Thursday, March 6, 2008

Farewell to the Dungeon Master

I read that Gary Gygax, one of the co-creators of Dungeons & Dragons, passed away the other day. As someone who played hundreds of hours of D&D and other pencil and paper role playing games growing up, I was deeply saddened by his passing.

I recall reading an interview where Holly Black, the author of Tithe and The Spiderwick Chronicles and lots of other fabulous books, discussed the impact that role playing games had on her development as a writer and storyteller. I'd have to echo her sentiments with regards to my own writing. Most of the time I was the gamekeeper for whatever game my friends and I were playing at the time, and being the gamekeeper required a thorough knowledge of the characters and story of the game you were keeping, as well as keeping yourself open to twists and turns of the plot. Writing is often about discovery, and the nice thing about playing a story as a game is that you can need to run all the different if/then scenarios through your mind. What if, instead of defeating the dragon, the heroes run away? What if they get their butts thoroughly kicked? What if they try to make friends first? Running a game certainly forces one to be open to possibility.

And then there's the simple fact that as gamemaster, as in writing, you need to be entertaining and/or intellectually stimulating. You need to know your target audience, the players. If the game is too hard they'll get frustrated and quit, if it is too easy they'll get bored and quit. You need to keep them in suspense, pay them off for their effort, but always leave them hungry for more.

In writing this blog entry, I'm realizing that Gary Gygax's creations have influenced my writing as much as the creations of Stephen King, Bill Gaines, Shirley Jackson, and everyone else I read and studied growing up.

So thank you, Mr. Gygax. Rest in Peace.


KPaffenroth said...

I was ALWAYS DM, so I agree with your analysis: D&D was great practice for writing. I wonder if it was different for people who always played characters? In your analogy, it seems like they were the fans/readers.

Daniel Waters said...

The people I played with are all unemployed actors today.

Seriously, though, that's a very interesting question that you raise. I think of the people I used to play with, and they ranged from kids who really weren't readers at all to two of the most well-read people I knew. None of them, to my knowledge, wrote any fiction, even for fun.

I could see how acting as a protagonist in someone else's story/game might be useful for a writer, though. I wonder if Holly ever got to play?