Being the Master Storyteller

Just to give you a heads up, this article isn’t too deep. 

Dungeons & Dragons is role-playing game in which a person called The Dungeon Master sets the foundation and scenarios in which the rest of the participants play in. The participants have their own characters that they have created, and have free reign to control them how they want. Most things in the game are simulated by rolling dice. You rolled a 19? You did really well on whatever you were trying to do. You rolled a 2? Tough break, man. You accidentally stubbed your toe instead of kicking the door down.

The world that the characters play in is left up to the Dungeon Master (DM) to create. He can choose to create his own, or to buy a pre-made story. In the story, he can choose to be very controlling, forcing players to only choose between A or B. But what if your players choose neither? Instead, they decide to pick daisies in the field. Its the DM’s job to create the imaginative space for this. Its his imaginative space, but everyone else’s imagination is populating it with their ideas and decisions.

Some DM’s allow the players to do whatever they want, while others stick to the strict linear tale that they are trying to tell. A happy medium is gently bending what the players want to do so that it coincides with the plot points the DM is trying to get them to go to in order to progress the story. Its not as if the DM should be overtly telling the players what they should be doing, but the story is what moves everything forward, and whether they know it or not, the players want to continue the story, otherwise their characters lose purpose, and it can become a very boring game. So you can’t let them run willy-nilly, but you also can’t make them do everything you want them to do.

There is also the fatefully random dice. A bad roll can mean a death for one of your characters, or a good roll means that he does something that the DM was not expecting.

If you are a good DM how do you reconcile all this. Let provide an example.

I had spent a full day of preparation for our weekly D&D meeting. I had drawn up elaborate maps, written up character with backstories for my players to interact with, crafted a wonderfully compelling subplot for our little adventure, and prepared for the story to go any which of about ten different ways.  The story was that one of their team members had been arrested. In order to rescue him, the party could sneak in through a secret back entrance, they could get arrested themselves, etc, etc. Instead, through a series of really good rolls of the dice, and some great role-playing, they essentially strolled through the front door. This may have been the one thing I was unprepared for, but you don’t tell them that. Instead, you just keep going in that world. It’s my job as DM to keep making the world for them to make these decisions in.

In another example, my party was in a fight, and it was not going well. As DM, I rolled a lot, and eventually the party was able to escape without getting killed. What happened that allowed them to get away? Was it bad rolls on their enemies behalf? No. It was just my decision to ignore the roll of the dice, a small miracle on their behalf. But they’ll never know that. Cause that’s how most miracles happen.

So what has D&D got to do with anything? Good question.

Aside from being a really fun game, that challenges your mind and creative ability through team-based exercises, I believe its a great tool for looking at our own reality as a game. This isn’t too deep of an intellectual dive, but in a really weird way, its made me appreciate how God keeps the narrative of the universe unfolding. Yes, I’m saying he’s like a Dungeon Master. Yes, I also realize that its a horrible short-selling of God. But look at how D&D might challenges ideas like free-will vs. predestination; look at how it shows the idea of separation between how we play roles in our lives, but live separate from those roles. There’s a lot to dig into, and some uniquely from the player or DM’s perspective, and if you want it to, it can get especially deep when you start diving into things like meta-knowledge and how that effects us in real life.

Go play a night or two of D&D with some friends. Think about how your life fits into a narrative of role-playing, or just enjoy playing the game.

Just a thought I had.

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