Ultimately, roleplaying is a game of imagination and improvisation. Some people find that they have trouble with these faculties. I feel forced to credit my own proficiency in these areas to a number of games I played as a kid, and still occasionally play, as well as a few hobbies of mine. I think it should come to no surprise that most roleplayers are also writers or actors; in fact, I noted the similarity between the three media in previous articles, and many actors are famously in support of D&D/credit it with stimulating their mind.
Everybody played Let’s Pretend as a kid, even if they didn’t call it that. House, Cops & Robbers, The Floor is Lava, and many other games are all about pretending something is true to such a degree that it constrains your actions. Roleplaying is, to a large extent, just Let’s Pretend with rules written in books somewhere and (generally) dice.
Group Storytelling used to eat up hours of my time as a kid. You’d get a group of people and sit in a circle. One person would start the story, and would complete one unit. What the base unit was (that is, how much of a story you told before the next person bean) determined the type of story. If the base unit was a sentence, the story ended up slightly more chaotic, as people either failed to understand where the previous person was going, or intentionally steered the story to something they preferred. As such, it’s not really an exercise in collaborative roleplaying because it forces so much familiarity. On the other hand, if the base unit is closer to a scene, you can get a lot more continuity, especially if you limit the number of characters which can be introduced. Funny enough, if the base unit is the character, you have a more traditional roleplaying game!
And then of course, you can add twists! Maybe after each segment, you change one detail, chosen by the previous storyteller? Maybe you try to establish a theme? Try to hide as many puns in the story as possible?
Why do I think that group storytelling is better than, say, just writing short stories/novels? Because they force you to roll with changes. Traditional storywriting doesn’t resemble roleplaying because you are in control the whole time. Often, pretty have a good idea of what they want to write. And if they are excellent writers, that can be great. But roleplaying naturally adds an element of conflict into the game, and forces you to resolve it, something which Group Storytelling also does.
Why do I think roleplaying is something worth ‘training’ for? In part, it’s because I really like being good at things I do. In part it’s because good roleplaying is fun and satisfying, and can create lasting stories, memories, and bonds between players. In part, however, I think it’s because roleplaying teaches a lot of useful skills. It hones your creativity, imagination, and ability to improvise. It teaches you to resolve conflicts in a friendly way. It teaches you to exhibit social properties you may not normally have. In many ways, it is a life experience that can change your life for the better. Plus it’s fun!