[GUEST POST] Edward Willett on Writing a Fantasy RPG

Edward Willett writes science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction and plays. He won the Aurora Award for best Canadian science fiction novel in 2009 for Marseguro (DAW). As Lee Arthur Chane he wrote the steampunkish fantasy Magebane, and as E.C. Blake he’s the author of a new fantasy trilogy beginning this fall with Masks (also DAW). He lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. He can be found online at his website EdwardWillett.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter as @EWillett, @LeeArthurChane & @AuthorECBlake.

Playing Nicely With Others: A Novelist Writes for a Computer Game

By Edward Willett

When I was a kid, I was forever disappointed by my fellow children. I always wanted to play a long-running game of detailed make-believe, in which we would each be a specific character and have wonderful adventures repelling aliens, fighting Nazis, guarding a castle, or maybe event fighting Nazi aliens from the walls of a castle.

They wanted to play Yahtzee.

I suspect one reason I became a writer at a very young age (“Kastra Glazz: Hypership Test Pilot,” by Eddie Willett, age 11) was in reaction to that disappointment. If my real-world friends wouldn’t play make-believe with me, well, the little people in my head would.

This generally makes me very happy. I like being a god, creating entire worlds, characters, systems of magic, forms of futuristic technology, religions, political systems, etc., etc.

But this does not mean that I’m not willing to play nicely with others, and recently I’ve had the opportunity to do just that: I’ve been tapped by California’s Snowfury Studios to be the writer for an ambitious fantasy roleplaying game for mobile devices code-named Project Snowstorm, which is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising $500,000.

The project came to me with the broad strokes of the story already worked out. There are a number of different “realms” — think alternate dimensions — each with its own races, history, and source of power. Most of the time, mystical barriers separate the realms. But every few millennia, those barriers weaken, and influences and creatures can move from one realm to the other.

The game had an already-animated opening sequence in which a youngster fishing with his father finds a strange creature on the dock, a creature which then helps to drive off mysteriously changed wolves and leaves him with a mysterious glowing rune on his skin.

But a lot of the backstory was not fleshed out: there were no place names, no sense of the history of the realm in which the story was set, etc., etc.

In discussion with William Diehl, who heads up Snowfury Studios, I took what I’d been given as a fait accompli and ran it through the story-making machinery in my head. We fleshed out our ideas for the various realms. We came up with a map, which I populated with strange-sounding, Mayan-based names (Mayan because of the look of the strange inscribed stone which, in the game’s trailer, releases energy to signify the beginning of the “realm break.”)

Place names like “The Teeth of the Sky” and “The Poisoned Lands” in turn generated ideas for possible game locations and events, and history for the people players will encounter (and roleplay).

It’s not a world I would ever have come up with on my own, and yet by the time all is said and done, it will have a lot of my imagination baked into it. Unlike my novels, I don’t have complete creative control, and yet I’m already feeling a sense of creative ownership: a sense that will be heightened if the game proceeds, because I’ll be writing a novella, or possibly even a novel, set in the game’s world.

The appeal to me is different, but no less alluring, than the appeal of writing my own stories set in my own worlds: it’s akin more to the pleasure I get from being in the cast of a play or musical, or directing one-the appeal of working with others to create something none of you would have come up with on your own.

In short, it’s an adult version of the childhood thrill of playing make-believe with others who are just into playing make-believe as you are.

And the best thing of all? Mom never ruins the fun by calling you in for dinner.

3 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] Edward Willett on Writing a Fantasy RPG”

  1. >>Place names like “The Teeth of the Sky” and “The Poisoned Lands” in turn generated ideas for possible game locations and events, and history for the people players will encounter (and roleplay).

    Naming stuff on maps is one of the *best* things about map-making, to me. In fact, when it comes to computer games like Civilization, I wonder why you can’t do more than just name cities. Why can’t I name that The Weimer River? or DeNardo Lake (bagel shaped) or Frantz Fields?

    When I draw a fantasy map (say, for a RPG I run, I *can*).

      1. With the original spelling of Beigel? Why not?

        The Paladin Kristin of Central Celli and her companions rode on the road south along the Beigel River, seeking the dread ruined fortress on the slopes of The Mountain of Miles.

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