Posts Tagged ‘Role-Playing Games’

The mandatory state testing has everyone’s schedules mixed up at my school. One of the ways I’m trying to balance that is by starting some of my reading/writing groups on a role-playing game. These are 4th and 5th graders, so I’ve chosen a very basic one. It’s called No Thank You, Evil.

I think most everyone knows that the premise of a role-playing game is to make up a character and have adventures in the world of the game. Because this is at school, I’m modifying the game in some ways. I’m de-emphasizing battles and looting of treasure. Instead, they’ll be in social situations where they have to work as a team. These are special ed students, so they’ll be solving puzzles and the like, which coincidentally will have to do with their learning goals.

We’ve barely gotten started, but they seem to be enjoying the change of pace. It should be a fun way to wind down the school year.

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We had a really fun gaming session last night. My husband has been running a role-playing game called Chill for our group. We’re monster hunters a la X-Files. To save the life of a supernatural child, we traveled through time to Expo 74, the world’s fair in Spokane, WA. This is our home town, and Expo 74 was a big event in terms of community revitalization. So the setting was super fun and about half of us had personal memories of being at the world’s fair.

Probably the funnest thing was that when we arrived, any technology and materials that didn’t exist in 1974 crumbled to ash. No handy Internet searches for our intrepid monster-hunters. We had to deal with checks and cash only, no plastic! Daron told a great story with lots of twists and turns, bringing in headlines from the months of the fair. We stopped a horrible necromancer who was trying to introduce default swaps (shudder) decades before their time.

A number of our characters have international origins, and in the end, we confronted a whole consortium of supernatural beings from around the world. Daron was sweating it that this would turn into a massive battle, but my character (preening) said we were on the ancestral ground of the native tribes, and the Unknown creatures acknowledge it. So we solved it without violence, and returned in time to save the kid.

As I work forward on Tale of the Drakanox, this is the thrill and energy I’m hoping to create!

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Did you think I was done with this topic? Ha ha no!

What I’m finally getting around to is the actual narrative technique in role-playing games. You could think of a typical video role-player as very novelistic. The player starts with a character, either one they create or one that’s assigned, and that character is in a situation. Sometimes there are dialogue wheels and choices to be made. There are different factions to join that will show another side of the core issue. However, the most wrenching plot events are scripted, and the player cannot avoid dealing with those. In the end, the plot comes to some sort of conclusion.

A tabletop role-player is more episodic. The cast of recurring characters, which may change depending on who plays, go into different situations. The characters may grow in power, but their personalities remain the same. There is no ending as such, because the same characters will seek adventure again, the next time the gamers get together.

I’ve been intrigued, though, by the storytelling in Hades, which I mentioned I’ve been playing recently. Their method is new to me, but it may have been around for a while and I just didn’t happen to play a game like this before.

In Hades, you are given a character, Zagreus, and he tells you he wants to escape from the land of the dead. (It’s based on Greek mythology, so he starts out in Tartarus.) That’s all you know. As you go from room to room, fighting various creatures, you start to encounter other Greek deities who give you “boons” that put special effects on various attacks. This game is very sparing with ways to restore your character’s health, so eventually you die. Mythic forces return you to the palace of your father, who just happens to be named Hades.

Oh! Now you find out Zagreus is the son of the god Hades?

That is what is so interesting about this game. Each god, some of the level bosses, and some of Hades’ palace staff, will talk to you. Just a little bit, perhaps one or two lines of dialogue. All conversation is scripted, so the player doesn’t even get to choose how Zagreus responds. This doesn’t sound like much, but it engages the social part of your brain to try and figure out the back story. Having your character die, over and over, only to return to his starting point, might not sound very fun, either. Yet, each time you return, you can unlock a few more lines of dialogue to piece a bit more of the story together.

As a writer, this approach is fascinating and potentially really useful. Fantasy is full of world building and cool creatures and magic and all that, but Hades illustrates how we can use dialogue to draw readers in and keep them riveted to the story. Basically, we can make them do a little bit of the storytelling work for us.

If you ever feel that your story is dragging, think about Hades. Find a spot where someone is just describing scenery, or they’re thinking about a certain problem, and look for a way to make them talk about it instead. Just a few lines of dialogue can make a big difference.

Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my websiteFacebook, Instagram and/or CounterSocial.

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Unlike video games, which are completely scripted, tabletop role-playing is much more interactive and flexible. However, you can’t play solo, as you might with a video game. There has to be a group of several players and a Gamemaster to run the game.

Like video gaming, there’s a range of how adaptable the game is, and there are a multitude of genres. Fantasy role-playing is probably best known, but there are also superhero, science fiction, horror, detective, spy, wild west, and many more. While some are overtly comedic, others are more dark and brooding.

Many GMs prefer to play from modules, which usually are sold by the game manufacturer with all the rules and such built in. Modules are easy to run, since they come with maps, character lists, and a written story that’s broken into chapters so the group can take logical breaks.

For other GMs, they enjoy all that world-building just like writers do. Drawing the maps, deciding on climates and cultures, putting in creatures and characters for the players to encounter. Many elements are planned, and there is a story to follow, but the players have more freedom to decide what they are interested in.

Still other GMs run their games like improvisational theater. There’s a general setting and germs of a story, but the players and GM are creating the game together. The players build the story with their actions and the GM determines what the rules of the game allow.

In all role-playing, there’s a lot of spontaneous interaction. The GM lays out the situation, but the players then respond. Sometimes the players focus on a casual detail the GM threw in for flavor, and take the game off to that direction while the perplexed GM tries to keep up.

In one recent game, the GM had us meet up in a tavern. We were hired to look for an evil wizard, but the clam chowder was really good, so the characters spent the night drinking, bantering and eating chowder. Was that supposed to be the game? Nope, but it was how the players reacted. Some of the characters later rented rooms above the tavern, so now a crucial element of the game is… clam chowder.

The heart of role-playing, in tabletop or video format, is the little stories and anecdotes that come out of GM and player interactions. And this is absolutely something that writers can bring to our written work. A story that’s too tightly plotted can feel stale and formulaic. Including small moments of spontaneity can really bring the tale to life.

Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my websiteFacebook, Instagram and/or CounterSocial.

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Continuing my exploration of how writers can build their literary skills by playing games, we come to the storytelling part of role-playing games. Especially with video games, it might not seem that there’s a narrative at all. The surface appearance is that players race around shooting or stabbing everything, grabbing loot or gear dropped by fallen opponents, and so forth.

However, in the really good games, there’s a lot of writing. It just takes a more hidden form.

The basis of the game will always be some kind of story that could come straight out of a novel. (Usually in a genre such as fantasy, horror or SF, but sometimes historical, spy or detective fiction.) This core conflict can be specific and personal, such as in Control, where a paranormal investigator searches for her missing brother. The scope can also be broad and epic, as in Dragon Age, where an army of darkspawn are about to descent on civilized lands.

The conflict can also be very dispersed and open to the player’s interpretation. For instance, in Skyrim, the character is falsely imprisoned and faces execution, until a dragon attacks the town and he or she escapes. In other games, such as Fallout, the player survives some sort of apocalypse and has the task of building a completely new life in the aftermath.

Based on the core conflict, the player moves into a plot of some sort. Some games are very tightly scripted, following a path that clearly shows the author(s)’ intentions and philosophy. In others, you have a world to explore and lots of options about where you go and what you do. You might only encounter bandits who want to kill you, or you might join a guild that gives missions. Players can also meet characters who tell you about their lives and become stalwart comrades. There frequently are romance options to reflect how close the friendship of player and companion becomes.

Although it might seem the player can make choices that change the outcome of the game, every bit of it still follows a script. In addition to the fun of playing the games, writers can learn a lot by observing how the game uses dialogue, setting and action to build this sense of connection and belonging to the game world. I personally have deep admiration for any writer who can create the detailed and complex dialog wheels of a great role-playing game.

Tabletop role-playing has a much different structure. I’ll get into that more on Saturday.

Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my websiteFacebook, Instagram and/or CounterSocial.

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One aspect of gaming that can be very useful for writers is statistics. Various games have different ways of quantifying things, but all of them make you think about your characters in a practical way. What, exactly, are these people capable of?

For instance, if “intelligence” is a characteristic, measured on a scale from 1 to 20, where does your character fall? Are they an 9, about average intelligence, or are they a 21 that exceeds normal bounds? This can have a lot to do with how they relate to the rest of the cast. And, let’s be honest, 90% of storytelling is not about the world-building or the plot, but about relationships between characters.

Anyway, there are also ways to specify what skills and powers your character has. Especially if you have a team working together, you want to have a balance of abilities between them. Even if it’s a group, like a squad of soldiers with common training, one of them might be the radio operator and one of them might handle a heavier weapon.

Come to that, what about their gear? Does anyone have a special magical or technological item that sets them apart? Thinking in terms of game stats can help you get a handle on what the characters can realistically do. (I know, we’re all SF and fantasy writers, so what’s realistic can be a bit slippery.)

This isn’t something I do myself, but one of my friends had to write a complex battle scene with multiple characters on several sides. She helped herself visualize the scene by creating the characters and playing out the battle in her favorite role-playing system.

There’s more to say about this, so check back with me next Wednesday.

Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my websiteFacebook, Instagram and/or CounterSocial.

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In my monthly “woman at work” posts, I always mention what video games I’ve been playing. So for the next couple of posts, I’ll be talking about why games (tabletop and video) are so useful in developing a writer’s skills.

Role-playing first. If you’ve never done it, the players each make a character, and they act out what happens in games. The Gamemaster’s job is to provide descriptions, settings, and plot ideas for that the characters are trying to achieve. Really, as writers, we already do both these things. We create characters that (we hope) readers will find engaging, and we provide the setting, descriptions and plot.

By the way, role-playing games span a wide variety of genres. Fantasy/D&D is probably the one everyone has heard about, but there are also super-hero, space travel, gothic horror, spies/detectives, wild west, you name it. If you have a favorite genre, there’s sure to be an RPG for that.

However, I’ve found the character creation aspect especially helpful in writing. Creating a character that isn’t just like you, develops mental flexibility. It helps you think outside your ordinary groove. You can play with ideas about being a different race, culture, or gender. You can play someone that has amazing skills and abilities, like magic or super powers.

This is exactly what writers do in our stories.

In addition, most role-players will have some sort of background for their character that explains why they are wandering around looking for trouble, as opposed to being a town guard or working in a wizard’s enchantment shop. All these details are things the GM can use to draw the characters into their adventures.

Well, guess what? Writers use the same kind of details to build reader sympathy and draw our characters into story events. Role-playing can be really good practice for leading characters into a story naturally, rather than dropping them in arbitrarily.

Check back on Saturday for more about games and writing.

Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my websiteFacebook, Instagram and/or CounterSocial.

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My role-playing group has reached the end of a long journey. Starting way back in April of 2019, Gamemaster Dan led us through an escalating series of adventures. Last night, we finished it. The universe was saved!

But then, the game ended abruptly. It was after 9 p.m. and some of us had to get up for work in the morning. We all just shouted thanks to Dan and ended the call. I was left… disappointed.

The last couple of games were really intense. Over 2-1/2 years, we built our characters up with skills and powers. We hoarded mighty weapons and magical items. This battle was what it all came down to. Evil forces were trying to seize control of a weapon that could destroy the universe one solar system at a time. Normally, you hold back some resources for the next situation. This time, if anyone held back, there was not going to be a next situation. We laid out everything. Each player had their chance to land a great spell or make an impossible shot. A victory like that should be sweet and savored. But instead of sitting together afterward, enjoying the moment, the game just cut off.

This is something I’ve noticed before in some books, but especially in video games. After the characters go through all that, sometimes there’s really nothing else. You’re left standing in a cave with the dragon dead at your feet. Or it loops you around to start the whole game over at a higher difficulty.

But in a great game, you return to a hub location, where all the side characters you’ve bought weapons or healing potions from will thank you and congratulate you. Sometimes you can even watch an epilogue that describes the result of decisions you’ve made and what the supporting characters do afterward.

Role-playing games may be different than video games or books, but there still are lessons to be had in this. Our readers stick with us through all kinds of world building and plot twists, but if the ending isn’t satisfying, they’ll walk away unhappy. Worse, they might tell their friends the story fell flat.

Writers have to work as hard on the end of the story as we do on the beginning.

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Gasp! Yes, our gaming group is all immunized and able to meet in person again. Our first session was last night. Three members were out of town and joined by Discord. Four of us were at my house. It went pretty well, although there were a few technical difficulties. Anyone who’s been in a Zoom or Teams meeting will be familiar with the occasional lag and signal loss. I thought it went pretty well for our first try at the format.

What game do we play? Right now, we’re playing Starfinder, which is part of the Pathfinder framework. It’s set in the far future, in space. Currently our crew is invading the flagship of an armada that is trying to seize an ancient artifact. If they get it, THE UNIVERSE IS DOOMED!! As a writer, I appreciate having the stakes spelled out so clearly.

Anyway. A good time was had by all. I hope you are also able to reconnect with some of your favorite friends and activities.

Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my websiteFacebook, Instagram and/or CounterSocial.

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For those who are more hands-on, Alden Loveshade joins us with his character Lemissa, from GURPS Fantasy Folk: Elves. This is a role-playing supplement for the GURPS system (Fourth Edition). The book is currently in pre-release, so the cover presented here is from a previous GURPS book.

Lemissa felt flustered. She absentmindedly finger-twirled her long red hair in circles, wondering where on Earth — or whatever world — was her cousin?

“Okay, I can do this by myself, sure,” she thought. “I survived that killer whale fiasco, made that elf lord laugh when I tripped on his cloud, and danced at that ball where nobody but me knew that human noble was really a dragon. I can do this.” She smoothed her red, short flounce-skirted dress, and curtseyed in front of the throne.

Character Questions

Who is your closest friend? A bigger question, Queenie — I mean your Majesty, sorry! — is where is my closest friend? Cousin Leyim is the one who usually makes these reports to the Cabal. She’s our by-the-book half; I mostly wing it. I’m the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants half.

Are there intelligent races other than yours, and do they get along? Intelligent races? Oh, you mean of the elves, the real ones. These aren’t my real ears, of course, but we had to blend in. So we got our ears temporarily sharpened.

Let’s see. You’ve got your Standard Elves, but we found three different types of them, so I guess that’s not very standard! Oh, and there’s Wood Elves besides that. They’re all foresty.

Then there’s two different types of Dark Elves, although Leyim thinks they aren’t different races than Standard Elves, just different cultures. I don’t know; they seem very different to me! In any case, they don’t like non-elves.

Mountain Elves usually live on mountains and hills, of course, and Deep Elves like living under the mountains in caves, just like Dwarves. There’s two different kinds of Sea Elves you can also find in caves–if those caves are underwater! But they mostly live in underwater communities. They can bob on the surface, so watch out for their sea bows!

Oh, and High Elves? They aren’t high in the sense of mountains, but kind of high-and-mighty acting. They’re usually not the merry type; they’re more serious and mysterious. If you ask me, though, Shadow Elves are even more mysterious; even many other elves aren’t too comfortable around them.

Oh, if you want to get really high, there’s Sky Elves who live in clouds! And there’s Winged Elves who can fly up and visit them! And elves of several types are even higher, and live in space!

Of course where elves and other races meet you can get Half-Elves! There’s more than one type of human-elf cross, but I can’t even begin to tell you how many possible varieties there are. You can even have crosses of different types of elves, but I haven’t met any of them–yet!

Author Questions

Fantasy has many genres. How did you choose yours? In this case, I didn’t have to choose! GURPS Fantasy Folk: Elves is a roleplaying resource book that can be used in any fantasy genre–or in horror, science fiction, wild west, steampunk, etc. While the elven racial templates and some of the elven items are written in GURPS roleplaying game terms, much of the book can be used for any roleplaying game that includes elves. It deals with elves in literature and, according to some believers, real life. It describes elven cultures, languages, arts and sciences, weapons, garden agriculture, and descriptions of all the races of elves Lemissa named.

How do you know that your story is ready for submission/publication? As GURPS Fantasy Folk: Elves is being written under contract, I’ll know when the editor tells me so! I first made a query with Steve Jackson Games. When that was accepted, I made a proposal, then an outline, then a first draft, then a second draft which is undergoing playtest/peer review. That leads to my making changes and improvements based on editor and reader suggestions for the final draft. Then publication!

It’s rare that an author gets that much valuable input. I certainly made some mistakes along the way, primarily with formatting. Fortunately, SJ Games has very patient and helpful people. Steve Jackson Games has wanted this book for a long time. I have too. I just didn’t know I’d have the honor of being the one to write it!

GURPS Fantasy Folk: Elves

Watch for the official release here.

About Alden Loveshade

Alden is a self-proclaimed “keybard.” He wrote his first professionally published piece when he was 16; it mentions the world’s most famous elf. A professional journalist, columnist, reviewer, playwright, and fiction author, in his spare time he practices elven garden agriculture. While not working, he earned a couple of college degrees and received an honorary one he didn’t earn. A lord of Sealand, he denies any rumors he got his title through leading a sea elf revolt. http://alden.loveshade.org

Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my websiteFacebook, Instagram and/or CounterSocial.

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