My husband recently roped me into my first Dungeons and Dragons campaign. I play a ranger (read as: kickass wilderness guide with a bow and arrow) and I am surprised at how much I love it. I have never exactly been a “cool kid,” but D&D has a reputation for being nerdy even among the nerds, and I haven’t played any role-playing games since I was 10 and tried to think of the most nefarious and dramatic ways to kill my Barbies. But I get to hang out in a bar with my friends once a week, and I roll sparkly pink dice to determine if I successfully shoot a demon through its nonexistent heart, which is exactly the kind of femme fatale shit I’m looking for. But as a writer, I’ve noticed that my personality is not always overly compatible with D&D. Let’s condense my anxieties into 6 bullet points:
- Writing takes time.
D&D is a fast-paced role-playing game, where things are thrown at you and you’re supposed to react as your character on the spot. I have never known a writer who is exceptionally skilled at doing anything on-demand. This post has gone through approximately 18 million revisions, and I’m sure I still won’t be happy with all of it when I finally give up and publish it. With D&D, there’s no time for revision. You just make a decision and hope you don’t kill the party.
- Writers are not always the best actors.
Even if a writer is the quick-witted type, most of us are not “out-loud” kind of people. We think and write and sometimes it’s noon before we physically utter a single word, our voices hoarse and creaky. Our brains are wired to sound good on the page, and because D&D moves so fast, we don’t have time to put our thoughts through the other-people-have-to-understand-what-the-hell-I’m-talking-about translator in our head, like we usually do. This means I usually stay pretty quiet, not sure when to be me, when to be my character, or how to fluctuate between the two without sounding insane.
- We are not used to being the ones in the dark.
I cannot explain how anxiety-inducing it is that I don’t know what’s supposed to happen. There are so many possible outcomes in D&D, and since I’m not the DM (Dungeon Master, for those of you not yet fortunate enough to have encountered this amazingly frustrating game), I have no idea which interactions are important, or even which ones I have any real influence over. Sure, the best writers don’t know their endings ahead of time, but they have a general outline. When I’m playing D&D, I’m in the dark and it makes me real paranoid.
- Yes, we kill our darlings, but it’s stressful.
“Meta-gaming” is the ultimate D&D sin: thinking of it like a game to be played, rather than a reality your character is living. I know that shaking hands with a demon when he promises my character a real family is an awful idea, but my character may not be able to see that. She isn’t thinking of it like a game, with clear good guys and bad guys, she’s just thinking of not being alone anymore. When you don’t know what can happen or what’s supposed to happen, it can be hard to bite your tongue and join the dark side when it means you’ll be absolutely and utterly screwed, even if that’s what your character would do.
- There are so many little things you can’t say out loud.
Everyone says you should play your character as fully as possible, even if that means announcing small things, like “My character is standing in the corner looking uncomfortable and vaguely irritated.” But what about those micro-interactions, the split-second thoughts, the stolen looks, the wringing hands? Those are a writer’s bread and butter, the best way to really get to know your characters. But you can’t interrupt an NPC’s speech 14 times to say your character winced or clenched their fist or whatever. The party might kill you just to shut you up.
- Group projects are the worst.
I don’t know any writers who liked group projects growing up. Or heaven forbid, the dreaded group paper. It makes no sense! Everyone writes with a different voice, so nothing is coherent when you mash them all together! Sure, in D&D your grade isn’t on the line, but your character’s life is. It only takes a session or two to become emotionally invested, to think of your character sort of like a friend, or an extension of one part of your personality. It can be difficult to trust your friends not to kill this new and fragile part of yourself. It’s related to Reason #3: we can’t get behind the scenes of someone else’s mind. So I’m in the dark about our enemy’s plans, in the dark about my own friends’ plans, and ultimately in the dark about what I’m supposed to do. It’s like trying to complete a group assignment where the rubric just says “Don’t die, losers.”
No, D&D was not meant for writers, at least not anxious, awkward writers like me. But amazingly, I love the game in spite of myself.