What I Learned From D&D: Campaign Session #1

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“I really want a campaign,” my friend, Jamey, told me over Skype soon after our one-shot.

“I know,” I replied. “Same.” Actually, we had been talking about this for at least a month before we ever played our first Dungeons & Dragons game. I said that I wanted to play the first game to get a feel of things and be sure, but we knew we would be hooked right away, and we were right.

So, we took to Tumblr with our plan for a campaign, and, when no one on Tumblr was available, we tried Facebook. “I’ll DM if no one else wants to,” Jamey offered.  By the next day, that had changed to, “I really don’t mind if I have to DM. I think it might be fun.” And by the end of the day, “Yeah, I have an idea. I want to DM.”

At first, we had about seven people, not including Jamey as our DM; but, through scheduling, computer, or personal conflicts, that number dwindled before we started our first game. By the time of the first session, our party consisted of:

  • Daarga, a half-orc druid who was taken in by druids after his orc tribe beat him nearly to death;
  • Alerith, a half-elf monk daughter of a diplomat (left later because the player decided D&D wasn’t for her);
  • Neeks, a half-elf bard with a secretive past; and my character,
  • Cherish, a tiefling who became a cleric to avoid consequences after an affair with a noble’s daughter.

Cherish is a far cry from Fenoise. She’s irreverent and selfish and her motivation of “well, serving a badass volcano goddess I’m not sure I believe in is better than being a fugitive” couldn’t be further from Fenoise’s idealistic ambitions of becoming a bardic folk hero. But in creating her, I did notice a common pattern:

I like to write characters that don’t quite “fit” their type.

I hesitate to say that Cherish is “bad” at being a cleric or Fenoise “bad” at being a bard, though I suppose they start out that way; that’s what character development is for. In each of them, though, I made a point to do something unexpected. Making a cleric: what about an irreligious young woman that looks a bit like a demon? And if the cleric’s deity is known to have aggressive, passionate followers: well, what if my cleric doesn’t really care yet? What if this was just a last resort for her? What if this elf who wants to make a career of music and making magic out of her words is terrified of performing? Even the fact that Fenoise had one leg four inches shorter than the other was something I added to combat the stereotype of lithe, graceful elves. My favorite characters that I’ve written start off with a concept like that: take this stereotype and flip it. As I get to know them, I develop them into fully fleshed out characters.

I don’t think that these are genius subversions of character that no one has ever thought to write before, but I think  it can be fun, and it’s something I like about my writing. And as a writer riddled with self-doubt, I don’t often find things about my own writing that I can, with certainty, claim to like.  Character creation is one of my strengths, and it’s just as important to learn about my strengths as it is to learn about my weaknesses. Character creation has always been one of my strengths, but I’m not sure I’ve often tried this trick when writing something that doesn’t have clearly designated character classes. I did try it recently, though: I wrote a short story for a contest featuring a suburban stay-at-home mother with a secret past as a grifter. As soon as that twist came to me, the rest of the story started to fall into place, and a daunting assignment became fun.

Finding the unexpected in my characters is one of my favorite parts of writing, and from now on, I’m going to commit to looking for it.

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