All authors dream about bringing their creative writing to life and sharing it with the world. Did you know that you can use tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs) to make that happen?
Thanks to the growing popularity of tabletop RPGs, you have a wide variety of games to choose from. So if you think your creative skills are limited to narrating worlds of elves, dragons, and magic; think again. It’s time to dive into the world of RPGs and enhance your creativity at the same time.
Become a Dungeon Master
While everyone in the group is important and has a role to play, without a Dungeon Master (DM) there is no story. Depending on the game you play, the title may change to Game Master or even Keeper, but they all mean the same thing: you are in charge of running the game and making things happen.
A DM should be good at improvisation. Unlike video games that have set parameters of what you can and can’t do while playing, tabletop games contain endless possibilities. This means that if you are not careful, your players can take your perfectly crafted story and throw it in the trash.
Having improvisation skills will also save your life if you have players who love to explore and ask questions about everything. A pro strategy would be to generate a basic list of some non-player character (NPC) backstories and store names. There are also plenty of online name generators if you can’t think of names off the top of your head.
During a discussion on his podcast The Adventure Zone, Griffin McElroy talked about how his campaign “Balance” was designed as a macro-story with micro-stories that fit into the big conclusion. These micro-stories allowed him to branch out from one straight plot with uniquely inspired separate quests.
Just like writing a story, your inspiration for a game can come from anywhere. I asked some fellow DMs where they get their ideas, and the most popular way seemed to be from media. Books, movies, and even music can generate tons of ideas; McElroy used a scene from Fast and The Furious as the basis for one campaign.
Take Initiative as a Player
Of course, while the DM is essential, the game wouldn’t be a success without the players. Although players don’t write the story, they still get to exercise their creativity.
Many DMs ask their players questions about what they would like to see happen in a campaign and what they like so far in the game. You as the player can also guide the campaign by getting into your character’s mindset.
Roleplaying is key for any tabletop, and it takes skill to think like someone who is completely different from you. A good place to start is by creating a backstory for your character so you know what motivates them and how they would react to different situations.
Another way to get creative is by writing your own stories. Since I mostly participate as a player and want to improve my creative writing, I write “adventure logs” (i.e. diary entries) of the campaign through my character’s eyes. This helps me practice my storytelling and descriptive writing.
Play Games to Enhance Your Creativity
Are you ready to learn which game to play if you want to practice your creative writing and thinking? Here are some of the games that I think are ideal for creative writers.
Dungeons & Dragons
This is the original tabletop RPG, and it has come a long way since its creation in 1974. What makes D&D a good creative outlet is the extensive list of creatures and a broad range of skills that allow players to think outside the box.
Skill challenges were created in 4th edition and are good for testing creative thinking. Players must use the skills their characters are proficient in to accomplish something (using performance to distract or acrobatics to run across roofs). The DM creates a win-fail ratio, with enough wins the players beat the challenge.
D&D also takes place in a world of endless possibilities. You can work in one of the official realms or create your own, choose traditional creatures or get exotic. If you aren’t quite ready to create a world from whole cloth, you can use a prewritten campaign as a launching pad for new adventures.
Pathfinder was created as an offshoot of the third edition of D&D, so there are similarities between the two. The game’s system is good for DMs who want to be creative but want more structure and less potential for arguing over rules.
While D&D is great for creative storytelling, Pathfinder provides more ways to be creative with character creation. There are the traditional races like elves and dwarves, but there is also a long list of exotic races including fetchlings and gillmen.
The list of character backgrounds is even longer; possible backgrounds include gunslinger, pirate, and even samurai. These extensive lists make Pathfinder a great pick if you want to work on making more diverse and interesting characters.
Monster of the Week
This 2015 game is gaining popularity with fans of shows like Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Keepers (the DMs in this game) base their adventures in our world and fill it with monsters.
Players are tasked with getting rid of these monsters. DMs can choose creatures from folklore or make their own and bring it to life. Players are encouraged not just to fight but also to figure out what the monster’s weaknesses are.
The game is also designed to be played as a mystery, so DMs can practice writing suspenseful encounters and spooky descriptions. Players add to the creativity with unique character actions and their attempts to solve the mystery and stop the monster.
Edge of the Empire
If sci-fi is more up your alley, try Edge of the Empire. This tabletop is based in the Star Wars universe, so you can live out your Jedi dreams and explore the galaxy.
This game may feel somewhat limiting since it is based in a specific universe, but you have a variety of aliens and backstories to work with. I played as an assassin and my friend was a smuggler, but you can also be a hired gun or an explorer.
Some things about Edge of the Empire that differentiate it from other tabletop RPGs. The skills are different, so you have to be on your toes with solving problems. And instead of being numbered, the dice have symbols that mean success, failure, threat or advantage. This means that the DM must improvise a lot of outcomes.
Are You Ready to Play and Write?
Tabletop RPGs are no longer games for nerds to play in dark basements—there is something for everyone. Just like writing a great story, playing a tabletop RPG takes practice before you create your masterpiece. Your first few campaigns won’t be perfect, but don’t let that stop you from writing.
Get advice from your players on what they like, and use them to generate ideas. There are also lots of podcasts and videos like The Adventure Zone, Critical Role and Brute Force out there to help you create something your players will love.
Good luck with your campaigns, and may your rolls always be 20s.