From the Dusty Mental Archive: Roleplaying and Writing

I’ve talked about writing. I’ve talked about roleplaying. And while these two things intersect in my Fuzzy Knights comic, I wanted to look at how the latter roleplaying influenced me as a writer. Here I’m revisiting and touching up an article I wrote on the subject.

I don’t think I can give enough praise to roleplaying games (RPGs), the once maligned hobby that was still getting over the negative press of the 80s when I first encountered it. To this day it’s still ridiculed and used as the butt of nerd jokes in TV and movies. Even Vin Diesel can’t make it mainstream cool, and the man had his D&D character’s name tattooed on his chest when he filmed xXx!

(Editor’s Note: Keep in mind this was written in 2011, a LOT has changed since then!)

But the fact is, without RPGs, I never would have become a writer. It’s really as simple as that. A creative mind needs fuel, and RPGs are like an oil field—it’s all there under the surface if you know where to look. As a player, you’re always trying to think “in character,” which isn’t always just a cardboard cutout of yourself. As a game master, you have to play everyone else, and describe the situations and scenarios the players encounter. And if you’re writing a home brewed adventure, you’re trying to invent a plot, settings, villains, allies, and everyone else that might get involved and hold it all together.

Roleplaying games not only foster creativity, but improvisation. A character is faced with a difficult scenario, and they might come up with an unorthodox solution. I remember a story involving my brother where, when faced with battling a huge giant wearing only a kilt, had the presence of mind to ask, “How hot is it?” because he knew that logically if it was hot enough, there was a big bloody pinata dangling between the legs just waiting to be hit.

(Ewwww)

Likewise, the game master has to be ready to deal with what the repercussions of going off script might be and adapt.

My early days as a teen playing RPGs were more-or-less wish fulfillment and revenge fantasy. Plots were often lifted from action movies we just saw (Die Hard was reenacted several times) and usually boiled down to facing off against a hoard of bad guys to fight. 

That changed as my brother started GMing more and more. He has a flare for creative stories, to the point where in later years they sometimes boggled the mind with their interconnected nature.

My own attempts to game master were… less than successful to begin with. Let’s just say I was a bit too linear in my thinking for plots, and my brother is chaos incarnate as a player (see above giant example). I didn’t have the skills to reel him in or improvise my way out of his mayhem. The stress of just trying nearly gave me a nervous breakdown.

Me and my old roleplaying posse back in the day. Represent!

When I moved to BC, I got my girlfriend’s friends into roleplaying, and that worked out a lot better. They were more lenient on me, and that gave me the confidence to improvise with ease. We had two major campaigns, one in the Star Wars universe and another in a home brewed fantasy setting. And I ended up writing those adventures out as stories for them. It was nothing that should ever see the light of day, but that’s not the point. It was good practice. I needed to write those adventures down, and that is the one key thing every writer needs: motivation.

Roleplaying helped out in other indirect ways, too. When I moved to Japan, I ended up writing freelance magazine articles for Knights of the Dinner Table, a magazine that is half comic strips and half articles about gaming. I didn’t have anyone to game with over there really (roleplaying one-on-one with Gillian didn’t really work), so writing about gaming seemed like a decent substitute.

Later on, almost by accident, I created a comic strip called Fuzzy Knights. Basically, it was a cross between KODT’s comics, Toy Story, and Discworld. It lasted five years in print and online and in that time I learned a LOT about writing. The most important lessons were those of working consistently every day, keeping to a schedule, and planning an overall arc even if you don’t have the details hammered out.

Even now, it’s still in my life. I don’t really get a chance to roleplay the way I want to anymore, but the book I’m currently working on started out as research for a roleplaying adventure. Whether or not it turns out any good is another matter, but at least I’m enjoying myself, and at least I’m keeping my imagination active.

Now we’re back to 2023, 12 years later. What do I have to add?

Well, for one thing, I’ve been roleplaying again, having harnessed the internet during the Age of Covid to game online, and recently finished a campaign that lasted for three years. The big problem for adults is having the time to get together with our friends, which often isn’t helped by the distances that separate us. So, I highly recommend looking into video conferencing and virtual table tops to get a group going and keep it going.

I stand by everything I said about the power of roleplaying for a writer. For someone starting out, it’s like a gym where you can try out different ideas with friends before committing anything to paper. For an experienced writer, it’s like yoga. Never underestimate the power of regular stretching in your life. It provides motivation, support, and inspiration in ways that you might not find elsewhere.

Just remember, it’s also supposed to be fun!

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