Writing SFF and role-playing games

Toby Frost

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Every so often I get an email from someone who's read a story I wrote. A while back one reader asked "You know what you should do? Make a role-playing game!"

I looked into it (a supplement for the Chaosium Basic Roleplay system seemed best, incidentally) but soon decided that I wasn't famous enough by a very long way and that writing rules was not my forte anyhow.

It struck me as quite interesting, as there is an obvious overlap between RPGs and SFF, especially fantasy, and not just that people who read the one may well have played the other. I wondered if anyone else has had or considered similar ideas. Has anyone written a novel out of an RPG, or vice-versa?
 

chopper

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licensed adaptations (warhammer, d&d etc) aside?

Erikson & Esslemont's world started as an RPG, and I'm sure Feist started the same way too. whether they designed their own rules systems or not, i couldn't tell you.

oh yes. i mocked up a variant cover for The Empire Dance, based on the old LBBs (little black books) that helped to inspire it... (blatant plug alert...)

chopper-albums-shiny-piccies-picture651-this-sends-a-little-shiver-down-my-spine.gif
 

HareBrain

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I did toy with the idea, for a while, of writing a story based on a particularly successful D&D campaign I ran about 20 years ago. But I quickly realised that RPG campaigns aren't suited to novelisation (unless it's just mine). They might have long-term overall plot arcs if they've been well-planned from the outset (possibly planned so restrictively that they're no fun to play, because the characters have little freedom), but chances are, they don't, so those arcs and themes would have to be inserted retrospectively. Also, each individual adventure, which might comprise several games sessions, might still take a long time to tell, but probably wouldn't advance the characters enough to make a novel in its own right.

BTW, Toby, have you ever heard of the RPG "Space 1889"?
 

Toby Frost

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Yes, but I've never read it. I think I glanced at it as a child when I didn't know what RPGs were but that's it. To be honest I've always been influenced more by old books and comics than by more recent steampunk.

I have a feeling that the first Dragonlance book was based on a D&D adventure. It does read that way now I think of it. As you say HareBrain, I suspect the two don't translate as easily as might be thought. But I was indeed thinking of licenced adaptations aside.
 

Malloriel

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I must confess to be completely culpable in this crime.

I'm just not content to write up what happened in the game. It was an awesome game, everyone wanted to see it as a story in novel form, and they hoped I might someday do it. I hoped I might someday do it, too, but eventually forgot. That is, until I was listening to a song that ached so much of a tragic love, ripped apart, desperate acts to reclaim and rebuild, but ultimately loss, and I knew then that I needed to write a story which contained it, but who would be my stars? I then recalled our campaign.

Unlike many of the campaigns I've heard of or seen, despite this being one of only few in which I've participated, I could tell it was a different sort of game. It had a lot of depth AND a lot of freedom while still following an overall arch. The GM was fantastic about thinking on his feet and adapting to the choices the players make, finding away to allow them to reach the end without compromising their abilities to make choices along the way for themselves. Within this one, the main NPC, whom the other players rescued from a rather nasty orc attack, developed opinions and relationships with the other characters based on a d20 roll by the GM. Conveniently enough, the moment the NPC saw my little dove, a natural 20 fell from the GM's hand, and thus we had the start of a romance based on pure chance alone.

All very well and good from an outside kind of sense, but did it play out well? I'm happy to say that it did. I felt very immersed within the world and situations he'd created. Now my only question was "how to portray it?" and "where?" The lovely unfinished ends of Eleasia wrapped themselves around the concept, and by changing aesthetic elements (orcs, drunken half-orcs, dragon attacks, someone having a pet polar bear, dwarves, dark elves, etc., your basic D&D standard fair) into things more standard to Eleasia instead, the story itself was able to take shape within the world, and in fact worked itself in so well that the character I once played, Seleana, has become absolutely integral to the main story arch, and I wouldn't be able to defeat the main baddy without her at this stage.

Beyond that, with all the work I've put into Eleasia, I've also thought about turning it into a table-top gaming world, and occasionally work on the rules of that, focusing mostly (at this moment) on the translation of what magic is like for humans into gaming terms that can't be overly taken advantage of by meta gamers and the like. (Time, as it turns out, super powerful. Not fit for humans.) I'd love to see people enjoying the world, not just the stories, and so many of my friends are total gamers, and there really is just so much information that it seemed only natural that I think about working on the two in tandem, or at least back and forth as whim takes me.

So, I don't think that every story based on a campaign will feel like it's based on a campaign, and should I succeed (which I very much plan on doing), this will be one of the tid bits I confess later as well, but I, too, have come across novels here and there that really feel like a recounting of a session that must have been terribly fun at the time, but which hasn't been written out well enough to feel "inspired by" rather than "happened just like".

I got wordy again . . . :D
 

Chel

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Well, my current WIP is based on an RPG campaign... I think it's working out pretty well so far, although I know I have a lot of editing to do after I get the first draft done.

Any story, if told well enough, can work, regardless of where the inspiration came from. The best stories, in my opinion, are the ones that leave people wanting more, make the reader miss the characters as if they were close friends who moved far away. Creating a roleplaying game based on a story like that give roleplayers the chance to re-live that world, maybe meet those old friends again, and naturally, create new stories in the setting they love.

My roleplaying hobby started a very typical way. I saw my brother play AD&D with his friends. I borrowed the rulebooks (more times than he knew about) to look at the awesome artwork and dream myself away into other worlds. At some point my brother gave in and agreed to teach me and my friend how it worked, and I rolled up Tarelsir, my elven mage... my first ever RPG character.

The very few and short adventures of Tarelsir aren't worth writing down. It was the typical teenager's AD&D game with more roll-playing than role-playing, but my gaming has evolved a lot since then.

The RPG campaign that lead to my WIP was the complete opposite of those first games I played in the early '90s. Yes, we had our dice out every session, but sometimes we didn't even touch them. The gamemaster told the story, beautifully planned and detailed, and my husband and I filled in the gaps through our characters. It's still not the best gaming I've ever done, but it's close - and the story is a lot more tellable than most other game I've played.

Right now I'm actively playing in two settings - one campaign in G.R.R Martin's Westeros (yes, there's a legit RPG for that setting) and the other, the pre-written Masque of the Red Death for Call of Chtulhu, by H.P. Lovecraft. (For those familiar with the original CoC system; we deemed that far too deadly so we're using a completely different one to avoid having to roll up new characters every other game.)

For SFF literature and roleplaying games, world building is enormously important. As (aspiring) writers of SFF, we are told that world building is the starting point, and if we do that job well, that's half the job done for an RPG setting. The rules and system in itself should, in my opinion, be secondary - there are people who like that kind of thing, but me, well, I just want to tell a good story. For me, the one rule to rule them all is to never let the rules get in the way of a good story.

So, in conclusion, yes I am writing a story based on an RPG, but no, I havent' yet based and RPG on a story I've written. I may do that in the future though.
 

Culhwch

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I feel like I'm in the minority, but I've never, ever played an RPG - at least, not one that wasn't on a PC. So I couldn't comment on using it as a basis for anovel. But as has been said, I figure the inspiration isn't the important thing, it's the execution...
 

J-WO

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I've found wargaming to be far more beneficial than roleplaying with regards writing SF. That statement may seem counter-intuitive, given that RPG's focus on characters and their actions and that's exactly what stories do too.

Yet that's exactly RPG's problem--those much loved characters reign in possibility and, half the time, you have people outside of your writing (ie- your gaming pals) with an interest in your writing at an early stage when no one should do--because their own characters are very dear to them and your messing with 'em, good or bad. Before you know it, you're trying to please everyone instead of trying to write a good story.

With wargaming--and I don't mean those imagination-fascists at GW, I mean wargames where the designers give you the rules and means to create your own stuff--you just have bloody big fights. But these BBFs require context to be enjoyable and you soon create the civilizations and histories to do that. Then you eventually get down to working out what kind of cutlery they use--pure world building, essentially.

I've clocked up a hell of a lot of deep space battles. The funny thing is I've never wrote a space battle. Yet all of the space opera stuff I've done has emerged from a universe originally created for war gaming. And the characters have been a lot freer, a lot more alive and full of more possibility, because they weren't defined by a prior RPG's train tracks.
 

goldhawk

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Every so often I get an email from someone who's read a story I wrote. A while back one reader asked "You know what you should do? Make a role-playing game!"

You shouldn't try to convert your novel to a RPG adventure. Instead, you should create a world book of its setting so that players can create their own adventures in your world.
 

Malloriel

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Yet that's exactly RPG's problem--those much loved characters reign in possibility and, half the time, you have people outside of your writing (ie- your gaming pals) with an interest in your writing at an early stage when no one should do--because their own characters are very dear to them and your messing with 'em, good or bad. Before you know it, you're trying to please everyone instead of trying to write a good story.


That's why you get permission (when possible) to use the characters and express a story like the campaign, rather than trying to portray everyone's character they way they most want it expressed. There's always an emotional attachment to one's character (unless you're Dan, who rolled a character, deserted it, rolled a new character, deserted IT, rolled a third character who died, and then rolled a fourth character), so it's hard to relinquish that idea to someone else, but it's better to write a character inspired by the original than to get caught up in the emotional politics of possessive nerds.

One of my main characters throughout the Eleasian stories belongs to one of my best friends. It was his original character, he has stories around that character that he wants told, and so when I use him I do make the concession to write him in a way that my friend approves as much as possible. We're also co-authoring that character's personal adventures, before he becomes one of the central figures. Far easier to do when you're only talking about pleasing one person outside of yourself. Collaborations are fun with the right people. D&D groups aren't always the right people. :-|

As much as everyone in the Campaign In Question wanted to see the tale written down, and as much as they figured I'd do it, I don't think there was a vested interest in seeing it get done. I'd feel intensely uncomfortable if a group of gamers pinned this hope on me and their actions changed because they knew it was going to be written. It's like Schrödinger's Cat all over the place, because their knowledge of being observed changes the behavior you were hoping to capture. It's a trap! Run away!
 

J-WO

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I'd feel intensely uncomfortable if a group of gamers pinned this hope on me and their actions changed because they knew it was going to be written. It's like Schrödinger's Cat all over the place, because their knowledge of being observed changes the behavior you were hoping to capture. It's a trap! Run away!

Hellish. At that point the GM may as well put all the characters in a fantasy world version of The Big Brother house, magically televised to a million castles and hovels and let 'em whinge at one another.
 

Chel

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I play RPGs only in small groups with close friends, so it's easy for me to get permission to write about our adventures. Not to mention they can backup my horribly bad memory!

Come to think of it, I should really start taking more notes while playing.
 

Natasha Bennett

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I have a feeling that the first Dragonlance book was based on a D&D adventure.

I remember it did. One of the writers took a particular interest in Raistlin during a D&D game because he was a 'guy with golden skin and white hair' and no one had any idea why.

I sort of had an idea for a D&D book, but I really wasn't brought up on the D&D games, and whenever I pick up a book there are a lot of letters and numbers that don't make sense :eek: That being said, there are a couple of publishers who are looking for writers for RPG. Polymancer Studios is one. White Wolf is another.
 

Daezarkian

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I got my start by writing adventure supplements for Dungeons & Dragons. It's a great way of exercising your plot/world building muscles without having to worry so much about messy things like characters and dialog. :D

The D20/Open Gaming License made it easier for novice writers to break into the business for a time, especially since there were so many 3rd party publishers outside of the larger RPG companies. That being said, there is a definite difference between writing adventures (which is, in many ways, like writing an extremely detailed plot outline for a SFF novel) and being an actual *game designer*, which requires you to master, improve and expand upon the technicalities of any given game system. I found I'm good at the former, not so good at the latter.
 

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