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Tabletop role-playing

The Game of the Book

I spent this weekend role-playing in a rather unusual campaign.

A friend of mine is
writing a 3-volume fantasy doorstopper involving heroic characters, an epic
quest, unspeakably potent adversaries, and all that malarkey. He has the
plot, the structure, the important episodes, the broad character
development and so on all worked out, together with the main
descriptive passages, but what he’s lacking is the dialogue and the
blow-by-blow detail of what the characters are actually doing as they
progress through the narrative.

So he decided to run a role-playing game based on the book’s plot, in
which players would take the roles of the
main characters and play out what they were supposed to be doing. He
then tapes the gaming sessions and transcribes the dialogue and other
details of the encounters etc, then edits those into a suitable form
for the book itself.

This has been going on for getting on a couple of years now, in which
time we’ve played through the first volume of the book, and have just
now started the second volume. For the first volume, to make sure he
had a choice of responses and other stuff to use, he was running two
player groups in parallel and editing their transcripts together. For this second
volume, there are three groups. (My group for the first volume included
and , but they’ve now been hijacked into the third group, alas.)

So far so good, but the important questions are:

Does it work? Better than you
might think. There have been some inconsistencies between the groups,
and some awkwardnesses eg. where certain characters split off from the
party in one group but not in the other, but basically the campaign
plot is (necessarily) pretty linear so there’s not too much scope for
disruption. There is a challenge for the GM in remembering details
specific to each group, and in harmonizing the spend of XPs etc, but so
far this has only slipped in minor details.

Does it make for good gaming?
Well, I enjoy it a lot. He’s a very experienced GM, who has gone into
this project with open eyes rather than just thinking that it will
write itself. The story is suitably epic, the background is
interesting, the characters are fun to play, the other players are an
excellent bunch. It is rather
linear, and there is the feeling that the characters will always
survive unless they do something crazily abnormal. However this feeling
is often suspended in the heat of a difficult encounter… The game
itself is a bit more systemy than my personal taste, but less so than
many. Overall I would say it’s a success, and that he’s got 15 or so
experienced and demanding players to turn up for sessions over a couple
of years would seem to bear that out.

Does it make for a good book? I
don’t know, because I haven’t read any of it yet. He thinks that it’ll
be a better book than if he’d just sat down and written it in the
normal way, which I’m happy to believe is true. The vision, plot,
world, characters etc are as good as most of the post-Tolkein fantasy
that has been published, and better than quite a bit of it. Whether or
not the prose will be of any quality though remains to be seen.

I must say that this isn’t a project I’d have taken on myself, but I’m
glad to be taking part in it and will be interested to see how it works
out. Good to think that gaming has something new and fun to offer me
after twenty-odd years!

8 replies on “The Game of the Book”

Whether or not the prose will be of any quality though remains to be seen.

I have occasionally heard it said that one must write a million words before one is able to write well.

But whether that is the case or not, I feel the book can’t help but succeed as a project in its own right if only because it will be so cool for the players of the game to be able to read it !

When and I ran “Clans” (a PBM roleplay/politics/wargame with a dozen or so players) we kept detailed notes and always planned to make it into a book (not to publish, just for fun). Unfortunately, we’ve still not actually managed it – the task is just too huge, with the notes mostly needing not so much editing as complete rewriting in order to be readable.

I have occasionally heard it said that one must write a million words before one is able to write well.

An interesting theory. I don’t suppose it counts if most of them are the same?

He may well be most of the way there on this project alone, judging by the amount of material so far recorded.

Almost didn’t read the message for fear of plot spoilers: We’re up in late May. Regrettably without Menakor, our cheesy mage.
The main worry I have about the project is schizophrenia: It’ll be a challenge to pool two or three peoples’ versions of a character, and make them stick, rather than feeling like a character is internally inconsistent.
And linear plot is sometimes fine, and sometimes irksome. Particularly when we’re cunning and have taken steps to avoid danger, the GM is still required to enact the set pieces to provide the dramatic scenes the book needs.

Sounds fascinating, but I think the really good bit comes after the books are {finished|published} and there can be the equivalent of a “The Making Of…” documentary, with it’s own internal logic, internal consistency and counterfactuals.

I regard this as a teaser and look forward to you keeping us up to date! (…for years to come, for it sounds like there are years to wait before the project’s conclusion.)

Not that you are interested in Dragonlance

but that’s how Chronicles was written. Did he ever finish the trilogy?

Incidently, I’m posting a bit from Stephen Johnson’s ‘Interface Culture’ tonight or tomorrow, and based on your previous post searching for an lj mapper, I think you’ll find it interesting.

I keep wanting to write science fiction short stories, I’ve been having a few ideas lately, I just haven’t had the time to sit down and flesh out anything.

Re: Not that you are interested in Dragonlance

He’s finished writing volume one, and we’re halfway through playing volume two. It will be some time yet…

I didn’t know that was how Dragonlance Chronicles was written. I’ll tell him, he’ll be pleased to know that the technique has been hallowed by commercial success 😉

I ended up writing my own partial LJ mapper, as you’ll see if you keep on reading through this journal… yes, I’m quite interested in the social dynamics of a “society” like this.

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