The Joys of Group Storytelling

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I’ve had the great good fortune this year to find a group of local friends interested in playing pen and paper roleplaying games (RPGs).  I’ve talked about my first RPG group on the blog before.  They were a driving force in my development as a writer and storyteller.  This new group is largely made up of fellow writers, so it’s a wonderful group to roleplay with.

Before I get too far into this, a quick not about the acronyms I’m using.  We’re playing Dungeons & Dragons (DnD), and that means that we’re being guided through our adventure by the Dungeon Master (DM), who sets the narrative frame and plays all the non-player characters (NPCs).

RPG groups come in all varieties, and can be anything and everything from serious to whimsical to hilarious.  This group can be pretty serious when we’re in the middle of a battle, or we’re trying to puzzle our way to the next direction we need to move.  The rest of the time, there’s a lot of laughter.  We’re a reasonably snarky bunch generally, and our DM seems to encourage this behavior.  We’re also pretty good about playing to our characters.  The Paladin will not let us be too evil.  The low intelligence barbarian (may he rest in peace) would charge right in and attack things in pretty much every situation.  My healer does stupid things to make sure she can keep the rest of the party healthy.  Hilarity often ensues.

We also have this habit of doing the opposite of what our DM planned for.  She’s set up a group of cultist we’re supposed to battle and defeat?  We lock most of them in the closet, yank the big bad’s spell book out of his hands, and then talk him out of continuing the fight.  She has a group of people confront us wanting to talk?  One of us will decide they’re a threat and attack and then the rest of the group follows, and suddenly all the NPCs are dead or fleeing.  We’re supposed to meet a new party member, get in a fight to bond, and have the alternative new party member die?  We get into a weird moral quandary instead of a fight and try to bring along both people so that she has to make the NPC unavailable and suddenly our new party member is suspicious.

But that’s part of what I love so much about playing RPGs.  It’s the unexpected.  It’s the need to think on your feet and pivot to a new situation at any moment.  It’s the chance to talk through the narrative of a story with a group of others.  I’ve had a few chances to write with a partner before, and I’ve always really enjoyed it.  RPGs are a bit like that, only more freeform.  There are almost no limits to what we can try to do (the dice and the DM decide if we can pull it off).

It’s also great practice.  Can I think like my character, even if I would do something differently?  Can I figure out what the DM is planning and where she’s trying to get us to go next?  Can I anticipate the actions of my fellow players enough to be in the right position during the next round of combat?

All of those things help me be a better writer.  I can grow and stretch and play with narrative tools while I’m playing an RPG with my friends.  And then I can take those improved skills and bring them back to my current work in progress.

Have you experimented with group story telling before?  Whether it was writing a story with a friend, playing in an RPG (in person or online), or playing a game of Once Upon A Time, I’d love to hear how others have found their group storytelling experiences.

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