For those who know me, it’s no secret that I’m a gamer. No, not a computer or video gamer; I’ll play those, sure, but what I really like to do is sit around a table with friends to tell a story using nothing but dice and imagination.

A roleplaying game is where you take on the role of a single character in a form of improv acting, using dice (or sometimes other methods) to serve as both a neutral guideline as well as an element of chance. One player takes on the responsibility of moving the story forward, serving as both narrator and judge, as well as playing any non-main character that might come up in the story; this player is usually called the game master (or GM for short).

IMG_1131As the GM spins the story, the players react, make decisions, play their roles, and thereby contribute to the tale. No one knows exactly what’s going to happen. Even the GM, who has planned ahead, doesn’t know what will happen, because the other players haven’t made their decisions yet. Sometimes things go as planned; other times . . . well, you learn to think on your feet.

Because of that, roleplaying games are excellent training for a writer, whether you’re the GM or “merely” a player. You have to learn to be flexible, attempt to predict what diverse personalities will choose, and move within the limits of both the setting and the game rules.

But how can that help writing? After all, in this game, you’re not writing down the story!

Writing is more than just words on a page. I’ve rejected plenty of manuscripts from authors who know how to form proper sentences. Writing isn’t a science; it’s an art, and you need more than good turns of phrase to tell a story. You need passion, the ability to understand other people, and the willingness to push through even when you don’t know everything that’s going on or what will happen with your story — either in the book, or whether anyone will like the book.

So how do you get all this from a game? When you write by yourself, you only deal with your own ideas. You may get blocked, change your mind, or over-critique yourself, but you can never truly challenge yourself the way others can. Even if all you are doing in an RPG is controlling one single character, you still have to think ahead, learn to plan, and study what goes into character motivation. If you’re the GM, you have to learn to plan out multiple storylines and be ready to switch gears when something goes off-plan.

This all sounds horribly complicated, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s the same as the make-believe stories you enjoyed with friends as a child. The dice and the rules are really just there to prevent people from arguing whether or not  someone’s punch was blocked with a forcefield.

Um. Yes, rabbit meme thing . . . couldn't have out it better myself. Who let you in here, anyway?

Um. Yes, rabbit meme thing . . . couldn’t have out it better myself. Who let you in here, anyway?

Most of these games are based around fantasy settings, with a few more centered on science fiction instead. Others are based on mysteries, spy thrillers, and more. Some even include costumes and large groups; these are usually called LARPs (for Live Action Roleplay). In fact, there are dozens of international organizations devoted to LARPs of one extent or another, whether something immense like Civil War reenactments, or small and intimate like an in-character Jane Austen Society ball.

What they all have in common, though, is that same flexibility you enjoyed as a child. That sense of wonder you had when you discovered something cool and wanted to make it your own. Entire battles were fought in your living room; kingdoms rose and fell in your back yard; your mother’s car was a space ship, and the grocery store an alien world; knights and ladies danced in your living room, and dragons perched in the trees outside.

As an adult looking to refine your craft, you can recapture that childhood sense of wonder and combine it with observation and practice to create a story using nothing but your imagination and a handful of dice. Consider it an exercise regimen for your imagination. Who knows? You might even get an idea for a story.