok well maybe not all of it. Read the synopsis of the series if you don’t want to watch the hundreds of episodes. (I certainly wouldn’t). Then, pay attention to some of the common themes:

  1. Good versus evil is a constant struggle.
  2. Good often wins but at a price
  3. The price for victory can mean death, even for the most beloved characters
  4. Idealism is a constant. Never give up, you can always train more and you can always improve yourself. This idealsim is often what overcomes #1-#3.

Back to Dungeons & Dragons. One of my previous articles about Critical Misses encouraged Dungeon Masters to take failures and turn them into narrative events. Dragonball Z executes this beautifully. No, it isn’t always realistic and quite often its fantastic in that if we were beat to a pulp we wouldn’t want to go fight again as fast as Goku does. However, that’s kinda the point of a hero like the characters in Dungeons & Dragons games. They will face dark times, they’ll make mistakes and they’ll roll critical misses. Bring in that idealism when the players need it most and remind them that this is a heroic story. They are the ones who bards will write songs about for years to come. They are the ones who are going to save the townspeople even if they can’t hit a goblin to save their life. Encourage them to never give up, to persevere no matter the odds and find those moments of Inspiration (pun intended – be generous with awarding inspiration to those who show Dragonball Z-like zeal) that will help the party make it through those dark hours of constantly rolling “1”s and failing Perception checks.

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