It is often said: “Write what you know.” This can be a major hurdle for someone thinking about being an author. How do you convincingly write a sadistically cruel villain in a novel if you’ve never acted even remotely in such a manner? (Okay, if this angle isn’t a concern, ‘pretend’ you have no clue how you’d write a benevolent or ‘goodie two shoes’ character.) That’s where Role Playing Game (RPG) experience can benefit a potential author.
Whether it’s swords, magic, and mythical monsters (as in AD&D) space adventure (as in Traveller), or even spy and espionage intrigue (as in Top Secret)—okay, as the reader you may be muttering, “Umm, dude, those games are ancient—no, near Paleolithic.” But those are examples of games that I cut my RPG teeth on several decades ago. They were part of the foundation of my writing/storytelling ability (that and a heavy dose of reading, of course). Even games like Diplomacy, Star Fleet Battles, King Maker, Axis & Allies, and yes, even Monopoly, can offer strategic overviews that may benefit a potential author.
Playing (or running) different types of characters in varied settings, players learn to recognize and appreciate varying goals, motivations, strengths and weaknesses. An RPGer quickly comes to learn that the character they’re running extends well beyond the numerical statistics encompassing skills and physical/mental abilities jotted down on a sheet of paper (or entered into a document or spread sheet).
Taking on the persona of an elven wizard leading a party into the depths of a necromancer-controlled forest or a green secret agent attempting to infiltrate a small-time black market organization are just two examples demonstrating the wide breadth of experience an RPGer can gain in taking on a character’s point of view, and working through an adventure—which is, in its essence, an evolving storyline. To be sure, the adventures are made up, including the actions, reactions and interactions based on the participating RPGers’ and the game moderator’s imagination. But isn’t that also the essence of writing fiction?
One step beyond being a player in an RPG is being a game moderator or game master (GM). Not only must the GM play the part of multiple non player characters (NPCs), taking into account their personalities, goals, personal histories and experiences, among other things, it’s also the GM who constructs the world in which the participants play. The process has many elements in common with the world building aspect of novel writing.
Created worlds incorporate social structures, including governments, laws, socio-economic ranges, social norms and taboos, competing cultures and subcultures, histories, technology, even varying races, religious beliefs and languages. In an RPG, much of the world is developed over time, and often only surface elements are scratched and understood by the players, just as it is for readers of a novel, where 90% of the created world’s history and foundation are never directly observed, or even recognized, by the reader. Yet it’s there, forming the consistent backdrop for the events and action as the story unfolds.
To be sure, the breadth and depth of world creation contained within a novel varies, depending on the setting and genre, and the story to be told. For example, a contemporary murder mystery requires less ‘world building’ than a military science fiction novel set five centuries in the future.
Even so, a GM, like a writer, must keep track of all the moving parts. What ripple effects would the assassination of a beloved prime minister, or a severe drought in a vital food-supplying region, have, both locally and abroad? How will people (characters) react, from powerful leaders down to the lowest beggar?
This means an experienced GM would have an established background for creating a variety of believable characters, societies, nations, worlds, and even universes within the pages of a novel.
Beyond that, experienced GMs are adept at description: sights, sounds, smells, touch and taste. Just as players in an RPG must comprehend their surroundings, the same must occur for the reader, all drawn from the words on the page (or tablet screen). An advantage a GM has over the average novelist is that players provide instant feedback, often through looks of confusion, immediate questions, or nods of understanding. Because of this, the ‘description’ learning curve can be shortened if a writer has GM experience.
Last, pacing is both important in an adventure created by a GM, and also throughout the storyline of a novel. The main difference is that in an RPG adventure, players have greater influence on events and direction than do characters in a novel, where the writer has complete control. Still, like cross-training, skill in one lends itself to improved ability in the other.
So, while being an avid RPGer/effective GM doesn’t guarantee the leap to becoming a successful author, it does enable the gamer to bring an established set of tools to the task.
When Terry isn’t writing or enjoying time with his wife and daughters, he can be found in his basement raising turtles.
To contact Terry, or to learn more about his writing endeavors, visit his website at www.ervin-author.com and his blog, Up Around the Corner.
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