Novice to Novel: Part 5 – D&D

The Stats (same as last week, I have been really busy and needed a break):

Words: 54,855
Chapters: 25
Words written this week: 2,548
Version 3, Rough Draft

Role Play and Chaotic Math Rocks

I have always written stories, but I had not considered writing as a profession until I played Dungeons and Dragons, also called D&D for short. It is probably one of the nerdiest hobbies to get into and I can’t recommend it enough. It is a game where a person called the Game Master runs the story and describes the world while a group of players have characters and describe what they would like to do in said world. The Game Master will either say that you can do that thing, you can’t do that thing, or most likely will make you roll a die to see if your character can do that thing. There are now winners or losers and no real set objective, although typically there is a Big Bad Evil Guy, or BBEG for short, that the players have to level up and get powerful enough to stop before they destroy the city/kingdom/country/world/universe. To mischaracterize it by putting it simply, The Game Master is the video game and the players are the playable characters.

My interest in D&D began when my brother’s friend told me about a show called Critical Role. In case you don’t know, Critical Role describes themselves as “A bunch of nerdy-ass Voice Actors who sit around and play Dungeons and Dragons.” To make a long story short, they were a group of friends who played D&D and started streaming their game on Twitch when a friend of theirs, Felicia Day, asked them to join her role-playing and nerd culture channel called Geek and Sundry.

They quickly became a hit show and when their contract ran out they ventured out on their own. They are so popular that they now have a whole merchandising store, graphic novels, fictional novels, spinoffs, live shows, and their own anime on Prime Video called “The Legend Of Vox Machina” (It is incredible, you should check it out if you are a fan of adult fantasy animation). I have been a fan of theirs from the beginning. Mathew Mercer is an incredible storyteller and the players they have are all incredible actors and really enjoy one another’s company. Their epic stories, friendships, harrowing fights, and incredible storytelling got me hooked and I still watch their weekly show every Thursday night.

Like thousands of others, I was inspired to start my own D&D campaign with my friends after watching their show. I am now close to completing my third multi-year campaign as a Game Master. I have invented an entire world called Padmia, with a pantheon of gods, creation myth, epic villains, and other dimensions. My first and second campaign are the basis for the fantasy series I am working on. I owe a lot of my writing skills from my time playing Dungeons and Dragons and I would like to share it with you. Here is what I have learned.

The Three Pillars of D&D

The three pillars of D&D are combat, exploration, and role play. These are the three things that each campaign consists of, and if your are a good Game Master, balancing all of these is one of your top priorities. I think in terms of writing a novel, this applies as well, escially in a fantasy story.

You need combat so your characters can show off what they can do or what they have learned. If there is not fighting in your story (lame), this can apply as well. This just refers to tension and your character(s) doing something about it. This could be a wife confronting her husband about his affair, a young man going to a job interview for to reach for his destiny as a commercial accountant, or like my novel where my character decides to step out of his self imposed loneliness and ask that cute girl out on a date. Combat really just means your characters being proactive in order to reach for their goals. This is your characters moving the plot along.

Exploration is very important. Your characters need to interact with the world and make discoveries. I feel like frequently this is where your story comes from. Your characters should want to figure out what is going on in your story. They should be proactive and make the story happen through their choices. I think this is very important. The story should come from your character’s choices. No one wants to read a story about a character that goes through life with a lot of things just happening to them. Your readers want to connect to your characters and watch as they make choices and then have to live with the outcomes of those choices. Make your characters proactive.

Role Play is typically the dialogue. This is where your characters will meet the other people in your story. I feel like dialogue can be part of exploration and learning about the world and the plot of your story, but frequently this is where the characters get to express themselves and the changes that are happening to them. It is one thing to read about Jane being mad at Fred. It is a far better thing to read about Jane crossing her arms and yelling at Fred, “I have never hated anyone in my life, but with you Fred, I am making an excemption.” Dialogue is the easiest way to show, not tell, what your characters are thinking and feeling.

Now, with all of that said, in D&D it is very important to balance these three pillars throughout the sessions of your campaign. In writing stories, it will be important to balance this out as well. One important thing that I do when being a Game Master or when I am writing is to analyze what has just happened in the story up to that point. I like to read the last couple chapters or look at my notes from the last couple of sessions and see which of the three pillars hasn’t been used in a while. I typically plan the next part based on what is missing.

Keeping Your Players Interested

Many campaigns do not come to a conclusion. Admittedly, most of the time it is due to scheduling conflicts, but I feel like there is something deeper there. I have personally never had someone drop out of one of my campaigns (knock on wood) and I think this is because I am always concerned with keeping them interested.

It is kind of like the writing advice from my favorite author Kurt Vonnegut, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” I make sure that my players always have something that they want, something that fits who they are and that they need to complete or else they do not feel like they can stop. The hard part is evolving what that need is.

Here is how I have done it in the campaign I am running now. The characters show up in a desolate place and I made sure that they are all in need of money. They have to take odd jobs to make money. Through taking these odd jobs they learn about some bad guys that are causing some of these problems. While exploring they also learn about a demi-god that is causing a lot of the desolation in the place that they have ended up. Now that they do not need money but are invested in the place that they are in through exploration, they want to make the world a better place. As they are working at stopping the bad guys, they meet some townsfolk through role play and they discover that there is something bigger going on, causing a new need to stop this bigger threat. The players are now chasing these bad guys to make the town better and then discover that their ultimate plan is to destroy this area that they are now invested in. They role play with a wizard that they met who is the only one that can help them accomplish stopping the destruction of the area they are in. This wizard agrees to help them, but they have to help her out with what she wants to accomplish. and so on and so on.

The point I am trying to make is that your characters/players should always want to accomplish some goal(s) and when they achieve those goals it should lead them to bigger problems (rising tension) that they now have to deal with. Rinse and repeat until it leads to the climax of the book/campaign.

One word of warning though, you definitely need to give your characters/players some wins or else it will just feel like an endless string of bigger and bigger problems without a chance to feel like a hero or that something positive is coming from this journey. This is something that took me a while to learn and some problems that I have with stories I should otherwise like.

Final Fight of my first campaign

There is so much more I want to tell you but I feel like this post is already long enough, so I am going to end it here. I may do a part 2 at some later date.

As always, thank you so much for reading this. I absolutely love all of the likes and comments that you guys leave, it truly means the world to me. I would love to know if you all agree with what I wrote or if you have your own advice you have learned from playing D&D, please comment below. Even if you just want to share your D&D stories I would love to hear them.

Thanks again and I will see you all next week,

Chris Joy

Categories: Dorky, Novice to NovelTags: , , , , ,

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