I was really late to the part with tabletop gaming. While I played once or twice in college, it never really clicked until after college when I joined a small group that played together once every two weeks or so.
That group made of only 4 people (3 players and one dungeon master) hooked me and I've been playing regularly ever since. I've even run a few campaigns of my own and have always enjoyed the adventures that can be built through storytelling and dice rolling. But one thing I've really been noticing more and more is how playing tabletop games has taught me a lot about storytelling and what makes a compelling tale.
Let's start by defining what a tabletop game is. A tabletop game (like Dungeons and Dragons) is a game played with a group of players and led by a dungeon master. The dungeon master controls the enemies, and the general plot, but a good DM (Dungeon Master) will work with the players to tell a collabrative story. It requires a lot of imagination and innovation on all parts. The game is played by rolling dice to determine successes or failures. Combat is done in a similar way. You see a flash of Dungeons and Dragons at the very, very beginning of Stranger Things.
So what can you learn about storytelling through a tabletop game? Lots. Here are 5 things I've learned over the years.
1. Little details can matter a lot.
I love when a random towns person you discover suddenyl becomes important to the plot later. Or if you discover a strange item that is suddenly very useful 7 or 8 games later. Tie the little details into the big picture and watch the story become a huge, steady narrative arc instead of disjointed mini-adventures.
2. The first thing you think of is not always the best option.
The first idea you have to solve a puzzle, or get out of a dungeon is usually not the best option. Dig deep, think to the next option then the next then the next. Push yourself to not go with the obvious but to go with the subtle, the outlandish and the unexpected.
3. You can fail at things you're amazing at.
Nothing is more frustrating when your master assassin rolls a failure for a sneak attack. Something your character is literally trained to be the best at and you fail. It sucks, but it's also true in stories. Sometimes the hero fails at something that should be second nature. Things go wrong and the unexpected happens. How your character handles those failures is what builds them into something unforgettable.
4. You can excel at things you're terrible at.
Sometimes the huge minotaur in plate armor rolls an instant success on sneaking into a room. Just because your character is terrible at something doesn't mean they have to instantly fail at it, sometimes the unexpected works in your favor and that leads your character into new situations where you'll have to think fast to not die immediatly.
5. Stories have multiple paths, your choices impact the tale you tell.
Even with a set path of adventure, the choices your character makes along the way shape what the tale will be like. If you're in a cursed city filled with vampires and dread, you can still have a comedy on your hands if that's how the chraracters interact with the world. The characters create the interaction and build the 'flavor' of the story. Use that wisely.
I love playing in my tabletop campaigns and every time I leave the game filled with a renewed sense of inspiration for my own work. Telling a story with a group of people all working together builds a unique and incredible tale that can be totally different every, single time and that is a whole new kind of magic that I can get behind.