Roleplaying is Good for You as a Writer

Posted: August 4, 2014 in On Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,


Roleplay, if you are into it, and you’ve got a like-minded partner(s)  can add a bit of variety to the bedroom- Wait. No, this isn’t that article. Whoops.


Right, back on track then.


What I meant to say is that playing role-playing games is good for you as a writer. I’m not talking about computer games either (though they can be useful in other ways, especially when looked at as a piece of media and you want to parse out the character and story elements), but the old pen and paper games where you get together with a bunch of friends, get a bunch of dice and go on and adventure together.


As a player, it gives you a chance to get inside the head of a character, not unlike the task of trying to get inside the head of a fictional character. Yes, there might be stats that act as the skeletal structure for the character (the crunch) but the really interesting part is how that character interacts with others. It’s the characters backstory, their motivation for doing what they are doing that is the more interesting aspect, and is what you should be paying attention to.


If you are in a good group, you can also see how your character’s motivations play off the other characters. Your motivations, while generally aligned with the others, can be at odds. Sure, everyone wants the orc camp destroyed, but who is going to get that nifty axe you just found? Or maybe you just took down the Machiavellian master vampire on the Council of Immortals, and a spot has opened up. The problem is there are three of you and only one slot. Who gets it? Why?


In a not so good group? Well that’s fodder there as well. Why doesn’t the group work? IS the spotlight too much on one of the characters? Is one character trying to play all of the roles instead of letting other characters fill the spots they are best suited to? Take that and look at your own writing.


Is one character going above and beyond the bounds of their roles? Or are they trying to subvert what might be their usual role? Is the fighter also the best diplomat? Is the wizard the foul-mouthed hard drinking one instead?


If you are the one running the game, that can be useful as well. How do the players react to your stories? Are you the kind of person that carefully plots and plans, but can’t handle it if the players decide to go off and do their own thing? Can you improvise well (pantser) or do you really extensively on notes (plotter)? What elements do you add to the story to make it memorable for the players? If you have a wide array of non-player characters (i.e. everyone that the player’s aren’t controlling) how do you make them memorable quickly, especially when you aren’t handing out pages of backstory and description to the players? Does the landscape of your setting change depending on how the characters (re)act?


Role-playing games also go beyond the scope of a band of adventurers delving into dungeons to kill monsters and take their stuff. Yes, those are still out there, but there are also ones featuring post-apocalyptic survivors trying to make their way along with, and at times at odds with, the rest of the players (Apocalypse World), vampires surviving into modern nights and hiding from the teeming humanity whom they prey upon (Vampire: The Requiem), as well as your standard Dungeons and Dragons. Chances are, if there is a speculative fiction field you are interested in, there’s a game out there for you.



  1. Jaicen says:

    I’ve never played old style D&D games. I’ve seen many a geek & nerd playing them outside of my local tavern; this was an interesting read and I may try it…pending they accept me into their group.

    • Old school D&D is fun. Some of my favorite systems though are the offbeat ones. Apocalypse World I mentioned is a very post-apocalyptic setting. 7th Sea is an old setting that combined swashbuckling and sorcery.

      As for getting into a local group, keep an open mind and be polite is the best advice I can give.

  2. Cameron says:

    There’s a concept in game design that considers character creation a sort of mini-game, and there’s some validity to that. Even in the worst games I’ve played in or the ones that never got off the ground, creating the characters themselves was both a lot of fun and a wonderful creative exercise.

    • There’s a lot of validity to that. How games approach creation can change the tone of the game wildly from the outset. Big difference between 4d6 drop lowest and picking from an array of stats that forces you to balance weaknesses vs. strengths.

  3. douglangille says:

    Great post, Matt. I love looking to analog games for inspiration. Even parlour games like Murder or Mafia can yield interesting insight.

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