Why I Absolutely Love Collaborative Storytelling

Artwork by @salaidard

You’re a mastermind Elven sorcerer and your best friend is a dwarf archer. One night, a band of goblins creep into your camp and steal your most priced possession: your father’s golden watch. Morning comes and you notice the watch missing, so you and your friend track down the thieves…you notice in the center of the goblins, a large pile of food. No gold glistening watch in sight. Do you sneak around to try and find the watch? Do you try talking with the goblins? Do you cast a fireball at the food pile? Do you simply walk away? What does the watch mean to you compared to creatures’ lives?

Dungeons and Dragons, also known as D&D, is a role-playing table top game of fantasy and epic battles of wit and fists created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the 1970s. The game has gone through many redesigns from pathfinder, 3.5, to the newest edition 5e, but the core has stayed the same: imagination, creativity, and collaborative storytelling.

Basically, a bunch of friends gather around a table and act out the adventures of their created characters. By “act out” I don’t mean that you are standing up and moving stage left and right with props and a director. The stage is imagined. The set, or the world, is created with the other players as you all vocally traverse it, having conversations and describing your actions. Every group needs a dungeon master who narrates the made-up world you engage in, moving the story and players along, voicing the bad guys or the shopkeepers, and monitoring the combat the players get themselves into.

It may sound nerdy or intimidating, maybe even childish, but let me tell you, D&D has a growing and diverse population of players. From 6 years old to 84, doctors, teachers, actors, parents, musicians, athletes…for brevity’s sake, A LOT of different types of people play this game with no background in acting, improvising or storytelling.

Famous people name drop time: Stephen Colbert, Ashly Burch, Vin Diesel, Terry Crews, Anderson Cooper, Felicia Day, Marilyn Manson, George R. R. Martin, Elon Musk, Patton Oswalt, Laura Bailey, James Franco, John Yuan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ashley Johnson, Steven Spielberg, Dan Harmon, Stephen King, Deborah Ann Woll, Matthew Mercer, Joe Manganiello, Khary Payton… and that’s just a few!

Now that I’ve summarized one of my favorite things in the world and have convinced you that it’s not some nerdy game, I should get to my point...those three core ideas I mentioned earlier, imagination, creativity, and storytelling, along with empathy, reflection, logic, team-building, collaboration, and problem-solving can all be practiced by delving into the world of role-playing games like D&D.

It’s like reading a book or watching a movie; we cry, we laugh, we feel something even though whatever is happening on screen or the page isn’t happening to us. However, with D&D, you and your friends create the story as it’s happening, and it’s more directly happening to you. The game allows you to learn vicariously through characters and adventures YOU create. You create a character, a life, a backstory. You make life or death decisions, solve seemingly impossible puzzles, face your biggest fears…all while chomping on snacks and guzzling drinks with your best friends.

It’s such an engaging, low-stakes way to practice creativity, writing, empathy, social skills, and collaboration with friends. Plus, it helps you set aside time in a busy world to see the people you love.

I strongly urge you to give it a chance. Below are some resources to get you started, and if you have any questions, leave a comment! But honestly, the rules of the game don’t really matter. What matters is coming together with others to create something beautiful and special and becoming better people along the way. So, don’t be intimidated, just start playing and the little stuff that helps the creating flow will come as you go.

Remember to love each other, grow, and be kind.

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