How RPGs Made Me a Better Writer

For those who may not know, “RPG” stands for “role-playing game.” There are several variations of this concept in the world, from tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons to online games like World of Warcraft, but the one I am referring to here is the one hosted on message boards and in email chains: the text-based RPG.

Text-based RPGs are, in a very big way, the reason I finished writing an 80,000 word novel ( Hollow Thunder .) They are, essentially, huge living stories that you write with other people. As a writer’s training tool, they’re extremely useful because you must achieve certain things in order for other people to want to reply to your posts.

You must:

  • create interesting, flawed, motivated characters that have compelling backstories and goals
  • develop a writing style/voice that makes others want to read and reply to what you write
  • be willing to adjust your ideas around the feedback/replies of others in order to keep the story going
  • conceptualize story arcs and plots, some of which may involve one or two characters but others which encompass the entire group and could carry other small stories along with them
  • collaborate with others to further develop your own characters based on how they interact with others’

And there’s so much more that I probably didn’t even consider when this realization hit me. All of these qualities of text-based RPGs made me a stronger writer, which got me on the track to becoming a published author, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time.

The last RPG message board I participated on had a unique requirement for posts that made me capable of writing an 80,000 word novel: word count requirements. There wasn’t a set minimum for each post; rather, you had to match or exceed the word count of the post to which you replied. That requirement eliminated short posts that didn’t do anything to move the story along, and it also made each writer really stretch those brain muscles. At that point, the people I was playing/writing with were good enough that they realized the word count couldn’t just be fluff-filled. It had to be important and meaningful.

I highly encourage anyone who wants to be a writer to get involved in some RPGs. Even if it isn’t text-based, go hang out with the LARP nerds or the D&D geeks and try the story out. (For reference, I use the words “nerds” and “geeks” with love and belonging.) You’ll find yourself improvising in the mind-set of your character and delving into those story-building qualities before you even know it.

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