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
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!