I’ve spent most of the night working on a role-playing game I’ll be running for a group of friends starting in a few weeks. It’ll be good old Dungeons and Dragons, third edition because that’s what the players voted on and I frankly couldn’t care less. I’ve just had some scenarios in the Oriental Adventures setting that I’ve been toying with for a very long time, and the other game I was in faded out a couple of months ago.
Making a good game involves a lot of writing, and things are definitely better when there’s a good story and characters behind it, but it definitely exercises different creative muscles than regular fiction writing.
For instance, you can never tell how long it’s going to take someone to read your fiction. Some people read slowly, some are speed-readers, some might savor each word and some might rush to the point. You can deliberately play with the pacing of each sentence and paragraph in a story, but ultimately the pace at which your writing is received is not in your hands, it’s in the hands of the reader. Not so for tabletop role playing games. Oh sure, sometimes you get sidetracked with in-game jokes, bathroom and snack breaks, or wailing children if you’re so equipped, but the amount of gaming that gets done in a night is very much up to the person running the game. You know how many hours your group will be gaming for and you can plan the right mix of action and intrigue to fill those hours. You have near complete control over the flow of the game and how much your players will manage to get through in that time.
Another thing that’s nice is the immediate feedback. With fiction, you can get opinions from friends and close reviewers, but those aren’t really your target audience and they’re almost always delayed reactions. From the time you finish writing something which is accepted for publication to the time you get a review of it posted somewhere, if you do get a review at all, can be months, or frequently well over a year. And even then it’s difficult to know how sincere the person is in their opinions, or how biased. When gaming with friends, they’re right there with you, reacting as the story unfolds. Sometimes that reaction will be sour, or you’ll see someone getting bored for whatever reason, and you can make subtle changes to your game to get that player more involved, to help them have the fun they’re there to have. You can’t get anywhere close to that with fiction. It’s like having a rewind button when someone gives you a bad review, going back to fix things as they didn’t like as they were reading it, and doing so for each reviewer since each of them is going to have a different experience.
I have a few other half-formed ideas, so this post may see a part two in the near future. Still, it’s good to be running a game. It’s been many years since the last time I headed an RPG of any sort.