Last summer, my podcast Tosche Station did an episode all about tabletop gaming. One of our guests, Tom, has a history playing Star Wars RPGs and taught us the basics of the new Fantasy Flight system.
I had never played a tabletop RPG, nor had I watched one. But Tom’s comments about storytelling capabilities — and that I could fly an X-wing — intrigued me. He also told us how easy it is to play games online using Google hangouts and the dice app.
To no surprise, this spurred my husband to start an RPG podcast. Now, here we are, recording Of Dice and Droids on a monthly basis. My team has played two sessions now, and I’m really enjoying it. Like, more than I expected to. I volunteered to play because I wanted to learn more about RPGs and I wanted to see if it helped me improve as a writer. Happily, it has!
The first game I was hesitant to make choices that would affect the overall game. I sat back and let Tom, our GM, guide the game. I definitely had a good time, don’t get me wrong; it’s hard not to laugh when your husband fails rolls so spectacularly. However, I didn’t really know who I wanted my character to be or what I wanted her to do. After listening back to the recording, and then listening to the second group, I finally realized: if I want to be entertaining, I need to make shit happen in this game.
During our second session, I blew up a cantina and started a brawl to help us escape our holding area.
Sometimes, when I write, I have a tendency to treat the outline as God. I read stories about authors having an epiphany halfway through a book and having to change their entire course of action. That prospect terrifies me. I like organization, I like order, I like planning. I like knowing where the story is going.
Following a steady course does not a good novel make. Thankfully, I’ve gotten a lot better at writing those “rocks fall, everyone dies” moments into the outline and planning them out in advance. I use my plot outline to help me figure how how many of those moments I need, and how to keep the reader on her toes. And just like ODAD became way more interesting when I made bold choices — some of them really stupid ones — so does a character become stronger when she determines her own destiny.
I recently started reading the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to find these books. I feel like these books were written for me, and someone failed very badly by not making me read them as a teenager. Perhaps I would have started writing fiction a lot earlier if I had. So far I’ve read Shards of Honor and Barrayar, the “Cordelia” books. I enjoyed Shards of Honor, more for the world and characters than the actual plot. Barrayar, though…that shot up to my top books of all time list. It’s so good. I love all of the intrigue, the characters, the world, the plot. I love that you have no idea what’s going to happen next, but by the end you reflect and conclude, yeah, obviously all that was going to happen. I love that Cordelia isn’t afraid to speak her mind. However, through a lot of the book I found myself wondering, “but what does she do?” She didn’t seem as important as her husband, the regent of the planet, and while I loved her POV, I wondered why the book focused on her instead of her husband. Especially with all the political drama happening.
Then the action picked up. Finally, she made a choice that took the story in a completely different direction. She became the driving force of the end of the novel. She ended up changing the course of the planet. After that, how could I not love her?
Barrayar also taught me a lesson: it’s okay not to have your characters making choices and doing crazy things throughout your novel. In fact, sometimes they might appear to sit back and let the story happen to them. Don’t worry about it. If they don’t change this at some point, and decide to take matters into their own hands, then you’ve got a problem.