Side Quest

Posted: December 7, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

I’ll admit. I have been gone for many days. About a month to be precise. No posts. No contact. At the beginning of November I set out on a quest knowing failure was quite possible. The goal: To write more than I have ever written before. To put writing first in my life (at least for the month of November) and get some actual words put down on paper. Starting out on my journey I knew I would face many monsters such as the dreaded Professional Conference Hydra, whom with its many heads would require hour upon hour of my time emptying their heads of knowledge to fill my own. Not only that, but a few weekends later I would face the Turkey Beast. What choice did I have but to band together with people I love and vanquish it pound by delicious pound? These challenges I dared to overcome in addition to the normal reoccurring random encounters at my place of employ.

Long story a bit longer: I did not succeed in my main quest. Words were placed upon the page but more often than not I returned to camp exhausted from the day’s toils and battles and wrote nothing.

I did, however, succeed in a side quest…at least as far as I can go on a solo adventure.

As you may have rationed from previous posts I enjoy getting together with my friends and playing Dungeons and Dragons. This has been going on for at least 7 years and it’s been a lot of fun. Group storytelling created in the moment. The Dungeon Master writes the bare bones outline of the challenges players will face, setting the scene, and making supporting characters and villains.  With that done, the players bring the characters that they’ve crafted with skills, desires, and a budding personality to run around in the world the DM has created. Together the group weaves a story, adding details and incidents that were unplanned for but not unwanted. There’s often an overarching story that requires several sessions of playing before reaching the end, but within that story we have side quests (sub plots for those who are new to DnD but are familiar with storytelling).

In my quest to write a novel I took a side quest to write my own DnD adventure.

I have been batting around ideas for role playing campaigns for a while now. After seven years of playing I would think it odd if I didn’t want to try running a game. Early in November I was hit with an idea that took root. Realizing the core rulebook didn’t have exactly what I was looking for as far as enemy creation I ordered the Guide to the Hunted and started building the story. When I had time to write, this story is what I worked on. I was too excited not to get it out of my system.

Writing a story that will not actually be complete until it’s played is not an easy task.

I knew the basic plot points that had to happen but part of the fun of DnD is that the players decide how they’re going to accomplish the task. This means a lot of planning can go into a story and then SURPRISE they aren’t doing it that way. In my writing I find I’m very character and event driven. I start with characters and a goal and I run with it, the events typically intrinsically motivated. It doesn’t work that way when planning an adventure for DnD. Sure, major plot points can be planned for, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat. My brain took off trying to think of possible alternatives, things that I wanted to happen that might not, how to get the same result even if they went a different direction. It’s planning for the unplanable. Two heads are better than one, and it’s likely that the five heads of the players will think of something I have not.

This forces a person writing an adventure to focus on other things than how the characters are getting from point A to point B. In this situation the players aren’t in the writer’s control. There can be gentle hints and points in the right direction but you can’t flat out say a character is going to do something. For myself, I had to focus on setting and moments of discovery. For a game centered around a haunted house the setting is really important. The players have to know where they are. It also requires a solid grasp on what’s happened before: the motivations of the ghosts themselves. If you have a pissed off ghost you have to know why he’s pissed off and what he’s doing about it in the present. The next step is to drop clues to lead the characters to the right information to send them in relatively the right direction.

The whole process was a stretch of the imagination. I had to do something I never do: External Motivation.

As a writer you typically have control of your main characters. You can have them think and do whatever you require of them and can always find an interior motivation for things if you think hard enough. Sure, there’s an external force creating the problem, but at least for myself the reason a character acts is because of their own wants and desires in relation to that one big problem. For once, I don’t know those internal motivations. I can’t bend them to my will. External motivation is something I often ignore but is a great motivator that creates natural results. And it’s something I need a lot of practice in.

This writing side quest isn’t over. The plot points are written but not played through. In a few weeks it could be. My friends and I are gathering to create their characters next week, and fingers crossed we’ll play through it before the New Year is in full swing. It will be a learning experience in quick story telling and flexibility. I’m sure there will be a steep learning curve as well. First time with this particular game system and first time running a game. I’ll have to share how well plot points were dropped and picked up by the characters.

I’ll also have to continue on to my main quest of novel writing, because it’s a story that’s begging to be written.

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