I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons fairly consistently since 2016. I've played a few different characters in my time, with several different people, but one thing has remained constant: a good D&D session gets my creativity flowing.
The principles and themes of D&D permeate the world of Summer Twilight. I've talked about this a little bit before, and I'll get into more detail in future posts, too. Today, I want to focus on how it all starts: why I find D&D a source of inspiration. For any creator, no matter your medium, there will be things in life that help you create.
For me, Dungeons and Dragons is one of them - when I'm in a session, my mind starts thinking about my world, my characters, my plot. I discover new ways to make things happen and come up with different, interesting angles on traditional scenes. It helps me visualize my characters in vivid detail, sometimes discovering things about then I hadn't realized until just that moment.
There are two major parts of D&D which help me: the existing creativity of the world, and the unpredictable nature of the story the players and dungeon master build together. I'll give you some basics, then take you through both in this post.
Dungeons & Dragons: A Crash Course
There are dozens of excellent videos and articles which can give you more information about the rules and details of D&D - this blog post is not seeking to replace those. Rather, I want this to be a quick crash course if you have no clue what D&D is, to help you follow along with the rest of the article. Veteran players, bear with me - I'm going to gloss over rules. Don't @ me.
D&D is an imaginary game - by that, I mean the entire story is told through imagination. There's at least one dungeon master (DM), who guides players through the world and the plot, and multiple player characters (PCs), who work together to face the challenges provided by the DM. Good D&D sessions are a balance of social encounters (conversations with non-player characters, portrayed by the DM), combat (fighting according to a whole bunch of rules against enemies controlled by the DM), and exploration (adventuring through the imaginary world, as portrayed by the DM).
The DM does a lot - they build the world, or adapt an existing world for their campaign. They tell the story, giving players breadcrumbs to follow and challenges to overcome. Players, however, are what makes the world come alive. Every party (group of PCs) has their own dynamic, their own quirks, and their own ideas about what is the "right" choice. For example, the party I'm currently in debates every point, no matter how small. If given the choice between chicken and fish, we would have a 45 minute debate about the relative value of the life of a chicken versus that of a fish. It's these quirks that make the game unpredictable, funny, and exciting.
Building an Entire World
D&D worlds are unique, because they are designed to be interactive. Players need to feel like they are part of the world, not simply observing it. D&D games aren't supposed to feel like watching a movie - they're supposed to feel like it's actually happening. That means the world needs to be built in such a way that players have a stake in what happens.
For example, D&D is often built around organizations. In real life, there are thousands of organizations in our world - associations for different professions, community and volunteer groups, cliques of friends and colleagues. In a D&D world, there is a high priority to create these organizations for players, so they can start getting involved and form their own motives. A common organization is a thieves guild (yes, like Skyrim), or an association of different thieves, burglars, assassins, rabble-rousers, and spies.
Another way the DM makes the world interactive is by never limiting opportunities. If the party mentions they're interested in traveling to another town or kingdom, a good DM will give them the opportunity to do so, even if it wasn't the original plan. On the other hand, if the party decides they want to build their own village and become lords, the DM will help make it happen.
Writing a Story - Together
As I alluded to above, the players have a major role in shaping the outcome of the story. Any good DM will tell you that the story is built with some creativity, some unpredictability, and a whole lot of luck. Let me give you an example to illustrate my point:
In my current D&D campaign, my party was trying to rid a gloomy swamp from an evil monster - a gigantic toad that had been enslaving other creatures in the area for centuries. That's the entire plot: now the question is how are the PCs going to approach the situation. There are dozens of ways: we could have enlisted the help of a powerful sorcerer, asked the king to send a brigade of soldiers, ignored the situation entirely and walked away, gone charging into the lair with a frontal assault.....you get the idea.
We decided to gather support from the local, subjugated creatures in the swamp. We convinced several tribes to help us, then planned an attack. Everything went sideways, naturally, when we did attack, and we nearly died and drowned. But, two sessions later, all was well that ended well - the giant toad was dead, the swamp was cleansed, and the creatures were freed.
The Secret Sauce: Collaboration
The central idea - and my source of inspiration - is that it's collaborative. It's not the DM versus players, or a railroaded story with only one possible ending. In writing, that might seem counter-intuitive. I write the story, right? But, I'm collaborating throughout, not only with my readers but with my characters. It's a team effort to understand the direction the story will take, and an entertaining challenge to try and weave together what my characters want, and my audience is excited about, into one cohesive narrative.
Bridget is the author of Summer Twilight, available for purchase now!