By Timothy Brannan
It is my pleasure to speak (write?) here for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. I have seen links for this this groups on dozens if not hundreds of blogs. I just never felt I was a good fit for the group to be honest because the type of writing I do is kind of different. Sure I still deal with characters and worlds and situations of a purely fictional, if not fantastic, nature. But the characters are out of my control and the world is only good for me in that it allows others to play in it.
What's this mean?
Serving Two or More Masters
There is an old saying that a person can't serve two masters. In game writing, two masters might the least amount I serve! Who are my masters and why must I serve them? Well some, like the OGL, tell what I can and cannot publish. I can never say "Compatible with the Basic Dungeons & Dragons game" but I can say, and have said, "compatible with the Basic Era of the worlds first Fantasy Role-Playing Game". Others are Masters I put on myself. I will detail them a bit below and talk about how it has affected and shaped my writing.
First Master: Is it a Good Game?
There are lots of great ideas out there. Lots of great stories. But not all of those stories make for a good game. Don Quixote is a great story. Macbeth is a great story. Neither would make for a good game book. To write a good game book I have to constantly ask myself what would the characters do with this. In Don Quixote or Macbeth those answer flow easier since the author is in charge of the characters. I am not in charge of the characters. I only provide the windmills. Indeed, windmills may be a bad idea. Let's compare this to Star Wars. I build a universe and a huge Galactic War with an evil Empire. What good is that is Luke says "nah...I'll stay on the farm." I have to think about what the characters could do and provide the means for them to be heroic. So Luke's Aunt and Uncle are killed, Ben convinces him, Stormtroopers shoot at them in Mos Eisley Spaceport.
Second Master: Does it Follow the Rules?
The road I have to navigate is getting narrower! What else?
Third Master: Historical Accuracy...sorta
I not only write fantasy games, but horror games too. One of my pride and joys is "Ghosts of Albion" a Victorian horror game. So ghosts, vampires, werewolves are all fine, but getting a date wrong? Out of the question! Yes I know that having creatures like this would change history, but I like to pretend their impact is minimal since they are trying to stay hidden. I would at least like it if someone opened one of my books and learned something useful. Maybe it is the former teacher in me. For other books, like The Witch, there is less historical accuracy to worry about. But I still want to stay as close to history as possible. So the "historical" witch form myth, fairy tale and folklore needs to be adequately represented in my books. At least to level I think is best.
Finally, The Fourth Master: What Works Best for Me?
I have to make sure the worlds I create work in terms of internal consistency and rules, I have make sure that it stands up to some external validity (history, myth, folklore, whatever is needed) but I also have to make sure that it works for me. I have to be behind it and it has to interest me. I have written a lot of game books for hire. I am fortunate in the fact that I can pick and choose my gigs. I usually find things that work for me or have people seek me out to write things in my area. But every so often I get a gig and the material is not a good fit. In any case I have be interested in the material, I have to be vested in it.
So who are your Masters? Do you know them or acknowledge them? What affects your writing the most?