Game writing and storytelling

pith-helmetIn two weeks (give or take a few days) I’ll be giving a lesson, as part of a writing course, about writing for games.

Now, the course is for genre fiction writing – and I doubt the participants will be that interested in my lesson: after all, they are there to write stories, and possibly get better at it, not to create scenarios or sourcebooks.
On the other hand, I am convinced that a look at the approach to scenario and sourcebook writing might give them some unexpected insight on storytelling and world building respectively.

So, what am I going to tell the guys and gals, in my two allotted hours?

81sjDZU2pxLAfter the usual “What is a roleplaying game?” bit1, I think I’ll start with the definition of crunch and fluff.
I do not like these terms very much, but they are handy.
One thing I’ll point out will be how through the years, the ratio of crunch to fluff has changed, and fluff increased, and how this is good news for writers – because a fiction writer is likelier to write fluff than crunch.

Then, I’ll probably give a general overview of what a good sourcebook looks like.
I’ll use 50 Fathoms for Savage Worlds and the Eberron sourcebook for D&D, as tools for some show & tell.

Eberron_cs_book_coverWhen everything is said and done, I think the best model for a sourcebook is a cross between a travelogue and a travel guide.
This means that everything the course participants learned about world building will have to be redefined.

As for scenario writing, I might as well bring my two GreyWorld scenarios, The Snow Globe Affair and The Clockwork Elephant Affair as examples of two different approaches to scenario design.
This also because getting to the classroom with an old D&D module (The Keep on the Borderlands?), or Masks of Nyarlathotep would be fun, but rather sterile.
Much better to have some designer notes handy, and show them the workings of the thing.

snowglobeSnow Globe is a keeper’s scenario assembly kit – it sets the scene, provides a venue, a timeline, a pool of characters and a few handouts, and lets the game keeper manage the development the way they please.
Clockwork Elephant is a sequence of scenes – five places and five situations, with a modicum of freedom as to the way they can be arranged, plus a start and a finish.

These are not the only possible approaches – and I’ll have to explain what a rail job is, and what a plot point campaign is.

In all cases, anyway, the trick is the mindset the author should try and have as they plan and design the scenario and the sourcebook.
While storytelling and narrative style still do come into play, the way in which we put the words on the page is quite different.

Will the guys like it?
I hope so.
And who knows – I might as well turn the lesson into a pair of posts for this blog.

  1. I go for the old classic tabletop roleplaying is improvisational radio drama 
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