Author’s Toolbag: Gaming Part Two

Sometimes your characters are gamers too...
Sometimes your characters are gamers too…

In Part One, I talked about some general ways in which gaming can help a writer.  Here in Part Two, I’ll go into more specifics of how running (or playing) a roleplaying game can help you, the author, in developing your world, improving your characters, and building your plot.

Roleplaying Games (RPGs) are a variety of games, ranging from complex (Rifts/Palladium) to very simple (Hero).  What they all have in common is that they give you a framework for acting out the story of a character as he experiences adventure.

This is, at its root, the basis of storytelling.  A game master or dungeon master puts together a story and the players, through their characters, experience that story.  It is much like the pattern a writer takes to tell a story to his or her readers.

That’s not to say that I recommend writing a story based upon your RPG sessions.   Most RPG sessions, however hilarious and exciting to the players, will come off as a boring blow-by-blow to readers.  This is an incidence of a difference in audience, for one thing.  A RPG session is focused on individuals who already have a stake in their characters (they’re playing them, after all).  Readers won’t have that buy-in, so they won’t care as much about the incidentals.  They also don’t have the perspective of being there and knowing the other players, after all, reading isn’t a group event.

So how does playing or running an RPG help you as a writer?  Well, there’s different areas that it helps.  For a developing writer, I highly recommend playing as a character.  Spending a few hours developing a backstory, building in quirks, perks, and flaws into a character gives you some perspective on character design that is very valuable (even if you don’t use that character ever again, you learn a lot in the experience).  Even more valuable than that is the ability to role-play that character in a group.  A common flaw among new writers is that all of their characters sound, act, and feel the same.  Playing a variety of player characters over a variety of games gives someone a chance to develop those character voices, to make them separate and distinct.

For a more experienced writer, I’d recommend taking this to the next level and running an RPG.  Doing so in a world you write in not only challenges you to flesh out your world, but also to expand your cast of characters and to flesh out your plotting.  There’s nothing quite as hard to control as a group of gamers as they rampage through your world.  As long as you are doing your job as a game master, they’ll always be wanting to see what is beyond the next corner or over the next hill.  You’ll quickly find yourself having to develop organizations, secret societies, and fleshing out details like what places look like and where all the ships sail after they leave the port.  These things by themselves won’t make you a better writer, but the consideration that your characters live in a greater world does come through your writing.

Plus, trying out some prospective plots or themes within a gaming session is a fantastic way to experiment.  If you think you’ve come up with a really clever idea, there’s nothing like having a bunch of players trample over or around it, either seeing right through it or being completely oblivious.  That kind of thing can really help you to develop your abilities as far as foreshadowing, plotting, and generally developing your ability to tell a complex plot.

Now remember, all this doesn’t require a boxes of odd-shaped dice and reams of character sheets.  Roleplaying  to test some ideas could be as simple as you getting a couple friends together talking through a scene from your book, gauging responses and impressions, and then getting back to writing.

Now, a pitfall I’ve seen as far as using your gaming experience as a writer is becoming too oriented on the mechanics.  Readers don’t want to see how you built your characters or how your character blocked an attack.  They probably don’t want to read a blow-by-blow of a fight.  You can put such things in, but they should never take over the story.  Readers want to see the characters progress along their story arcs.

That’s all for now, next week I’ll talk about war-gaming and what it adds to your abilities as a writer.

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