Storytelling with Dungeons and Dragons
By Nick Chhoeun
Dungeons and Dragons was created in the 1970s and I’ve always been familiar with the name but I have never given much thought to playing it. It sounded tedious and boring. I thought it was an outdated dice rolling game. However, in the past month I have given my past opinions about the game more thought. Why was I so opposed to a game that I had never played before? The game has a huge fan base. Why hadn’t I ever given it a chance?
As my curiosity grew, I decided to reach out to my friend, Jack, who I’ve known since elementary school. He’s always played the game so I asked if we could start one with him and a few other friends. He agreed.
Although I’ve only played about ten hours of D&D, I can already tell that I will continue to play for years. There was much more that goes into the D&D than I expected. To make my conclusions more concise and pertinent to writing, I’ll simplify the reasons why D&D is such a complex yet entertaining game.
The first thing that impressed me about D&D was the world building. Players could choose to adventure in prebuilt worlds but Jack, who was our Dungeon Master (facilitator of non-player characters, interpreter of rules, basically the boss/judge of the game), created his own world in which we played. In no way was this world simple. Jack built all of the populations, governments, landmasses, shops, cultures and races, and basically everything else in this world. No matter what questions we threw at him about the location, he was able to quickly respond because of the mastery of his world building.
In writing our stories, we are always told to know everything about the world in which we put our characters. Jack demonstrated this knowledge and made me fully convinced that this world could exist, even though it was fictional.
Creating a Character
As writers, we are also told that we should know how our characters will react in any situation. We should know everything about our characters even when it came to the strangest facts. I saw D&D as a fun way to explore this understanding of character.
Before we played, Jack instructed us to create our own characters, in keeping with species and races that exist in his fictional world. Like building characters for a story, we had to know the general things about our character (height, age, name) and when the game started, we had react in the way that our character would. Our characters could also have fantastical abilities, such as the ability to communicate with animals or the ability to cast spells on enemies. When playing the game, you had to embody the character you made in his or her entirety. After all, D&D is a role-playing game.
Through our adventure that have, so far, included dealings with the undead and a robbery, I was so immersed in the conflicts, serious conversations and even comical interactions that I forgot that I was actually participating in a kind of verbal storytelling. Every conflict we encountered influenced how our characters grew and how the rest of the story will unfold. As a group we were creating rounded scenes caused by our unique, imagined characters.
If you’re a writer and haven’t played Dungeons and Dragons, I would strongly urge you to give it a try. It’s an engaging casual (and often times intense) way to tell a story with friends in a fantastical world. What more could you want in a game?
Nick Chhoeun is a staff editor at Café MFA and a second-year candidate in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.