Posted by: markfender | August 19, 2014

Don’t Write Fiction

Attention gamers: please stop writing fiction.

WotShI sometimes think that RPGs are plagued by frustrated fiction writers. There are far too many books dedicated to this medium that are full of terrible fiction.

Now, of course, there is a place for fiction in gaming. It is, after all, about exploring fictional places (usually). Flavor text can go a long way to providing the proper “feel” for a setting. I think current L5R books are fairly decent about this – there’s usually a short intro-story to each chapter that embodies some of the themes of the chapter. What’s important is that these fiction snippets don’t overstay their welcome – they’re rarely more than a page.

White Wolf, on the other hand, likes to fill the first twenty pages of their books with some extended fiction. It also usually has a terribly busy layout and an awful font as well, making the whole thing just a chore to get through. I rarely bother.

I was reading some developer’s notes from an upcoming RPG book. The developer was talking about how boring the book was to write and that, by reframing it as in-universe fiction, he had revitalized his interest in the project and was making good headway on finishing it. Which pretty much killed any desire I have to read the damned book.

Your RPG books should convey three things: setting, tone, and rules. Setting buried in fiction is hard to access. Hell, setting buried in the rules is easier to access than setting buried in fiction. If those things aren’t interesting for you to write about, then don’t write RPGs. You are just making your product harder to use at the table, in the actual activity that you are supposedly selling to.

Yes, rules and dry setting details may not be exciting to read about, nor exciting to write about. That’s not the point. RPGs need to convey information in the clearest, most concise manner as possible because these are reference books. Reference that happens in the middle of a game where people just want to find information as quickly as possible to settle disputes or provide more setting color.

RPGs are about the stories you create at the table, not the stories the author wrote. So, authors, stop selling your half-baked novels as RPG products.

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