1: Creating a Character with room to grow, and a Character Development Class From Hell
This might be a controversial thing to say, but I think the best D&D characters, especially for new players, are ones with a lot of growing room. You don’t want to give them a complete narrative arc before the adventure even starts, otherwise, what’s the point of the adventure anyway? As writers, we like to think as a complete narrative, but often we get caught up in the beginning and the end. D&D is all about the middle. Start from a stereotype and introduce complexity. Let’s take my first D&D character, Glory, as an example. In the beginning, all there was too her was this:
- she’s a half-demon (A Tiefling),
- she’s not very smart,
- she’s a big sister (of 3),
- one of her sisters is missing.
That was it. Now, I could write you a novel about her. I could write whole stories about her encounters with her new arch-nemesis, or how she found her sister, or her internal crisis about wanting to protect people, but also needing to let people make their own mistakes. Your friends will take their characters in whole other directions that you would have never even considered on your own. That’s the beauty of it!
2- Letting Go of Control
This is both the hardest and the best part of D&D. One of my close friends, who is in the same group where I play Glory, started playing the game for this very reason. You bring a character to the table and then you play as a pawn in someone else’s story. As a writer, we always know what’s coming. We can see the threads. That can sometimes creep into our characters, and can result in narrative jumps that don’t make any sense. In reality, your character has no idea what you’re about to do to them and in D&D, you get that experience. Glory didn’t know an axe she found on the ground would curse her, because I didn’t know either. In some situations, it’s entirely up to the dice and chance. Whole adventures and plot lines can revolve around a 1 someone rolled on a dice. It is worth noting here, that characters can die in D&D, and let me tell you, nothing will teach you letting go of control better than a character that was essential to your development plot dying when you least expected it. Speaking of reaction-
3 – How Would They React?
After every session, I sit down and think about what my character is thinking and feeling. How are they coping with everything that’s going wrong around them right now? How are they? Are they overwhelmed? Do they think they can do this? On the odd occasion, when I’m listening to authors give advice, they’ll recommend going to improv classes, to learn how a character would actually react in a situation they weren’t prepared for. D&D is exactly that. More often then not, it’s up to the dice and what your character knows. Then you, who is the heart and mind of that person, has to react. Let’s use a situation partly based on my last session of D&D. Your character’s job is to protect the group. Suddenly, the Big Bad in a fight, lashes out and cuts off the head of one of your character’s best friends. The group find a way to perform a resurrection, but your character has no idea how to help. Do they try anyway? Do they panic? Do they lash out? Do they implode?
Like I said, character development from hell.
4- Putting Real People In Your Stories
Okay, so let’s say you play in a few games, maybe you’re mid campaign (have I mentioned that campaigns take a really long time? we’re talking years.) you really get into it! You’re having a blast with your friends and you think “Hey…I could do this…” and you want to become the Dungeon Master, the one who tells the story. Maybe you want to drag another few friends into the D&D Obsession Pit and there’s too many for the game you’re in, or, as in my case, you have a Fantasy world you’re not using for anything and want to watch your friends destroy it. This is a unique experience unlike anything you can get from conventional writing. I can set the scene. I can put some people in that scene who can give hints, but at the end of the day, it’s all up to the players. The players in a D&D game are unique because they are both simultaneously the reader and the main characters. Your job is to set the scene and let them work it out.
Have you ever done that writing exercise which tells you to set a scene, or write the start of the story and then swap with a friend and guess at what the story is? Because where’s the fun in going `this temple is corrupted by a demon, kill him and then purify it and it’ll be chill`. Instead you feed them pieces. The village the temple surrounds has been destroyed and all the adults have been taken for some unknown purpose. The air is cold. The space feels narrow and claustrophobic. The child you rescued from a locked room finds the body of a dead man and starts laughing.
This was literally last weeks session of D&D that I ran for my friends. But doesn’t it also sound like a killer story? Plot hooks are universal, my friends, and D&D is a really good way to make them interesting, or encounter interesting ones your friends come up with!
5- You’re Socialising!
Writing is, at the end of the day, a solitary experience. You sit there with pen and paper, or keyboard, or typewriter, and you take an image in your brain and force it into words. Alone. In your room (usually). I’ve not spoken to my friends in weeks because I’m so engrossed with an idea. My room mates know when I’m writing because they don’t see me until dinner. D&D is a group storytelling experience, and it’s usually weekly or monthly. If your character wants to do something, but the group disagrees with your morals, then you’ve got an interesting interpersonal conflict. The actions of even one of you can drastically impact the plot in ways the rest didn’t expect.
What I’m trying to say is: It’s fun! Plus, you get to spend time with friends! Enjoy it! D&D is traditionally played in person around a table, but modern advancements in technology means you can play it online too! Roll20 is the most common platform for it, and it’s completely free. Go nuts!
If this has piqued your interest even a little, here’s a fun little video to completely sell you on it, courtesy of the `Cosmonaut Variety Hour` YouTube channel, plus some really good ways to get started! (Warnings for Vulgar Language, again, sorry kids)
If you want to watch me, Glory, and my dumb, wonderful friends, we stream the game I play in! It’s on Thursdays over on Twitch at around 8pm GMT. We also have a backlog of streams here on YouTube, but they start mid campaign. If there’s interest, we’ll do a recap video of the story so far.
That’s all from me! I hope this at worst, taught you something new about a community you didn’t know about, but at best, I hope you give it a try! Happy gaming! May the dice roll ever in your favour.
P.S. Let me know if you try it! There should be a comment section under here, let me know your thoughts about this. Do you play D&D already? Do you think others should?