Tabletop games: a writer’s tool

A lot of you are probably familiar with tabletop RPGs (roleplaying games) – Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, etc – and if that’s the case you probably know how great they are for creativity. I wanted to talk on them a little today.

I’ve been involved in tabletop gaming for quite some time. My friends and I found our way into it separately during university and we’ve been getting together most weekends (even when our storyteller moved overseas) for a good few years now.

For those of you not familiar with the art, it involves a group of people working collaboratively together, using characters they play, to create a story beneath the guidance of the ‘dungeon master’ (DM) (AKA ‘storyteller’ (ST)). That being the guy or gal who runs the world, guides the story and acts as all characters other than those played by the group. It’s a lot of fun, a great way to let out some creative steam, and some good practice for group problem-solving experience.

As you can probably guess, it’s a really handy writing tool, too. Whether they’re one session over a single evening or a four-year campaign, you can get a lot out of these games as a writer.

First of all, you have plenty of room for character development (especially in a long campaign) and you can watch your character change and develop along with the story set out for you by the ST. You get the opportunity to work through different scenarios, engage in different experiences for your character and see how they change and grow with it. Does your noble, good-natured character lose someone they care about and turn into a quiet recluse? Does it finally break them and they become a monster? Or perhaps it simply strengthens their resolve to do what they believe is right.

Secondly, it allows you to test out characters and development within a group. Sure, your noble character might have lost the will to go on, might have given up on their goals, but how do they fare when they’ve got other people to rely on, and who rely on them? What do they do when one of their friends or allies (played by one of your friends) comes to them and begs them to help? Maybe their allies threaten to leave your character behind if they can’t keep up? It’s one thing to know how your character operates within the story and world, but playing with real people means you’re always going to have a little more depth. Players can be unpredictable, and some of the most revealing moments for your character are very likely to come from their interaction with other player’s characters.

Thirdly, if you’re a world-builder, you can test out your own world by running a game. There’s a lot systems with which you can run tabletop games, and many of these can be accommodated to suit whatever setting you need. If my group wants to run a made-up setting, we tend to use the D10 systems of White Wolf’s games as a base. I know that a friend of mine, author Samuel Colbran, had a lot of fun trialling his world ‘Favinonia’ through tabletop games with his friends. It’s a great way to get some feedback on the type of things in the world, the technology or magic used (if present) and to get great ideas from your players.

Tabletop games don’t just involve old-school fantasy, too. You’ll find everything from supernatural, to cyberpunk, to horror, to modern settings, and there’s plenty of people who’ve shared .pdf files of their own creations for free online.

If you’ve never tried it before, definitely check it out. My group spent a long time playing White Wolf’s ‘World of Darkness’ setting for those of you who like modern, supernatural games. Lately, we’ve been dabbling a lot in Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons.

If you’re a budding writer with some free time to spend with friends, definitely look into it. Check out some youtube videos – there’s a pretty big group called Critical Role that consists of some great voice actors playing Dungeons and Dragons, for example – and see what you think.

And if you have any questions, feel free to use the ‘contact’ link above to drop me a line. I’d be happy to share my roleplaying experiences. No doubt I’ll be sharing some more about tabletop gaming in the future.

tl;dr: Tabletop games are fun. Also they make you a better writer. Even if your ST breaks your heart on a constant basis (RIP beloved NPCs).

[Pictured above – a character sheet from Vampire: The Masquerade. Mine, actually.]


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