Writing and Roleplaying

Posted: 01/10/2012 in Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

Since I started playing Dungeons and Dragons (Edition 3.5, for those who are interested) at university I have struggled to create the same sense of enormousness and grandeur that roleplaying games can bring in my writing. Actually I’ve been trying to do this for much longer, right from when I used to belong to a little roleplay club with friends from school, back in 2004. Mainly, however, I started to do this following a year-and-a-half campaign in which I played a stereotypical chaotic/good rogue named Amber (not the first manifestation of this character), the classic hopeless-romantic save-the-world not-leaving-without-my-friends sort of character I think probably every girl plays sooner or later. The campaign stretched over three continents of the setting world, included more than ten players on-and-off and at least three times that many characters, and ultimately held true to a theme of love conquering all. That, and Ilithids. Because as we all know, nothing goes hand-in-hand with love quite like Ilithids. (Maybe that should read ‘hand-in-tentacle’.)

So I had a go at transferring the epic quests and tales of these characters into narrative-form, centred, of course, on my Amber (a point I’ll come back to). Immediately I began to run into problems: there was an argument at this point, but what was that awesome line Character X said? Ah well, I’ll rewrite it. Wait, was it Character X or Character Y who was on this side of the argument? Never mind, let’s get them back to the town so Event Z can happen. Shit, wait, Event Z happened before all this—In short, a lot of the events and conversations that take place only hold their intrigue and interest (and, in some cases, sense) when phrased exactly as they were at the tabletop, in the heat of the moment, and without the aid of a dictaphone they can never be perfectly recalled.

This isn’t the only problem. I said earlier that my attempts at writing the story all centred on Amber, my rogue. This, again, is something inherent in roleplaying writeups – the same thing happened, to a lesser extent, in my Fiasco! writeup. The obvious reason behind this is vanity, but it’s also a little to do with the characters, their creators and their motivations. I did not invent these characters: they are not mine to do with as I will. This makes it harder to play with them, to twist them to suit the situations (as they appear in the story differently to the sessions), and overall, to know precisely why they do what they do. I know my character’s motivations inside out – I made them up; they’re a just shade over from my own motivations. Why did the ranger just pick up a Halfling and hurl it at that cave troll? Amber doesn’t know, and nor do I. (For the record, however, I don’t think that ever happened.)

The final issue with this type of writing is more generic and a little more disheartening: reader interest. I said at the start that the events and scenes in a roleplaying game are rarely less than huge, grand, exciting and epic. They outscale any book, they are bigger and more fulfilling than movies, brighter, with better characters and fight scenes and special effects—that is, in the eyes of the player. The overall problem with writing what is essentially fanfiction of this type is that the writer, being the player, has seen all this from the very centre of the story: he was, for all intents and purposes, there, fighting those battles and crying for those characters. And other players from the campaign who read the resulting story are likely to be just as engaged: their characters might be less well-represented, or slightly altered or not as badass, but they were there, too, and reading about their characters is a bit like reading a newspaper story about how you saved a cat from a tree: you are the hero, the star. And no matter how convinced you are that the story is good, that it transcends the barrier between player and reader, that sense of grandeur and magnificence will never be present for a reader who was not there.

What I wrote of the aforementioned university campaign I never finished; I like a lot of the scenes I did write, but a lot of them simply never reflected how I felt when I played them out at the tabletop. I’ve written other pieces based on games, including Lorien Trust (but more for my own pleasure and linguistic practice than to show anyone), but I think my writeup of Fiasco!, which I recently put up on here, is the only one I’ve actively shared, and that is mainly due to the storytelling nature of the game itself. At the end of the day, sharing roleplaying fiction simply feels selfish, a demand for everyone to read about my character and how amazing she is, how awesome her actions, how heartfelt her story; and tabletop roleplaying is meant to be anything but selfish. Having said that, roleplaying writeups do share the same benefits of fanfiction: the chance to concentrate not on story, or character development, or even making much sense, but only on the writing itself, exercising the craft in the best way one can, so that maybe, just maybe, it might be a substitute for that feeling one can only get from being there.

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