For the longest time, I saw writing as a solitary pursuit. I pictured myself as an author working entirely alone, only interacting with people for book signings. I was always scared of criticism, even the constructive kind. I’m still in the habit now of submitting work without feedback because deep down, I’m afraid people will hate it. That was until I started playing D&D.
If you didn’t know, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a table-top roleplaying game where you take your characters through fantastical battles, high-stakes dinner parties, and anything else you can dream of. But the part that I enjoy most is that it’s a collaborative storytelling game – at its core, it’s a game about a group of friends building a world together.
When writing on your own, it’s easy to gloss over plot holes and convince yourself that things make sense. But in D&D, you have other people to hold you accountable. I’ve been the Dungeon Master, or DM, for a few years now, which means I’m narrating the story in which my friends are the heroes. Because D&D relies heavily on improvisations, there’s no way for me to plan for everything. My players are always asking questions that I’ve never thought to answer, which can put me on the spot.
But while that sounds like criticism, it’s a sign that my players are invested in my story. It forces me to think about details that I would have glossed over on my own. D&D makes use of a variety of different skill checks like history, investigation, and stealth, and you can bet that your players will want to use them as much as possible. This encourages me as a DM to flesh out my world and examine it from many angles. When I’m asked a question I don’t immediately know the answer to, it’s more fun to use the improvisation tool of “yes, and” instead of moving past it.
As a writer, I have certain things that I focus on more than anything else. For me, it’s characters and emotion. My favourite part of writing is creating complex characters that other people will become attached to. I follow that same approach when writing D&D, but playing with a group gives me multiple perspectives into other areas. My group is interested in mystery, puzzles, combat, and worldbuilding. My primary goal in running a D&D game is to make it fun for everyone, so it’s a welcome challenge each session to find something that will engage each member of the group. It pushes me to step outside my comfort zone a little and to raise the stakes of the storyline, making it more interesting for everyone involved.
The game has taught me that it’s ok not to know where every beat of my story will go. Nearly every decision is dependent on dice rolls, so you can’t guarantee that the heroes will always win or that the villains will be as powerful as you planned (I’ve had many combats end in one round because I underestimated the strength of the heroes). Instead of despairing that your plans have gone to waste, it’s a great opportunity to flex those improv muscles! Sometimes a failure can lead you to a different idea, which you never would have thought of otherwise.
I’ve been playing D&D for over three years now and it’s taught me so much about story structure, balance, themes, and well-rounded characters. Having other people take an active role in your story really forces you to think outside of the box. It’s like writing a first draft with your friends reading over your shoulder and giving feedback as you go. That sounds terrifying, but it means that there’s a group of people directly invested in the world you’ve created. My players are my biggest supporters.
I’ve been incredibly lucky with my D&D experience. There are people who haven’t felt welcome in certain groups, or just don’t mesh with the people in them. My D&D group are my closest friends; I value their impact a great deal, and I love helping their characters grow. It’s a truly unique experience, writing a tailor-made story that is carried by people working together and having fun. It’s a hobby that involves a lot of cooperation and communication, so it can be hard to get started. But I truly recommended that any creative writers give it a go, just to see what happens when you let someone else into your story writing process!