Think back to the year 1977. It was a great year to be a science-fiction/fantasy fan in San Diego. The original Star Wars opened in May 1977. The Silmarillion was finally published. The Star Trek Association for Revival met at San Diego State on the third Saturday of every month and even put on its own science fiction convention.
And, most importantly for today’s blog post, one of my good friends who attended UCSD learned about a new type of game — a cooperative, storytelling game, played with paper and dice, in which the players create fantasy characters to explore dungeons, fight monsters, and get treasure. My friend played in a few games, bought the rule books, and started running games for the rest of us.
Although I do not remember the date of our first D&D game, I remember how I felt. Playing D&D was like being inside a fantasy novel. The original version of D&D was very much about story — many of the game mechanics from the later editions did not exist at the time, and a lot of the game play was based on what worked for the plot.
Over the years, I have played in many types of role-playing games using all sorts of different rules systems. However, when I started running my own rpgs, I realized their value for me as a writer.
A fantasy author creates a universe, comes up with a plotline, develops backgrounds for characters, and then tells what happens to those characters. A game master can go one step further. He or she can hand those characters to friends and then watch the story unfold based on the actions of the players. As an author, it is amazing to watch the characters you created come to life right in front of you, doing things you never would have expected.
Running rpgs can provide interesting insights into how people react to certain situations. Will the players rescue the damsel in distress and follow her on a quest or will they lock her up because they have been betrayed so many times in the game that they no longer trust anyone? What are the qualities of characters that make players like or dislike them? Are there plot circumstances that always elicit the same response from the players no matter what their character backgrounds might be?
It is particularly fascinating to run the same game for two different groups of players to see what similarities and differences occur as the plot unfolds. Each player brings his or her life experiences to the gaming table. A small difference in personality of one character can have a huge impact on story events.
It is no surprise that published novels and even television series have been based, in part, on role-playing games. The gaming table can provide a wealth of story ideas.
At times, I’ve even thought that writing a novel is like role-playing without the other players.
p.s. My D&D group from the 1970’s recently had a reunion via Zoom. Our original game master started running a game for us using the old D&D rules. It’s been great fun and we even have the next generation of gamers joining us (the children of some of the players).