Note from Alex: Please welcome Jason Brick to the blog for today’s Talk Nerdy to Me post. Jason talks about one of the favorite geek past times: the ever-popular Role Playing Game. Take it away, Jason!
About a month into our relationship, the woman who would become my wife called me her “Boyfriend of Carrying” because I excel at lugging heavy objects around.
She then proceeded to explain a game called Dungeons and Dragons to me, and how a (Thing) of (Description of Power) was a common trope in that game.
Little did she know I’d been playing since my dad got the original blue boxed set for Christmas when I was in 2nd grade. Since that day I’ve visited the Keep on the Borderlands and the Demonweb Pits, and died horribly and wonderfully in the Tomb of Horrors. I’ve played Star Frontiers, Top Secret, Dread, GURPS and Fate. I know that “Bree-yark” is not Goblin for “We Surrender!” and that The Computer is My Friend. As a grown-ass adult with kids (still married to the aforementioned lovely woman), I run a game each week and do professional work for a half-dozen tabletop RPG companies.
Even though I’m a passionate traveler and martial artist, tabletop role playing games remain my favorite hobby. I’ve spent thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of hours on the hobby, and am already midway through raising my kids to take them to the next generation.
Being a gamer isn’t just fun at the table. It adds a level of complex fun to most things. Visiting art or history museums, I can’t help but spiral out fictional worlds where that art or history would impact its inhabitants in this way or that. Training at the dojo, I think about whether this fight mechanic or another best reflects that reality of hand-to-hand combat. I once wrote a well-received essay on personal development based on the skill points system vs. the personal attribute system in GURPS. Much like my martial arts habit, RPGs aren’t part of what I do. They’re part of who I am.
In most important ways, it’s like being a writer.
Alex and her other guests will report almost identical experiences with their writing and their lives. About how it’s almost impossible to travel anywhere or do anything without something sparking an idea for a story. Both game creation and novel writing stem from the same creative urge. They just look different when they’re being consumed.
As a writer and an RPG fan, I’m incredibly excited about what’s happening in both industries now that the Internet has democratized everything…and I mean everything.
- E-readers (especially Kindle and Amazon’s support via KDP) democratized distribution
- Social media and review sites democratized publicity
- Crowdfunding democratized production money
It’s a brave new world. Look over on Kickstarter and you’ll see 20 or more novels and 3 or 4 tabletop role-playing games up for funding right now. Go to DriveThruRPG and you’ll find self-published game title galore from Big Names to little guys. Amazon has acres of self-published titles in every genre, including role-playing games.
Since everybody can make and distribute a role-playing game, the trick for folks who’d like to is knowing how to do it well. I’m not Monte Cook or Dave Arneson or Wolfgang Bauer, but my series of RPG books Random Encounters keeps hitting the Top Ten in Amazon. Plus I keep getting gigs from some of the bigger publishers, so I guess I’m doing something right.
When building a game adventure – whether for publication or for your gang’s gaming night – I recommend the following steps.
Step Zero – Carry a notebook (or use your phone) all the time. Like I said earlier, everywhere you go you’re apt to get ambushed by an idea. Have a place to capture them. Use it early and use it often.
Step One – Review your notes. Both the notes in your idea catcher and the notes of what’s happened in your game so far. Review the sheets for the characters who’ll participate. Focus on some events, images or themes that (a) capture your imagination and (b) focus on the abilities or storyline of one or more characters in the game.
Step Two – Write the crux. In broad terms, this is the biggest, baddest, most epic moment or scene of the story. Make it as vivid as possible, and take some notes about what the various characters are apt to do. The crux is usually also the climax or finale of a storyline, but doesn’t have to be.
Step Three – Get them there. Figure out the other events, obstacles and encounters that both impede the gang from getting to the climax and lead them ultimately in that direction. Some players prefer a game that’s more open-ended, and that’s okay. You can still build this storyline and see what happens around it.
Step Four – Turn it all up to eleven. Go through every scene you’ve made and add five small details plus one piece of unmitigated awesomeness. It doesn’t matter how awesome it already is. Make it awesomer.
Step Five – Crunch all the numbers. Building games includes interacting with the rules, which means math. Doing the math is a lot like proofreading a manuscript – it’s time-consuming and detail-oriented, so you shouldn’t to it to anything you’re sure you’ll keep and not change.
Yep. It’s a lot like writing.
Jason brick is a gamer, martial artist, traveler, writer, husband and dad. To find out more about his take on tabletop RPGs check out Random Encounters or look for his work with publishers like Paizo, Green Ronin, Steve Jackson Games and Modiphius. He also blogs at brickcommajason.com