One of my DA:L characters, as imagined and drawn by my daughter Aly
This blog is supposed to be about my learning experiences on the “path” to becoming an author. But it’s time for me to diverge and talk about another writing activity I indulge in. It’s a play-by-email role-playing-game (PBEM RPG).
The usual response, when I explain this activity to people I know or meet, is a blank look. Most people have heard of role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and yes, it’s a bit like that. The “game” is played by writing pieces of the story, and posting it via email to the other players. So unlike D & D, we don’t play it in real time, it’s more like writing a story cooperatively. I write all of the actions and dialogue for my own character(s), and the other players do the same for their characters. Chances are, if you aren’t a writer, or rpg-gamer, your eyes have glazed over by this part of my explanation.
We write in a shared world. The story is set in the world of Dragon Age, a video game, so technically this cooperative story is fanfiction. The name of the RPG is Dragon Age: Legacy (DA:L). From my point of view, PBEM RPG exists in a void between original writing and fanfiction, between a face-to-face RPG and a written story, between programmed characters in a video game and real people.
I thought I would delve a little more into what it is about this writing activity I like so much. I figure that my family, at least, might like to know.
First, I love the writing. To me it’s the best, most fun part of writing. Writing just for fun, writing to set the story down, writing to move the story along, writing to share the experience with a relatively small audience of other writers who are also invested in the story. Each post doesn’t need to have perfect grammar, it doesn’t have to be publish-worthy, it’s just fun.
Before I go on, let me just clarify something. Overall, the writing in our shared DA:L story may not be polished enough to be published as-is, but I think we have some damn good story telling going on.
The characters (all original) form friendships, experience adventures, and indulge in romance, conflict, etc. Writing a PBEM RPG is different than writing a story, because although I can influence the plot, I have no control over what the other characters do. That might drive some writers crazy, but I enjoy that part. As I have gotten to know the other writers, and as they have developed their characters, I am better at predicting what they might do, but I never know for sure.
Quite a few writers look disparagingly upon fanfiction. I totally understand why some people feel that way. I personally think fanfiction is a wonderful way to get started writing. It’s what got me started. But I will stop there in my defense of fanfiction because plenty of other people have covered that already.
For our RPG, using a world that is already extremely well-defined (it has a wiki and everything) just makes everything so much easier, like a D & D dungeon already mapped out. Each of the writers has played throughthe Dragon Age video game(s). The world is already built; the playground is just there for the characters to explore and enjoy, ready for the writers to create adventures there, with little effort needed from the Game Master (GM) to maintain it. Many of our players (including myself) were recruited from the Dragon Age fanfiction community.
One of the ways DA:L differs significantly from a fanfiction story, is that ALL of our player characters are original. Sure, the “cannon” characters exist in the world, but on the rare occasions when one of our player characters needs to interact with a cannon character, the GM makes sure he or she behaves in a way consistent with “cannon”. So we don’t make major changes to this world that doesn’t belong to us, we are only borrowing it after all.
One of the most important habits of writing is, as I said in my first blog post, to just keep writing. DA:L keeps me writing.
In the interest of full disclosure, there IS a down side to all this writing fun. Sometimes another player will respond the same day to a post their character is tagged in. But more often it takes several days, and occasionally as long as a month. That used to bug me. But I’m over that. Honestly, when another player goes quiet for a couple of weeks, what goes through my mind isn’t annoyance they haven’t posted, but worry that they’ve decided to quit the game. Because I personally hope to keep writing it for a very long time!
Happy Writing ^_^
Dragon Age: Legacy (my own description)
The story existed in a world created and owned by a software gaming company. Although certain locations in the world were well defined visually – as the backdrop for the popular video game – most of the world was a blank canvas. The road their characters traveled was black and white, a two-dimensional line between points on a map. The group of writers used the magic of words conveyed by email posts to give it form and substance, color and emotion, aroma and taste. The world came equipped with a history and lore, predetermined races, iron-age technology, and rules for using magic. The writers came equipped with imagination, dedication, and a passion for storytelling. The writers adopted that world and nurtured it, until it blossomed and grew into something new and unique. They brought their world to life.