…so many times I get flabbergasted by intriguing Guest Posts… today my gast is flabbered by good pal, Author, Charles E. Yallowitz… we had been discussing material for a piece here, and he asked if it was appropriate to show the comparisons between Role Playing Games (RPG) and writing novels… I’m not a gamer, but I’m sure many of yeez Lads and Lassies have delved into the ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ otherworlds… this post is fascinating, and underlines for me how much thought we quill-scrapers pour into our own masterpieces… enjoy:
Thank you to Seumas for inviting me to write a guest post. I thought long and hard about what to write about. Then I went out for some pizza, watched some TV, and thought up the idea during a commercial break.
I’ve been publishing my fantasy series Legends of Windemere since 2013 and many people have asked me what inspired it. The answer is a Dungeons & Dragons game I was part of in college. After that response, people either walk away, yell NERD!, or start a conversation about what D&D is. This is a tabletop role-playing game like World of Warcraft, but with dice instead of a keyboard and Redbull outages instead of computer crashes. This was a fun hobby that I got into during high school and I got into other game systems that involved all manner of characters. So it affects a lot of what I write. Yet it’s not an easy medium to transfer to books because of some key differences.
One of the biggest differences is what directs the action within the two mediums. An RPG works off books of rules and dice while a novel is whatever is in the author’s head. If I wanted one of my heroes to flip off a rooftop, slide down the drain pipe, and vault into a passing cart of hay then it’s done. In a game, that requires several roles with various number targets and associated stats. From experience, I can tell you that actions like that tend to fail and you’re making a new character if it’s utter disaster. So there is more personal control over everything when you’re an author and not a player.
More importantly, many things that occur because you got a lucky roll won’t translate well to a book. Freak accidents in a game is something one celebrates among the other players because it’s something to behold. During this event, nobody ever comes up with a reason why such a thing happened even if it really is dumb luck. Readers don’t take well to multiple ‘dumb luck’ events, so you need to either give a reason for the incident or cut it out. It might be nothing more than an amusing tale to tell during a press tour or in a blog interview, but it would actually harm your story.
Another aspect to consider is that you’re working with other people in the game and they have different goals. Get permission to use their characters. That’s the first rule. After that, realize that some of them might not be roleplaying anything more than a character that is oddly aware of the number system that influences their evolution. This won’t work in a story, so you need to rewrite some characters. I have two great examples here:
- The character of Aedyn Karwyn in my series was played by a guy that was only interested in fun and stats. The original name was actually Aidan Quinn who I learned a few months later is an actor. Knew it sounded familiar. That was one change that was needed. Another was that the original Aedyn had the personality of a piece of paper and I had to revamp that or cut him out. The benefit here is that he was a blank slate unlike other characters that had personalities that mirrored others in the group.
- One of my favorite characters to write is Nyx. She is a powerful spellcaster that can lay waste to a small city if she wanted. Well, D&D starts her kind of character off with only enough magic to lay waste to an anthill. She would still have to kick it a few times to get the job done. There was a habit of her to go first in battle and the new player opted to rush in with her dagger held high. Nyx would get knocked out, the rest of us would have to save her, and the cycle would repeat the next time. I liked the character’s defiance and ability to jump into battle, but she didn’t have the power to do so. That resulted in me making her a more powerful force than before, which required bringing other issues along like if she can maintain control.
Let’s get into the delicate subject of female characters too. Dungeons & Dragons was not a bastion of women when I started. I’ve met many over the years and female gamers are becoming more common, which is great. Yet this created a problem back in the day because you would have a group of male heroes and maybe one woman. It would be insulting to cut characters, but you might get lucky and a player would allow a gender swap. Otherwise, you have to create a female hero or two to fit into the story. Sure, you can ignore that gender and stick to the original game, but you do lose out on some interesting opportunities that a heroine can bring. For example, being underestimated by a male villain or an amusing argument over why the letch of the group wants her to wear a chainmail bikini. For your information, the latter ends with the uncomfortable swimwear being used as a blunt object.
Another problem that shows up from not having any female players in a game and transferring it to a book is that you have no romantic subplots. Even with a female player or two, you don’t see these stories turning up very often. Those that do stem from real life relationships, close friends that can do it without getting close, or something that will turn into a mess. For the most part, romance was avoided and discouraged in the roleplaying games I was in. So there’s a high chance that the game won’t have this for the book. The author will have to fit one in if they want, but it might not come up. I’ve learned that a lot of fantasy fans think romantic subplots should be banned from the genre. It really depends on the story if you ask me.
A final difference that one has to factor in is that most parts of a game has the group together and you never see scenes with the villains or supporting cast alone. A book will have chapter sections that show what the antagonists are up to or have a hero go off on their own to investigate something. A game doesn’t have these because you have several people around a table wanting attention. If you spend too much time on one hero in a game then the other players may feel that favoritism is being shown. That doesn’t happen in a book because the characters can’t really complain unless you let them. This is why you can do more twisting and intimate character evolutions in a book than a game. So the author will have to add these scenes and examine the events of a session to see if every player was needed or if there was anything to be added. There’s a lot missing from a game’s story that you don’t notice until you try to switch it to another medium. This is why I use prologues to highlight the villains, gods, and supporting cast that will influence the adventure.
There’s probably a ton of other differences, but I can hear the sendoff band starting up and I just heard someone mention Chinese food. One of the biggest pieces of advice that I give to anyone trying to do this change is that you have to make the story your own. Be respectful and thankful to the source material, but don’t cling to it like it’s the most precious thing in the world. Much like a first draft, you need to tear the game apart to get at the meat. Do people really need to read about the time the group thief failed a pickpocket roll on an old woman, got caught with his hand in her pocket, and said ‘I’m lonely’? Not unless it fits his character. If not then it goes in the funny, behind-the-scenes story pile. Still can’t believe my friend botched that roll.
…thanks a bundle, Charles… absorbing stuff… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!…
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