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The Storytelling of Role-Playing

If anyone has fair share of video game’s knowledge, the Elder Scrolls series is one of, if not, the best RPG video game franchise ever created, in terms of a few personal reasons. Even though players praised the series because of sheer hype or nostalgia, the fundamental reason of why there are both reactions in the first place is its unique approach to the unique relationship between lore, characters and gameplay.

The series was primarily inspired by table-top RPGs like Dungeon & Dragons etc., hence the overall feeling surrounding the series' theme. Some groups of people love the concept of RPG board games, and when the mechanics were integrated within digital medium, they were interested like storm. They expected that the gameplay would feel as similar as playing the table-tops, except that it is digitalized and more accessible.

I have less to no experience on table-tops honestly. What do I know is that often the players would start to develop stories along the way. When they play, different possibilities may pop out. The characters may play out differently based on different playstyles: the role, the backstory, the personality, the outcome. The development of playable characters would come out naturally like a flowing stream of water. The same goes for the RPG video games.

The Elder Scrolls series implemented a special yet recognizable game mechanics known as “character creation”. With this feature, you can create any type of character with your liking limitless of imagination and patience. The world also brings the gameplay to be more compelling and breath-taking. While the world already has its own story running in the background, the default backstory of the custom character is not defined.

I am kind of fond with this approach of creating a story based on character creation and gameplay; interaction with the world and mingling with the NPCs (non-playable characters). With the NPCs having their own backstories and plots to uncover, the story of your character can even be more enriched. I am not affiliating on the canonicity of the series’ lore (reminder for lore fanatics), and I am also not biasing against the traditional way of writing a story, but personally I think it is quite a fun way to produce a work out of thoughtful gameplay. Somehow it can be a pretty interesting thought exercise. Writing it down can be also another challenging process.

This is something I have been obsessed of in these past few days. Anymore comments regarding the concept of developing stories/fanfictions from role-playing games/video games?
 

Gurkhal

Auror
Well, I remember writing a fan fiction story based on Dungeon Keeper 2 several years ago. I never finished it but it was very interesting. So in essence I see no problem with fan fiction for computer games you like as they can be inspiring. And I have also played the Elder Scrolls and had a pretty good time doing so, although its only Morrowind that I have actually finished and that only once.
 
Raymond Feist's Riftwar Cycle series of books was set in two worlds first created for RPG games. Midkemia was a world he and his friends created in college, and a game they created because they were tired of D&D. The other world in those books, Kelewan, was largely based on a world from an RPG someone else had created called Empire of the Petal Throne, although Feist claims he didn't realize he'd done that (i.e., "borrowed" ideas) when he wrote the first book.
 

pmmg

Vala
I think it is hard to write stuff and avoid the label of 'Borrowed ideas'. I did not know that about Feist's, but I am not surprised either. When I read the Deed of Paksenarion, and I certain that was pulled from and RPG as well. Also many of my own short stories tend to borrow details from my own game world as its there, it does not matter much, and it saves me having to reinvent.

I would say, when Video games came along, I thought they would be the death of face to face RPG's, and pretty much, I think they have been. But they are limited. They cannot truly adapt on the fly and start a new story they were not coded for, like a real live Game Master could. But to do all the math, provide the visuals, have all the game prep taken care off, and fulfill that need for instant access without having to get the group together, Computers seemed a natural place for RPG's to go.

As for story telling in them. I think story telling is story telling. I can work in the limitation of a different medium, but basic building of a story, I think will always be the same.
 
I think it is hard to write stuff and avoid the label of 'Borrowed ideas'. I did not know that about Feist's, but I am not surprised either. When I read the Deed of Paksenarion, and I certain that was pulled from and RPG as well. Also many of my own short stories tend to borrow details from my own game world as its there, it does not matter much, and it saves me having to reinvent.

I don't know the full story, having read only a few articles over the last year or two, but it seems Feist may have played a game while in college in which he wasn't the GM and the two friends who ran the game incorporated that other RPG's world into it. The game scenario was about that world invading the world they'd already created for themselves. When Feist wrote his book, he used this scenario but didn't know his friends had borrowed all those things from another person's RPG.

One article used as a source on the Wikipedia page I linked lists some of the elements which are borrowed, and these are rather striking: Ferretbrain - The Reading Canary On: The Riftwar Saga (last section of article.)

I'm of two minds regarding the use of RPG gaming as a source for writing.

I think that it could be a great help for building a world and general milieu (your own, hah, unless you are writing specifically in partnership with some established brand), but many other elements normally needed to make a good story are often missing. At least in the old style of paper & pencil RPG gaming, the tendency is for high doses of action and little else--although admittedly, I'm basing this off memories that are about three decades old, heh! For some subgenres, this might not be such an issue, however. For other subgenres, those bits could still be added, so RPGs could still serve as great inspiration for the exciting parts and worldbuilding.

This might actually be the area where video games could prove slightly more inspirational: open world games with 1000 side quests and so much time consuming NPC interaction! In those pencil & paper games, not a lot of time can be spent on going through all the activities and interactions you'd need for a story. But most of us can't write the code for such games ourselves, so "borrowing" (perhaps with heaving cloaking) would be a big issue. Still, as with anything in this world, inspiration is not necessarily the same thing as theft and can be of great use, regardless of the origin.
 

pmmg

Vala
I did play a game somewhat recently, and took note of some differences. In one moment of the game, I had said the group of baddies had run off and had a pretty good head start. The players just said, we follow until we catch them. Now I must admit, some thoughts went through my mind. I could apply the world to them, say they got fatigued, or got attacked by something wild (it was a hostile environment), but the I knew instinctively that would kill the tempo of the game, so I did not. But I did think, you know, if I was writing this as a story, this would be where a connecting scene would pop in, and the characters would all swap stories, and share some introspection or such, but in a game world, it was...well...Okay, skipping ahead, you catch them after so many hours, and pick up some dice.

I suppose, I can see the great similarity in the two venues. RPG's are essentially interactive fiction, but I am not sure they really lend themselves to each other cleanly.

I will say, looking at the great amount of stuff created for D&D, Languages, Pantheons, Races, monetary systems and all...It does feel like reinventing the wheel to try and go a different way. It would be nice to borrow, but the purest in me does not want to.
 

Gurkhal

Auror
Raymond Feist's Riftwar Cycle series of books was set in two worlds first created for RPG games. Midkemia was a world he and his friends created in college, and a game they created because they were tired of D&D. The other world in those books, Kelewan, was largely based on a world from an RPG someone else had created called Empire of the Petal Throne, although Feist claims he didn't realize he'd done that (i.e., "borrowed" ideas) when he wrote the first book.

I know about that setting. Its a great and developed setting called Tékumel. And here's a link to the setting's homepage, it has several different game edition take place within it as well as at least three or four novells. More stuff can also be found on Drivethrourpg. When I was younger and more ambitious I wanted to create a non-European setting for my stories, and sometimes I still want to do that, and Tékumel is in my opinion the most interesting fantasy setting so far created that I am aware of.

Tékumel :: The World of the Petal Throne
 

Mythopoet

Auror
I know about that setting. Its a great and developed setting called Tékumel. And here's a link to the setting's homepage, it has several different game edition take place within it as well as at least three or four novells. More stuff can also be found on Drivethrourpg. When I was younger and more ambitious I wanted to create a non-European setting for my stories, and sometimes I still want to do that, and Tékumel is in my opinion the most interesting fantasy setting so far created that I am aware of.

Tékumel :: The World of the Petal Throne

I tried to read a book set in Tekumel written by M.A.R. Barker, who created it, but couldn't finish it. My impression of the setting was that it was just too... clinical. Highly detailed, yes, but I didn't get any emotional engagement from it. *shrug*

A trilogy of books I really like, starting with Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter, was partially inspired by a home brewed table top RPG setting the author's husband created. Some of the characters in the books come from some of their game sessions.

I do a bit of RPing in The Lord of the Rings Online and have one character I created an elaborate backstory for that will probably end up one day in one of my stories.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I was head of an all-dwarf Roleplaying Guild in World of Warcraft, and while we didn't do a lot of fanfiction, we hosted a lot of in-game, in-character, story-based events. And sometimes they had short written scenes attached to them.

For instance, we might write out a big scene, then pass it around to other guilds on the server calling for a mass AvH battle in one region. Once, we noticed that the beer barrels in the high elf city had a dwarven logo on it, so we declared that they had "stolen our ale," launched an attack on Silvermoon City, took a screenshot of our dwarfs passed out drunk by the beer barrels in the inn, and then send out an in-character letter mocking the High Elves. Another time we formed a "search party" to go looking for one of our dwarves who was attacked up in the hidden NPC airport area above Ironforge, and went off to explore it, while some of the members and friends popped in as their alts to play along with the story as we went. Another time I sent a scene about how some of us were meeting with an NPC dwarf (a Horde quest target in a Horde zone), and I challenged one of their guilds to kill us before we "drafted the war plan." They did, but not in time, so the story continued with them killing a no-name mook and intercepting the attack plan...

All of those were a lot of fun, but they kind of run counter to the actual game. Level and equipment differences and other game design elements really kill a lot of the storytelling potential.
 
All of those were a lot of fun, but they kind of run counter to the actual game. Level and equipment differences and other game design elements really kill a lot of the storytelling potential.

I read a fantasy novel in which servants might be tipped with gold or silver coins, and I thought, "This author's played RPG video games!"

There's certainly a lot of inflation involved in many modern RPGs, where monsters are always dropping LOOT, although in a game like Far Cry Primal, the loot almost becomes inconsequential. (NPCs drop very basic crafting materials, and my bags are usually full already so a lot goes un-looted. Realistic, maybe, but boring.)

I was remembering some old games I'd GM when I was in high school in which the goal was always to provide surprise, fun, excitement. So sometimes between story elements, there'd be sudden appearances of pixies, thefts of belongings, NPCs in the party turning into traitors, etc. Sanderson talks about learning this from RPGs: Make things cool and exciting. But the problem when translating that to a story could be the tendency to insert a lot of digression from the story or to build stories with too much random encounter, random encounter, random encounter....
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I was remembering some old games I'd GM when I was in high school in which the goal was always to provide surprise, fun, excitement. So sometimes between story elements, there'd be sudden appearances of pixies, thefts of belongings, NPCs in the party turning into traitors, etc. Sanderson talks about learning this from RPGs: Make things cool and exciting. But the problem when translating that to a story could be the tendency to insert a lot of digression from the story or to build stories with too much random encounter, random encounter, random encounter....

When I played D&D I did it online, so instead of "random encounter" I would DM a lot of one-shot "pickup games" with random people who happened to be online. So as DM I used to like to mess with them. For instance, before the game started I might PM one of the players saying, "You're a doppleganger, kill somebody and replace them, and then your real character can come in." And when I did have regular games, I would ask people to write out their backgrounds and put the plot together from their own stories. But I'd have rules like, "You need a villain, and three NPCs, and whatever names you use might be subject to change." So then I might change a name to match a character from someone else's background to tie things together. And when we had a fight, every fight was "rigged," so that I could end it when I wanted when it was dragging out, usually by an NPC doing something or revealing something that changed the story.

Really, the storytelling potential is there if you play for it. I really want to see an RPG that combines strategy, roleplaying and storytelling in a way that really works. Because I haven't seen one that does.
 

Gurkhal

Auror
I tried to read a book set in Tekumel written by M.A.R. Barker, who created it, but couldn't finish it. My impression of the setting was that it was just too... clinical. Highly detailed, yes, but I didn't get any emotional engagement from it. *shrug*

A trilogy of books I really like, starting with Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter, was partially inspired by a home brewed table top RPG setting the author's husband created. Some of the characters in the books come from some of their game sessions.

I do a bit of RPing in The Lord of the Rings Online and have one character I created an elaborate backstory for that will probably end up one day in one of my stories.

Truth be told I haven't gotten hold of any of the novels, just source material for the world. :( I can't say that I'm overly suprised that he perhaps didn't manage to pull off a literary novel as writing engaging fiction is very different from more factual works or even GMing a RPG group.

But I am happy to hear you gav it a try even if you didn't like it in the end. :)
 

pmmg

Vala
I had never heard of that website before, now it seems I have no more excuses :~(

Hard to argue with anything they said. Thanks Fifth.
 
Wow.

Well, I did not realize that suddenly there are many replies popping out a few days after my opening of the thread. I am indeed surprised that people interested in this field.

I may say that writing a fiction sourcing from role-playing games is one of the means of "rediscovery". Expressing something is what we do best, and when RPGs offer less of a storytelling motive (rather, gameplay most of the time), trying to do so in contrast may provide a new insight of how story flows dynamically. It may sound "lazy" to borrow contexts from any RPG to be used as worldbuilding material for your story, somehow if you persist to include some of your more unique elements into the work, I exclaim that the story will be decent enough to not be labelled as sole "fan fiction".

Hey, learning from any perspective does make mastering of storytelling quicker and faster, right? And also the most importantly, the ensuring of quality is what rewards the most fruitful when you learnt more from things that people usually tend to ignore.
 
There are a lot of good examples of stories being written based on RPGs. Off the top of my head, the Dragonlance novels were based on a group of people's Dungeons and Dragons games, and they became a very large, popular series.

There are both strengths and weaknesses to writing this way though. For one, if you base a story off of a tabletop RPG, it takes some of the burden of plot development off your shoulders. In addition, it means you have a whole cast of colorful characters in the form of the party members. Finally, it can take your story in unexpected but wonderful directions that you might not have seen the opportunity for otherwise.

In regards to weaknesses, the biggest one I can think of is the randomness of a game. In an RPG, the party tends to do a lot of things that don't fit into the larger plot. Because of this, transcripting the game beat-for-beat doesn't quite work because it breaks up the flow of the plot. Another possible problem is making sure you don't favor any one characters over the others if you can help it, although if you're only focusing on your character it's not as much of an issue. So there you have it, some advantages and disadvantages to this form of storytelling.
 
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