Inspirational Gaming

I’m somewhat surprised to find how  many spec-fic, especially fantasy, writers have never gamed. By gaming, I’m meaning traditional tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons (and the like), and computer-base games where you get to create your own characters.

Most writers, I suspect, write because we’ve been inspired by other people’s stories. I know this is true for me. I started with Tolkien, and branched out from there, and my spec-fic mix was probably 70%/30% fantasy to science fiction. I write the kind of stories I want to read.

Four streams of spec-fic story content come to mind: books, movies, comic books, and gaming, and gaming shouldn’t be overlooked as a viable means for writer’s to find story inspiration.

In short, Gaming is interactive story telling. It’s the grown up version of playing with action figures. It’s playing pretend, but with rules and structure. It’s social, invovling a group of at least 2 or more (ideally 5 or 6). Whether your the Gamemaster acting as the master facilitator of the story, setting the stage and narrating the world’s responses to player actions, or a player focused on bringing a single character to life, gaming is the closest we come to experiencing our stories.

Gaming has certainly impacted my writing. Of course, from a content perspective, stories from games have the same inspirational value as stories from novels, comic books, and movies. But gaming’s structure and engaging nature provides a fuel which, for me, sparks countless story ideas and demands I break away to put pen to paper.

Gaming has impacted the development of the When Dragons Die trilogy, both its characters and world. Tiberan was the very first D&D character I ever made, back in 1986. His class was “elf”, from the classic D&D era when a race was its own class. Other names soon followed when I got the computer rpg, The Bard’s Tale, for our Apple ][c: Valkrage, Kaldor, Aaron…

Each of these characters have been reinvinted through world reboots, whether for games or in my learning attempts at writing novels. All three of them, Kaldor, Valkrage, and Tiberan, have seen incarnations as D&D, Rolemaster, Bard’s Tale, Morrowind, Skyrim, and World of Warcraft characters.

And, with every game system, I also create new characters, with new names. Some of these get imported back into my writing and added to my world-building mythology. Aradma first saw life as a World of Warcraft character, and eventually became my “main”. I imported her into Ahmbren and worked her into the mythology, and six months later I started writing Lightfall.

Gaming rules have also shaped Ahmbren. The channelling magic of sorcerers, druids, and runewardens were based off of the “magical powers” design rules from the Generic Universal Roleplaying System (GURPS) and Big Eyes Small Mouth (BESM). (Incidnetlly, I’m running a BESM mini-campaign set in Ahmbren here in a few weeks).

The wizard magic is almost a direct import from Pathfinder, which evolved from the D&D slot-preparation/memorization style of magic. I detest the concept of spell memorization and forgetfulness, so I devised a new explanatory rational for how the spell preparation works (explained in detail in Covenant), but the mechanics are the same.  (Sorcerers and priests (runewardens) and druids are *not* modeled after Pathfinder in Ahmbren, since they channel magic on the fly rather than having to prepare specific spells).

There is no single gaming system out there that, as written, captures the unique blend that is Ahmbren. With some work, GURPS  would sufficiently function (with some adaptation of the Pathfinder Wizard spell list), or better yet, BESM 2nd Edition if it were still in print.  I’ve considered designing and releasing my own game system, or making a Pathfinder derivative since its engine is licensed for public and commercial use under the Open Gaming License.

[Hmmm… maybe a side project to start working on: Ahmbren, the Official Role-Playing Game. (Dammit, I really wish the BESM Tri-Stat system was open license).]

Until next week (and maybe it’s time to continue the RPG for Writers series, with GURPS and BESM under the microscope),
~Kyle

 

 

2012 in Review

Wow, what a year.  Aside from getting a promotion in my real job and making progress on real classwork, I’m referring to the more important things, like geekery.

First, I’d like to thank those of you who have been consistent readers and contributors, whether by posting here, by email response, or on Facebook.  I’d like to give a particular shout-out to Andrew, who was gracious enough to provide an article on how fantasy writers might address the problem “Why don’t wizards rule the world?”

1st Qtr 2012

2012 started in the midst of the Skyrim glow.  Skyrim is still the single best open world fantasy RPG ever to grace the digital screen.  EvAR.  Despite some of its seams, it is a masterpiece.  As Andrew pointed out to me in an email, instead of being a single epic story like Mass-Effect and Dragon Age, Skyrim is a rich anthology of short stories.  True the game came out in late 2011, but in January, we still hadn’t even stopped the down-slope of afterglow.  Meanwhile, early 2012, I started to focus again on continuing a novel I had started writing two years ago in Kabul.  By this time, I had only finished chapter 9 (the first part) of the book, and Aradma was headed into an as-yet undefined troll community.

In WoW, our guild of three started leveling, and me, my wife, and my brother started playing in competitive 3-player arena teams.  We sucked, but we earned the guild a few levels.

Roughly about the same time, Kingdoms of Amalur came out.  It was poorly timed in the gaming cycle for my household.  Even though we both enjoyed it and it showed promise for its more action feel, we still hadn’t completed Skyrim.  I think I only got to level 13 or 14 in Amalur before Mass-Effect 3 came out.

2nd Qtr 2012

Mass-Effect 3 took me through two months of gaming, proving to be my most rewarding computer gaming experience to date.  It’s different from Skyrim, and it’s hard to argue one is better than the other.  It suffered from a controversial ending (which I still liked), and in June they released the revised ending, which was even better.  ME3 is the only CRPG where the story has made me tear up like watching a movie.

My brother came to visit and we sent to see John Carter.  Between this visit and the nostalgia of picking up the Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs books again, I got extra motivated to crack forward on my fantasy novel.

By the time I finished ME3’s 2nd playthrough in May, I finished the novel, dubbing it Lightfall.  I went from 30K words completed in Feb to 119K words completed in the first week of June.  The engines were revving, and beta readers were providing feedback and spurring me on.  Writing consumed almost all of my off-duty time (aside from Air War College, which I continue to make progress on).   Around this time, I started this blog… shortly after the travesty of a move, “Prometheus“, came out.

Enter the Avengers and Batman–two amazing summer blockbuster movies.  Both were spectacular for different reasons.

It’s amazing how motivating beta readers can be.  As they churned on Lightfall between May and August, I started on the opening scenes of Book 2 of the series (late June).  Most of my gaming took second priority, and when Mists of Pandaria hit in fall, it was a long time before I got even one character up to level 90.  WoW is still slow going.

3rd Qtr 2012

In September, beta reading closed on Lightfall.  In October, I printed it and brought the hardcopy to work, using the lunch hour for a physical read-though.  I made the changes, and then handed the new pdf file to my wife.  She edited it on her iPad using Goodreader.  While she edited, I continued to churn on Book 2: Covenant.  I finished the draft of Covenant by Thanksgiving: 140K words in five months.  (!!)

4th Qtr 2012

As soon as I got the edits back from here (there were a lot!), I spent some vacation days from work to revise, prep, and then format.  My goal was to get hardcopy in hand to my beta readers by Christmas.  I may missed that goal by a few days, but New Year’s wasn’t a bad target.  But, I got it out on kindle at the start of December, after a few learning moments with kindle formatting.  The day after the world ended, I was tickled to get a thoughtful 4-star review titled “Pleasingly Ambitious“.  I bolded the kudos because I would be silly not to be excited over such a review.  Also, a shout-out to “the creative team”–beta readers, editor, and cover artist!

“A very ambitious entrant into the genre, Lightfall is a novel with admirable depth and breadth rich in traditional fantasy plot elements but enriched by subtle and, at times, not-so subtle narrative surrounding contemporary issues such as religion, sexuality, non-sexual relationships between the sexes,and cultural and socioeconomic stigmas and discrimination. It’s a good read that can leave you both delighted and somewhat perplexed at the same time. While those new to the Genre may be a bit overwhelmed with some of the concepts and characters, a little patience at the outset will pay off on the whole.

 

Mr. Lewis does something well with this novel that’s extremely hard to do. He introduces a new world, complex characters, even more complex plot elements and social and theological structures in a way that a reader can absorb relatively quickly. I found myself at first a bit wary with what I thought would be significant work I’d need to do to get on board, grasp some of these structures and concepts, and then ride the story through with that foundation. I was pleased that even with the substantial world building done right out of the gate, that it was smoothly integrated into the experience and moving through the remainder of the novel was natural and very enjoyable.

 

Fantasy veterans will enjoy new takes on genre staples, and, if like me, will certainly appreciate the tactile reality present in the story. Sex exists, and while not pornographically explicit, it’s not glossed over. Violence exists, but it’s neither overly gratuitous nor watered down. Religions are complicated, messy, and sometimes the theology behind them is just plain wrong. When I read fantasy I hunger for portrayals of the human (elf, troll, ratling, what have you) condition that correlates to what I think should be reality in the world, what I think would actually be happening around me if I were plunked down in the middle of it and saw it with my own eyes. Mr. Lewis captures this human context very well.

 

Skirting the line of historical fantasy, Lightfall delves into spiritual and nature based religious and theological concepts in an engaging way, I see many parallels to historical druidism and nature based religious concepts as well as an underlying correlation to many Old and New Testament ideas. None of this comes across in the Novel as agenda driven, but seems more to help build us a world to examine for ourselves to either be introspective and make conclusions, or just have a very entertaining read.

 

Some indy publications can be an editorial mess, structurally and grammatically, but it’s obvious that Mr. Lewis had a solid team behind him when crafting his product here. Barring a sparse handful of voice inconsistencies and an occasional grammar or spelling glitch – which are common in even the most established publishing machines – I found his work to be very polished and extremely professional.

 

I certainly recommend Lightfall, at $2.99 it’s a steal for the content. ”  –Jason

So, the Ahmbren Chronicles is off to a good start.  Now to keep the slow flame burning, breathe gently on the kindle(ing) and slowly add more fuel to the fire.  Goal:  finish trilogy this year.  Goal 2:  develop body of 18 short stories over next 2 years.

Now, beta reading has started on Covenant, which I’ll keep open until March when I pull it back for closer editing.  I’ll have more time on this book to meet a publication date by September 2012.  If this cycle holds, the draft of Book 3 should be done by May, and its beta reading should start then for a Dec/Jan release of the final volume.  However, my first priority will be to finish my professional school work, so book 3 might be pushed back until Spring 2014.  We’ll see.

The Hobbit proved a great nightcap to a very exciting year in sci-fi/fantasy, which I reviewed last week.  All in all, 2012 has been a great year for geekery.

I’m going to take a few weeks off of the weekly regularly scheduled weekly programming, but I should start up again in early February.  Between now and then I may post out-of-cycle blurbs and I’ll be experimenting with twitter (@kscottlewis), but I’ll save the longer stuff for when I get started again.

Cheers all, and Happy New Year!