What Makes A Story A Gaming Campaign Or A Book

I wish I had the time and energy for more weekly Dungeons and Dragons games. Specifically, the time and energy to run them. At present, I’d like to get myself to one weekly game (that, you know, actually plays weekly) and two every-other-week games that alternate so I can run two games a week but have more time to prepare the two that alternate. If I didn’t have to spend time working a full-time job, I could probably run a game every day. Do prep in the morning, run in the afternoon, and have evenings to myself. I’ve thought about trying to get into the “Game Master as a day job” gig, but I’ve decided that for now, I want to keep this as just a hobby. Still, if I had more time and energy, I’d love to add another game or two into rotation.

I was originally planning to write about the final glimmers of daylight over the tops of trees to the west as I leave work, shedding the stresses of my day as I breathe in refreshing spring air in the moments I pause between leaving work and driving home. As I was taking a moment’s reprieve to do some research for a D&D game before getting my mind in the right place for that kind of writing, I had the idea for a new D&D campaign. As I idly developed that from a drop of idea to a full camapign, I got to thinking about why some ideas present themselves as roleplaying game campaigns and others present themselves as stories.

To be honest, I haven’t really thought about this distinction that much before writing this post. It has always been clear to me, in the moment of an idea forming in my mind, what form the story should take. These stories can be told almost any way, since a storyteller’s job is to take an idea like this and find a way to get it in front of an audience, and I’ve shifted ideas back and forth in the past, but they usually start as one or the other. In retrospect, whether it is a written story or a Tabletop Roleplaying Game story says a lot about why the idea intrigues me. Stories that hatch as TTRPGs are usually ideas that create a setting and a host of problems in the world. My main interest in them is not what I can do with a setting and situation like that, but what other people would do in this world of my creation. When they start as written stories, they are usually situations or scenes that expand into a larger story, focused around some central theme or quote that makes me wonder what happened before and after that moment.

Sometimes, when I get an idea for a story, I’m not super interested in filling it out, populating the whole world, and pushing it along to the pre-determined conclusion. I want to see how things change if some of the variables shift. Sure, I could make a list and explore it myself, but that’s not nearly as fun as never really knowing how it’ll end up. Having basic ideas, characters with goals, and a massive injection of chaos in the form of other people who may or may not know or care about what I had planned is a great way to wind up somewhere you never expected to be. For stories like that, for worlds with no clear drama or twists, I love to figure out how to involve dice and other storytellers.

When a story is saying something to me, when it pivots around an important moment or a choice with consequences that deserve to be explored in detail, that’s when I do a quick pre-draft and start writing it all out, turning my sort of flash of a story into something full and (hopefully) expressive. An idea that needs to percolate like a good cup of coffee. Writing provides ideas like that time to steep, to mature, to develop from a core moment into a more full exporation of people, moments, and themes. Adding in dice and other storytellers can be fun, but sometimes what I really want is to explore an idea on my own. After all, how can I tell what I think about it if I haven’t done the work of actually thinking about it? And I might as well take notes as I go, you know? See if I can turn it into something interesting to other people besides myself.

Sometimes, a rare idea develops that could work as either format, that could be fun to explore in both formats, and those are some of my favorite ideas. Today’s idea, as I continue to develop it and flesh it out, is starting to feel like that. It bears some resemblence to the old kernel of my “Coldheart and Iron” series from the first daily run of this blog, but only a surface level, so I might pursue it both as a book and as a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It would be very interesting to see how other storytellers could cause it to deviate from the idea I’ve had, and it’s a metaphor for problems I’ve been thinking about every day! So much worth taking a look at in every format I can apply it to! I may not go start tonight, since I have other commitments to keep, but I’m definitely going to write all this down so the percolation can begin.

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