[PROBABLY JUST CUT] DESIGN ROLE-PLAYING GAMES
Okay, so this week I’m recovering from surgery and just can’t manage a full post, so went looking for a corner to cut and found this odd little gem in the depths of my hard drive. This is a mini-chapter cut from The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction that I don’t believe has seen the light of day since it was written about thirteen years ago. I give you this, to bask in just how much has changed and not changed over that time, but mostly D&D and TTRPGs in general going from “remember when we used to play that” to maybe the hobby’s most productive and popular time.
Oh, and less than a year after writing this I didn’t work there anymore, and some time later, neither did Bill Slavicsek. But the only constant is change, isn’t it.
Freelancing and staff positions, knowing the rules, and embracing the math.
If video games are a growing business only just recently beginning to recognize good storytelling, role-playing games are a shrinking business that has always valued a story well-told. Indeed, the role-playing game, pioneered by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the mid-1970s, is the progenitor of the modern video game. Without it, there would be no HALO, much less World of Warcraft. And though its online progeny are soaking up some of its market share, the traditional pencil-and-paper RPG is alive and well, and hiring science fiction and fantasy writers in both staff and freelance positions.
For more on this topic, I went right to the source, Bill Slavicsek, R&D Director for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast who told me, “We are constantly looking for creative people with strong writing skills and a passion for fantasy.”
But that doesn’t mean just anyone. I don’t think you should try to write for video games if you don’t play video games, and the same holds true for RPG design. Though I could help you with the product support you need to write fiction in one of the D&D settings, you’ll need to have a detailed understanding of the rules to write game products. Some game products are particularly “crunchy,” meaning there’s more rule content—more math. These would be “core” books that players use to build their characters and resolve in-game situations like combat or feats of physical or mental prowess. Others can be less crunchy, more story oriented, like the various campaign settings, that can have very few rules at all, but are closer akin to travel guidebooks, describing the setting and what characters can expect to find there.
In either case, according to Slavicsek, “Writers need to bring imagination, passion, and excitement to the work, so that the game setting comes alive for the players.”
Since I first started at TSR in 1995 I’ve struggled in some ways with the dichotomy of a well-designed RPG product and well-written novel. A good game product is all about set-up, with the resolution coming in the actual game play experience, whereas a novelist has to tie up his book with a satisfying climax, so while my comrades across the hall are setting up loose ends, I’m trying them up. There have been a few instances where we’ve gotten on each others’ nerves, but at the end of the day we’re all in it together.
Hey—the advice is still good, at its heart. If you play ’em, you can write for ’em!
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