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Writing For RPGs (Part 1)

Image courtesy of anankkml, FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of anankkml, FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

One of my pastimes is gaming and I’ve blogged before about some of the graphics-based games I enjoy playing, and a few projects for text-based games as well.

Some friends have recently asked how I got into writing for a text-based game (on a hobby level) and what the submissions process looks like, so today I thought it’d be fun to talk about that a little and provide a bit of insight into how I got started, and how I work, for the curious or for folks interested in doing the same thing.

 1. Find a game that you enjoy playing or would like to begin playing.

I ventured into the world of online gaming on a lark (attempting to research the psychology of villains for a still-unfinished novel). This was back in 2003, so I’ve been playing on and off for over a decade now. What does that translate into actual hours played? As of the last summary released (04/23/15) of top hours played, my character had logged a total of 10,164 hours (423 days), and this number is still climbing!

There’s no magic number of hours logged that equates with having enough experience under your belt to begin writing for a roleplaying game. The more that you invest in learning about the game, the better idea you’ll have of what the vision was in its original creation and where others have already been.

Before I logged on for the first time, I spent HOURS devouring every bit of information about the gaming world that I could (look at their website).

  • Are there races or classes?
  • Are there professions or guilds?
  • What is the world like?
  • The monetary system?
  • Politics?
  • Religion?

You want to [G]ain extensive knowledge of the existing geography, lore, culture, and other elements that form the basis for the game itself.

Also, be sure to take a look at the website. How dated is it? Last fall I spent several days researching RPGs that are currently in the top 20 ranked by gamers and you can tell an awful lot about a game just by exploring their website (whether it looks like it’s stuck in the early 2000’s, or if it’s being actively updated, if the website is responsive, or they’ve got apps available, what kind of player support is offered, etc.). Educate yourself.

2. Immerse yourself in that world, first as a gamer, then as a writer.

Here’s why you need to do it in that order… it’s a game. It’s designed for gamers, to be an escapist adventure.  If you begin playing a rpg by looking at it critically with the left side of the brain, you’ll be detached from what’s meant to be an immersive experience and miss out on the ‘adventure’ and the highs and lows that were crafted into that world for you to experience. Text-based rpgs are read (or for blind players, read aloud) and you’d never read a fiction book first analytically, you’d read it as if you’re the participating in that world. You are the protagonist. You want to experience the world as it was intended and take it all in.

That’s why I think that folks that have been playing a while have a distinct advantage. At some point, after you’ve experienced the ‘game’, or perhaps you’ve left/returned, there’s a level of detachment that allows you to approach the work again, this time as a writer. This allows you to do two things:

[O]bserve areas that can be further developed or expanded upon, or new ideas that could be introduced into the game.

And, [L]earn the predominant writing style of the game.

You’ll need to do both if you want to begin submitting work. First, by acquiring the background knowledge of the game, you can begin to spot tendrils of ideas in the game that can be teased out into fully fleshed quests, locations, objects, lore, etc. Second, by learning the writing style, you’ll be better equipped to match your writing to theirs and fit what they’re looking for. It’s just like reading a literary magazine to discover the types of writing they publish so you know what they’re looking for.

You’re also looking for patterns in coding. You don’t have to be a coder to write but if you have that background, it could be easier.  What are the mechanics that make the game function? Could your idea be plugged in easily or would it require special coding to be introduced?

Remember that most rpgs are a labor of love and folks like you are acting as contributors, coders, writers, admins, on a volunteer basis. An idea is more likely to be accepted if it doesn’t require a lot of work to implement.

Check to see if your game already has a submissions guide available, if so, there may be special formatting you need to follow, language requirements (e.g. British English rather than American English), or other helpful guides. Remember that unless otherwise specified, submissions become the property of the developer and you will be unpaid for the work.

This kind of creative work is done for a pure love of writing and for the game itself! Although, if they DO offer you paid work at some point, that’s awesome!

3. Begin to [D]evelop a vision for the future of the game and how you can contribute as a writer.

I can promise you that almost anyone that’s played a RPG for as long as I have (and usually, a lot less time than that) will start to have ideas of what’s missing or what can be improved upon, or added to, in a game. I’d suggest that it’s almost inevitable. Tuck these ideas under your hat for now for future development.

Make sure that your vision is complimentary to that of the game creators/administrators, that is, that may fit into what they’re looking for, and keep brainstorming. Not every idea is going to work.

Keep your eyes open for what the direction of the game seems to be. What would be the most helpful contribution? What can you offer that will meet an existing need?

Consider the above suggestions and you’ll likely begin to have ideas that are GOLDen:

  • Gain extensive knowledge of the existing world.
  • Observe areas that can be further developed/expanded upon or new ideas to introduce.
  • Learn the predominant writing style of previously published/integrated work.
  • Develop ideas that match the writing style of the game, blend seamlessly into the existing world-building and that further the overall vision for the game’s future.

In Part 2 of this series, I’ll take a look at how the submissions process works with an rpg that I write for. Check back next week!

This entry was posted in: Writing
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Lauren Miller is a Midwestern born writer with a passion for Jesus, the written word, and dogs. She has seventeen years of experience in the library field and reviews books for the Historical Novels Review (UK). She likes to spend her free time enjoying period films, discovering new reads, and being surrounded by other people’s pets. Lauren, her husband, and their wily Maine Coon (who isn’t quite a dog) live in Missouri. You can learn more about Lauren’s writing at LaurenJoanMiller.com.

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