Dungeons & Dragons turned 40 this year (EDIT: Now two years). Since its beginnings, over 20 million people have rolled a 20-sided die and failed their damn Saving Throw. I’m not sure if D&D was the first RPG, but it’s certainly the best known and most popular. It survived horrible mismanagement and many different editions (let’s never mention 4th Edition i.e. tabletop WoW), but it still remains my favorite hobby and the primary influence on my writing skills.
Do you find it weird that I credit D&D for helping me write well? Then you’ve never played.
Still Life With RPGs
It’s hard to remember exactly where I was first exposed to D&D. I suspect that it was the old cartoon, which holds up surprisingly well today. It might have been the board game Dungeon, which was so much fun. I wish I still had it.
I do remember the first time I played. It was 4th grade. I recently moved from the Bronx to Rockland County, a suburb of New York City. I was without friends and completely out of my element. I broke my collarbone just before school started, so while everyone else was at recess, I had to sit with the teachers. It was not a good way to make friends.
A kid named Marc was just as unpopular as me, but he has this really cool game. You got to make up a character and go on adventures and stuff. It was all in your imagination, and it was fun. I was instantly hooked.
In high school, I found more gamers, and people got worried. I went to a special school for the “bad kids” and there were already rumors about how D&D made you worship the devil (assholes like Jack Chick didn’t help). I met a crazy bastard named Kevin there, and he got me back into the game. We used to play at lunch until the school banned the game. Fucking bullshit!
In college, I found the group that I still play with today. The game became less about smashing shit and more about character development. The world we play in, Aquerra, a creation of my (often referenced) friend Osvaldo, was rich in detail and complexity and like nothing I’ve experienced before. Even better, every character we created and adventure we went on added layers of detail to the already laden world. Aquerra is also where the term Watchmage comes from, though my version and Osvaldo’s have little in common.
Not only have these gamers become my closest friends, they are also very talented roleplayers and world builders. I consider them my mentors as I developed my own writing skills.
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D&D: Writing Class With Mountain Dew
Every writer should play roleplaying games. I don’t mean video games like WoW or Skyrim, I mean the good, uncut stuff: Dungeons & Dragons, World of Darkness, Champions…but mostly D&D.
I’m not the only writer that feels that way. Jon Favreau also credits D&D for honing his skills, and several creative types like George RR Martin, R.A. Salvatore, Stephen Colbert and Robin Williams were also players.
Role playing games teach you how to build a character the only true way: by becoming him. If you want to write a convincing character, you have to climb into his skin. Learn to think like him, act like him. Have him interact with other characters, before you actually start your story. You have to treat him like a real person. Only then will you know his heart.
DMing will make you a master world builder. For RPGs, you have to build a world for your PCs and NPCs to live in. If you can building a massive campaign setting for a game, you can build one for a story.
Running adventures teaches you about plot, pacing, and when to increase or decrease tension (an article from me about pacing is coming next week). With experience you learn when to ratchet up the drama, and when to ease up. You learn plot points, and if you really analyze it, you learn the Hero’s Journey.
Embrace Your Inner (and Outer) Geek
When I was young, playing D&D made you an outcast. I already had serious issues with bullies (ironic since I was so much bigger than everyone), so I hid my hobby. I played in basements with other outcasts like me. We were united in our game, and united in our persecution. But god forbid someone found out.
We’re in a geek renaissance right now, and it’s a beautiful thing. People love comics and scifi/fantasy. You don’t have to be embarrassed of your Star Wars toy collection anymore. Yet for some reason, D&D still gets mocked.
Enough of this! OUT OF THE BASEMENTS AND INTO THE STREETS!
Ok, maybe I shouldn’t equate this to the gay rights movement, but until D&D is as accepted as other geek hobbies, no geek is free.
I think we need a sponsor…maybe Mountain Dew.
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I had to go through an insane amount to leave this reply (okay like 10 minutes – whatever) I totally agree. Every writer should play – it teaches you to picture a place vividly in your head, describe it if you DM, get inside the head of a character, you build a story in real time with friends. I once wrote a book based on a Call of Chthulu game (just submitted to chaosium!). Most people thinks it all rolling dice, but it’s ROLE playing. When I played the old Neverwinter nights you could see what the computer rolled for you in real time – but rolling isn’t role-ing by half. Anyway -fair warning I will be posting this link to a couple nanowrimo groups I’m in. And speaking of nano – I better get to work. Nice “meeting” you – If you check out my blog I put up a list of some of the one liners from a recent Deadlands game where I played with a bunch of guys (of course) but also – 2 other women!!! I’m usually the only girl – and the worst most inappopriate one liners… out of the mouths of the women. Later. Betsy (betsyswordstothewise.wordpress.com)
I agree that every writer should try some sort of roleplaying game. In my critique group, whenever someone is stuck in a scene, I recommend that they act it out by roleplaying the character. They think I’m crazy. I am, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work 🙂
I didn’t even know that Deadlands was still around! I was in a DL campaign back in college when it first game out. It’s a great system (though I’ve always thought that White Wolf had the easiest system to understand.)
Thank you for reposting to NaNoWriMo sites. I’ve never done it, but that’s mostly because it’s worked out that every november since I became aware of it I’ve been in revision mode. Also, 15,000 words a week is more than 4 times my normal output. I’m very rigid with how much I write (I have OCD) and a sprint like that would wreck my tiny little brain. But I hope that you win 😀 Good luck. I’ll check out your blog now.