Thursday, April 22, 2010

Storyteller: Introduction

The lonely road stretched before the band of adventurers. Impenetrable forest lined either side of the road, dark and ominous. Before them the bulk of an airship blotted out the sun, unmoving, a ladder dangling down from it in silent invitation for the adventurers to climb aboard.

“I want to go through the forest.”

“Wait, what?”

“We’re not getting on that thing. We’re going through the forest.”

“Dude, no. I just said the forest is impenetrable. Get on the airship already!”

Is this a conversation between an author and the characters in her head? Nope. It’s a conversation between a Dungeon Master and the players in his campaign. (And yes, we did get on the airship. After more arguing, and perhaps some Cheetos and Mountain Dew.) I’m proud to be a gamer, it’s a geek badge that I wear with honor. I started writing my first novel in 8th grade, and it was inspired by a story I’d posted online as part of a role playing group. Many of the stories I’ve written were for role playing games (RPGs). Some described my character’s background, telling the tale of where she’d come from and how she became a bard/rogue/weremoose/vampire. Others were meant as adventures or campaigns, plotted out for others to experience one game at a time. I learned a lot from my gaming days, and that’s the inspiration for this series. Whether you’re writing for a handful of people gathered around your kitchen table armed with dice and character sheets or for the fans who’ll read your book, the goal is the same: to tell an entertaining story.

There are many kinds of RPGs, and I’ve played most of them. Traditional pen-and-paper RPGs, also called tabletop (TT) games, like Dungeons and Dragons involve a small group of players, each in charge of their own character, who are guided through adventures by a Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM). Actions are decided by rolling dice—you roll dice to unlock a treasure chest, attack a monster, or spot a clue. Roll high and you succeed, roll low and you fail. Live action role playing (LARP) games involves a larger group of people playing their characters in an improv theater-like setting. They dress and act the part of their character, but actions like staking a vampire or looking for clues to solve a mystery are still decided by rolling dice or a similar system (the LARP I played used rock-paper-scissors). There are also many RPG video games. Many console or PC games involve you making a character and running him/her through the storyline. Dragon Age is a recent popular example of this. Massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft connect millions of players throughout the world.

By now you’re probably thinking, “Wow, you’re a huge nerd, Robyn. Is that the point you’re trying to prove?” Yes, I’m a dork, but my point is that there are RPGs everywhere, allowing people to create and experience stories in ways that are different from the static world of a novel. As a writer I’ve taken the lessons learned from playing and running these games to improve my writing. Thinking like a gamer allows you to look at your own writing from a different angle. In the next few weeks I’ll be covering world building, character creation, and plotting. I hope that these articles will be helpful, but if nothing else I hope you’ll be entertained by my dorkdom. ;)

So, have any of you played RPGs? If so, what game? Did you enjoy it?


Diana said...

I've dabbled in all of the above, as well you know.

While I am fairly detail-oriented in my worldbuilding, character creation tends to be a bit more slapdash. I've only recently begun to treat characters with the same kind of rigor; answering a set of character questions really isn't that different from filling out a character sheet. Which I'm sure you'll get to in time. ;)

morseren said...

Sorry to say I have never RPGed (is that a word?". But I have greatly enjoyed your stories of "back in the day" of gaming. I think I probably missed something not ever being involved. But hey, I have this nerdy friend with Cheetos and Mountain Dew...:)

You Rock!


Gryphon77 said...

*grin* have you played Nobilis yet? IT is my absolutely hands down favorite game. Very Mythic! no dice. way better than amber. you are playing characters much like the Endless. let me know when you play it :)

Anonymous said...

I hardcore played the MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot with my buddies for awhile, playing Hibernia.

Good times, but what a time sink. We did have a lot of laughs, though.

iamtherobyn said...

The hippy and I played DAoC for awhile, I loved it. We were Hibs on Nimue.

Sarah Templeton said...

You name them, I've probably played it--and I simply adore any and all things Final Fantasy--but my favorite form has always been forum RPGs. The ones set in an original world, with an original plot and unique characters. It's nice to take cues from others to keep the story rolling along, and the twists and turns coming from the head storyteller. The trick with noveling is you get to play all the roles--picking the right points of view are tricky, but you're the "game master" for all of your characters.

And when those characters start to backtalk like players around the table--THAT'S when the plot gets interesting ;)

Elizabeth said...

Back in high school, some friends kept trying to organize a D&D campaign, but we couldn't get enough people interested on a regular basis to play much after filling out character sheets. It always devolved into shooting hoops in the driveway. I wonder if that's where I got my intense dislike of anything like planning...

(Hi, I followed Diana here.)

iamtherobyn said...

@Sarah I've had some awesome times on forums. I think because everyone takes a little extra time to figure out what they're doing, instead of just being "I rush in and slay them all."

@Elizabeth Nice. We always seemed to have too many D&D players. One game we had like 14 people, it was madness.

December said...

Hey girl! We chummed up at Spring Fling - hope you remember me! My bro was always into the RPG, I was deep into theater. ((jazz hands))
But the one time I got to play, I was an elf, killed off on my first roll. Jerks!!
had a great time this weekend, thanks for being so great!

iamtherobyn said...

@December Yes I remember, and the conference was awesome. :) I'm going to post about it tomorrow.

I once had a brand-new character who lasted about 15 minutes in a game. It was not a fun experience.

Tatiana Caldwell said...

*grins* I love geeks. I'm half freak, half geek myself.

I've played all sorts of RPGs, including table top and MUDs. My favorites though are of the video-game sort, including Everquest, the entire Final Fantasy series, Mass Effect and Dragon Age. I see a lot of similarities between RPGs and storytelling and it is one of the reasons I aspire to some day be a creator/designer of interactive romantic fiction and games.

Great post!