Dungeons & Dragons Taught Me How to write

I moved all my old Dungeons & Dragons journals to my main site today. For four years I played D&D with the same group of women — we called ourselves the Dungeon Divas.

Mid 2007. I hadn’t played D&D since high school (class of ’83, baby!) I had recently gone cold turkey off World of Warcraft and I wanted to find a story just as immersive but not quite as soul-consuming. You’ll have to be the judge of whether or not D&D fit that bill.

I was nervous to play face to face with people — strangers! (Except for Debbie) And really nervous to dive into this crazy world. But we all quickly became friends and allies in the fight to help Cauldron fight the evil that stalked its streets.

Playing my character – Indira, the cleric – was so fun and challenging. Thinking of her motivations, her reactions, her fears and dreams. It was a bit intoxicating. For fun I began to do a little weekly email recap in Indira’s voice that I would send to the group, in case someone had missed the session, they could get filled in before next week’s game.

In December Debbie surprised me with a website devoted to our adventures — dungeon-diva.com was born! Now I had room to really flex my storytelling sinews. We needed pictures and pages with maps! We needed character sketches! Backstories! Secret messages! We needed intrigue, danger, betrayal. The Shackled City provided all that, and we added the spice of our characters.

Retelling the week’s adventure was my Saturday assignment. As I wrote up those sessions, I was teaching myself about dialog and tension, about foreshadowing and comic timing.

For those four years I played and wrote, but I never allowed myself to really think about writing as an aspiration. It wasn’t until April of 2012, after losing a lot of weight and getting fit, that I began to really think about my life. I took long walks where I asked myself, if you didn’t have to work, what would you spend your days doing? If money were no object, what would you try? I finally admitted that I might like to maybe, just possibly try my hand at a little writing. Maybe.

I thought back to those Saturdays when I’d spend the morning crafting the week’s adventure. And so I imagined what it would be like for Indira — my Indira Burningwood — to find herself in a dire situation. I wrote slowly. Inching my way forward, and every time I found myself worrying about what to do next I thought, “It’s an encounter. You got players and NPCs; you’ve got a charisma check or a will save; you got to roll for initiative. …”  and it worked! I was playing a game of D&D with myself as the DM and the players.

That was almost 4 years ago and I still use the same logic with my writing. In fact Thornbury Confidential has such roots in D20 that I included the Open Gaming license in the book. The main characters in Thornbury – Vox, Even, Marilye, Boleian, and Finn – all have character sheets tucked into my draft notes.


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