Dungeons & dragons

Unionize The Goblins - Better Writing Through DnD (Plus Bonus Content)


“The cave is dark. Even when straining your eyes none of you are able to see more than a few feet in front of you. A sense of dread falls over the group. It feels like you shouldn’t be here, but the dwarf you swore to protect is trapped here somewhere.”

“I start searching the cave.”

“Your steps echo loudly in the space. It sounds large and open as far as you can tell. And suddenly, a loud screech comes from somewhere up above. Torches burst into flames as hundreds of goblins come crawling out of the cracks in the walls. Their arms and legs crackle and creak as they scatter down the wall to surround you.”

I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this. Our party of five can’t possibly handle all of these goblins. I string my bow and hold it at-the-ready, not that I imagine my arrows will do much good against a horde. Azar’s fire may hold them at bay, but not for long-

“What benefits is your employer offering you?” my companion, Enricho calls.

“What?” Our Dungeon Master’s voice pitches louder, probably as confused as the rest of us.

“Your benefits,” Enricho says again. “Do you get health insurance from the Goblin King?”

“We are mere goblins, we do not receive benefits,” our DM says, dropping quickly back into character.

“That’s illegal!” Enricho shouts. “You put your lives at risk, and for what? What is your compensation for all this hard work you do?”

This goes on for a while, and after some amazing rolls, our party has successfully unionized the goblins and got ourselves out of a huge fight. Later when faced with a Bugbear, we convert him to our religion -- bread. We’re not great at fighting, but we are really good at finding creative ways out of the many problems we face. Our bard pronounces us The Band of Surprisingly Effective Fuck Ups.

On Writing

I’ve found DnD to be an incredible tool for writers. Three of our six players have English degrees, one being the DM, making our adventures both compelling and utterly ridiculous.

Of course when writing a novel it is important to structure your plot, write out detailed character goals, and follow a basic formula to keep the story moving at a decent pace. But there is something to be said for the spontaneity that games like DnD provide. While playing I don’t have time to carefully consider what my character will do. She must make a decision, then and there, or risk being killed on the spot.

So sometimes, I try to use this approach in my writing. I always have an outline while I’m working on a longer project, but as the book progresses sometimes that outline has to change. That’s usually not a problem, especially because my outlines are fairly bare-boned. I find if I write an outline that is too detailed, I lose motivation to work on the actual novel.

Sometimes I allow my characters to make split-second decisions on the page to see what they’ll do. Other times I do this on my own for my notes, so I can better understand my characters. My wife and I have even roleplayed Liam and Blane aloud, just to spark conversation and see where it will go in the spur of the moment.

Much like how fanfiction has changed my novel, DnD and roleplaying has also had an impact on not only my characters, but how I tell a story. Characters are the driving forces behind any plot. If all the events happening around them are external, it doesn’t make for a very compelling tale. That’s why using techniques like this are so important to help me better understand my characters.

The Challenge

I asked my followers to present me with a situation or piece of dialogue, and I would write the immediate reaction my character had to it. This is an amazing writing exercise and a lot of fun!

Too much rice - Anne M.
Featuring - Blane

I hated rice.

I’d hated rice for as long as I could remember. I hated that it had so many varieties, and there was no way to know what kind it was until it was in your mouth. It seemed like rice could be flavored with anything, and even rice that looked flavored could be plain and bland. Some of it was sticky and refused to go down your throat, while some of it was so dry you couldn’t even get it on a fork. And all of it got stuck in the crevices of your mouth, forcing you to swallow down tiny grains of rice throughout the day as you finally worked them free from your teeth.

And there was always rice in the cafeteria of school meals. It drove me crazy. I realized it was cheap and I knew the Hierarchy Party was cutting costs for education across the country, but this was getting ridiculous. Not only did they want to choose our careers for us and eliminate people like Liam, people with no hope for their magical specialties, but they were serving rice at almost every single meal.

I really, really hated rice. And I had to do something about it. But until I could I sat with Orion and our other friends, cleaned my plate, and waited.

Not enough rice - Deanna V.
Featuring - Clara

My mom had gotten used to cooking for four of us, so whenever my brothers came home for a visit she never managed to get the proportions right when it came to food.

This was especially true when it came to sides. Anyone could figure out that with six people at the table, you needed to serve six chicken breasts. Estimating how many potatoes to cut, vegetables to steam, or rice to serve was a lot harder.

My mom was terrified of wasting food, had been ever since the money from her artwork had dried up. In the early days she’d always overestimated how much rice to make. After several years of complicated trial and error, she’d figured out the formula so that each person at the table got one serving of rice. No food wasted, and the food lasted longer.

Even now that money was stable, my mom had never changed her ways. And everytime my brothers came to visit, and my mom tried to stretch our four servings of rice into six, it reminded me of how her dream of being an artist had broken her.

So I didn’t really mind not having enough rice. It was just a reminder that I had to think harder about my decisions about my future.

Can’t get an easy-open can open - Jocelyn W.
Featuring - Liam

Getting a can open should not be difficult, yet here I was. It was summer vacation, meaning I was back home and my parents were God-knows-where. I’d been up since dawn training, stopping only when the mid-afternoon sun had become unbearable.

And now I was inside, fighting with a can of chili.

The damn thing had a pull tab but somehow I’d managed to break it. I’d tried everything I could think of to get it open. I’d tried a slicing spell, but I’d never been very good at those. I’d tried using a force spell to force the lid of the can off. I’d thrown it into the wall in frustration. And now I just had a closed, dented can of chili, sitting on the counter, mocking me.

I couldn’t even use my magic to open a damn can.

I growled and lifted my hand, pointing my closed fist towards the can. I narrowed my eyes and sprang my fingers open. There was a loud, metallic clanging as the can burst open from the explosion. Globs of pungent, cold chili went flying through the air, sticking to the walls and ceilings, sliding slowly towards the ground and landing with a clear ‘plop’. I grimaced and waved my hand at the mess, quickly scrubbing it up. I tossed the can in the recycling dish, observed the kitchen, and sighed.

I decided to make a sandwich instead.

Childproof caps - Mike S.
Featuring - Sylvia

Ever since that kid had broke into her mom’s sleeping pills using magic, there had been magical childproof caps on all pill bottles.

It seemed to drive people crazy. The caps on medication were impossible to open without the exact right hand motion and spell pronunciation.

I didn’t know what the big deal was. It wasn’t that hard, people just had to pay attention and do it right the first time.


Your character see a homeless man on the street with a dog - Emily Z.
Featuring - Orion

School breaks were some of my favorite times of year. I enjoyed my time at school well enough. It was a great place to network, develop relationships, and further my career. And of course, I did get to improve my magical skills while I was there. But keeping up appearances and doing so much work was exhausting, and it was nice during school breaks to just have some time to do whatever I wanted.

Christmas was in a couple of days, meaning I had a week off to do anything I wanted. Well, after I found a Christmas gift for my parents. The challenging thing about being rich was that it was really hard to shop for your parents.

A shiver worked its way through my body. I scowled and flicked my hand. A pleasant warmth spread through my body, leaving my fingers and toes tingling. I’d never managed to stop the tingling, it drove me nuts.

I rounded a corner on the street, still trying to adjust my warming spell, and fell. I flailed as my legs hit something short and warm, quickly casting a levitation spell to break my fall. “Watch where you’re going,” I snarled, turning around.

I’d tripped over a raggedy dog, attached to a raggedy leash which was being held by a raggedy man. Oh, great. A homeless man. And it was Christmas so it was expected of me to give him something, even though he was the one who couldn’t keep his life on track.

“Sorry about that,” I said, trying to mask the irritation in my voice. I pulled a coin from my pocket and levitated it towards the man (I certainly wasn’t getting any closer). “Merry Christmas.”

He probably said something about my generosity, but I’d already stopped listening, flicking my fingers again and again to try and get that damn tingling to go away.