It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big fan of Pathfinder. I’ve been on both sides of the table, and enjoyed some really well thought out adventure paths and one-shots from a number of different perspectives. Regardless of the story progression or where my character stands though, almost every session shares one commonality: I walk away buzzing with creative energy.
That buzz is not unlike the kind many writers experience after productive writing sessions. Being able to step into a character, and a world different than the one physically around you, is why we write and why we read. No one can argue that there’s something magical about having that environment created for you, ready made for you to run wild, experience and enjoy. Which brings us to the writing part… the creation of that world, ready-made for someone to run wild in? That’s your privilege to create. (I know, I hear the distant crying and protests, too.)
Here are six ways that being a tabletop gamer/DM can help improve your current work-in-progress.
The Beauty of Improv – improvisation is an often underrated skill useful in a wide variety of situations outside of writing and acting. Learning to improv and being able to use that mentality on a regular basis encourages thinking on your feet and taking advantage of presented opportunities. Roleplaying relies heavily on improvisation because you never know what your fellow players or your DM are going to throw your way – you literally have to be able to roll with the punches, and you need that skill to build realistic worlds and characters. Real life doesn’t mesh and flow perfectly along pre-destined pathways, and neither should your story.
The Relationship between Character and World – being a roleplayer forces you to build a character that fits into the rules and expectations of not only the world, but the local area where the campaign is happening. I know that kind of sounds strange, being “forced” to create a character a certain way, but hear me out. Fantasy writers especially face the unique challenge of having too much potential and needing to narrow that down to realistic and manageable levels. This means that the world and the characters can and should directly influence each other, and once you’ve seen that in an environment outside of your own, you’ll have a better understanding of how that relationship works.
Phenomenal Resources – it sounds a little cheesy, but I reference some of the Pathfinder books as writing resources more often than most actual writing help books. In Ultimate Campaign, for example, the entirety of chapter 4 is devoted to kingdom building. Now I’ll grant you that the approach in UC is more mathematical and dice-based than you probably want your story to be, but the step by step breakdown is an excellent place to start when you want to cover all your bases. (And being honest, building a kingdom, then a country and then a continent is daunting. Having a guide to at least get you started makes the project more manageable.)
The Reality of People – let’s face it. When we write, we tend to write with one mind and one voice, but that’s not how any world works. There are people – people with different ideas and thoughts and intentions and goals, and that’s downright messy. Fellow players are NOT going to align with you in everything, and in some cases the suggestion that they should will spark controversy. Story characters are going to be the same way, and finding the thing that keeps them all on track or in touch with each other is where both you and the GM have some common challenges.
Violence Doesn’t Solve Everything – in the same vein as realizing that people are diverse is the understanding that sometimes players and characters need to come up with creative solutions to dicy situations. Assuming that characters stats aren’t slanted towards combat, there are going to be times when fighting isn’t an option, and you’re going to have to figure out how to use the people and environment around you to your advantage. Learning to utilize more intuitive options in a setting with other people’s influence will translate to more intricate situations on the page.
Peer Feedback – the people sitting at that table with you lean in a creative direction; they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t. So listen to them! Ask them for feedback on ideas (though keep this game-focused at least until you know whether or not you have a safe environment for expanding the conversation). Look at the way they make decisions, both in and out of character and draw inspiration from your group.
The golden thread connecting all of these ideas and experiences together? With the right group of people and the right attitude, group tabletop role playing can be ridiculously fun. Why would you say no to an interactive story, sordid characters, lots and lots of dice and sometimes alcohol?