Based on my love of fantasy, my ability to quote many popular fandoms and my frequent trips to pop culture conventions, it would seem pretty likely that I’ve been playing tabletop games for a long time. Unfortunately, they weren’t sold to me the right way until many years later.
As I understood them, you gathered around with several other people, rolled diced and then did a lot of math. Excelling in English most of my life, I’ve always felt lucky to skirt by math classes with a low “B”. So crunching numbers didn’t really seem like how I should spend my free time.
After my first book was set to come out, my friends talked me into joining their newly formed gaming group. Though I wasn’t a fan of learning all the rules, once I sat down at the table and got to really work with the person running the game on creating my character, I started to see how this could be fun.
By the start of our second campaign, I was hooked and realized how much showing up every week helped my writing. Since it is focused on one person telling a story but can be directly influenced by the players, it enriched my understanding of multiple point of views. Suddenly, the world and storyline were unpredictable because there were several other point of views input in every decision. I could see how each person thought about a situation, how they reacted differently and how their actions directly influenced the overarching plot of a story.
Taking that into my writing, I was able to expand and deepen each character’s viewpoint and it helped me see things differently than I would have if I hadn’t experienced how varied people can think about the same situation.
It also helped me realize and practice how to insert multiple characters into scenes. Before, I generally thought of story idea involving one main character with a supporting cast. Novels that were in more than one point of view were incredibly intimidating though they made up some of my favorites to read. I’d always been stuck on how to fit multiple goals into a story and how to craft them so each one was important. My time at our tabletop games gave me practice and examples on how to weave multiple goals into an overarching plot so that they fit together and no one character was more important that the other.
In writing, especially in writing fantasy, having the freedom and confidence to create large worlds and a large cast of character allows more stories to be told.
Another way that I’ve been able to translate skills I’ve learned in tabletop gaming is by having a better understanding that stories aren’t linear. To a certain extinct, I already knew that but watching how stories unfold and change in our gaming sessions allowed me to consider far more possibilities for plot in my own writing. Suddenly, my outline was more of a guide than the law and it allowed me to trust that going off on tangents and off outline can often lead to richer experiences. Before, I would plot out a book and stick to it, even if the characters were being unruly or I was presented with new information. Now, I understand that when I’m writing an outline, the story could still go astray and it’s okay to question the original plan.
The biggest thing that tabletop gaming gave me with to rekindle my love for storytelling through shared storytelling. So often, I would live in my own head, in worlds and storylines I created but so few people knew what I was talking about. Though I can explain what I’m working on in more detail, oftentimes they were excited for me, not with me. Tabletop gaming let me rediscover how infectious and exhilarating it is to have a shared story that everyone is involved in. It is a lore that we all hold and keep within our memories. We can experience otherworldly things and suspend disbelief for a few hours each week. It fills the same sort of well that reading does.
So the next time you hear friends talking about tabletop gaming, consider how it can help you in your own writing and give it a try. Let me know if you’d be willing to try playing or a little bit about your campaign if you are currently involved in a game for a chance to win $20 to a retailer of your choice!