Roleplaying: D&D and Creativity


I’ve been a role-player since 7th grade and had the good fortune of being indoctrinated into a very elite form of the hobby — custom games. When I say custom I mean anything home-grown vs. store-bought, i.e. someone actually came up with the setting, mechanics and other inner-workings of the game.

The Difference

What I’ve noticed about those who play custom games vs. those who exclusively play D&D, etc. is that the former tend to be far more creative than the latter. I think I figured out why.

It’s not that all store-bought and “big” games demand mediocre imaginations from their players; there are tons of people who play mainstream game systems and do so in a very advanced way. But I’d argue that they are in the minority.

The trick is that creative people believe the things that they make up are just as legitimate as the things other people make up.

Non-creative people can’t make that jump. So to a non-imaginative person, developing a game setting, a storyline, characters, etc. is doomed to failure from the very beginning. In their own minds anything they come up with is immediately stupid and inherently not “real”.

The Symptoms

It is for this reason that these same sorts of people shy away from role-playing systems that don’t have an official logo on them. In their minds, if it doesn’t say “Dungeons & Dragons” on it then it’s not role playing. This is a limitation of them, not necessarily of the system in question.

Try this: create in your own mind a traditional D&D-style monster. Make it unique. Imagine what it eats, what it can do, how it attacks, etc. Now give it a name. Think of what it would look like. Could you describe it to someone? Could you convince another role-player that this is a real, “legitimate” monster that they hadn’t heard of?

If you can do this then you’re likely to be able to write a short story or create a custom game system. If you can’t then you’re afflicted with an all too common ailment these days — a lack of creativity.

All this really means is that you don’t believe you’re creative. It means that you could come up with a very cool idea but you’d never believe it was simply because you came up with it. That’s where my tree-hugger, love everyone, hippie education came in handy. I was always told that everyone could be creative, and I believed I was included.

Make Your Own

So to all those who role-play, but don’t play anything that’s not “real” fantasy game, I offer to you that you should expand your mind with some basic exercises. Try and make a game yourself. Make a new system. Make some characters. Make a combat system.

Put some real thought into it and get it so that you can convince someone that it’s a “real” system that just came out from Wizards of the Coast. Once you can do that you’ll find that your creativity in general has been boosted. Boosted by confidence.

That’s the bottom line — if you believe that you’re creative then you probably are. But if you believe that you aren’t then you almost definitely are not. Don’t let negative thoughts effect your reality. Change them.

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