Post by Timothy Calla
An Easy Guide to Tabletop Games:
1.) A guidebook
3.) More dice
4.) 3 or more people
5.) Drinks (optional)
6.) An imagination
There you have it. A thorough list of just about everything you need to start your own role-playing bonanza. Though what really defines the overall experience of tabletop games is number 6 on the list: imagination. The common first impression about Dungeon and Dragons (D&D) usually involve images of dice rolling, fireballs, and traversing a Tolkien-esque world while stuffed in someone’s basement. And to a certain extent that can definitely be true, but I also believe that D&D is one of the best tools for creative writers. It’s an open platform where writers can construct a narrative with the singular goal of engaging their players. Even if you’re not the one creating the world or scenarios, you’re able to experience someone else’s story and collaboratively engage with their ideas. In fact, the nature of D&D requires all players to contribute to the construction of their own incredible story. Most of all, D&D provides a safe space for imaginative minds to create a world around them. It’s an outlet for writers to freely embrace whatever crazy idea they have and a testing ground to see how well you can express an idea, a setting, or scene to other people invested in how you describe it.
When D&D resurfaced into the realm of pop culture (thanks to Stranger Things), it brought with it HarmonQuest, Adventure Zone, Critical Role, and a plethora of other shows that revolve around people simply playing the game at a table and rolling dice. And at face value, it sounds kind of strange watching people roll dice and narrator their character’s actions, but there is something special about that: listening to someone become the narrator of their character. For a writer, this is a practice that we engage in throughout our pieces of work. We plop our characters in the middle of a situation and we become the narrator of their reactions. D&D does that but in a collaborative setting, allowing you to narrativize your character’s actions in response to another person’s story. All of the sudden, you are creating this symbiotic story where multiple minds are all invested in their character and what their role is within the narrative.
Let me break down the two necessary roles for playing D&D: there’s the DM, or Dungeon Master, and PC, or Player Character. In short, the DM creates the world and scenarios for the PC’s to encounter and interact with. It is a relationship, not DM versus PC. The goal of D&D isn’t to produce a winner or a loser, but rather to create compelling experiences. The game itself (well, as far as I use it) allows for theatrics and creative ridiculousness; there are many technical rules, but none on the behavior for how you play it. As the DM creates the world, the PC’s create themselves—or rather, they create the role they wish to play. This is where a lot of the creative minds get to work; a player’s character can have vivid backstory, rich with details and tragedy, or sometimes a character can be a completely blank slate. It’s all up to the individual. If you want to play a teenage, orphan runaway or an old, grumpy therapist, go for it. You create the character that you want to see, and experience with, the unknown world that you are about to embark upon. Based on my own sessions, people often create their idealized hero; some super chiseled, manly man brimming with ideals and barrel-chested chivalry. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact I love it. It allows me to create a character who can play off those tropes. Even when I am in the PC position, I don’t hesitate to go all out with my own characters. My personal, go-to character is a misanthrope with an always long winded backstory. When I’m DM, I hope I play with creative writers. I hope I get to play with someone who crafted a long, expansive backstory. This game is the ultimate playground for writers.
D&D is a microcosm where writers can engage each other creatively, but mainly under the context of improvisation. This means you can do just about anything you want and, more importantly, you can use your own potential story or character ideas and bring them to the table as screening, to see how other players engage with what you’ve come up with. Honestly, I am not much of a fantasy writer; my focus has always been based in reality, but D&D is still a place where I can bring character ideals, narrative based relationships, and landscape descriptions to the foreground of other players’ imaginations. They will assess my ideas with their own enjoyment in mind, focusing on how they can affect it within the overarching narrative.
It’s a strange experience when you first get yourself seated around a table, preparing yourself to intrigue your friends with just your words. But in many cases, that is what we do as writers. D&D (or any roleplaying game) gives you an opportunity to create with people you trust, and mainly, it gives you a place to let go and try anything, be anyone, and allow your imagination to run rampant. Again, it takes some time dropping your guard and getting out of your comfort zone, but once you do–call me, I need a campaign! Really–I’ve been dying to get a group!