There are three great loves of my life. Eighties hair metal and classic rock. My perpetually confused dog. Playing board games. Not necessarily in that order, though any combination of the three constitutes my idea of a perfect way to spend an evening. Even as I write this, I’m looking over the yet-to-be-tidied-away playing cards from our most recent gaming session, listening to Billy Idol while my dog sleeps soundly on a ridiculously overpriced orthopaedic mattress.
Of course, you can imagine I was excited at the opportunity to talk about one of these loves here. Naturally, the moment I agreed to write a blog about games, my brain instantly forgot everything I’ve ever learnt, played, or might ever want to write about. After a few days of pondering what I might write about, I realised that being surrounded by wonderfully creative people has its advantages. Mostly because I could ask them their thoughts and write about them.
So that is exactly what I did. Playing games has provided me with so much joy in life. Not to mention the lessons learnt and skills honed, and I wanted to know about the experiences of other authors. Here’s what some of my favourite writers had to say about the impact that games have had on their lives and careers.
In this post, Tim Hardie, author of the Brotherhood of the Eagle series and the recently released A Quiet Vengeance, tells us about his love of classic RPGs and how it has shaped his character development skills.
When I was growing up in the 1980s it was during that initial explosion of interest in roleplaying games, with Dungeons & Dragons becoming hugely popular. I was an avid player between 1984 and 1996. D&D was good fun but other popular games at the time included Warhammer, Call of Cthulhu’s 1920s cosmic horror, Marvel Superheroes, and the sci-fi adventures of Traveller. Frankly, if it came out in the 1980s, we played it!
By the mid-1990s me and my friends were only occasional players, and that gaming group came to a natural end as we all went our separate ways and moved away from our hometown. However, I still remember those long campaigns, some of which ran for years, and the various characters we played along the way.
Gaming helped cement my love of both fantasy and sci-fi. My reading lists both before and after getting involved is a who’s who of those influential writers who shaped the genre and gaming industry (JRR Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, Stephen Donaldson, Susan Cooper, Frank Herbert, Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke, and HP Lovecraft). I discovered new writers through gaming and what I read informed how I saw the game unfolding in my mind’s eye when we were playing.
I’m now a dark epic fantasy writer, so I guess it’s no surprise that back then my ultimate favourite was D&D. I guess it’s another angle on the old adage that you should always write what you love. Role-playing is a highly sophisticated form of storytelling. The buzz comes from the fact you’re collectively shaping that story together in a natural, organic way and there are no limits. A novel is always going to end the same way but I loved the freestyle nature of roleplaying. As I said, some of our games ran for years, over multiple campaigns.
Normally, I was involved as a player and only very occasionally ran games. Perhaps that’s why my writing is so character-based, as that was where my interest lay at the time. Whether as a player or games master, I think roleplaying helps you understand character (how should I portray this individual?), motivation (why should my character get involved in X, Y, or Z?), and compelling world-building to bring the whole thing to life.
I will say we never paid much attention to the rules (we thought Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was too complicated!), often making up our own. Storytelling was always more important than dice rolling back then. Reflecting on this over 25 years after hanging up my dice, pencil, and eraser has made me realise just how good a storyteller our regular games master was. It was a fun period of my life, and I’ll always look back on those times fondly.
Check back soon for more insights from authors about how playing games has helped develop their writing skills and inspired their stories. In my next post, I talk to Zack Argyle, author of the epic fantasy Threadlight trilogy, about his lifelong love of Dungeons and Dragons.