Tag Archives: GURPS

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 sjgames.com 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.






Role-playing in Writing

Seems to me that I’m usually  late to the game when it comes to some of the novel writing concepts floating around, and this may well be one of them.
I’m gonna write about it anyway.
I started playing role-playing games back when Dungeons & Dragons was pretty much the only game in town (almost literally). Yes, I saw ads in comic books for another TSR game called Gamma World that looked intriguing, and I knew somehow about the game Traveller, though I no longer remember how I knew about it. Whatever the case, I was never able to play either of these other games. We played First Edition D&D up until the 90s—we never really bought into any of the other editions. Then, in rather rapid order, we discovered Rifts and GURPS and left D&D behind.
Then, sometime in the late 90s, maybe to early Aughts, we stopped playing. The group dwindled to three people, meaning that two people were players while the third was always the Game Master, and we decided we knew one another too well for the game to be really intriguing with so few players, so we stopped.
Now, flash forward to today. The guy I work with is a role-player and he’s gotten me interested in it again. To the point where I’m trying to put together a GURPS version of Classic World of Darkness (I won’t go into explaining what that is. If you really wanna know, google it).

And that’s got me thinking: how much do we, as writers, role-play when we write? Do we all do it, or is it like outlining vs. seat-of-the-pants writing, where some do it one way, some another, with yet others doing something in between?
When I write my stories about Lyle Villines, I engage in quite a bit of role-playing. It’s not so much that Lyle is an extension of me (though that’s true) as it is I immerse myself in the character of Lyle Villines in order to make him sound more real. He shares a lot of my history and ideals because, as I was writing, this was the easiest way to give him a ring of authenticity. I don’t have to make up details about him and his past because I’m not. I’m drawing from my own life.
I suspect many authors do the same thing. I remember being surprised when I found out how many real-life details Stephen King, um, appropriated for his fictional town of Derry, Maine. Learning that also took the blinders off for me and opened up lots of new possibilities for me in my writing. I just took it a step further and set Lyle’s story in the very real Washington County and surrounding areas. What I changed were the details, such as who has been elected sheriff, things like that.
The downside to this is it takes getting in a certain frame of mind to write Lyle’s stories. I role-play more with Lyle, as he’s my flagship character (if there is such a thing. If not, there is for me lol). And, when you’ve had a lot of time away from writing a character as I have with Lyle, that makes it harder to get back in the right frame of mind to keep Lyle sounding like Lyle. I have to become him again, and that’s kinda like getting to know someone again after you haven’t seen them in a long time. You’ve both changed since last time you were together, and that affects your writing.
Now that I’ve got some time off, I’m going to do my best to re-immerse myself in Lyle in order to get the prequel done and rewrite the beginning of the first full novel.
How about you? Do you role-play your characters? Or is it more like watching a movie for you? How do you write about your characters?

Shooting For The Moon

A few posts back, I wrote about handling criticism. I tried to talk about handling it properly, about learning that it’s not some kind of personal attack (or, at least, it shouldn’t be, but we’re all human), that it’s there, in fact, to help us improve our work. Learning this isn’t easy. You have to develop a thick skin. If you can, you should learn to enjoy it. Doesn’t mean you have to agree with every opinion. I tend to look at opinions from my group and resort to a form of democracy: if several people have a problem with something, fix it. If it’s pretty much evenly divided, it’s a wash. Leave it alone.

We can be very hard on ourselves, though. That idea that seemed so incredible when we first got it can seem utterly ridiculous when we finish the first draft. I know someone who wrote a sequel (and this person will know who they are when they read these words) and decreed that it was utter trash (or was it “This is a piece of shit”?) and said it would never see the light of day. I was lucky enough to read these “leftovers” and happen to disagree with the writer. I think it’s a very good story. But, in all fairness, that’s not my decision to make.

I happen to have a similar story, which I’ve mentioned here before: an urban fantasy I wrote before the current craze in such novels started. I liked the idea of urban fantasy, and when I wrote this one, they were hard to find. Some Laurell K. Hamilton, along with a few ventures into the field by established writers who were dabbling in something different. My interest came from role-playing games, named the GURPS version of White Wolf‘s Mage: The Ascension, which does a very good job of translating legendary magick (they spell it with the k at the end, so I will to for that application) and making their mages very powerful while still giving them a system of checks and balances that accounts for why so few people actually believe in magick. In fact, they did such a good job that, for me, it was hard to get away from their setting. My urban fantasy, centered around a magus and a vampire allying themselves against a common foe, bears a lot of resemblance to the White Wolf magickal system.

I won’t  go so far as to say that I think the story is a piece of junk that should never be published. I think that basic story is pretty good, but the writing itself is weak, in my opinion. My characters, who live in a darker reality than you or I know, are far too nice to one another, for one thing. And they aren’t jaded enough. They should make alliances that include each party watching the other carefully. I wanted my two characters to fall in love by the end, because I had a larger picture in mind for their offspring, and I had them making nicey-nice too quickly. The dark grittiness just sort of fell by the wayside somewhere along the line.

Maybe someday I’ll rewrite it with more dark grittiness. More like a crime novel. We’ll see.

The point is, we can’t be too hard on ourselves. The author I mentioned above does this with a little too much regularity for me. I like their work, and I eagerly await each one, even those with subject matter that I don’t much care for in anyone else’s work. Yes, I’m biased toward this person, to an extent, and I freely admit it. Doesn’t mean I’d necessarily enjoy what this person first wrote about (this author looks to be making a switch to YA novels, and I can’t wait to read their first one, which is being written as I, um, write this).

 I’m not saying don’t put your best effort forward. Of course you want to do your best every time. Go on. Shoot for the moon. But be realistic and understand that you won’t always hit it. Season your expectations with reality.

Do your best. Don’t turn into a hack, as certain authors I used to admire seem to have done. I’ve given up entirely on one of them because he justifies it by saying he has to churn out a novel every three months to make a living at it. I haven’t peeked into his bank account, but I view this claim with a jaundiced eye. This guy is a bestseller in his genre and I have a hard time believing that that means he’s struggling with his finances. My last straw came when he wrote a very mediocre book as part of a series, then proceeded to use up a quarter of the novel’s length with a long, complaining author’s note. I don’t care how sick your horses got and how much time that took away from your writing. That’s part of life. Deal with it.

Sorry. Guess I digressed there. You’ll notice I do that from time to time.

I’m sure we’d all like to write something that would endure like Homer’s or Shakespeare’s works have done. It would be nice to think that people will still be reading and enjoying my work five hundred years or more from now (although I have yet to meet anybody outside of an NPR interview who truly claims to have liked The Odyssey and The Iliad). Heck, if I could have Mark Twain’s enduring appeal, I think I’d be happy. Well, if I was still around a hundred years after my death, that is. Small caveat there.

We can’t all be Mark Twain, though. Or Shakespeare. All we can do is our best. And if it doesn’t always measure up to our personal standards, that’s life.

The hard part is in deciding what to do with the subpar stuff. I mean, sure, the basic idea, when all else fails, is to view them as learning experiences. Never throw the ms away so that you’ve got it to look at from time to time. You might call the file “Object Lesson Number 1” or something like that, just to remind yourself.

On the other hand, what if everyone who reads it likes it? I’ve not had any negative feedback on my urban fantasy. I’ve been told it’s a good story and I should market it. I think it’s basically a good story, though I don’t care for some of the ways I wrote it. And as for marketing it, how the heck could I make it stand out now? The market’s saturated with the things, and while I think mine’s okay, it’s not a standout, by any means. Realistically, the chances of it getting picked up aren’t that good. Maybe if I’d had the courage to try and sell it when I wrote it six or seven years ago, I would have stood a better chance. That was just as urban fantasies were starting to take off.

Of course, if I’d done that, I might not have ventured into crime.

So what do I do with my story? The latest solution I’ve come up with is, rewrite it the way I’d like to see it, then maybe try to sell it under a pseudonym. In a year or so. Maybe. And that’s a big maybe. I think people would like it, and I’d still like to pursue the larger story it’s something of a prequel to.

But not right now. Right now, I gotta get Steve and Eddie across the country, and they have to stay alive long enough for one of them to (possibly) kill the other one. And then go to Rio.

What would you do with something like that? What will you do with that ms that’s been gathering dust (even if it is just e-dust), that you don’t think really measures up? Will you let it see the light of day, let someone else read it and give their opinion? Or will you let them give their opinion and then ignore it?

It’s a tough decision. And the hardest part is not being too hard on yourself.