3 minute read

For the last few years, I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons as a Dungeon Master. This is the person who creates the world and encounters for the players to explore. Every session is fun and I enjoy inventing increasingly strange situations for the party to react to.

Whilst running the game, I’ve learnt some lessons that are useful for any creative field.

Don’t start with a blank page

When starting to plan an adventure, you might find yourself blocked. It could be set in outer space, a mine, a fantasy town or any other countless situations. This complete open-ended situation may cause writers block. You may have no idea where to start.

Luckily, with Dungeons and Dragons you can use existing materials to start. There’s tons of adventures, a lot of them free, that can give you an initial structure to explore. I used Lost Mines of Phandelver which is in the starter set when I was first playing. I adapted and changed it as I went along, ending up in a different place but using the framework as a guide.

But if that feels too daunting, you can start small. There’s whole communities online dedicated to generating ideas for games, from monsters to taverns to towns and characters. One of the best thing that comes out of these communities is roll tables. There’s a list of options, and you roll a dice to pick which one to start with, leaving the decision to chance.

Say you don’t know what to do in a session. You roll on a couple of tables, get goblins for monsters and a windmill as a location. Now you can get more specific. Why are the goblins in a windmill? Are they looking for something? What issues do they have? By using roll tables, it provides prompts to help you get started. You avoid the shock of the blank page. It’s why I love prompts so much for poetry as well. They set you down a path and start the gears turning.

I’ve been using a very simple roll table as a warm up for poems, I’ll write about it in a future post.

Ideas are cheap

All of these roll tables are usually available for free. There’s an implicit agreement in the vast homebrew Dungeons and Dragons community that the ideas are there to be taken. Each Dungeon Master will use the idea in a different way, depending on the people they are playing with and their world they are making. Every group of players will react to the idea differently.

Ideas by themselves are not what makes the game. It’s how the individuals use them, what elements they choose to emphasise, how that idea is developed, how it is described to the players and how the idea is combined with others to make a living fantasy world. The how is much more important than the what.

Obviously, this is useful in pretty much any creative field as well. You can have the same idea for a poem or painting as another artist, but the way you develop it will be wildly different.

Creativity is best when it is a collaboration

One huge mindshift in running a game is you aren’t the sole storyteller. Unlike writing short stories, it’s a collaboration between you and the players. They are not following a series of scenes you have planned, they have freedom to go and do what they want in the world. As such, the game is a collaboration between the Dungeon Master and the players.

Some of the best moments in my game have when my players did something completely unexpected, like holding the obviously evil mayor hostage or pushing cult members into a gelatinous cube. I never planned for these moments, but the game allowed for it. In the collaborative space, I am surprised and challenged in the best way, creating a better story than I would have made by myself.

Above all, Have fun

I wrote before about how we need more play in our artistic practise . Dungeons and Dragons is not a novel, or a film, it is a game. And games are fun. Ultimately, it helps to not take myself too seriously and to hold my ideas lightly. It’s something I want to take forward more in my other creative work, to have fun with the work and be silly.

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