Updated: Jul 28, 2019
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Many writers, looking for gems of advice, typically turn to a favored author or a book from Writers Digest. I would wager that many of us haven't considered that running a tabletop game could increase our writing experience by tenfold. In this article I hope to show you how throwing some dice and a little math can sharpen your imagination and instincts for story.
Few things hold a candle to a good book. I might enjoy a warm biscuit, slathered in a fine sheen of melted butter, or perhaps drowned in a sea of gravy. Maybe wash it down with a dark steamy beverage. While certainly delightful, they stay with me only for a little while (sometimes longer if I haven't exercised in a few weeks,) but they never have the same impact as a universe neatly tucked away between the folds of ink and paper.
Except that there is.
As an adolescent, I came across something as near immersive as the books I loved to read. Player and monster manual brimming with history and character. Expansive multi-planar worlds that spanned from backdrops of fantasy to the gothic atmosphere of horror. When I realized I could visit them all, create my own adventures, and have others enjoy them, it felt like a dream come true. Then, I got so lost in them that for a few years I nearly abandoned my writing in favor of it. Thankfully, I got back on track...well sort of.
Oops. Did I mention that I get sidetracked sometimes because of my little monkey friend?
Well, it occurred to me one day, while I was watching an episode of LA By Night, that tabletop gaming could possibly be the best tool for writers out there. For a gamemaster, it requires many of the same story elements we are all familiar with, and provides a way to obtain near instant feedback. Not to mention its fun for everybody, and a lot easier than fishing for beta readers on twitter. When people ask me what a writer can do for fun, I point them in the direction of some dice and a game setting rulebook.
Ray Bradbury was quoted as saying:
"The best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you can write one short story a week—it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done. At the end of 30 weeks or 40 weeks or at the end of the year, all of a sudden a story will come that’s just wonderful."
Excellent advice. And, I believe that had he discovered the world of tabletop games, that he would've said the same of it. After all, what is tabletop gaming but a series of short stories played with dice? Elements of story remain the same. You need an inciting incident, rising action, character development, climax, falling action and so forth. And, if you're brave enough, you can link those short stories together into a unified campaign or chronicle. Or not. Its all up to you.
However, being a gamemaster can be a bit more tricky than simply applying words to paper. You face a greater challenge than any of your adventurers could possibly imagine: the Pippin variable. Named after the delightful little hobbit who kept things interesting for everyone in the fellowship, these players seem intent on leaving your carefully crafted story in shambles. They will not go where you want them to go and will do things you rather wish they didn't. If one thing players can be, its unpredictable. And, that is good. You need that as a writer. Different points of view will allow you to see your projects in an entirely different light, while providing fertile ground to grow future ideas at the same time.
Also, you might find that running a session or two will break weeks long writers block. Sometimes your personal little jitter monkey gets bored and wants to work on something different. That is why its okay to have several projects going at once. And, there is no more writerly thing to do than running a game of D&D or VTM or Shadowrun, or whatever piques your interest the most. There are tons of settings out there. Far more than there were when I was in high school. And the best thing is that there are PDFs of both new and old setting on websites like DriveThruRPG.
The point is to write every day. Daily writing is the most often advice given to aspiring novelists by published authors. Ray Bradbury's concept of writing short stories falls in line with that too. The idea is to learn the craft of writing. The best way to do that is by doing, and observing the results. You can't do that if you haven't gone through several cycles of the hero's journey to see what works and what doesn't. What better way to do that than to run a few gaming sessions? And better yet, you will have an audience that will give you immediate feedback on your storytelling skills--the Holy Grail for blooming writers. Finding beta readers is hard. Finding players for your game is easy.
Sure, being an adventurer is fun. But, nothing quite scratches the writing itch like preparing an adventure for others. Players and Gamemaster join together to create a lush story with larger than life characters and devious plots to riddle the mind (just so long as the PCs aren't all a bunch of murder hobos and the GM isn't a complete sadist.) You can learn a lot about storytelling elements when you sit down to conduct a session of game play. It takes a lot of humility, a little humor, and smidgen of love, but in the end its worth it.
I can't be the only writer who is a gamemaster. If you're a writer you plays, leave a comment below about your favorite setting and what projects you're working on. I'm currently running a VTM: 5E chronicle. Some of which I will be releasing here on the site for members.
If you liked this article, please like and share. If you'd like me to cover more content like this, let me know down in the comment section. I'm considering going more in-depth in a future article on the ways that being a gamemaster can improve your overall writing game.
Until then, thank you for stopping by. And remember--keep writing. No matter what.