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Writing Excuses Episode 31: talking RPG and game writing with Steve Jackson

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/09/07/writing-excuses-episode-31-talking-rpg-and-game-writing-with-steve-jackson/

Key Notes: Tell a good story first, don't try to write for game adaptation. To write game modules or materials, read the website guidelines. The biggest challenge in any writing is clarity, clarity, clarity. Put up signposts and color, and let your GM (or reader) adapt it their own way.

[Fair warning -- I'm not a game player, so these notes are more ragged than usual. As usual, for the real details, listen to the podcast.]

Brandon: What's new?
  • Steve: if you like silly stuff, munchkin
  • Steve: car wars, GURPS
Brandon: You've done a lot of adaptations. What have you done in the way of licensing?
  • Steve: the biggest was GURPS Conan
  • Steve: Horseclans
  • Steve: GURPS Discworld
Brandon: If you were giving advice to writers what should they put in their work if they are looking forward to future game adaptation?
  • Steve: No. When a writer prostitutes themselves to make their work fit a game, it's like really really obvious. First tell a good story. If it should be gamed, we'll drag it out and game it.
Dan: when you're looking for work for adaptation, what do you look for?
  • Steve: you're assuming I go around looking for licensing for new games, and I don't. Licensing is a very marginal business. What happens is that I really love something and convince myself that this time it will be all right.
Brandon: suppose I want to write for Steve Jackson games, RPG modules or something? What do you suggest I do?
  • Steve: hit our website and read the guidelines and help pages. More generally, to write for any game company, go to their website and hunt for their writers guidelines.
Brandon: when you're writing for an RPG, what are the challenges?
  • Steve: the biggest challenge as in any writing is clarity, clarity, clarity.
  • Steve: when you're doing an adaptation, you're walking a tight rope between being unfaithful to the source and filling in gaps.
This week's episode is brought to you by The Name of the Wind, the color orange, and the letter G -- all by Patrick Rothfuss.

Brandon: what about game balance?
  • Steve: that's really up to the GM. You describe what's going on, and leave it to the GM.
  • Howard: you're talking about plot balance. I think what often happens is one or two characters are so much more powerful that they have to do everything, and it gets boring for them.
  • Steve: sometimes that's a problem with books. For example, we did a James Bond adaptation. There's really only one hero. [Discussion of making the powerful figure the GM, and letting everyone else handle that]
  • Steve: that's what we do in our perennially delayed Vorkosigan game. We suggest that Miles is too potent, so let the GM be him.
Brandon: Role-playing games -- you're writing a play, where the players will do what they want. How do you balance or focus on story, setting, mechanics in that?
  • Steve: don't spend much time on the mechanics. Depends on the system, but you should only add some figures and depend on the referee. Tell a story. The GM will adapt. Basically you give some signposts and lots of color.
Brandon: what do you like when you play? Hack and slash, role-play, ambience?
  • Steve: it's been so long since I actually played an RPG, that I really have no idea. When I did play, it was role-play interspersed with exciting hack and slash.
Brandon: that's a problem. People ask me do I read my own books, and the answer really is no. By the time they come out, I've read them so many times.

Brandon: What do you admire?
  • Steve: Paranoia. It's brilliant.
  • Steve: right now I also like Puerto Rico.
Brandon: what's next for you?
  • Steve: the boardgame, Munchkin Quest

A number of off-microphone grumbles and sighs finished off the session.
Tags: rpg, writing excuses
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