Roleplaying Games and Writing

Got a little side-tracked from my regular writing this week – but at least I’m writing. I am writing something a little different, however. It all started when I was sorting through some old papers last weekend, and I came across a roleplaying game adventure I had started writing years ago, based on Alice in Wonderland. Dusting it off and reading through it, I felt inspired to give it a solid rewrite, and update the mechanics to the roleplaying game I am currently playing – 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

So now I’m writing a D&D version of Alice in Wonderland. And while it’s not exactly original material by any means (and it sadly isn’t doing anything to help me make forward progress on my novel), it is a very fun creative endeavor. And it gave me my inspiration for this week’s blog post – the usefulness of roleplaying for fiction writers. This is a subject I’ve seen covered by other writers in the past, but as someone who’s been playing roleplaying games on and off for a good 30 years now, I decided I’d throw my two cents into the mix.

A little background first. It all started when I was 12. And interestingly enough it is one of those childhood memories that sticks with me, even now. My father, my brother, and I had gone into a hobby/game shop, and my brother and I were looking at all the lead miniatures. We decided to buy some to paint, because they were cool-looking fantasy monsters. It was our dad who noticed that they were labeled “Dungeons & Dragons miniatures” and that apparently there was a game they were meant to be used with.

Our dad didn’t think it made much sense to buy the miniatures if you didn’t have the game they went with, so he went ahead and bought the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set for us as well. And just like that I was introduced to the wonderful world of roleplaying. And while my love of painting miniatures didn’t last more than a few years, my love of roleplaying games only continued to grow, and is still a passion to this day. I’ve played numerous different roleplaying games over the years, with a variety of genres, themes, and game mechanics, but they all have one common unifying element, and it’s what makes them so worthwhile for writers – they’re all about storytelling.

As a writer and an avid reader, nothing engages me more than a good story. And this love of story extends to the games I play. While there are times when the whole kill the monsters, get the treasure, rinse and repeat style of roleplaying can be fun (just like there’s mindless fun to be had with your average first-person shooter video game), this only holds my attention for so long. What truly engages me is being involved in a good story, especially when I able to contribute to that story.

Regardless of the particular game, and regardless of whether you are a player or a game master, a good roleplaying game session should be about taking part in an interactive story. And what better source of inspiration and boost to creativity can a writer ask for? Not only do you get the opportunity to flex your own creative muscles, but you can gain ideas and inspiration from the other players in your group as well.

Now what you take away from the experience will differ depending on your role. The players, for example, are mostly focused on characters – mainly your own, naturally, but you never know when another player will create a character or do something in a game session that inspires your own writing. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the main character of my current story series was inspired by the character I play in Dungeons & Dragons.

While the players aren’t the ones creating the adventure (that’s the game master’s job), that doesn’t mean that as a player you can’t take inspiration from events or encounters that happen during gameplay. That being said, there is one thing to keep in mind – as you aren’t the creator of the adventure, you need to be careful how many specific details you pull into your own work, especially if your game master is using a premade adventure (as whoever wrote the adventure is going to have copyright on everything in the adventure). But that doesn’t mean you can’t use aspects of the adventure for inspiration.

Now if you’re the game master, roleplaying games offer a different opportunity, in that they give you a ready set of alpha readers that you can use to test out your story ideas. Whether it’s a new villain or secondary character you want to test out, or separate little events from your story that you throw in here and there, or even running your players through the complete narrative of your novel, you have a chance to get initial feedback on your ideas before you spend too much time and effort developing them.

Not only does this give you a chance to work out some of the kinks, to find the things that don’t work (and the things that work really well), but you never know when your players will take your ideas and run with them in a direction that you hadn’t thought of. I actually have a perfect example of this from the first adventure I ran through with my current D&D group.

Our quest had been to recover a mystical stone and return it to the Queen. We recovered the stone and were headed back to the palace with it. However, one of the players decided he had a different idea. The player in question was getting ready to leave for college, so this was going to be his last adventure with the group, and he wanted to make his exit memorable. So what did you do? Right in the middle of our final battle, his thief character secretly steals the gem from our paladin, and right after the battle he runs off with it (along with all of our party’s gold).

Needless to say, this was not even remotely what the game master had in mind. We were supposed to take the gem back and receive our reward from the Queen, simple and straight-forward. But the way the adventure concluded ended up being way more fun, and way more memorable, than what the game master had originally intended. In fact, the ending went over so well, and was so often talked about by the group, that the game master actually kept the player’s thief character in the game, using him as an antagonist who occasionally showed up to harass the rest of us in one way or another.

It’s this impromptu interactivity of different people that truly makes roleplaying games as much fun as they are, and it’s this same interactivity that makes them a wealth of inspiration for an open-minded writer. Not only do you get to explore and develop your own ideas, but you are constantly exposed to the ideas and creativity of the rest of the group. And with that final thought, I bring this week’s blog post to a close. Happy gaming!

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