There came a great period of writing inactivity for me when I joined the US Navy in the spring of 1985. Basically, for 4 years, I was too distracted by my duties and the constant barrage of Navy life to devote myself to writing. That was not to say that I did not attempt to write, nor does it imply that I didn’t complete at least one short story – a horror piece inspired by Stephen King’s “Strawberry Spring” about a werewolf stalking college students.
Yet the world-builder, the writer, which I was, would not allow me to throw it all away for those meager years of servitude. Just before my entrance into the military, I had discovered the world of Dungeons and Dragons, and had garnered a large following of neighborhood teens. With my elves and orcs and trolls in tow, it wasn’t long before I’d introduced my complex gaming world to my shipmates, even finding time in Boot Camp (San Diego) to throw it around. Now you must understand that the USN frowns on dice being thrown in Boot Camp; so we had to use small square pieces of paper with numbers scribbled on them to game; that is because Dungeons and Dragons, as some of you know, as other games, needs the element of randomness to pull off certain events and actions. We got by.
The game world I built was not that unique, however, to many other fantasy worlds that authors had over the years created. Mine borrowed heavily from 3 main sources: The Land, from Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever; Brooks’ Shannara; and of course, Middle Earth from Tolkien. I believe that every “Dungeonmaster” can claim the same sources.
World-building is a powerful aspect to many authors. Even the Bronte sisters are known to have created a highly-detailed fantasy kingdom of their own, let alone JRR Tolkien who devoted most of his time into laying the details out of a realm that to this day has no peer when it comes to complexity. Tolkien was not an author, at least, not in the classic sense; he did write books, but these were the products of his scholarly love of the lays and ballads of the old world, that is, the Germanic and Nordic cultures of our own past. Tolkien could be called a linguist and a mythologist before an author.
What is important in role-playing games for the author? The sheer outlet for unbridled creativity, for one thing. When I committed to guiding my players through the towns, the fields, the caverns, the castles of my fantasy world, I had to not only dream up stories they would need to participate in, but also a multitude of characters to flesh out the day-to-day activities as well as the allies and villains these players had to face. The aspect of having ADULT players demanded ADULT scenarios and complexities that were often beyond scope of many fantasy author’s works, and most had to be delivered on-the-spot with some degree of profound impact and logic. In other words, a growing novel that changed and moved along with the players from moment-to-moment.
Enormous preparation was also needed; township populations, names, stores, governments, authority figures, etc. All I found intriguing and fun more than a chore, and such my players found delight in because for those scant hours they interfaced with the world, they actually were INSIDE the world. They could become their characters. With such detail came personalities (which is a great practice for the actor), and local and national histories. The more we played the greater the world became, and, in its way, just as real in the aspect of the alternative we dwelled.
When I left the Navy and embarked on a period of writing fantasy works, such as the lost Tales from the Marshlands (1989) and The Archmage of Osgerith (1991), the world was laid bare and easy to establish within my paragraphs. These were not short works, and the years of “living” inside the world gave these works a strong perspective – perhaps too strong – of one who knew every rock and pebble and tree there. The downside? I think you can guess it: too much description in the novel; too much leading about the reader without the reader understanding and discovering the world on his/her own.
Yet the boundless well of creativity was discovered and now, as this author gained experience, the idea of sitting down with any creative work, novel or short story, the characters and setting come quickly, and the voices and the views not so hard to conjure. Role-playing: a very prized and valuable source for any fiction writer.