Dungeons and Dragons is a wonderful thing.
Ever since it was first published as a tabletop game setting by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974, it’s been helping folks expand on and use their imagination in innumerably creative ways.
From creating a character, to building a backstory, to living their life in a fantastical new world, players experience creativity in a unique way.
A Dungeons and Dragons character is more than a bunch of numbers on pieces of paper, just as the class and alignment they represent are more than just a focused skill set. You need to know why they are the class/classes they are, and how their mindset got to this point. You figure out where they’re from, where they’re going, how their life has gone, any family they have, and much more. You can make them anyone you want.
Like this dangerous-looking gentleman:
Or, this not-so-dainty lady:
But that’s just as a player.
As a Dungeon Master or Game Master, you can decide to create a world all your own. In doing this, you come up with your own cultures, religions, geographies, histories, and, most importantly, the important individuals within your world.
It’s great for beta-testing ideas of any sort. Your players’ reactions to things they run into are generally pretty honest, especially if they’re exposed to something for an extended period of time, or if its something they’ll encounter over and over again. Big bad coming off a bit too cheesy? Amp-down the melodrama. They think the nomadic warrior queen is pretty awesome? Start working on how to tailor her and her people into your project/s. The religion is too vague and complex to be interesting? Make it easier to relate to.
Dungeons and Dragons in general also provides a creative escape. It allows you to embody the life of someone you probably never could be, and the kind of person you may never know. Inspiration is distressingly abundant in interactive worlds like this, and you can always find something that you might want to use later (with permission, of course).
You also learn pretty quickly that preconceived notions almost never describe everything about a character.
This guy could be a bad guy:
^ Because sometimes the douchey-looking superman wannabe IS the evil sociopath. They never see it coming.
You have so much creative freedom with what you do, and where your character goes as the story progresses. Will the paladin of a holy order maintain his sacred vigil against evil? Will the aloof and morally neutral wizard remain as such, or will some blessing or tragedy slide the scale one way or another? Will the devilish bard ever become an honest man? You get to ask yourself these questions and so many more as you progress through the story you’ve set yourself upon.
Kingdoms rise and fall. Heroes are made and broken against the walls of the enemy, in the arms of their friends, and in pursuit of glory.
In a way, each campaign is almost like writing a book in a very informal way. You have a clear beginning and end, with a lot of stuff in between. You’ll have character deaths (it should always happen unless you’re being an uber-nice DM), alignment shifts, unsuspected turns, and memorable moments that stick with you out of game for a long time.
It’s the best practice in world-creation you can get. While you don’t need to delve quite as deeply as you maybe would for a fantasy novel, you still need to make everything believable, consistent within the context of the world, interesting, and, most importantly, engaging to the people experiencing your creation. It helps you come up with things on the fly and tailor them to whatever you’re doing. I’ve learned that no idea will be unusable if you know how to compromise on your original though. Everything can be made to logically and effectively fit a world.
You’ll never know these characters, but you’ll feel like you did. You can feel the friendship develop between the initially xenophobic human cleric and elf fighter, the slow rift develop between the party and the antagonistic duskblade, and so on and so forth. We follow them over months, and sometimes many years. We live with them, we fight by their side, and we form bonds of fellowship that transcend the concept of reality and imagination. If you play multiple campaigns in the same world, your characters may hear about a past character of yours’ exploits, or they may even still be maintaining their position as archmage or as grandmaster of an order.
Dungeons and Dragons acts as not only a beta-zone, but also a sort of microcosm of creative energy. It’s provided me with ideas uncountable and experiences immeasurable in their influence on my writing like/dislikes and ideas. Especially when the game turns into blood-sport between the players.
I’d highly suggest that any creative-type tries this out with some experienced players, hopefully people you already know and feel comfortable around.