Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 23:10
I wouldn’t say that I’m a hardcore nerd, though I do think I have a respectable amount of nerd in me. Possibly the nerdiest (and incidentally, the most enjoyable) thing I’ve ever done is play Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). As you all may have gathered from my previous article, I love the fantasy genre, so D&D is naturally right up my alley. I also felt that I didn’t properly explore the subject, so today’s article should be taken as an addendum to last week’s piece with a focus on D&D.
Oftentimes committed dungeon masters (DMs, the people who tell the stories for the roleplaying games) will create long, overarching epics for their players to participate in. Unfortunately, college life is demanding, and it’s difficult to have a session every week to keep the narrative flowing and the players interested.
A possible solution to that problem is the concept of one-offs, where instead of having the aforementioned long, overarching epic, the DM writes short, self-contained stories that go from beginning to end within the time period of one session. This method solves the inherent problem of sweeping epics, and also allows players to try out new characters and styles of play if they so choose.
So how does one write shorter fantasy stories? What can be used as inspiration? This weekend, I plan on running a D&D session inspired by Halloween. There are many classic Halloween scenarios that one could use for a D&D story: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Dracula and Frankenstein are just a few possible options. Running off those ideas, there are plenty of classic Halloween tropes to draw ideas from as well, like haunted houses, murder mysteries and ghost stories. Other holidays can offer a plethora of cool ideas to riff on as well – I remember reading a Penny Arcade article about a D&D interpretation of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens with Ebenezer Scrooge as an undead lich.
Fantasy has a tendency to run away with itself and get out of control if you let it. That’s only natural considering the subject matter. To keep the story short, make sure that there is only one defining conflict and few, if any, subplots that your players can chase after. Making sure that the world is contained is equally important. It ensures that your players have no reason or would not want to venture from the area where events are taking place.
Finally, a note about characters. Characters within a short narrative, much like the areas within them, must have contained and defined roles. In the context of a D&D game, they should rarely overshadow the players. In the context of a short story in and of itself, characters should still have those roles. The protagonist is probably going to benefit from having a foil, and the other characters are unlikely to be round characters.
I consider writing D&D adventures to be beneficial to my writing style. I like the sound of my own voice and tend to ramble on, so practicing shorter stories is definitely a challenge I’d recommend to writers.