In March, I'll be leading a session on how to use RPGs like D&D to help you write, which has rapidly become one of my favorite topics ever since I launched the Dungeon Crawlers series. It's a pretty straight line between these games and fiction writing - Patrick Rothfuss even said, while doing a guest spot on Acquisitions Incorporated's C Team live stream, that if you play TTRPGs you're 25% a novelist already, and if you DM/GM, you're even further along.
Over the past year though, in part because I 'outed' myself as a fan when I started writing the new series, I've been DMing for multiple groups, some with brand new players, some with veterans, and some with both. And since I'm doing this simultaneously to working on the new Dungeon Crawlers novella (no title yet, but looking at early spring release on Kindle, print to follow), I've really got the idea of collaborative storytelling on the top of my mind. Figured I'd use this space to talk about it a bit more often.
So last night I'm running a game using a modified version of Ghosts of Saltmarsh. The book makes it easy for me to do the part of DMing I love, which is, rather than building fights and designing dungeons, finding ways to make the players more invested in their characters' personal stories. As a novelist, this is something we don't often get to do--essentially hand-tailoring the experience for one person and one character and interacting with them in real time. We write in isolation, and we maintain (despite sometimes saying otherwise) control over the actions of the character. When you're doing this in real time with another person, though, it is incredibly rewarding in a way regular fiction writing can never be.
I constantly say that if the player gives me a thread for their character, I'll build something from it. And last night ended as our rogue with some bad history with Yuan-Ti made eye contact with the reptilian gaze he wasn't expecting (an encounter I'd been hoping to throw his way for months now).
A player who recently joined us has given me a backstory about a very strange missing parent, and I was able to improvise a card reading using a tarokka deck I bought more than a year ago and haven't had a chance to break out in a Ravenloft campaign yet. That was particularly fun as a writer--she drew her own cards and I, with no background in real-world tarot and only minimal knowledge about the tarokka deck, just used the visual queues of the cards to tell a story for her character to hear and unravel.
Their mission this session was a diplomatic one but I had a feeling the room might be more hungry for combat than conversation; I arrived with a game plan for both and let the characters take us where they wanted to go.
Which was to fight an ancient, belligerent crocodile.
Will any of this inform my own professional writing? Probably not. But it got the creative energy flowing and gives me ideas for how to tell my own characters' stories in print.
Are you playing an RPG these days? What sort of stories do you tell? Leave your comments below. I'd love to hear.
About the author
Matthew Phillion is the author of the Indestructibles YA novel series, its spinoff Echo and the Sea, and the Dungeon Crawlers series of RPG-style novellas.