What Dungeons and Dragons Has Taught Me About Writing

20-sided-dieIf you’re on this blog for any longer than a minute, you’ll probably notice I’m a nerd. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to hide it, so I won’t.

Among my many geeky pursuits in my down time are tabletop games. I’m currently involved in three role-playing tabletop campaigns – two in which I am a player and one as a Dungeon Master (DM).

Now, if you haven’t played D&D before, you probably have some stereotype of it from pop culture (looking at you, Stranger Things). I’d like to set the record straight about D&D with a few facts:

  • Yes, you can play it for up to ten hours straight, although most of my sessions last 3-4 hours
  • Yes, it is a “role-playing game” where people create and play as their own characters – but so are a great many video games.
  • Most importantly, D&D can help you become a better writer.

I’m being totally serious here. Most non-players don’t see the connection, but anyone who’s enjoyed a role-playing tabletop game can tell you that it is storytelling in its most basic form. D&D, among other role-playing tabletop games, is a story created by the DM and shared with the players, who act as the main characters.

When you sit down at the table with a bag of chips open and a twenty-sided die in front of you, you’re not just spending an evening killing a hundred rats (shout-out to Mikey Tharratt). You’re the main character in a story, complete with a (often tragic) backstory and a set of motivations that will lead you to make decisions that you, as a real-life person, would never make.

In this way, you get a unique glimpse into the creation of a character. When you have to embody a fantasy alter ego, you must know everything about them. You’ll start off with a vague idea of what makes your character tick, and by the third session you’ve mastered the subtleties, the quirks and twists in their personality you never intended to be there. Those skills apply directly to writing characters in fiction.

If you’re the Dungeon Master, it gets even better. Now, you’re in a position where you create the history, the world, the plot – every single element of fiction except for the characters. With other players providing characters, you’re able to notice from an objective viewpoint how they tie into and influence the story, change the world, and carve out a niche for themselves in your creation. You also learn how other people think about character creation – a way to compare strategies and techniques.

Tabletop games may not be your thing, and they’re certainly not the only way to pick up writing skills. But to me, they have been invaluable in helping me develop my storytelling, my characters, and my innovation. If you have a few friends who are interested, give it a shot! If not, I’m always down to DM another campaign 😀

-R.R. Buck

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