Speaking of procrastinating ….I totally procrastinated writing this post! And look, now it’s late. Isn’t that weird how putting things off sometimes works out poorly? Haha…sigh.
Anyway I’m here now and all geared up to talk about one of my favorite things in the world, Role Playing Games. Specifically the classic pen and paper type. They can be good entertainment for anyone but today I speak about it particularly in reference to writers, who can use these sorts of gatherings to their devious advantage. *cue evil laugh*
In general, the thing I love about RPGs is that they bring a bunch of people together to create a story. No single person is in charge of exactly how the story goes, not even the Game Master. And why is that? Because the game is made up of a group of individuals who have created characters with their own goals, interests, and moral codes. We could write a whole separate post on RPG storytelling as a whole (and maybe we will!), but my focus today is on those characters.
Many of you will know the workings of RPGs already but for those who don’t, the gist is this: you and a smallish group of friends (4-7 of you, usually) decide to play a game of…whatever. Pathfinder, D&D…there are a lot of options for systems, and all these do is provide a structure for running your story. Each player must then create a character with their own race, class, and backstory, who they will “play” as through a series of imaginary adventures which are written and presented by the GM (Game Master).
This is where the writer begins to feel the joy of story. A character! A pretend life with all the intricacies of reality! As I may have mentioned before, this is my favorite part of writing–making characters who feel like real people. And the best part of RPGs is that you just pick one. One person. You create them and climb into their heads to try to figure out how they would react in situations. I love to use RPGs to figure out a character I wouldn’t normally understand.
Playing Characters to Understand Characters
I’m currently in a D&D game playing a halfling monk who is the most cheerful little ball of optimism you’ll ever meet. She’s gregarious, loves everyone, and is entirely honest. I chose everything about her, and while real-life me is not as perpetually sunshiney and well-liked as she is I understand her character pretty well because she’s basically an exaggerated version of myself.
I’m also in a Palladium game as a human longbow(wo)man. I chose her race and class and pretty much nothing else, as is the process with Palladium. She’s a selfish braggart with a penchant for compulsive lying. She’s cheerful too, but in an entirely different way to my halfling D&D character. It has been a challenge learning how to play a character who runs on selfishness and deceit, as that is something I personally am not familiar with, but nothing has taught me better how to get into the mindset of such a character as playing one in an RPG.
If you have a character you need to get to know better and you have the opportunity, why not create someone like them in a pen and paper RPG? You’ll have to step into their shoes and decide what they’d do, in real time (which is really key. No procrastinating here!)
What would they do if they fell through a trap door into a storage room of sentient battle robots? What would their reaction be if someone they thought was their friend disappeared overnight along with your character’s coin purse? If another character asked yours why she feels the need to lie about everything, what would be her response–both internal and external?
I hadn’t thought about my Palladium character’s answer to that last question until now, but now I know the answer. She and her father are the sole survivors in her family after a nasty epidemic swept through her hometown. She has compulsively lied ever since after years of concealing the pain of their loss from her now emotionally-absent father (not that she would admit any of that out loud). There! I’ve solved a piece of her puzzle, and her compulsive lying makes more sense for her character.
Get into your characters mind, figure out how they feel about things. Become that character and you’ll get to know them almost as well as yourself.
Watching Characters to Understand Characters
My other favorite part of RPGs is watching how other people play their characters. There’s truly something about cooperative storytelling that helps you learn about different types of people in a way that writing a story on your own can’t. I think it’s absolutely fascinating to see how my fellow players choose to make their characters; the traits, the backstories, the personalities. And most of all, the in-game reactions. By far my favorite thing is to witness our characters interacting together in normal, human ways. Becoming friends, working together, and of course, the occasional romance.
Those types of interactions are vital in every story, regardless of genre. Which means that even if you’re writing a modern thriller, you can still learn a ton from playing an RPG in a fantasy setting.
Watching the GM is also a really neat way to learn the twists and turns of characters (in addition to sooo much other story stuff). They come up with every person your group of misfits encounters, and each has their own distinct personality. Sometimes they have to invent a character on the spot, and it really is incredible to watch a great GM at work.
Other people (obviously) sometimes think differently than you. Witnessing the sometimes unexpected ways they choose to go with their character is a fun way to learn about character writing—and it definitely keeps the other players on their toes.
RPGs have had a bad rap in the past several decades, but in my opinion it is completely undeserved. There are few things as social, as creative, and as fun as collaboratively creating a story with your friends in a world that exists purely in your imagination.
And oh, the things you can learn. 🙂