Monday, May 21, 2012

5 Ways Role-Playing Games Can Help (or Hurt) Your Writing

You may have seen these weird RPG dice around.
I own several. Although mine look cooler.
... Well, they do.
I have a confession to make. I am a roleplayer. Dungeons and Dragons, World of Darknessfreeform text-based RPGs (role-playing games), I like to roleplay. Setting aside the social implications of gaming (because here at Wordsmith at Play, we like to ignore what most people would consider important), I would like to focus on the potential effect of roleplaying on my writing skills.

Aside from increasing my nerdiness level, getting involved in RPGs has had some interesting effects on my writing habits, some of which are good, some of which are bad.

For the purposes of this post, I'll be focusing on text-based RPing games, although most of my points will be applicable to other forms of RPing, such as D&D game sessions and Live-Action RPGs.

1. It gets the creative juices flowing.

RPGs are, at their core, stories. There's the lead storyteller, called the Game Master (or GM), who is in charge of the main plotline and the setting and all the characters not controlled by the players, but every player is also a storyteller in their own way.

What my character does matters to the storyline. Maybe she'll withhold pertinent information because she doesn't realize it's important, or she'll put her life in danger to protect an innocent bystander, thus forcing the self-centered warrior to come to her defense and driving his own character development.

Maybe my character will take on a leadership role in times of crisis, causing the team to believe in him and each other and giving them the power to defeat the villain. Maybe he'll talk them all into chasing after the Amulet of Samarkand instead of trying to find the One Ring like they're supposed to be doing, completely derailing the plot.

Ultimately, it's all stories, and if you have a good GM, the story can be the most engaging and rewarding parts of the RPing experience. If my story has run out of momentum, I can turn to RPing to restart my creativity. When I'm not the only one creating, the game changes, and the novelty draws out my muse.

2. You can't RP all the time.

Most RPGs are turn-based in some fashion. Text-based RPGs focus on each person writing individual sections, one at a time. D&D-style games are set up so that the group will meet in person on a regular basis, usually once a week, and play for any given amount of time before disbanding until next time.

This enforced break means that I will go to a game, get involved in a story, and then will be removed from the story until I need to post again or until the group meets again.

This leads to my most common scenario: after posting, I still want to write. I've started the creative process, and now my muse will not rest until I grab some paper and pour words onto it. If I'm clever, I'll channel those words towards my work in progress.

I've found RPGs to be an excellent way to entice my muse, and once she's awake she generally allows me to write whatever I want, as long as I write.

3. RPing forces me to write regularly.

A RPG is not a story written by myself for myself. I am not the sole player acting out this drama- the very nature of the thing decrees that there are others working along with me.

Therefore, when it's my turn, I suddenly have six or so people all pestering me to write. They want me to write, and write now, and write this. They have no time for me to dither about writer's block or my crazy life. They want their stories now.

If I don't want the game to die, I have to step up to the line. It's much easier to write regularly when you have a plan to follow and six people demanding that you follow it this instant.

I can procrastinate writing the next chapter as long as I want, since I'm the only one that has to suffer for that, but I can't procrastinate telling my fellow gamers what my character does next. Knowing that other people are waiting for me to write makes me write more often, and that keeps my writing skills from growing dusty.

4. Writing in a group is nothing like writing for yourself.

This is good and bad. Writing in a group is an elaborate dance of trying to figure out where the boundary lines are and how to accomplish what you want to do without crossing them. Some games have extremely strict rules, while others say that if you can justify it within the rules of the game, you can do it.

Either way, writing a story is entirely dependent on you. You get to decide what happens and what the characters do. In a RPG, your beautifully crafted plan might get derailed, written backwards, or never used at all if the players don't do what you expect them to do.

It's an education in improvisation, but it's also exercising a different skill set than writing novels exercises. Although any kind of writing is preferable to not writing at all, it is important to note that RPG writing does not count as novel writing.

At the same time, using a different skill set might be just what you need to get back into your regular writing. So, this point isn't good or bad, just important to recognize.

5. There are only 24 hours in a day.

Time is, for me, the number one problem with RPGs. I only have so much time allotted to me, even if I give up the hours I need for sleep, and I have to write. If I'm playing, I can't be writing my stories, and that's the only kind of writing that counts, for me.

Although games are excellent at starting my creative process, they take up a lot of time. Especially hosting or running a game, where you have to create the entire world, fill it with people for the players to interact with, and come up with an engaging storyline to draw your players in.

At its simplest, if you're RPing you're not writing, and writing is the Most Important rule. The hours dedicated to running a game can easily take over your free time. I know my gaming is having some negative repercussions, which I will discuss Wednesday.

In conclusion, role-playing games can be helpful or harmful to your writing style. I went through a period in my life where all the writing I did was for a RPG, and if I hadn't been involved in it I wouldn't have been writing at all.

Like most things, there's no clear good or evil, but it's left ultimately up to you to decide what works best for you.

Do you roleplay? Do you think it's helpful or hurtful to your writing?


  1. Actually, Pathfinder [d and d 3.75 essentially] has gotten me back to writing regularly, its helped me inspire some of my writing and different things, I even started playing a super old game again [rocket knight adventures] out of a roleplay, I haven't seen any negative effects, and sure there are only 24 hours in a day, but its what you do with those 24 hours.

    1. Awesome! I love to hear that! I love my RPGs, and I'm glad to hear they've inspired you. Thanks for the comment!

  2. The majority of the NPC's you've seen in my game so far started in an RP of some sort or other to help develop their character.

    Meera - Rolled her up in my second ever World of Darkness game.
    Kori - Was created to companion another character in an RP a friend and I were taking turns writing.
    Anna - Similar to Meera, but I'd had a bit more WoD experience by then.
    Damy/Kiandra/Jaden - They were a troublesome trio in another RP I did with another friend.
    Damian/Seiryu - While appearing together in this story for the first time, Damian started out as over-protective older brother of another RP character.
    Silva - Similar origins to Damian.
    Sir Charles - This character was created for the current game, but his personality is very similar to another 'black cat' character I had in another RP.
    Alex/Byakko - Again, appearing together for the first time, but Alex with his two cats Torata and Torana are from another RP.

    They all have their own individual origins, but playing them in different settings with different backgrounds helps me to figure out how the socialize and interact with different people in different situations.

    Also, I keep records of almost all of my RP's so after this game is done you can read some of their stories if you want. XD

    Anyway, I feel the rewards far out-weigh the drawbacks of RPing. Often I'm writing an original/solo story while I'm waiting for an RP reply from a friend, so I can do both at once. Having an active internet connection is far more distracting to my writing process, I feel.

    1. I love how your writing overlaps with your RPing. I usually end up keeping my characters separate, since my novel characters don't work well in a RP.

      "They all have their own individual origins, but playing them in different settings with different backgrounds helps me to figure out how the socialize and interact with different people in different situations."

      That is a very good point. I wish I had thought of it and put it in my post.