Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Is RPG Worldbuilding "Writing"?

After rehearsal last night, my pianist (whom I met in grad school for English) and I retired to a local pub for drinks and conversation. Since we hadn't seen each other for a while, we did the usual catching-up Q&A.  Among one of the first questions out of his mouth was, "so... have you written anything lately?"

He was referring to fiction and poetry, to which my answer was (sadly) "no".  But as I was driving home later, I caught myself thinking about all of the worldbuilding, adventure-creating, and connected blogging that I've done here recently.  Does this stuff count as "writing"?  I'm not sure. On the one hand, it feels very creative and certainly requires a lot of word production. On the other hand, though, people (my fellow players, folks who read this blog) don't really seem to care about the writing itself. Rather, they like the interaction with the ideas, whether that means going through one of my adventures at the game table or borrowing ideas to use in their own games.

What do you think?


  1. I think it's absolutely writing. Building out a narrative, envisioning and codifying (and then often adapting) a setting, populating that setting with people and places...those are all the same things that you'd do writing a novel, a screenplay, etc.

    It's honestly the only kind of writing I can do (nonfiction technical writing notwithstanding). I often have a spark of inspiration, but I'm rarely able to actually perform the constructive, dedicated act of writing anything more lengthy than the occasional short story.

    But game writing allows me to be creative in whatever increments I want, and to vary the type of activity. I can write long-form exposition for a few pages as I'm developing a backstory for a character or a narrative backdrop for an upcoming adventure I'm going to run, then when my attention begins to drift I can switch to writing out brief descriptions of characters, geographic locations within my setting, etc. Then I can move over to mapping, and get the visual senses involved.

    In a way, designing a game setting -- or even just constructing a single RPG adventure -- has more in common with movie-making than writing. You're working with the story, the pacing, the characters, you're involving other people in the evolution of the story, you're crafting an aesthetic and a theme.

    But it's definitely, definitely writing :)

  2. 'Ditto' to Sam; I think that environment/adventure creation is akin to screen writing. If you ever jump down that rabbit hole and need a volunteer continuity editor, let me know!

  3. Agreed: it is definitely writing! Sam's response is great, so I'll comment from another perspective: RPG worldbuilding includes writing, but does it require good writing?

    You said we may be more interested in the ideas presented (here or in game) than the writing itself. From a "gathering information" purpose of this site, that may be true. But I think the majority of readers/users appreciate quality writing more than you (or even they) realize!

    If ideas are presented poorly, we notice! The "interaction with the ideas" you mention can happen without good writing, but why would we want just that, when it can be so much more? With poor writing, the takeaway will be diminished--we may not get drawn in to the world we're trying to learn more about, enjoy our stay there while we browse posts, or want to return as often for more.

    Good writing is absolutely needed in the sharing of information (for clarity, etc.). But good writing is also the backbone of the fun--it gets to enhance the illusion of the game world, bring characters to life, and add creativity and interest to the story. And that's the entertainment part that we're all playing the game for, and referencing game-related resources for.

    For these reasons, I very much appreciate that you write well, Gabe. (And I'm not just saying that to be nice so I won't be eaten by a grue...)

    Marsha (AKA Seph)


Be nice or you may be eaten by a grue.