Gaming and Writing
I’ve played D&D for years, starting back when it was not the popular thing to do. I’ve always found it a very pleasant pastime and a good way to express creativity. Sure, there are rules (more guidelines really) and getting a handle on the complexities of the system can be daunting, but if you are a creative type, it is definitely worth giving gaming a chance.
So, you may be asking, what does gaming have to do with writing? Well, for many, when you play D&D, you are telling a story. Sure, there are stats and numbers and random dice rolls to make decisions, but for most, it is less about the stats and more about the adventure that unfolds.
The Dungeon Master
For most of my gaming life, I have been the Dungeon Master (or DM). For those not familiar with D&D, this is the person who acts somewhat as a narrator that sets the scenes and guides the players on their journeys as well as an arbitrator of the rules. However, the best DMs ignore the rules (or dice rolls) when doing so tells a better story. After all, the DM’s goal is not to kill the players, but to challenge them and help them create an interesting experience.
Again, how does that relate to writing? Well, being a DM is a lot like acting as a discovery writer. You start off with a premise of where you want to go, and perhaps have a handful of key milestones, but really you do not know how the characters are going to reach the objective (or sometimes, if they even will.) As the game unfolds and the characters react to the setting the DM provides, the story emerges. The DM can try to steer the characters along the original path if it makes, or if something far more interesting evolves, let the players run with the new story. In this way, it becomes a collaborative exercise in writing. In fact, the best DMs will reward the characters for finding a novel way to solve a problem in an unexpected manner.
In many of the adventures I have run, I let the natural reactions of the plays drive the next event. Most of the time, it forces me to think quickly on my feet, coming up with a response. I almost never use a random encounter table to liven things up if they have stalled. Instead, I try to craft something that gives a hint to where the characters might explore next.
One advantage I have is that I am often gaming in the world I use for my novels. The familiarity with the setting allows me to know quickly how the world will react to the players. I don’t have to read up on someone else’s world to figure out what exists and what doesn’t.
A major part of being a DM is world building. The grand map of my world started both as a setting for my writing as well as a setting for the games I ran. Games are exciting when the world seems vast and there is so much the players can explore and interact with. A great way to do that (consistently) is to build maps.
To me, maps are the pictures that are worth a thousand words. Just as in real life, natural terrain features drive political borders and influence how people live and act. For example, if you live in a swamp, and your castle has been build on the remains of three prior castles, you probably want all the land you can get (yes, a Monty Python reference).
A side effect of gaming in my world is that it helps me to further develop the lands and people. Then, later, when I write about the places I have gamed, I have a good idea of what exists there (or can at least borrow pieces from my gaming, if I don’t use all of it).
For a few weeks, I have been a playing D&D 5e at the Pawn & Pint board game shop in Kansas City. It is a great place to play all kinds of games, including D&D, and I highly recommend stopping in to check them out.
After the current game I am playing winds down (we are playing the revised edition of the original Ravenloft Adventure, which I can say I own), my plans are to create a 5e adventure set in my world and then DM some players through it. I need to put in some ground rules (such as human only characters, limits on some character classes with magic, …) and then turn the players loose on an unexplored part of Stephenie’s story.
Once I get all the ground rules defined and a general story for the game mapped out, I will post those basics (I’ll minimize the number of spoilers for the books in doing something outside of the character’s main path). After I run the campaign, I’ll post some summaries of the adventure so that if someone else wanted to do a similar one, they would have a place to start from (or at least borrow ideas).
Finally, for the writers out there who have not played D&D, or something similar, I highly recommend trying it out. It can potentially help you learn to think quickly and may even let you work out some troubling scenes in your stories. If nothing else, you may find it a pleasant way to be creative with some friend (new or old).