Playing a Novel

A few weeks back, I wrote a post that talked about role-playing while writing and asked how many people did it. I got a few answers back, and even within those few answers, opinion varied. And, judging by one of them, I may have overstated the amount of role-playing I do when I write. It’s not really an active thing, but I do have to put myself in Lyle’s (or any other character’s) head when I sit down at the keyboard—and, to me, that’s role-playing.



But there’s another way to use role-playing when you write: by turning a game into a novel.



It’s not a new idea. There’s no telling how many of the Dungeons & Dragons novels by the likes of authors such as R.A. Salvatore are simply games turned novels. And I know that Andre Norton’s 1977 novel Quag Keep is exactly that: a


Book cover, Quag Keep by Andre Norton (DAW Boo...


D&D campaign written out. There’s no shame in it.



But here’s the thing: when most people think of role-playing games, they think of science fiction or fantasy games (or some combination of the two): D&D, Traveller, Rifts, Warhammer 40000, Arcanum, the list goes on and on. Pretty much all of them are one flavor or another of speculative fiction. Even White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting is basically urban fantasy writ large. They manage to include vampires, werewolves, mages, ghosts, changelings, mummies, and who knows what else, even those that hunt the things that go bump in the night.



Seein’ as how I write crime fiction, these kinds of games ain’t gonna do me much good, are they?



But then along comes GURPS. If you don’t know, GURPS stands for Generic Universal Role-Playing System. It was designed with the idea that you could convert any game into a universal game by using its rules. And if you go to and look at their catalog, you’ll see that they have rules for such things as playing a Western rpg (GURPS Wild West is the name, if I remember right).



Back in the 90s, GURPS did a conversion of World of Darkness (WoD). I won’t go into all the details, but we played it

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

almost exclusively up until the group just kinda fell apart. I haven’t been able to role-play for years, not until I ran into a guy I work with who role-plays and I got invited to take part in a Warhammer 40000 (aka Warhammer 40k), which


is a brutal science fiction game. I also agreed to run a GURPS game of WoD while I’m off this summer.



But before the WoD game got started, I was talking to my coworker and said it would be kinda cool to try and do a game that takes place in a crime fiction setting, since that’s what I write. I just wasn’t sure what to do that would be interesting.



I thought about it some more, though, and came up with this idea: what if (there’s that question that writers are always asking themselves) the game was a short one about a group who were gonna pull off a heist? You know, like Ocean’s 11 or The Usual Suspects, something like that. I proposed this to Kevin (my coworker), and he thought it sounded like a



Cover of "The Usual Suspects (Special Edi...



good idea.



But what should they heist?



Kevin suggested a government arms shipment. Boost a load of M-16s and sell them on the black market. But how to work that? I kept thinking about it but wasn’t sure how these shipments are carried out (if anyone knows, I’d be interested to hear), and couldn’t find anything on the Internet (imagine that).



And then Kevin suggested a casino.



Ooo. I like that. A casino. Stationary target. And hell, they did it in three Ocean’s movies. Why not do it in a game? I love heist movies (watch a recent one called Takers if you haven’t seen it), and if I could just come up with something challenging, it could be interesting.



Then I had a further thought. In my prequel, Lyle is working for a guy who owns the (fictional) Southern Cross Casino and Resort in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. By the beginning of the first full-length novel, that man, and possibly the casino itself, will be out of business for some mysterious reason. What if part of that mysterious reason was that it was the victim of a heist? And what if I gamed out that heist, then wrote up it as either a short story or even a novel set in the Rural Empires universe?



That would almost be like getting a free novel. All I’d have to do is come up with the security systems on my casino and turn these guys lose. Then just try and remember most of it.



That’s what I’m gonna try, anyway. Maybe the incident will only get mentioned in Lyle’s first full-length. Or maybe it’ll work its way into the Rural Empires setting. Either way, it should be an interesting experience. I’ll keep you posted if anything comes of it.







3 thoughts on “Playing a Novel

  1. Susan McVay

    That actually sounds pretty cool….I love the sci fi….Ann McCaffrey, David Eddings, Tolkien, Robert Lynn Asprin….all of them…but I never got into the gaming. I ALSO love crime dramas….L&O, CSI,I love Patterson’s work. A crime drama roll playing game sounds enticing enough to maybe get me to play….My sons have been trying to get me to play for years and I have declined because nothing really seemed to grab my attention. I hope you develop this idea. I would love to see what you do with it.

    1. gilmiller Post author

      I’ve started role-playing when i was about thirteen and I’ve missed it. Playing through a hiest is different and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works.


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