(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Hot for Teacher by Van Halen, Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin)
I had the coolest moment yesterday.
At about 7 pm, three of my roommates and I sat at a table and I led a Dungeons and Dragons session in the world of my books.
If you haven’t been with me the whole time, you’ll probably want to read this earlier post in which I talk about D&D as a great way to develop characters.
Still, this was a unique experience. I had a trilogy I started but never completed, in which a trio of heroes fight back against an evil deity who’s enslaved both them and the creatures that exist in their dreams. In the end of it all (spoiler alert!) one of the characters sacrifices himself to deal a death blow to the evil god, destroying it and freeing the land from its curse.
Fast forward five hundred years, to the time period in which my D&D campaign takes place. That savior character is now a historical and religious figure – the Jesus of this fantasy world. Those who did not participate in the final battle against the evil god Mwn have been exiled into a harsh foreign continent, where old prejudices have slowly festered against the people who were once their kin. And the entire world is on the brink of a civil war that could end a peace that’s lasted 500 years.
Okay, enough creative masturbation. The point is, through the flexibility afforded by the rules of Dungeons and Dragons, I’ve been able to extend a world that previously only existed in one discrete time period and place. I get to answer questions like, What happened after Pelekarron died? and What kinds of changes in racial tensions would occur after the end of the books? I even get to see how technologies and societies have advanced in my world over five hundred years of exploration.
Herein lies another great benefit to anyone playing D&D and also writing, especially fantasy and science fiction writers – being able to work on a narrative. In my case, it was an extension of a previous narrative, but it doesn’t have to be just that. You could create your science fiction world in a hybrid D&D game – my roommate has done just that for a different campaign – and play it out, seeing your vision realized through character interactions and plot development. And then you could write books based off of the world, having made any necessary changes after seeing it in the testing sandbox of D&D.
Screw you, Reed! You’re always talking about SFF books, but I’m a romance/mystery/graphic novel/European ancient civilizations textbook writer. You give me no help with my genre.
Yeah, you’re mostly right. I write almost exclusively SFF, and a lot of my advice is tailored to other writers. But here’s a free tip for anyone doing any sort of narrative fiction (sorry, my European ancient civ textbook writer followers).
D&D can help you understand suspense and pacing.
If you’ve a few of my recent posts, you’ll know I’ve had problems with pacing. It seems like my previous works haven’t kept audience’s attentions because I, like many fantasy writers, move glacially through the plot of a given project.
Now contrast that to this first D&D session in which, a half an hour into the session, a massive pirate ship slammed into the harbor of a busy port town, catching itself and several nearby ships on fire and expelling a seemingly endless stream of pirates out into the town for my D&D party to fight. There was an immediate, relentless pace to the session that, at one point, had one of my players actually screaming.
(Okay, she’s a naturally loud person, but that’s not the point.)
Picking up on what makes for a captivating D&D session has helped me understand what can make for a captivating novel. That relentlessness, that momentum, that keeps a person engaged in a five-hour session can also keep a reader engaged in a 120,000 word book.
And that, friends, is something any writer should take to heart.
So basically what I’m saying is everyone should play D&D.