All Writers Should Play Dungeon’s and Dragons…

…or other table top RPGs,


No, seriously, you should. Although the high fantasy setting of Dungeons and Dragons isn’t what I write in my own stories, I strongly feel that playing the game is conducive to honing my creativity. My weekly sessions of fourth edition D&D can be compared to that of a few guys going out and having a poker night every week.

To those who aren’t familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, as well as any similar table-top roleplaying game, the premise of the game is to create fictional characters and send them out into a world to slay dragons, save the world, or pretty much anything else you can imagine. Each game usually has a different style and/or setting. D&D is fantasy, while Shadowrun is cyberpunk, and World of Darkness is ‘Twilight: The RPG’ (I kid, I kid.) An aspect of most of these games I need to explain to those who don’t know is that there are two different kinds of players in each game. There are the ‘Players’ these people follow the rules of whatever game they are playing and generate a character with flaws, strengths, background, and motivations. They decide what there characters do, and usually roll dice to see if they succeed or fail horribly. And then there is the ‘Dungeon Master’ or in most other games they are called ‘Game Masters’. (DM or GM is the usual shorthand for these roles.) Now there is only ever one DM or GM in a game and they are the ones who plan out and create the world the Players will explore. They set up challenges for the players to win against and leave treasure for those who don’t get maimed in the process.

Let’s start with the Players and why writers should try this. Most of the time a lot of thought and effort is put into the character they make. Even simple motivations can spark a wild imagination to come up with countless ideas for why your knight in shining armor has a vendetta against a thief. Perhaps he stole a family heirloom. If that’s the case then what is the history of this knight’s family that made it so important? How far will this knight go to reclaim it? Would he break an oath to retrieve it? Why did the thief take it?

Having to create these back-stories (sometimes on the fly) can be an amazing activity to help your imagination. But it gets even better, when you start to play the character, you have no idea how events might unfold and how well or poor the dice will role. The Knight might perish before even seeing the thief again or he might befriend him. My most recent character is a mountain barbarian named Witt who came down from the mountains after saving the life of a merchant. Sure I had ideas for how I wanted him to act in situations, but there was no way I could have known that one night he’d be throwing a jar of glow in the dark worms at a ninja. (It got even more entertaining when I rolled a 20 on my die. In D&D that is called a ‘critical’, meaning that jar REALLY hurt that poor ninja)

To play as the Dungeon master or Game master is an amazing practice in world building. To sit there and design the countryside and cities, to write down the history of empires that never existed. In the end you are putting more depth into a fictional world than some people put into the world’s of their books and that will help you in your own writing. Not only are you sparking your imagination, but you are having to deal with the players and their own imaginations. This can lead to new, wild, and imaginative ideas happening simply from a clumsy roll of the dice or an offhanded comment.

Head’s up: The next post is going to be another short story!


About Albedosrighthand

A young writer who treads the line between gamer and literary nutball.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to All Writers Should Play Dungeon’s and Dragons…

  1. Most definitely agree. Managing a group of players’ expectations and experience in realtime is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, as a writer. It’s also one of the few times you get to showcase your skills in a way that has the visceral benefits of a performance art. It’s akin to The Village Storyteller, sitting around a campfire weaving tales, but it gives us a structure in which to do that, and makes a game of it.

    I highly recommend Mouse Guard, for writers who have never played tabletop before. Excellent story-driven game with a character-driven focus and a very loosey-goosey set of mechanics. Running a few sessions of Mouse Guard is sort of the perfect how-to primer on being a GM. It’s the perfect gateway drug.

    • I grew up watching Redwall as a kid so when I had first heard of Mouse Guard I was really into it. I never got to run a game though. The setting is amazing.

      • It’s a really neat, character-driven approach. Players design characters that have personality-driven attributes (ie courageous, cunning, sneaky) and faults (ie brash, rude, a phobia, etc). The game then offers hard mechanical rewards to roleplaying both these strengths AND faults. If your character has a fear of spiders, and you take an impediment on a challenge relating to spiders and really get into the spirit of your character, you’re rewarded for that. You earn resources you can spend on later rolls. It’s so simple, and it’s fucking brilliant.

        Similarly, at the end of every session, the group does a sort of recap, where you have these rewards like “best roleplaying” or “most useful decision”, which you all vote on and hand out among the group. Roleplaying is encouraged and mechanically-rewarded.

        And my FAVORITE part: each session of Mouse Guard is one season of a year. So at the end of each year (ie every fourth session), you have what’s called The Winter Session. Narratively, the idea is that during the Winter, the Mouse Guard doesn’t run missions or patrols or anything, because it’s too cold and inhospitable outside. So you play an entire session where the group is restricted to one setting, NOT given a formula-driven mission (as they are in every other session) and has free time to reflect, grow, advance their character with experience they gained over the other three sessions of the year, earn new traits and faults, age one year, etc. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric bit of down-time that grants a sense of closure, continuity, and the passage of time which I have NEVER seen replicated in any other tabletop game. It’s kind of wonderful.

        And the game is so easy to pick up and play, I really do consider it like Tabletop 101. With a group of writers, it’s like the closest you’ll ever come to getting to live inside a Redwall story. I think of our games of Mouse Guard, and it’s just this beautiful world I ache to go back to.

        It would be a wonderful game to play with a group of children, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s