Using D&D to Understand Story

I haven’t been around for a while, and for that I apologize. I’m trying for a resurgence to this site, and writing in general. So hello.


This post has everything to do with my very, very amateur status in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. After studying the 5th Edition rulebooks, I recognize a deep vein of development that has been present since, well, I was born.

I’m falling into the D&D Dungeon Master development in a way I didn’t expect: I find studying a campaign actually improves my inspiration toward writing, and understanding a well-developed story, more adequately.

This is both a good and bad thing. The good is I am forced to develop peripheral aspects in a unique and new way, and in applying this to my book-writing, I find the world more saturated with individuality. The bad is I’m forced to cast aside my previous style of writing, which was unconventional, different, unique.


Every aspect of this open-world game is up to the DM, and the DM is often expected/required to think on the fly to better grow the story around the uniqueness of characters. Outside the game, on the other hand, I recognize how this game style, initially created over thirty years ago, has helped to develop movies, video games, and can be applied to most action movies as a way to understand the arc, the plot, etc.

Most of said movies are trite and crap, but still, this perspective is quite usable. Why is this usable? Because like the low level character, a low-level observer begins the story knowing nothing, understanding nothing, and grows in understanding through scene development and a kind of mini maturation process. The end of the movie is, by definition, the end of a campaign. Sequels to said movie only build off the initial campaign, often with added insights and growth, much like the layout of D&D.

A beautiful example of this campaign sequence is the hugely successful Harry Potter series, both in book and movie form. The character starts off low, grows and develops throughout the story sequence via run-ins with the enemy (dungeons) while collecting information and ability. The end of the first year at Hogwarts is the end of the early campaign, and somewhere around year 4, the characters in the books/movies understand the depth of their ability and have, perhaps, reached their maximum development. While D&D campaigns can have as many “acts” as the DM wants, most follow a 3 or 5 act strategy to develop the story, quite similar to what writers and filmmakers use for their stories (I say “most” as an assumption and a rudimentary search for “Successful D&D Campaigns” online.

Everything connects, story-wise, and while I won’t use this strategy for most of what I write, this insight certainly emboldens and inspires my writing. Hopefully, this also improves and inspires my ability to DM.

Finally, I recognized some of my more inspired writing (Nautilus) was incorporating most aspects of this “Campaign” strategy without even knowing (or, due to experience with most pop culture “stories,” whether movies, books, or even some songs, I have a subconscious strategy already aligned with D&D development).

My writing had a lot of residue building up, and I seemed to be at an impass, but learning this game removes some of the residue, gets the creative process flowing, and allows me to see the big picture from multiple lenses.

Writers often use D&D directly to write, not only from the obvious connections of “Forgotten Realms” novels by Salvatore and the like, but also less obvious writers like Jim Butcher.

I need to practice, I need to study, I need to learn.

And, directly related, I need others to play with me. My brother and I do not a raiding party make.


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