Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Revisiting Roleplaying as Storytelling

Over the years, I've blogged about roleplaying games as venues for storytelling. Since we talked to Jim C. Hines about his first Trunk Novel, which essentially follows his D&D character around on adventures, I wanted to revisit the topic, with a few recommendations.

Let's start with why all writers of genre fiction (and probably of literary fiction) should, at least once in their life, play a tabletop RPG: it forces them to think about creative character problem-solving while keeping them inside a "living" story universe. Whether the writer is running the game (the GM/DM or Game Master/Dungeon Master) or simply a player, most systems require a gamer to narrate what they want their character to do, then a roll of the dice determines whether or not they succeed. With the best groups, even "failure" leads to other successes, which gives players the opportunity to narrate awesome scenes, possibly in ways that they've never thought about narrating something before. Which keeps their brains in creative mode, even when they're relaxing and hanging out with friends.

All right, with that summary out of the way, let's move on to games I love: The Dresden Files RPG by Evil Hat. This is a specific setting that uses Evil Hat's FATE system, and the reason I'm telling you about the DFRPG instead of FATE in general is because I LOVE the Dresden Files! Love it so much I think everyone should read it. And play the game. But FATE in general is one of the simplest systems I've ever seen. It's a great introduction to new players, especially with FATE Accelerated. Only a few minutes of setup is required to get people playing, and there aren't volumes of charts, tables, and rules to memorize for the "best" experience. It requires a GM (best if the players are involved in this, too) to design a setting with some basic universe rules (world building!), then they narrate what the players aren't doing. When the players want to do something they say something like, "I'm going to use my Ranged Weapon skill to intimidate that city guard, who simply doesn't believe my crossbow is deadlier than the plague." The GM sets a difficulty on a range from 0-10, then the player rolls dice. Failure and success both give the player and the GM an opportunity to tell the story from there.

A more complicated game is the Serenity RPG by Margaret Weis Productions. Now, the Serenity game is out of print, but due to the awesomeness of the universe, MWP picked up the licensing for Firefly! The rules are a bit more complicated than Serenity (which is the same universe), but it's branded after the show (owned by Fox) rather than the movie (owned by Universal).

Finally, I recommend D&D. I haven't played the newest edition, but I did play version 3.5 and 4th edition. This system, like many classics (GURPS, Pathfinder, Shadowrun) is pretty complicated, at least at first glance, but with the right group, it's still a ton of fun. And easy to pick up if you're playing with veterans who are willing to show you the ropes.

So that's what you should do this weekend: go get into a gaming group. It'll make you a better writer.

Giles is a wizard because, duh! Wizard!

Check him out on Twitter, and listen to his weirdness on the Beyond the Trope Podcast.

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