Thursday, March 31, 2011

Role-Playing and Writing: Why You're Glad You're a Writer

So I innocently thought that role-playing with my twin brother, sister in law (his wife), and husband would be a Good Idea, despite prior evidence. 

Role-playing is like this for those of you who have never had the joy/horror of role-playing:

1. You pick a setting. We play Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. I made up the world since I am the DM and they have to do what I say.

Side Note: 3.5 indicates the edition we play. There have been four major rule changes in the history of D&D, starting with the needlessly convuluted first edition, slightly improved second edition, weak third edition, 3.5 which is like third edition, but with minor changes, but changes big enough that you can't mix the source books from third edition and 3.5 (I learned THIS the hard way). There's also a fourth edition, that they waited to spring until after the father of D&D Gary Gygax died because it SUCKS and if you play fourth edition you're dead to me.

2. You pick a DM, or Dungeon Master, the person who is going to tell the story and keep the players from trying to kill each other. It's like trying to herd kittens. I am DMing this particular story, called a campaign. 

3. The other people (ideally four players, since that's how the challenges are figured up, but since we don't have a lot of friends, it's just three players and me as the DM) make their characters. This takes a LONG TIME. There's lots of dice rolling involved, and addition, and MATH, and reading, and thinking about what sort of class you want your character to have. Are they going to cast spells or wield a weapon? What sort of feats will they use?

And once you decide on that, you have to buy your character stuff. You have to figure out how much that stuff weighs to make sure it's not too heavy, if your DM is a jerk (I am) and wants to make sure a player didn't buy an elephant's worth of trail rations and expects to tote it around without penalties.

4. Then, you start to play. The characters meet each other, and poke around. Thus your epic story starts.

In the past as a DM I used to write these epic stories. These stories had well developed towns, with a rich history, and detailed antagonists. The story would seamlessly pull all the characters into the plot of the story (save the world! save the princess! kill this person and take all their stuff!) and keep the players on the edge of their seats.

And then I actually RAN a few campaigns and learned the truth. 

Now, my session planning goes like this:

Me: So you're in a town...
Twin brother: What town?
Me: Uhhhhhh, Panatias.  (PAN-uh-t-as)

*snickers from the players* *confused looked from me*

Sis in law: So, kind of like, Panty-ass
Me: Uhhhh, anyway, you're in Panatias--
*more snickers*
Me: and you're at the market place. Your lead said that the black market is here somewhere.
Twin brother: I bet the rogues called it a "panty raid" when they come sack this town.

And then the conversation devolves for five minutes into more puns and jokes while I contemplate murdering their characters on the spot with a giant meteor strike. I am not kidding people, that actually happened. So as a DM, I get to have my own sort of fun, and start threatening them that mountain giants were going to come and slaughter their characters if they didn't stay on track.

Here's a big difference between role playing and writing. I control the story that I am writing as a writer. I decide I am writing about goat colonists from mars, that's what I write about. But players have a way of totally derailing the best laid plans. You set up foreshadowing and do everything except lead them around by their ears, but they still get their own crazy notions and go off in an opposite direction.

You have books of monsters. Every monster has different difficulty levels. No matter how sweet and nice a person is in real life, you sit them down with a character sheet, and suddenly they want to kill some stuff. Really. The players get anxious if they aren't hacking something to bits every five minutes. 

You have NPCs which are the Non-Player Characters. You know, the barmaids, and the kings, and the guys giving them jobs, which I as the DM control. But you have no control over how a player is going to respond to these NPCs.

I had an NPC that was supposed to be crucial part of giving them information to get to the next part of the story. I drop a subtle lead that they might need to go talk to him. For the next five minutes the players talk about how they don't like the look in his eye, and she just got a bad feeling about him, and that guy knows more than he's letting on (to which my brother says "He's a drow, he knows more about his morning cup of coffee than he's letting on). 


But you can't break the story and tell them they're crazy and that the NPC isn't going to stab them in the back.  Sometimes it's fun to sit there all sphinx-like, "Well I dunno...maybe he is going to stab you in the back." Suspcious players are anxious players, and that's part of the fun of a DM (what, I have to get my kicks in somehow).

I can't blame them too much, since I am also the same DM that lured them into the woods with a sweet old granny type who then poisoned their tea. The really hilarious part is they were suspicious of EVERY SINGLE NPC up until then. It was priceless to see the looks on their faces. *sniffs with joy*

Seriously, it's a lot of fun, but it's also a pain in the neck. Writing a book is easier, way easier than trying to get three people to go in the same direction for any length of time. It's impossible to plan out ahead of time, because you never know how they are going to respond to the situation.

So be glad you're a writer, where you at least have control over your characters and setting.


  1. I am the DM and they have to do what I say.


  2. I miss D&D. I don't know any players down here (since I moved). I still RP, but it's online. Instead of a physical character I can see, we RP in text form, creating worlds and writing out the action and dialogue just like we would a book. It's great for getting your creative juices going again when you take a break from writing or suffer the heinous writer's block.

  3. Joe: I know. That's what I tell myself anyway.

    Christi: We hardly ever play. It's sad, really. I used to play online, but then real life took over.

  4. LOL!! I have repeatedly been harassed for not playing PNP DND, but I have enjoyed my share of MMO RPing. (Also I like using acronyms so I sound like I fit in. I'm awesome!)

    Actually this is a really good, concise explanation of it. Usually they try to make it sound overly complicated so that they seem smarter than everyone else.

    Really, roleplaying, especially in WoW, taught me a lot about character development and motivations. When all of the characters aren't responding out of your own head, it gets much more complicated, and often more interesting! That's something I miss... but not really something I can get back. WoW is a disaster now beyond saving. I'm hoping the World of Darkness MMO turns out to be decent.


    P.S. - I've been meaning to email you back, just haven't had time to sit down at the comp. I have a way overdue book review I need to post next. Hopefully soon!