If you are a writer then you have inevitably run into the dreaded writer’s block. You have probably scoured the internet for writing prompts that might just yield something. You may have even dived back into your own favorite stories in the hopes that something will inspire you. Well, I’m here to provide you with one more tool to combat this unwelcome guest.
Play Dungeons & Dragons.
Aside from the fact that geek chic is apparently “in” at the moment, renewed interest in this classic table-top game seems to be growing. Perhaps this is because it was featured prominently in Stranger Things, or maybe the 5th edition release made it easier for new players to join and became more accessible. Either way, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a group of willing victims to play with you while you battle your own personal writer’s block demon. Here’s some of the intricacies and how it can help you with your own writing:
Start with character development: Build your own character
Having a tough time creating characters that are likable? Untrustworthy? Or just down right evil? D&D can absolutely help with this. To even start playing, you need to build character on your “character sheet.” This includes picking a race, class, backstory, and alignment. (Actually, it includes quite a bit more than this, but these elements help you write a story for your character.) If one were to purchase the 5th edition Player’s Handbook for D&D, one is provided with extensive race and class break-downs that also give you some insight as to the kind of character you would create, should you choose those prompts. For instance, elves have three different sub-races with drastically different characteristics. High elves, as one might imagine, are often arrogant, but incredibly noble. They are wicked intelligent and are often interested in their own self-preservation. Wood elves, on the other hand, are a bit more mischievous, sometimes to the detriment of themselves or their team. Dark elves, known in the game as Drow, are dark and mysterious beings, and at times very dangerous. There are many other races and sub-races within the game to choose from, each with general strengths and weaknesses to play on. Selecting a class also adds some characterization. Druids are keenly and primarily concerned with nature and gravitate to the more natural elements of the world. They can even transform into animals, and some druids even prefer that form over their human one. Clerics are a bit more complicated, but incredibly fun to create. You can have your standard, holy cleric driven by a divine deity aimed towards healing the weak and innocent. Or you can create a trickster cleric that does best when they deceive and talk their way out of confrontations. Your deity could be, oh I don’t know, Loki? Characters are so customizable in this game that creating something as contradictory as that actually works!
Next, you work on the backstory, but perhaps that writer’s block is just too darn heavy to push, even for this. Do not fret, you can turn to the backstory chapter in the Handbook and roll for it. That’s right, roll the dice and leave it to chance. What are one of your ideals? Roll a 2: To protect myself first. What is a weakness you have? Roll a 4: I am incredibly clumsy. Now how would a character constantly worried about their own self-being be able to survive in the world by being a klutz? You get to act that out. Lastly, your character alignment helps make your character more complex. You have probably seen those memes floating around on social media where they place characters from popular television shows into an alignment chart, starting with lawful good and ending with chaotic evil. While these are fun to look at, they actually go a bit more in-depth. One character I currently play is chaotic good. This means that she is drawn to freedom and kindness, but has little use for laws and regulations. She performs good acts to help others achieve their own freedom as well. The way this is enacted in play is by keeping my actions in check and making sure I stay true to my character. Killing someone out of spite would have negative affects on my character, whereas showing mercy would be more in line with her views. Dungeon Masters will also help with this by giving you real in-game consequences if you stray. It is possible you can change your alignment, but that requires cooperation with your DM, which leads me to my next point.
Communal Storytelling: Play the game
The main reason D&D is so fun to play is because you are creating a story together with the DM and the other players. Remember those old “create your own adventure” books? You may have even read these as a child and chose different outcomes as you read to create a story that was unique to you. RPG (role-playing game) videogames use this feature as well, allowing you to craft your own dialogue with NPCs (non-playable characters) and responses to various events that take place during your play-through. D&D is much of the same. The DM typically describes the world around you and gives you options on ways to interact with it. In fact, D&D greatly influenced the previous two things I mentioned, but it has the added benefit of allowing multiple people to write the story together. As you play, you will take the DM’s suggestions and play off of the other characters your friends have created to create fun and unique experiences. If you are ever unsure how your character would react to finding a witch in the woods, someone in your party will have a plan that might spark you into reacting to them. Before you know it, you are cooperatively writing a story and progressing together. The writing block starts to crumble. However, it isn’t as simple as “I want to do this, so I do it.” You have to roll for it. For example, your character decides to try to steal an expensive spell from the spells shop. You will need to roll a twenty-sided die, or d20, to see if you successfully accomplish this task. You look at your character sheet and see that you are actually pretty dexterous, with a proficiency in “slight of hand.” Stealing things comes pretty easily for you. That is until you “critically fail” by rolling a 1. Now you have to adapt! How would your character respond to people coming to arrest them? Would they fight or talk their way out of it? Perhaps your friends try to intervene and before you know it the shopkeeper is being arrested for harassing your party. The best part about creating stories with friends? You get to reminisce about them later as if they actually happened.
Become a Dungeon Master: Write your own campaign/story
Perhaps that writing block is starting to chip, but you might be a bit unsure about your storytelling abilities. The best way to shake off the dust and really focus on story/plot writing is by becoming a DM and creating your own campaign. Test your skills on your friends by having them play a short adventure or grind through a campaign that has no end in sight. For this, you will need the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The DM in D&D is basically god; you decide what the end goal is, know everything that your players must face, and get to revel in their thwarted attempts to best you. Being a DM requires extensive world building, which really helps when you need to figure out setting in your own works. A DM needs to create several interesting, though somewhat basic NPCs for the players to interact with and create threatening villains that genuinely spurs on the adventure. However, a DM needs to be flexible as well. Players, as you can imagine, often have a mind of their own and tend to wander from the beaten path. You will learn how to improvise and create a lovely detour from your story that will, eventually, circle it’s way back. A DM can prepare for weeks and, sometimes, never even scratch the surface of their plans in one play-through. Before you know it, your players are engaging in a bar fight against each other, while the other players run around trying to collect bids and start a small gambling ring. While several of your characters lose their money, one gets exponentially richer. Sometimes, you just have to let these side stories play out to better influence your own.
If you find yourself wanting to add more to the story that the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, nor even the Monster Manual has what you are looking for, you can always turn to or create your own “homebrews.” Homebrews are creations made by players and DMs that are used in specific home games, provided everyone is in agreement of using them. This can be changes to basic game rules, additional races and classes one can play as, or more creepy crawly monsters. Some rules that often get changed for home games are the rules about death. Typically speaking, if a character fails all their saving throws before anyone is able to heal them, then they are officially dead. That means, that character no longer exists. As you can imagine, players get very attached to their characters and genuinely mourn the loss. (Plus, all that time and effort creating them and leveling them up feels like a waste!) Players have also played with magic abilities, nixing the food and exhaustion components, and so on. The additional races are very interesting to see. One homebrew I saw gave players the option to play as “Awakened Undead,” which is essentially reanimated characters. The sub races for this include “Skeleton,” “Revenant,” and “Ghost.” The skeleton example is so dapper, I am tempted to create a character myself. You can even add in some of your favorite pop cultural obsessions as references have been used to create different classes such as “jedi” and “superhero.” As for me, I am keenly interested in the “vampire slayer” class. A player decides to make an Awakened Undead hero that came back to slay the big bad vampires. I smell a story here. As for additional monsters, the only thing I have to say is this: “Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf” monster sheet.
Or is this just Fantasy?: Write in whatever genre you like
I know what you might be asking, “But fantasy isn’t really my genre, can this still help me?” While the general D&D is set and driven towards a fantasy crowd, especially sword & shield fanatics, different versions and homebrews allow you to play with the genre more. Maybe you are more interested in historical fiction? Pick a time period and decide the end goal. I once had a friend create a Jane Austen themed campaign where the goal of the game was to get married. Players had to roll for social interactions and decorum, as one must do in these instances. Maybe you are more interested in horror? That would be easy enough to do: create a haunted house or town or carnival and start your players at level 1; they won’t have many abilities to help them escape. Science fiction? There are several homebrews on H.P. Lovecraft creations, including the ever popular Cthulhu. You can even create you own Star Wars campaign, Marvel Universe campaign, or Supernatural campaign. A comic series I follow called “Rat Queens” even created character sheets so one can play as them. But what about the slice of life genre? Or your basic coming of age story? Even that can be done, though perhaps the combat feature would be removed from the game. You can pull inspiration from anywhere and make a campaign out of it. I am currently trying to write a campaign for my guy pals that is set in a world named after and influenced by popular metal bands. Each town is a different genre of metal music and the final boss is to fight “Eddy,” the longtime mascot from Iron Maiden.
Play theory has found a distinct correlation between play and learning, as well as play and increased creativity. What better way to satisfy your own selfish need to break through a writer’s block than to grab a group of your friends, sharpen your pencils, pull out your dice bags, and sit down to play a game together of your creation?
Join or create online campaigns with friends or total strangers.
Your classic D&D wiki page with the homebrew page featured.
The 5th edition players handbook on Amazon, which bundles all the books I mentioned above for under $100.
Critical Role is a show produced by Geek & Sundry that features voice actors playing D&D together.