On DND, Dice, and Writing


I wrote this a while back for another blog. I found it a couple of hours ago and figured I’d go ahead and toss it up here, you know, for the sake of posterity and all.

The true nerd badge of honor is a high level D n D character, let’s be honest. You’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into that dwarf cleric. In High School, you may have been beaten up a few times or called a variety of unsavory terms because you’d ramble on and on with your friends about the previous session’s conquests. There’s been countless nights of harrowing chases through dungeons, defeating evil lords of ultimate evil, and acquiring untold riches from the stashes of vile dragons. Not to mention saving a few, shall we say, statuesque damsels in distress. He (or she) has been an effort of love since you sat down, rolled a few dice, and dreamed up this fantastical alter ego.

 Now, for those of you that aren’t aware of how these games work it goes something like this: You make up a character, you assign it stats be it through the rolling of dice or some other means, you drop them in a world designed by a storyteller, dungeon master, or what have you and then you react to the situations you are given. You use the numbers on your sheet to identify strengths and weaknesses and resolve conflicts through dice while acting in the persona of said character. Mind you this is a pretty cut and dry explanation, but the jist works.

So the question is where does this help a writer?

Well my young Padawn, lend me your ears.

The point of most games like this isn’t to win, first and foremost if at all. The point is to tell a story. Which is basically what it is you’re doing when you sit down with the dice and the nifty sheet of stats. You’re telling one person’s story in a cooperative setting with other players and whoever the person is, usually some sort of sadist, that’s running the show.

 Look at it this way. You walk into a writing class the teacher tells you need to write a story. She (or he) gives you a scenario. For example, “How does your character open a door with no knob?” Then, she flips a coin. Heads, you’re character is strong but not too bright so chances are, he’ll smash the door down. Tails, the opposite. He or she has the brains but is a veritable weakling who thinks their way through the door as opposed to a more direct approach. Same thing with stats on a sheet, maybe you fight, that’s what you go to to solve problems, or your violent streak fails you in situations where diplomacy would be key. Maybe, for example, you’re smart, but withdrawn. You take these same stats, or traits, or what have you, and you play that person to their strengths and their weaknesses. You react to the situations you’re given. More than that, you do it on the fly and you have to do it in a way that’s logical. I mean, you can’t just walk up and slap a dragon in the mouth without him eating your face off, right? Right.

From a writer’s standpoint we constantly have our characters living in our heads. We put them in stories of our own design and see where they go, what they do, how they do it. We do it without the idea of having “stats” assigned, but the fact remains that a good character is a flawed character, with their own strengths, wants, weaknesses and failings. That said, the world the interact with is something of our own design, we know where the secrets are and if they aren’t there we put them there. In a game, it’s a story of someone else’s design. The player has to adapt and move in and out of a more structured enviroment where we don’t make the rules. This puts the challenge on the writer/player to solve problems, interact with the enviroment, and communicate with other characters while adhereing to a more strictly codified world. When you can do it without the easy out, without the idea that you can insert the rule that lets your character get out by the skin of his teeth, you can really “test” that character, and get a better feel for what makes them tick.

In the end, what the game does it sets you in a position to tell a character’s story where the variables aren’t up to you. More than anything though and this could be the biggie is it forces you to be social. Us writing types, a lot of the time we’re content to spend countless hours inside our own little worlds, shunning the rest of humanity and telling our stories. Well, double edged sword here kids. Sure, we’re writing, we’re getting things done, but the world moves on outside and there’s things that we aren’t seeing, things that at the same time benefit what it is we’re doing while we’re in our hidey holes. Conversations, interactions, all those little real things are the things we pull from and put into our stories to make them authentic.

So, there you have it. Go forth, find some nerds, grab some dice and do your thing. Seriously, give it a try. You’d be amazed how much it can help a writer.

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