Role playing games are a kind of interactive storytelling. They come in many forms, such as Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG), table top dice led games like Dungeons and dragons and text-based chat games. While I have a little experience playing a table top RPG many moons ago, my focus is going to be on chat-based games, as that is what I play the most, and how they can help us as writers.
Writing at its heart is a solitary sport. We may discuss ideas, beta read, and offer assistance, but the actual act of getting words down on a page is done by one writer and usually in solitude. Because of this our ideas ferment in isolation. There isn't a single writer in the world that will have a first draft that is exactly the same as what they first envisioned when they plotted it out, but those changes come from the writer alone, unchallenged, untested, at least until the editing stage. But what if we could write our first draft with another person? Someone who we can constantly, and in real time, bounce ideas off and vice versa.
My latest foray into RP came about as a direct effort to collaborate on a story with one of my best friends. Other games I have played began simply, just a bunch of writers wanting a virtual meeting of characters. Narratives sprang out of it, including one thread that lasted for roughly three years, but there was very little planning in the beginning and we had no set incidents that we wished to reach. For this game we started a little differently. My friend and I planned out some major incidents, created rough characters, and started the game off with a monologue each to set the scene. After that we let the narrative run its course. We have played for roughly four months and have maybe reached the halfway point, and what has happened within the narrative is extremely interesting.
In the first instance, the characters we had started out evolved quite quickly from their original brief outlines. Not only did they go through the natural growth process in all writing, where using a character automatically fleshes out their details, but unexpected backstory and personality elements popped up purely from their interactions with the other players' characters. We had characters move away from others we thought they would make alliances with, main characters shift from top billing to side quests, and in one strange instance, one of my characters developed set nicknames for other characters that I never mixed up, until I was made aware I was doing it.
With the characters changing the story followed suit. The new main characters shifted story points to different locations, and plot points we have played have sparked off other idea we hadn't envisioned at the beginning. We can look back on our original plan and see that the idea we first had is still there but it is a remarkably different animal. A better one.
Of course, this is something every one of us who has ever written a story will be familiar with, but role playing, especially the style I play, adds an interesting element to the usual fleshing out of a story. The role play I do takes place in a chat system. One person will make an opening statement to kick off play and the other players will join in. there is no turn system, no dice roll. If you are included in the scene being played then you can comment when you want with what you want. That means that if the game is completely free play, then we cannot plan very far ahead. I may have decided that my character is going to invite another out for ice cream and that they will order mint chocolate chip when they get there, but what if the other character says no? What if there is no mint choc chip? What will my character do then? The dice roll in table top games will serve a similar purpose. While you can plan some actions, you cannot plan them all, and having those curve balls thrown at you can result in some interesting changes in your story that you may never have thought of alone.
Role playing is a collaborative process, and the style of game and set up will determine the amount of interaction players can actually have. Maybe something like World of Warcraft, where there are strict parameters on what you can play, is not the best place to road test an idea, but RP can be. Whether it's fleshing out a character before dropping them into your story or writing a full piece in collaboration with someone else, role playing gives you something no other form of writing can. We are not in charge of the whole story, and when we don't know every word that's going to come out of the characters mouth who knows where our stories will take us?
K.Lawrence hails from the wilds of north east Scotland and has been writing for longer than she can remember. Her first novel, The Raven And the Nightingale, is currently available through Amazon and Inkubus Publishing. The sequel is in the works. K has also written several short stories which have appeared in Inkubus Publishing Anthologies and one short story that has appeared in the latest A Murder of Storytellers anthology.
When she is not writing, K likes to play guitar, go to concerts, take photographs of everything and anything, and paint. She is also an avid collector of Funko Pops and other geek memerobilia.