From the Table to the Page: Making Stories Out of GamesAug 30
Hello, nerds! Today I present to you an excellent piece on writing fiction (in particular, comics) based on your games from Corey Reid. He’s got some awesome insight because, well, he’s writing a comic – REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS – based on a series of role-playing game sessions.
Take a read. Talk about your writing projects. And then check out Corey’s REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS Indie Go Go project. You won’t regret giving him some of your dollars because those NINJA GIRLS kick ass.
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I suspect any DM feels the urge from time to time to create a story out of their game sessions. But trying to make a great story out of a great game session is difficult — many of the qualities that make for a great game actually make for a terrible story, and vice versa. It’s tough, and this is why so many “Here’s what happened in my campaign” stories are so tedious.
The comic book REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS first began life as a series of role-playing game sessions, but the story of the comic isn’t based on any of those sessions. Instead, I used numerous game sessions, with a varied cast of players, to generate setting character detail that I could use as backdrop and inspiration for the story. But the story itself had to be generated fresh for the comic book, built on the inspiration of those games.
I learned this lesson the hard way. My first attempt at a REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS script was in fact based on the game sessions I’d run. It sucked.
Here’s the thing: in great stories, characters are often forced into very difficult decisions. Stuff happens out of the blue. Imagine if in one of your game sessions you just arbitrarily decided that an important NPC would be kidnapped. The players fight off all the kidnappers, but a couple of extra bad guys show up and poof! the NPC is chucked into the back of a truck, and when the party tries to shoot the driver and rescue their friend, the truck promptly EXPLODES.
And THEN, the NPC just randomly shows up a half hour later, and you offer no explanation.
This of course is AWESOME when it happens in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. It’s surprising, it’s funny, and it puts Indy in a terrible position. Your players, on the other hand, will hate you.
Likewise, in games, players succeed at almost everything they do. They win every fight, they overcome every social obstacle, and they reach every destination. Their successes may be hard-fought, and they may feel like they’re in over their head, or just barely managing to hang on, but even just a couple of straight-up fails in a row and your table will likely be looking for a new GM.
Indiana Jones, on the other hand, basically just fails constantly. He loses the gold idol to Belloc, he can’t save Marian from Nazi kidnappers, he can’t keep the Ark from Nazi submariners (how’s THAT for a bit of railroading?), he can’t follow through on his bluff to blow up the Ark, and he never even gets to see inside the damn thing in the end. Your players would RIOT if that were their success rate, but it’s integral to the joy of “Raiders” — we love Indy because he TRIES, not because he succeeds.
But games are still a boon to a writer.
Games can be wonderful tools for generating setting and character detail. I’ve written elsewhere about the value of providing an open-source setting,</a> and a game table is the ultimate brainstorming session. If you’re a low-prep GM like me, you end up making up half the stuff your players encounter in any given session, so after a few sessions, well, you’ve got a ton of material. Which for a lazy guy like myself, is great! I would never sit down and just THINK that all up, but when my players look at me and say, “Nope, we’re going to see where the OTHER path goes,” well, I have to decide, give them something, and in the process I end up creating a whole bunch of material that I can add to the canonical setting.
And I’ve discovered that things can work in the opposite direction quite well: I’ve now run a number of sessions based on the big set-piece battle in Issue #2 of REFORM SCHOOL NINJA GIRLS. Great set-pieces are things to treasure!
So, while trying to turn a campaign or a game session directly into a story is usually doomed to failure, games can provide a tremendous resource for DMs who need more ideas. I always do!