Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Role Playing

As a parent, I am amazed by the imagination my kids have. They can invent a game with sticks and rocks. The other day they used colored counters for homeschooling to do a rudimentary role-playing game. They had armies with weapons and they were rolling dice to determine if someone was hit or not.

I was impressed by their set-up. I hadn't really explained role-playing games to them, and to see them coming up with one on their own was cool. I had thought about doing a Star Wars RPG with them when they were older, but they may well be ready.

As I write, my history of role-playing as a teenager has been a real benefit in creating my characters. I read writing books that talked about writing up a history for my characters, including a description and abilities. No problem! I almost wanted to pull out a character sheet and go to town.

The imagination used in role-playing is not too far from writing. The trick is that in a RPG game, there is a "gamemaster", someone who knows the scenario and what should happen at certain times and places. As the players advance their characters into a dungeon, they may find a treasure chest filled with gold or booby-trapped with a spell that turns them into owls (Why owls? Why not?).

As a writer, I have an outline on paper or a basic plan of where I'm going with the plot and characters. However, I am acting as gamemaster and player. Sometimes I know where I'm going, and other times I surprise myself. One of my secondary characters is a missionary, and one day I stumbled onto the fact that he and his wife have some tension because he struggles with a "wandering eye." Not a good thing for a missionary to have, but it makes him a deeper person with battles, not just a saint who never sins.

I'm not suggesting writers pick up Dungeons and Dragons to work on their writing (I'm not a fan of D&D myself - had some bad episodes playing). However, if we can think in a role-playing way, I think we'll find more to our characters or plot than if we make them do what we want. Take away the outline for a minute, set a character in a circumstance, and then act as they would. If they come across the locked chest, are they going to run to it and bash the lock open without another thought, or are they going to give it a once-over before proceeding?

I wouldn't recommend rolling dice for every plot twist, but I think you get the idea. Any other thoughts on this?

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