Thursday, December 13

Roleplaying Games And Writing, Does The One Help The Other?

Did you know that Dan Wells, Chuck Wendig and Jim Butcher, three wonderful and wonderfully successful writers, not only are avid gamers but also create roleplaying games?

What is the connection--is there a connection--between between a successful writer and gaming?

Jim Butcher

Did you know there's a Dresden Files role-playing game? That's right! Jim's also a LARPer and avid role-player. He goes so far as to, at least occasionally, take the his world-building-ideas on a trial run with his weekly gaming group.

Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig of Terribleminds needs no introduction. One thing I didn't find out until recently is that he is an avid gamer as well as game designer.

About a year ago Chuck wrote an article entitled Twenty-Sided Troubadours: Why Writers Should Play Roleplaying Games. Trust me on this, even if you would rather try and cross the North Pole naked than try a roleplaying game, his post is a great read. Here are a few highlights:

Writers should playing roleplaying games because:

1. The essence of roleplaying is characters in conflict.

What is at the heart of great storytelling? Character driven conflict.

2. Pacing

Pacing is tricky. It's not the easiest thing to get right. Too slow and it'll be easy for your readers to put your book down, too fast and you'll burn them out. As Chuck writes:
Constant action is naught but the electric cacophony of a single guitar chord blasted over and over again.
You have to ease off the gas sometimes and let your readers breathe a little.
This becomes abundantly clear at the game table. ... Let the characters talk to one another. Even the tried-and-true “our characters walk into a tavern” schtick reveals this, to some degree: they don’t kick open the door and start throwing punches. A tavern fight starts simple. Drinks. Laughs. A goblin says some shit. A paladin encourages restraint. A warrior gets all up in the goblin’s business. Someone throws a bottle. And then — explode. Spells and swords and shotguns and goblin venom.

3. No Such Thing As Writer's Block

You can't get writer's block when a goblin spits in your face. You have to do something. Anything.

4. You Have A Built In Audience

Gaming is a group activity. You can tell immediately if what you're doing works.
This [gaming] isn’t something you do in isolation. ... You’re in the thick of it. Your words — whether as a player or, more importantly, as the game master — are the central focus. You can tell when you’ve hooked them, and can tell when you’re losing them. You shuck and jive and duck and weave and do any kind of narrative chicanery to keep the momentum going, to ensure that the table doesn’t spiral off into restless side-conversations (“Do you think an Alchemical Exalted would be able to beat Jesus, if Jesus were wearing like, Mecha Armor given to him by the Three Wise Men?”). ....

Your story is the story of the moment, and it reminds you just how important it is to keep the audience in mind — not just your intent as storyteller but their interests, their needs, their attention.

It also reinforces the cardinal rule:

Never be boring.
Chuck Wendig prose is definitely not boring.

I encourage you all to go and read Chuck's article. It's great, I love his use of language, sometimes even the spicy bits: Twenty-Sided Troubadours: Why Writers Should Play Roleplaying Games.

Dan Wells

Last, but definitely not least, we have Dan Wells. You might know him as a bestselling horror writer, or from, or from his YouTube videos on how to write a short story or, well, the list goes on.

Here's Dan's connection to roleplaying: Dan's 7-point system for how to structure a story was drawn from a Star Trek Roleplaying Game Narrator's Guide.

But that's not all. Dan is designing his own game. (See: My Game Design I Keep Talking About)

Dan has been designing games since he was a kid. He writes:
I consider game design to be very similar to fiction writing, at least in terms of why I do it and what I get out of it. Both are creative outlets that let me tell a story and craft an experience for my audience. If I can get you to feel something while reading my books or playing my games, I’ve done a good job; if I can get you to feel something specific, I’ve done a great job. (My Game Design ...)

Could Roleplaying Games Make Us Better Writers?

Could be! Only one way to find out. :-)

Have you played a roleplaying game? Did it help your writing? Does writing help your gaming?

Other articles you might like:

- How To Write A Twitter Story
- The Dark Art Of Critiquing, Part 1: What Makes A Story Good?
- How To Earn A Living As A Self-Published Writer

Photo credit: "fairies never die" by kait jarbeau is in love with you under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. Roger Zelazny was also really into gaming. I had the opportunity to talk to him briefly at a convention in college, and he had to leave to meet up with some friends to play.

    1. Really! That's so cool. lol I kinda want to start gaming now. Maybe I'll have time if I start sleepwalking ... ;)

  2. Brilliant article, and very true. I'd never have got anything published if I hadn't been continually asking myself what my players would do in the same situation. Gamers will grab a lazy story by its plotholes and tear it apart if you're not careful.

    1. "Gamers will grab a lazy story by its plotholes and tear it apart if you're not careful."

      Well, now I know who I want for my beta readers! Thanks for your comment James. I think there's going to be some serious gaming in my future.

  3. Fabulous post, and I can't wait to read Chuck's article, which I will do right after class. Chuck's "250 ThingsYou Should Know about Writing" (this is an amazon link: is one of my favorite books on writing...if only because Chuck's rants are essentially poetry and the writing itself, as he shares his wisdom, is so epic.

    On the subject of RPGs, I've been a role-playing gamer since 10th grade, and for most of that time, I ran the games. Running a good game is all about world-building, plotting, and creating compelling non-player characters. My second novel was a fantasy novel (still looking for a publisher) that I could not have written without all of that experience, and some of my earliest encouragement as a writer came from the positive, personalized rejection letters I received from an editor at Dragon magazine. I totally concur with the idea that RPGs can help writers hone their story-telling skills.

    1. "... Chuck's rants are essentially poetry and the writing itself, as he shares his wisdom, is so epic."
      I agree completely. I love Chuck's style, his voice. Truly epic. By the way, thanks for the recommendation! Great book, great price, sold! I just downloaded my copy from Amazon.

      " I totally concur with the idea that RPGs can help writers hone their story-telling skills."
      Thanks csoffer, I appreciate the feedback. I'm going to take a look at Dragon magazine. Cheers!

  4. George RR Martin plays GURPS. I think the Wildcards series is based on his (and the other authors) campaign. Joe Abercrombie is a gamer too, as is Mark Lawrence.

    1. Lee, you just sent me off on one of those serpent-eating-tail internet searches where I start off looking for one thing, lose myself entirely in some backwater of the net and then run headlong into the thing I was looking for originally.

      Love it when life works out like that.

      I did not know that George RR Martin played GURPS or that Mark Lawrence gamed, so thank you, this post has been an education for me, but what seized my interest was your remark that Joe Abercrombie was a gamer.

      I went in search of more information and, eventually, stumbled across a reference to an Ask Me Anything he did on Reddit. If you haven't seen it you might be interested. Here's a link to one of his comments on gaming:


  5. Actually, if it weren't for RPGs, I might never have started writing horror. I used to write science fiction, because that's what I'd grown up reading, but I was never very good at it. When I was in my mid-twenties, I ran a "Vampire: The Masquerade" campaign, and when I saw how terrified I was making my players, a little light bulb went off over my head ....

    1. That's the best "why I became a writer" story I've read! Your superpower is terrifying people, love it.

      By the way, I adore your website, it's one of the best I've seen, and your covers are magnificent! I can't help but wonder who your designer is and whether he's/she's accepting new clients. :)


    2. Sorry for the extremely belated response to this, but I only just now happened to re-visit this article and see your reply. Thanks for the kind comments! As it happens, I designed my own website and covers, and I am, in fact, just now starting to branch out into doing covers for other writers. Drop me a line at if you're interested. Thanks!

  6. Without the RPG I play, I would have never had the impulse to write a story about all the events that have happened to my character. I would obviously suggest it to any writer..its easier to write about things that "actually" happen, and give you ideas as to what to add to your stories. What I play is more of an online RPG though, not like WoW but more like a freelance RPG you and your friends make up the story.

    1. "its easier to write about things that "actually" happen"

      Of course you're right, but I'd never thought about gaming in that light.

      By the way, your game sounds great. I used to play Neverwinter Nights, it was fun to make up stories then try and bring them to life as a scenario for the game.


Because of the number of bots leaving spam I had to prevent anonymous posting. My apologies. I do appreciate each and every comment.