Role Playing Games: An Unexpected Resource for Writers

My daughter’s class is doing a fantasy writing unit in school. As part of this unit, she was assigned to create two characters as homework. The assignment wasn’t coming together the way she wanted it to and she was getting more and more frustrated. I tried to help her, but that, uh, didn’t work well.

Finally, I picked up the Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook and handed it to her, suggesting she look specifically at the sections on backgrounds and personal characteristics.

And it worked! She didn’t necessarily find the answers she was looking for, but the exercise sparked ideas that led her to figuring out her own problem.

This isn’t a huge surprise that this helped with character creation since the point of games like this is to create your own character that can move through stories guided by the dungeon master or the DM (sometimes called the game master or the GM). One of the main purposes of the Player’s Handbook is to help players create interesting characters by having them think about things like the character’s alignment (are they good or evil? lawful or not? Etc.) and their background.


One of my favorite additions to the newest Dungeons and Dragons edition is the inclusion of tables for different personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws for the different backgrounds. If you like randomness and are writing a fantasy, you can even roll a dice to determine who your character is. What I prefer, though, is to flip through it and look at the different options. Like my daughter, I usually don’t find things that perfectly fit the character idea I have in my head, but it gives me ideas that lead me to the right answers. For me, it has a similar effect to brainstorming aloud with another person.

These traits and characteristics don’t just apply to high fantasies, though, but almost all of them can be translated into a contemporary or historical context. For example, one of the personality traits for a Folk Hero is that they “misuse long words in an attempt to sound smarter” (131). Most of us have met someone like this.

Mostly, I like that the Player’s Handbook gets me thinking about my characters and my story in a different way. Plus, it’s a pretty fun game and we’ve found that, with a few adjustments, it works well on long road trips.

But what about you? What resources have you found recently that have you looking at your work in a different way?


Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving.