I’ve been playing role-playing games (RPGs) since I was a teenager, so for a long time now. I’m not talking about video games (though some of those have been fun, too). These involve rule books, polyhedral dice, and a healthy imagination. The genres have varied. I’ve enjoyed scifi, fantasy, horror, superhero, and mash-ups of all of those. Though I’ve loved writing stories longer than I’ve been acquainted with these types of games, I’ve often drawn inspiration from RPGs. Sometimes they inspire characters. Other times the game’s setting and mood created by the Game Master have triggered something in my imagination that sticks with me after the dice have been put away. And I’m not alone. Some of my favorite writers have mentioned RPGs as inspirations for their writings as well. So without getting too geeky about it, I want to list a few that have given me ideas for stories or novels of my own. I promise, no saving throw will be necessary.
Back in my teens, I decided to create my own RPG. I didn’t crunch numbers and come up with all the rules myself. I borrowed from systems that I liked. Mainly I imagined the world of its setting, the factions vying for power, and the day-to-day life of the world’s inhabitants. I loved post-apocalyptic science fiction, and over the years the manner of the apocalypse changed. In the 1980s, the height of the Cold War, it was of course a nuclear conflict. Later it was an environmental upheaval that made people intolerant to the sun. In both cases, a soda manufacturer was behind a treatment to help humanity tolerate their new environment. Naturally a price was to be paid, and the soda company became powerful enough to take control of vast stretches of the country. Ridiculous, I know, but a lot of fun to play with. It has inspired some short stories, an outline for a novel, and a good many laughs. One day, maybe some of the tales will see print.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has been the fantasy role-playing game I’ve played the most in my adulthood. It’s set in a “grim and perilous world”, where magic is feared as evil by many. The gritty feel of the game really appeals to my preferences in fantasy reading: novels by George R. R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie for examples. My friends and I rotate between Warhammer and other games outside the fantasy genre, now played via Skype most weeks on what I call “poker night”. After one such adventure, I wrote about 35 pages of a story in one sitting. Though it was meant to be a short story, I found the plot expanding and the characters developing in ways I hadn’t originally anticipated. It looks likely that I could outline it as a novel, perhaps the next novel I write after finishing my current work in progress.
Gamma World, a game of radioactive mutants and mayhem, was the only game to inspire a story that has been published so far. I imagined the character, Os, and though I didn’t create him for the game, my imagination frequently returned to him. The setting of the stories is a distant planet instead of our own postwar Earth, but there are mutants. There is also plenty of mayhem, as Os travels a path to reveal his destiny and save those he holds dear. Giant spiders, an octopus teacher, and a quest to find his father feature in the initial story. It was published in issue 3 of Nonlocal Science Fiction and I’m currently working on the third story in the series. My hope is to publish them as a collection once the rights to the first story return to me. I’ll keep you posted. There will be more Os in my future, and hopefully more Gamma World, too.
I owe a great amount of thanks to the people who have shared RPG adventures with me. They’ve collaborated on the stories in the RPGs because that’s what every great RPG does: tells a story with contributions from all the players through their characters’ perspectives. In that respect, they’ve been part of the group imagination that has inspired me to write some of my fiction. There are more “poker nights” ahead, and maybe one will lead to my next story or novel idea.
What inspires you? What RPGs do you enjoy? How do you channel your imagination? Leave me a comment and let me know!