In pre-COVID times, we used to have role-playing game conventions. A time of meat pies, and pizza (before I was diagnosed as gluten intolerant, alas) and crowded halls. Of buying too many dice sets and books from the stores. Of playing weird boardgames found in the library library and trying to figure out the rules late at night. But they were a long time ago.
But Melbourne announced a convention—the first in what seemed like centuries. So I dug up my in-progress Vestige World roleplaying system and ran four convention games. The idea I had when developing this world for my fiction was that I could use roleplaying games as a creative test lab. Develop cool stuff, and see what people responded to the in the game, and what didn’t.
So what did I learn? I thought it would be hard to pitch the setting to people, but it’s been fine. (So far, I’ve pitched it as:
- Lord of the Rings meets World of Darkness.
- Onward Meets Final Fantasy VII.
- …urban fantasy, in another world that’s not earth, but still has telephones and skyscrapers.
And if I use tropes and twist the,m it’s okay! Like–the world was ruled by the Dark Emperor ruled the world two thousand years ago… but now he’s been defeated and his castle is the city’s most popular tourist attraction.
But if I wander too far away from a trope, people will point it out. Like vampires. I had vampires in initially as one of the critters, but people who played the first incarnation of the game (and those who read the first draft of Final Night) commented that the vampires weren’t anything like what they thought of as ‘vampires’ so I changed them to ‘revenants’. (They drank blood in the first version, but the sticking point was that they had to make a pact with a ghost lord to return from the dead, which was not a thing that the platonic idea of vampires in people’s minds did.)
Anyway, so it’s good to get out there using one of my favorite hobbies to share my ideas that might work its way back into my stories. I think the direct transcription of roleplaying games into written stories doesn’t work (at least for me) but it’s a great idea furnace to model and design how the world works.
Have you found that one creative pursuit helps another? Let me know.
For me, urban fantasy is defined by the late 1990s and early 2000s – not through novels, but through tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs). It was after second edition D&D had gotten dull and stale (and TSR’s long, entropic demise didn’t help) but before third edition D&D (which made our group want to pick up swords and leap into dungeons again).
So in this window, we started to play other things that weren’t D&D. Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, Cyberpunk, the Everlasting…
It was different feeling to run around a modern city than a fantasy realm, especially a local one that you were familiar with. Still, we brought over from D&D an expectation of violence, and a lot of our earlier games ended up like mafia games with fangs, leather jackets and Desert Eagles (which was the best weapon in the game!) Gradually we drifted into more character-based, thematic gaming based on those books, especially when World of Darkness started to focus on different monster types for you to explore and play – vampires, mages changelings and so on. Then we went on to explore our own ideas such as a short-lived Highlander game1 and our own visions of urban fantasy.
So when I started the urban fantasy novel project, I started to figure out what I wanted from it, how you could build a modern-day setting with lots of supernatural critters, how they interacted with each other, and how would I make this an interesting place to explore. After buckets of text later, I realised I was structuring my notes like an RPG book. Who would the characters be in the setting? What would they be? And as I work on both side by side, the novel and the RPG are complimenting each other. I hope to release them both, and will see if the RPG captures (and improves upon) the experience of those early games2 in the time of swords of Desert Eagles…