Jeremy Morgan

Written by Jeremy Morgan, tabletop games editor, gamer, and software developer.
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The DM and Literary Theme

5 October 2011

I’ve branched out a bit lately with my blog reading, and I discovered Chuck Wendig, @ChuckWendig on Twitter, over at his blog Terrible Minds. He’s pretty saucy, so if strong language is not your cup of tea you might want to switch to coffee before reading. In particular, I want to talk about this post, 25 Things Writers Should Know About Theme.

I see two main approaches that DMs use when planning a campaign for D&D. One is that they have a story to tell. The other is that they want the story to evolve from collaboration at the table. What I don’t see a lot of is the use of a literary theme. The DM wouldn’t bother with the exact flow of the story, but only the type of story he wants to tell. I can think of a few easy examples to illustrate this point.

  • “With great power comes great responsibility.”
  • “No one will save you but yourself.”
  • “The gods love us and protect us.”

Maybe I’m missing the boat here”, but I don’t hear a lot of DMs talking in this way about their campaigns. Correct me if you think I’m wrong, but this seems like it might be a better way. Instead of worrying about the exact details, I can focus on what it is I’m trying to say.

That’s great, I already have a campaign running. What I am supposed to do with this? Easy. Think about what it is you’re been saying with the plot. If the campaign hasn’t been running long, what plot did you have in mind? Can’t figure it out? That’s okay. Start at the next tier. Or wait until your next campaign starts.

For you world-building DMs out there, you’re probably already messing around with theme, whether you realize it or not. You’ve created a world in which certain things are true or believed to be true. There’s probably theme in there somewhere. Take Dark Sun. The world is bleak, and most people are just trying to survive. Guess what, that’s a theme.

Some will read this and think, why does this matter? Why should I think about this? You’re missing a wonderful opportunity to say something meaningful through a medium you (hopefully) enjoy. What could be better than that?