Writering and Gaming (30/6/2010)

A few weeks ago I was at the UK Games Expo, last stop on an unplanned and impromptu little tour of panelling events that was accidentally co-incident with the release of King of the Crags. Or at least, it appeared accidental to me. This involved, never mind getting in free to something I’d have paid to visit, but being actually paid my expenses to show up. This is immensely cool, so thank you, UK Games Expo for that fleeting moment of feeling important.

In most panels I do[1], the subject of role-playing games gets raised at some point. Questions like ‘how did you get started as a writer’ or ‘what was the first story you wrote’ can’t get an honest answer without straying into the land of Dungeons and Dragons. Anyone who’s spent much time on my website won’t be surprised (what, you haven’t been reading Diamond Cascade, The Chronicles of the Anti-Kvothe)? When I mention D&D, I’ll get a reaction that, broadly, is one of three:

  1. Wow! Cool! He’s one of us!
  2. Whut?
  3. Eeeiieee, he’s one of them! Someone please teleport me to another panel.

I’m not proud to be a D&D player any more than I’m proud to be a five-a-side football player or to be someone who drinks coffee. It’s not something I feel any need to stand up for or justify, it’s a just a thing that I’ve done for the last pushing twenty-five years and would be quite happy to do for twenty-five more. Still, that last reaction does surprise me. I know that, to people who’ve never gone near a role-playing game, the whole concept can seem a bit strange. Making up stories and pretending to be someone else? Isn’t that a bit creepy? But guys, gals, I’m a writer now. Making up stories and pretending to be someone else is almost what I do for a living[3]. Is Salman Rushdie creepy because he makes up stories? Writers get let off because, well, apparently simply because we’re writers. Somehow we’re allowed. So if you can make a living from it, that’s fine, but if you simply do it for fun, that’s creepy[2]? I don’t get that.

The strangest thing, though, is that I never get reaction 4)

4) Well, duh, obviously spending years and years designing and then road-testing story-lines that need to be robust the the incalculable whimsy of a party of player characters who are under no obligation to follow your nominated plot-line and indeed will frequently go to great lengths to avoid doing so, obviously that’s going to teach you a thing or two about story design, and don’t even get me started on how self-evident it is that having to build a consistent and believable game-world might, y’know, help just a tad. And as for characterisation? It’s like in the name, dude! Role. Playing. I mean seriously, bro, it’s so patently obvious that RPGs are the perfect sandbox for anyone with a passion for stories that it’s like totally an insult to my intelligence that you even mention it.

Roleplaying games won’t necessarily make you a great story-teller, but if that’s what you want to be, they’re a great sandbox to play in while you’re learing.

The last person to give me one of those ‘you just fumbled your charisma check’ looks for mentioning RPGs had previously been extolling the virtues of giving a page in your notebook to each of your main characters for a description and a few notes on their habits and personality. Or, as we call them, character sheets. I didn’t say anything.

[1] One might argue this has something to do with the panels I sit on and the events I attend, but hush.

[2] I am old enough to remember a time when, apparently, we were all satanists. Fortunately, the rest of the world largely grew up.

[3] About half a living.

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