Every now and again, particularly when I'm going on tangents about writing subjects, I mention that I play Dungeons and Dragons. To my surprise, I've actually gotten a few emails on the subject in the past year. I didn't think much of it at first, but I feel like I should explore the concept a little because of the range of curiosity I've received.
First off, allow me to clarify. This is not a gaming blog. I won't go into the finer details of the games because it just doesn't fit here. Instead, allow me to clarify why it tends to come up within the realm of 'writing'.
So, to begin: What is Dungeons and Dragons?
For those who are unfamiliar, D&D is a tabletop game and is conceptually no different than a regular board game like Monopoly or Life with sets of rules and guidelines. While some people do actually use a board and figures, the real draw of the game for most people is what I often refer to as 'Interactive Storytelling'. There are plenty of different groups in the game's history that like to claim different things about the game (my favorite being that it 'teaches players how to use real magic spells and/or summon the devil'), but the game is little more than being able to direct a character within a fantasy story. Imagine the story of "Lord of the Rings" if you were able to control the actions of Legolas. Everything else is happening around you from the book but YOU as a player have the opportunity to control that single character, what they do, and how they react to the world around them.
Sounds interesting, huh?
I thought so, but this is where the writing comes in.
While once in a grand while I'll actually be a player, most often I act as what is known as the GM, which stands for Game Master. In short, I'm the one who has to wrangle and direct all the players along with providing a narrative and world to exist in. Modules, i.e. pre-done stories and adventures, do exist that can be purchased and utilized, however I honestly have never used one. Instead, I simply create my own content for my players to use. Sometimes this is good, sometimes not so much.
This brings us nicely to the next major point: Why do I find Dungeons and Dragons useful for writing?
Well, aside from the obvious challenge of having to create an interesting plot hook for players to follow, D&D forces your writing to the next level. For one, you can't really just have a cardboard cutout for them to explore. You need a world. Countries need cities. Cities need infrastructure. Locations need populations. People need personalities. Anyone or anything that a player is ever exposed to needs to have a purpose, a reason, an existence. Any player could decide that they want to strike up a conversation with a random character in the street or they might want to investigate some element of a location that seems relatively pointless in the scope of things only because YOU didn't imagine the use for it originally.
The same can be said for designing the narrative itself. It's very easy to set up a plot hook of "The king was killed by an assassin, go find out who did it and why.", but what about down the road? You now have to be able to plan for WHERE the players will go and how will they will act and design your game around that.What roads will they take? Who will they talk to? What will they find along the way? You need to be able to imagine every opportunity and option that a player will take (you won't be able to...but try) and then build those options. You need to be able to smooth the surface and be ready to lay the train tracks as the train is rolling. Sometimes this is something easily planned for but sometimes this requires you to think and write and act literally in the middle of the game; conjuring life to characters and places that hadn't even been considered yet.
So, in short, D&D is an invaluable tool for me that encourages creative thinking and narrative. It forces me into realms I hadn't considered before and, more than once, has actually contributed to my public works simply because it inspires me like little else can.
With that said, what really gets your blood flowing and helps you write? Is it simply writing alot or perhaps there's something else that gets your fingers flying? Let us know in the comments below.