I'm curious if any of your plot, world building, or characterization comes from gaming. Assuming there are some, examples would be interesting. How long do ideas tumble around in that noggin before you use them?
- David T. Allen
My answer rambled on a bit so I fleshed it out into a blog post.
I've noticed comments along gaming lines in several of the reviews of The Dungeoneers - readers saying that the book captures a classic tabletop RPG feel. Those are some of my favorite comments because that was the hardest part of writing the book. The Dungeoneers obviously has roots in gaming and, yes, some of those roots are in a specific gaming campaign, but it also grabs elements from many other places.
I suspect that many aspiring fantasy writers try the route of writing up that amazing, epic campaign they played with their friends. After all, there's a plot, characters, action, all just waiting to get written down and captured for posterity. And who better to do it than someone who played through it?
And, like the hundreds who tried it before them, they discovered that RPG campaigns are ridiculously hard to turn into a functional novel. One doesn't easily realize the plot holes, thin characters, limited point of view of the story, coincidences, etc. that are happening in most games until they try to write them out.
I know this because I spent years trying to do the same thing. The campaign was epic and spanned years of play. The book was an unholy wreck and still resides on my hard drive. But it taught me where home campaigns do fit into books: as history. Using an RPG campaign you played as your world history means makes you an expert loremaster. You don't have to consult a sheaf of notes you cribbed together a year ago about your world's history; you were there.
So here's some of what's what.
As mentioned, world lore is the primary survivor of the campaign. The Hermits, the Godspires, the Daemonwars, Bonebin. It functions well as a backdrop; every world needs myths and legends. Some of its geography has been carried over as well.
The original kernel of the idea for The Dungeoneers, however, came over twenty years ago from a friend's account of a gaming session. Upon completion of a dungeon crawl, his character (a dwarf, naturally) salvaged the dungeon boss's throne and installed it on to the top of his wagon. This was a story that grabbed me in multiple ways. It gave the idea of dismantling every stick of a dungeon for the loot as well as forming a team specialized in doing so. After all, if you're taking that pragmatic of an approach to the loot haul, it seems natural to extend it to every other aspect of dungeoneering.
How many computer RPG dungeons have elaborate puzzles that require massive effort on the part of the player, all of which could easily have been avoided had the character thought to bring a ladder?
Additionally, the idea of unrestrained dwarven ingeniousness in wagon customization seemed a fun thing to play with. Alaham's throne, actually, was originally introduced to the story with the idea that Thud would have it mounted on his wagon and see that original idea out in style. Then I got around to writing the description of the throne and Thud didn't want it anymore. I suspect he may have had it burned.
Then there's the miscellany that gets pulled in from all over the place. The waffle story was something my dad told my brother and I as kids. My brother's sole response after reading the book: "Liked the book. You used the waffle story!" The book also has James Bond jokes, Sherlock Holmes jokes, spelling, language and grammar jokes, quantum mechanics jokes, math jokes, French puns, etc. etc.
I also take a lot of ideas from art and photography. I have a rather enormous collection of pictures I find inspiring. Many of the characters of the dwarves were actually inspired by an amazing series of photographs of homeless people. Mungo was largely conceived from an image of a bespectacled old man laughing (shown in an earlier blog post). The entrance to Alaham's crypt was taken from Turkish ruins. Squitters was a wirehair Terrier owned by a friend's mother.
The storyline itself was conceived entirely for the book. When I first sat down to start writing I realized that, while I had a number of what I felt were interesting ideas for dungeons. None of them were going to work for a first book though. The first book needed to establish the "baseline" of how the Dungeoneers operated. Readers needed to see them in a familiar dungeon environment to see how they approached familiar problems. And, because a bog standard dungeon isn't going to carry a novel, I let the dungeon go ahead and get very unusual once they got far enough in. The plot was initially constructed to fit the requirements of introducing the characters and the world.
When you're writing you pull ideas from potentially any moment you've ever lived. Anything you've seen or heard, anyone you've met. My focus was on things that made me laugh, especially in regard to gaming. And I'm betting another few books that there's a lot more laughs where those came from.