When Character Players Tell Their Own Stories 

The image here (by El Gibbs) features Gish Gallup, Bo Monro, Rahjin, and Fonkin. Only Gish is one of the core founders (of four).

So I began this website as both campaign materials and fantasy fiction for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. That went pretty well for awhile. Not precisely anymore.

This is good, actually. Neither the campaign materials nor the fantasy fiction now fully fit here because my players have taken much of the campaign narrative into their own hands. I like to think that this is much of my doing: I happened to encounter the player of Bo Monro, the Dwarf Druid, in a local pub. Over ales we talked about how Bo more directly might participate in his own quest for the beneficial fungus known as Erastil’s Shot. Rahjin, our Half-troll Barbarian, decided he wanted a little more troll in him (who wouldn’t want a couple more points of regeneration?). I told him he might start with a journey to the vat-kilns of the icy tower ruins of his conception.

This is the best kind of roleplaying, the kind in which the characters truly are making their own choices, forging their own adventures in direct relation to their own specific interests. They’re not being arbitrarily tugged from one scenario to another, compelled by the GM to participate in events that often might make more sense for any other kind of party.

So, to bring it back around, this is why my original purpose for this blog is partially abrogated. I don’t have many formal campaign materials to share because I’m making them up almost at the moment of play, endeavoring as much as possible to keep at least one step ahead of my players. There’s little point in writing fiction that parallels the adventures because it’s not my fiction. It’s ours–I might provide the world (in collaboration with Paizo’s writers for the Inner Sea campaign materials) but my players provide the characters and the narrative choices. Roleplaying is an all around different genre from traditional narrative (obviously, informed readers will  tell me), but I think it’s too awkward of a task to take this untraditional form and try to cram it into an unfitting shape. Don’t get me wrong: I hear that this has been done with some success; I would love to learn the full process entailed in producing the Dragonlance series. But I believe that transforming my campaign whole cloth into a novel would be problematic. Traditional novels are shaped by the purposed dominations of their authors. A successful roleplaying game utilizes the opposite. For now I’ll abandon considerations about just how effectively one might become the other. Obviously they share synergies; narrative structures like technique, style, and approach tend to work just as well in either. What I won’t abandon is a third tacit purpose of this blog: the campaign journal.

 I am a writer in crisis. In my egotistical (and perhaps misspent youth) I thought that by this time I would be a celebrated fantasy novelist. I thought that by this time I would be regarded as a direct literary descendant of J.R.R. Tolkien and that, if I wasn’t, then I would have failed in some way. I can make excuses. I can talk about changing narrative forms, outliers,  a noisy planet, etc. But really I probably didn’t work as hard as I could have/should have. My life certainly isn’t over. God willing, I have at least forty more good years, and I intend to use them to write about four really good books. But these days I’m thinking they’ll function merely as curiosities for friends and family. I don’t think that the kind of thing I write, dwelling in Tolkien’s long shadow, deserves more attention than just about any other fantasy writer out there. Most of us seem to have drank from the same well. No, better yet: we all ate that faerie cake in “Smith of Wootton Major”, but, instead of just one, all of us swallowed the star and now it shines on all of our foreheads.

But I’m a writer. Ever since second grade I’ve been a writer. I’m a storyteller. It doesn’t necessarily take two years of grad school to understand the importance of audience for storytellers. I believe that there might be a few writers out there who don’t really need an audience. I hear of some storytellers who have to write because their own imaginary characters insist on it. Perhaps these writers don’t have much need for an audience. Others might see writing as a form of therapy, or believe in their worlds just that much. I don’t. Moreover, I want a reception. I want a response. Hey, I’ll say it: I want praise–or at least some indication that whatever I’m doing is working.

Many writers will tell you that the way to carry on is through a highly personal writing group, and I do have a form of that. Yet that feels a bit professional. And, even with a group, writing remains largely a slow, isolating act, and for what? The love, largely.

I think it might be in Timequake wherein Kurt Vonnegut points out the misfortune of how industrialism, which led to our own information age, put all respectable local talents, whatever  art form they practice in, in direct “competition” with the very best in the entire world. Others have likened all writers throughout the ages to sitting around one collective fire, taking turns telling their stories and contributing to the great conversation that has been taking place since language was invented.

It might be that my one little piece of that fire is down at River Quest Games on Sunday afternoons. And I’m sharing what we share there with you here, wherever you might be in the world.

Yes, I realize how much I’m overthinking this. If you’re trying to understand why I’m putting so much time and argument into my act of engaging in roleplaying games, hey, I am too. I think there are two reasons for this compulsion. One is egotistical, the other might be altruistic.Let’s dispense with the unflattering one first: yes, as I’ve already suggested, I believe I deserve to be famous. Yes, I know it’s irrational, and I know that it’s the sin of pride. And I know that in my mind, as I already have said, that there actually is little reason to justify this belief. But still it persists. It is a character flaw, perhaps an overly developed or inflated sense of destination or vocation. Or perhaps I’m not so different from anyone else who quite naturally sees oneself as the hero of one’s own story. That said, I still feel like a bit of an outlier. I was quite struck, a number of years ago, when a friend insightfully said of me, “Gabe believes that everyone should just love him.”

Here’s the altruistic reason: I know I’m not the only writer–and it’s true that this might ultimately be a self-serving perspective for us all–who senses there might be some sacred trust in the vocation of writer. There’s a bit of Jesus’ parable about the talents in the suggestion. And I’ve long suspected and long put off a trip to the O.E.D. to investigate if there’s more than mere accident in the use of a word that means a form of Roman currency and also human talent. There’s a sense that if I don’t succeed as a writer–make up my investment of talent with interest–then I’ve failed not only myself but God by burying my meager ability in the sand.

Or in a roleplaying game. Patient reader, I sense I might be nearing my final point this post. A number of years ago, while self-reflecting for a creative writing portfolio, I articulated a consideration of giving myself near wholly over to running roleplaying games. This was actuated, actually, by the above consideration of my talent. Because of lack of publishing opportunities, most of my creative work was de facto being produced in secret. I felt a natural and better use of my abilities then might be to share them with my community in the form of Game Master.

My professor’s response, written in his customary fountain pen, deeply unsettled me. I’m quoting verbatim here, but he said such an attitude would be akin to that of the lotus eaters, who say, since the world is but a dream anyway, let us dream all the more deeply. Now, I’m not sure precisely what my professor meant by this. Neither does he, I suspect, for when, not long ago, I told him I was roleplaying these days and reminded him of his own words, he said that it was only important that I continue writing.

Just keep telling stories, he said.

So here I am, telling stories, relaying the stories, in fact, that we lotus eaters mumble to each other around our little corner of the global fire, the white plastic tables, pushed together to make room for us all (seven players total, last session!) down at River Quest Games on Sundays. I hope you find something inspiring in our adventures.


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