During one of our last sessions, our D&D group was navigating through a dungeon and came upon a room full of poisonous fungi. After discovering that the mushrooms released poison gas — thanks to our small sorcerer attempting to cross the room first — I proposed that we double back the way we came and find another tunnel to explore.
Our Dragonborn rogue basically said, “Nah, let’s jump from mushroom cap to mushroom cap. They’re above the poison gas, right?”
Our Dungeon Master looked thoughtful, then had us make acrobatics checks to see how well we did. We made it across the room, none the worse for wear — not even our sorcerer, who thankfully survived being poisoned — and found the boss of the dungeon in record time due to bypassing one of the difficult rooms instead of exploring the rest of the place.
It was an unorthodox solution to the problem, but so much more interesting than turning around and finding a safer route.
While I’ve only been playing D&D for about a year, I’ve been having a blast playing and learning with my group. I truly believe that playing D&D has helped to hone my creative process in several ways throughout this time.
Remember when you first started fiction writing and it was fanfiction of the show or book or video game you were currently obsessed with? You may have created a character to join the heroes, one that was beloved by all in the canon universe. While these characters were fun, sometimes they were too perfect and would be frowned upon (Mary-Sues and Gary-Stus, anyone?) by readers.
Creating characters with D&D’s rules leaves room — indeed, forces you to think of — your character’s flaws as well as good points. Aside from the six ability stats that dictate your character’s strength, flexibility, mind, and people skills, players are encouraged to assign flaws and ideals that may not be virtuous. It shows the importance of having a weakness here or there in a character so others can relate to them.
World Building & Description
Verbal description is an important aspect of playing D&D, as most of the game is role-played with minimal visual images. Yes, figurines and maps are used and help to keep the players in the world, but players are mostly envisioning the environment their characters are traipsing through.
While the Dungeon Master is the narrator of the story and game, and spends time detailing the places where our characters are and the people they encounter, the players themselves would do well to paint the scene with describing their characters’ actions too.
When rolling the dice to attack an enemy, there’s a big difference between saying, “I rolled too low to hit,” and describing, “I misjudged the distance between myself and the orc. When I tried to stab it with my longsword, I missed and the momentum pitched me forward to meet the ground.”
Teamwork & Support
D&D adventures generally consist of a party with their Dungeon Master playing the role of narrator and referee. Working together is important when it comes to vanquishing the Big Bad Monster of the campaign, after all.
No one wants to play with someone who doesn’t wait to hear the thoughts of others before springing into action. No one wants to play with someone who purposefully causes mischief and trouble for the adventuring party. No one wants to play with someone who has decided that their character is the Main Character and everyone else can be delegated to Side Kick or, worse, Minor Character status.
Likewise, while writing and creating can be individual pursuits — and probably should, but that is another article for another time — all creators should have a support team.
For example, a writers group can provide valuable feedback and encouragement. A painting class could help you find a new style or medium to love. A “bad art" night can let you be free to craft with others without any pressure.
Creating can be a lonely pursuit. Having a team at your back will make the load lighter and more enjoyable.
Experimentation & Exploration
I am a pantser by nature when it comes to writing, meaning I don’t fully plan my stories all the way through. I tend to create characters first, who then help me with the plot as I write about their likes, dislikes, relationships, and reactions to the world around them. My stories may need an extra draft or two compared to those who outline first, write later, but it’s how I work best.
D&D reinforces that need to relinquish control once in a while, to let the story unfold naturally… or with crazy, surprising ideas that just might work.
Take risks, make that leap of faith, let the dice roll in your works. Experiment with styles, with words, with different kinds of paint, and see where it all takes you. You may go on a fun detour or find yourself on a new, and even better, path that helps your creativity bloom.