Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Preach It

"The author doesn't realize that the fire and forget spell list came from Vance, or that the elves and hobbits came from Tolkien or that thieves' guilds came from Lankhmar because they've never read the source material ... These games wouldn't exist if Gygax and Arneson hadn't loved the source material."
A great quote from a very interesting editorial over at Clarkesworld magazine.


  1. "To create a truly wonderful piece of fiction, you have to aim above the familiar, the tired, and the overused."

    This philosophy drives me nuts. People forget that the "familiar, the tired, and the overused" are only familiar, tired, and overused to THEM. Hit a 10-year old player with a pit trap, and it's a whole new experience. Let a first-time player play a halfling rogue, and to her, it's ALL NEW.

    Newness for the sake of not being something old is nothing but a sophist excuse for self-indulgent crap writing.

  2. Newness for the sake of not being something old is nothing but a sophist excuse for self-indulgent crap writing.

    I agree. Some of the comments in that editorial piece are ones I strongly disagree with, but there are also a lot of more thoughtful reflections on gaming there.

  3. Also notice how distinguished author China Mieville weighs in on the all important Aleena - Morgan Ironwolf debate.

  4. That's an awesome link! Thanks for pointing it out.

    When I started shifting from being a wanna-be professional SF/fantasy writer to a wanna-be RPG writer, I was amazed to find how many established industry pros wanted to go in the opposite direction. It's hard to say which field is less lucrative; I personally topped out at 5 cents/word for SF as compared to 3 cents/word for RPGs, but I've heard one of my favorite gaming writers describe his horror when he became friends with one of our favorite novelists and learned that those World Fantasy Award-winning novels hadn't produced as much income that year as his freelance gaming work. But there's no doubt in my mind that doing novels is perceived as more prestigious and worthy of an adult's endeavors than gaming. This nerd pecking order informs some of the prejudice against fiction or writers affiliated with RPGs that's implied in the Clarkesworld piece & its comments. (It's also easy to blame the rising popularity of D&D for the concurrent growth of derivative fantasy novels, although I think both are just byproducts of the mass-market commodification of "those things that could sell like Tolkien".)

    So prestige and maybe money are reasons RPG writers want to be novelists. Having been exposed to the light of the old-school revival, I'd now suggest that another reason is that, if "fleshed-out" has come to be seen as a virtue, your goals are going to favor writing a 32 page module < a 356 page "super-adventure" < a 3,000 page trilogy of fantasy novels.

    All of which makes me think that, just as sourcebooks written for people who like reading RPG materials rather than people who need something to use at their table are bad for the hobby, so too is it detrimental to have the majority of sourcebooks written by frustrated novelists. Which is to say that the professionalization of RPGs went down the wrong road a long time ago. Wouldn't the world have been better off if Gygax had been able to put food on the table and feel well-satisfied with the day's labors if he were running the Greyhawk campaign & publishing his game notes instead of doing Gord the Rogue novels? Lord knows which of those I'd rather read.

  5. Which is one of the reasons why I always loved Mike Mearls' way of doing things in his RPG supplements (Iron Heroes, Book of Nine Swords, etc).

    Get to the point, explain how to do it, limit the fluff and provide fun useable mechanics.

    No more fluff than 2 paragraph if you can help it.

    RPGs are games, not Forgotten Realms novels.

  6. From the article, Tim Pratt says: “It also helped me learn to improvise on the fly, and, strangely enough, taught me that plot derives from character — you can create a setting and plan an adventure, but the people playing their characters will make their own unexpected decisions, and push the game in new directions.”

    Interesting. We get annoyed by DMs who try to feed us plots, but Pratt goes the other way. He writes so that the plot naturally flows from the characters. Bringing the lessons from player-driven games into his fiction.

    To the cliché issue: Please note that she says that these things are acceptable in RPGs. Personally, I wonder whether they need to be considered so bad in fiction either, but I’ll bow to her knowledge of her craft.