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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
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Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Dungeons and Dragons and Storytelling

Hello hello!

For the last few months, I've been not only playing a Dungeons and Dragons campaign again, I've also been listening to a couple of podcasts about campaigns. Critical Hit and The Adventure Zone are both wonderfully funny, interesting stories told by avid and active gamers and players.

One of the many reasons I love D&D is that it scratches my theatre itch. I love musicals, and I did some theatre back in high school, but I wasn't quite passionate enough/was told I had to take too many science classes in order to pursue it further. The combination of performance and audience around one table, of participation, and of both organization and improv is absolutely wonderful.

The thing is, Dungeons and Dragons relies on a lot of different things to go right, but it's pretty hard to make a session go wrong. As I've listened to these podcasts, I've definitely picked up on a few key points.

Collaborative storytelling has to be collaborative


Not all types of storytelling  - comics, movies, video games, and of course, books - rely on audience input. But in the case of D&D or other group projects, it's improtant for one person not to hog the spotlight. As the group leader in our games, I often set up a situation and then put the spotlight in other players. I've tried to make an environment where people feel comfortable speaking up and suggesting something, and that seems to have worked pretty well. It's important to rotate the focus so that the quiet person (who might be incredibly witty and be a voice of of reason) gets a chance to speak up rather than being stuffed in the closet.

That said, it's okay if some voices are stronger than others, as long as the voices are rotated. Maybe Person A gets a spotlight in one session, but Person D gets a lot of attention in the next, and Persons B and C stay about even in both sessions.


Happy mediums rule the day


The Dungeon or Game Master can't yank the reins too hard, but also can't let their players run everywhere. Some railroading is necessary to make sure a story actually happens. When I relied on creativity alone to write regularly, I got dick-all done for months at a time, then a few things done in a burst. Now, I'm creating far more often, and enjoying it a lot more, because I give myself several kinds of structure to lean on. But sometimes I do just jump on the unicorn of fanciful whim and ride into a cybernetic sunset, because it's what I feel like on that particular day. (Note to self: cybernetic sunset and unicorn need to go in a story some time.)

Sometimes you have to cut loose


In both D&D and written fiction, it's awfully easy to fall into the trap of trying to create mounting tension. But at some point, being reckless and having an interlude with humorous or ridiculous tones can be very beneficial. Writers who tend to plan - like myself, these days - need to cut loose once in a while and do something silly and impulsive. The improv element of D&D can be very helpful for this, and the ways that DMs have to adjust their plans when characters move away from them can also be instructive.

One thing I have and still struggle with a bit is figuring out how to pace out action and time spans. Whether it's a long series or just one novel, like Bad Things that Happen to Girls, balancing action with a sense of naturalism can be tricky. A good DM does this well, and can provide guidance with
skipping over the boring parts without making it feel too rushed.

And again, sometimes you just have to jump on the back of a giant mutant rat and try to ride him, climb a giant gold chain, cut some of its links, and make an improvised parachute to land safely, or pick up random crap and turn it into friendship bracelets of sending for the rest of the party.

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