Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writing and Roleplaying

When I mentionned that my main character was born from a roleplaying game in my last post, a surprising number of you commented that it happened to them on a frequent basis. I used to have trouble accepting the strong influence of the games on some of my work, and the lesser but-no-less-important presence in the others. I came to the craft of writing through roleplaying, but today I can tell what works, and what doesn't.

This is what I transfer the most from my RPGs. I have created characters I love through the years, with a well-developped and often under-exploited background. It's a truth of gaming (especially online) that half the hooks you build into your backstory will never surface again. I love to explore those subplots. Sometimes they even become the main intrigue.

I find that character personalities translate well from RP to writing. Sometimes, however, changing their abilities and races might serve your story. There is a lot of 'epic' with RP, and I find not all of it fits with my style.

Perhaps this is only me, but the only plot I have kept from a RP was one that focused on a family's internal relationships. I find that most plot require heavy work to fit the narrative structure. Pluck elements and premises if you like them, but I don't recommend clinging to all scenes or to the way the story evolved.

EDIT: It just occured to me that a lot of the plots I've reused are Character Arcs. It makes sense, considering I mostly import characters.

While I have changed settings between a story from a RP and the novel form, I think this element can be transfered easily. You need to think about what you want (high or low magic, for example) and what serves the story best. DnD is a mash-up of many mythologies. Take the time to decide what you need, and take the time to check on the original myths, too.

By the way, this is not to say you should dump all orcs and trolls and elves and dwarves. When you write a novel, however, you need to think them through, explain them, and know what makes your setting unique.

I'm sure there is a lot more to be said, and this is a topic I'm likely to revisit. Roleplaying games are an incredible source of inspiration for me, but adapting them comes with a lot of problems. The potential is there, however, and a good writer knows how to tap it.


  1. I never took a single plot point from any role playing game with me into my writing. I kept a number of characters, because they were fully fleshed out and important to me. I also kept many elements of the world, because my favorite type of fantasy story is the kind set in a pseudo-medieval high fantasy land with Tolkienesque trolls, elves, dwarves, and such.

    Yep, there are a ton of people who never want to see such stories ever again, but those people are wrong to believe that there aren't just as many of us out here who will always want more such stories.

  2. I've only played in one role-playing setting, but one character stuck with me. Some form of her will go into one of the Works in Progress that I will start after I finish my fantasy epic.

    I agree with Ted. Many people love fantasy he described (me included), although I do think that it needs a slight freshening up.


  3. One of the reasons people get tired with Tolkien-esque fantasy is that there are many out there that seem to pluck elements from your 'typical' fantasy without bothering to justify them. Because others are familiar with the creatures in your book doesn't mean you should get LAZY.

    Not all authors are that way, however, and it's a misconception that hurts the genre.

    Ironically, I have the same problem with UF. If you can't convince me your vampires or werewolves aren't the same as everyone else's, you won't get my attention.

    About plots, I realised today that those I reused are all character arcs. Edited that in, because it seems important.

  4. I indulge in role playing in The Lord of the Rings Online, an MMORPG. I enjoy fleshing out characters within the Middle-earth setting and exploring some of the dark corners of Tolkien's lore that were never explored much.

    One of the stories that I came up with for a character was buried so deep in the past of which there is very little information. I had essentially had to make up most of it. This one tale (characters, plot and setting) I've decided to modify and convert to my world. It also inspired me to establish an atmosphere for my fantasy world similar to some of Tolkien's earliest writings, which are more "fairy story" like.