Roleplaying Games as Storytelling

Beyond being a writer, I am a storyteller. Sometimes, those stories need a different medium.

I have been playing tabletop roleplaying games – Dungeons and Dragons specifically – for close to twelve years now. As such a long-standing hobby of mine, I naturally have plenty of stories to share revolving around the games I’ve played and would like the chance to discuss those a little bit with all of you, if you’ll bear with me. But before I jump straight into those stories, I should catch those of you who aren’t in the know up on what a tabletop roleplaying game is like and, more importantly, what it means to me.

Most rule books for these sorts of games I’ve seen start with a beginner-friendly “what is a roleplaying game?” section. While that is certainly useful as a base frame of reference, tabletop roleplaying games, no matter the specific game, are games of the imagination and as such have as widely varying tones and themes as the people who play them. As such, I think it will be most useful for me to instead describe what these games are like when I play them.

A tabletop RPG is a game for anywhere from two to six people using dice with different numbers of sides, paper to keep track of things on, and sometimes a board with pieces. One of the players is in charge of playing the part of storyteller for the other players. Some games call this person the dungeon master (DM), game master (GM), or even simply Storyteller. Where the GM is in charge of the story, the other players are each in charge of a single character. These player characters (PCs) are the protagonists of the collaborative story being told around the table. Over the course of play, the PCs overcome challenges set forth for them by the GM, and eventually a complete story is told. There are numbers assigned to characters to help with conflict resolution. If my character is pushing a boulder, I use the Strength stat. For tracking a monster across a forest, I use Wisdom. There are many more numbers and attributes assigned to characters, but that is the general idea.

So why do I love tabletop RPGs? First, they’re a fun way to pass an afternoon. Spending time with friends and working on something both entertaining and creative is a great use of time, after all, and that’s just what these games allow me to do. Second, they serve as an outlet for those stories that wouldn’t quite work in a more traditional medium. Through my years of playing tabletop RPGs, I’ve played all sorts of characters, from a magically animated doll to a humble wandering monk. Third, the chance to run games for my friends also gives me an automatic audience for the story I wish to present. In a lot of ways, running a tabletop RPG is a lot like sharing a story in a writing group. However, unlike the writing group, the other people at the table are also actively shaping the story being told and this causes the plot to veer off in unexpected directions. While the resulting story might be a bit of a mess from a written perspective, it is nonetheless our story, and that makes it special.

And that’s why I play tabletop RPGs. In the future, I wish to explore specific facets of the games themselves, as well as some of my favorite characters I’ve played over the years. I know this isn’t directly about writing in the traditional sense, but I think you will all agree that when viewed as a medium for telling stories, this makes perfect sense to be included.

 

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