Guest Post: World building: Novels v. RPGs with James Silverstein

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In the spirit of sharing the awesome, I have a guest post for you readers today.
James Silverstein is the author of Necropolis, now available on amazon.com in print and ebook. He is a veteran game-master, and an articulate writer as well as a skillful storyteller. I can say from experience he’s also a solid friend to have in your corner on a bad day.
Fans of the podcast, Of Mooks & Monsters, should enjoy this post because it’s about world building for roleplaying games.
With that in mind, I’ll get out of the way now. Without undo ado, please welcome James Silverstein to the mental cellar.

Buy James Novel, Necropolis! Print Kindle Ebook
Of Mooks & Monsters Podcast

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World building: Novels v. RPGs
(or: Movie Sets vs. Community Playgrounds)

by
James Silverstein
World building for a novel. In the beginning, we said, “Let there be story!” And… there was still this sheet of blank white paper there. We needed a place for our characters to do their jobs in.
And while those two lines look mostly identical, and while the processes of filling those white spaces are quite similar, there are strong contrasts, in the end, as to what we’re building: Movie sets, or playgrounds.
When building a world for a novel, I get to mold the entire universe around an action, or a set of actions, that the characters in the book will do. While writing the novel ‘Necropolis’, I needed Marcus Sage to find out about an infidelity. Boom, suddenly there was a nice seedy hotel that he could peep into. The blinds were down, of course, so there were only silhouettes, but still, it was there because it needed to be there. Likewise, a steamy brothel, a dirty alleyway, a federal office; everything existed to further the plot as I saw it. In other novels, unlikely-placed planks of wood, or lonely roads, or diners in the middle of nowhere all sprung up, populated by a plethora of characters (even a monkey!), and all became part of the world. Many, if not all of these places and people would be revisited more than once in the course of the writing. Some would even become more central plot points along the road. And while I found myself sometimes writing spaces simply for flavor, even in the end, these places helped inform the action or atmosphere of the story itself. Everything was built, custom-made, for the plot and adventure I was trying to put forth. It was a movie set, with everything in a specific place, and the lighting, the scenery, the props, even the extras; everything was planned and placed exactly where I needed it (largely to be adjusted in the editing process, but this, too, made it like a film set.) Furthermore, I built this world alone. Yes, there were moments I would talk to friends or other authors to smooth out some rough edges, but in the end, everything came together for a story in my head that went onto paper.
* * *
World building for a game. In the beginning, we said, “Let there be game!” And… there was still this sheet of blank white paper there. We needed a place for the players to play in.
World building in a game is another creature entirely. Most GM’s know that if you place your players in a static movie set, they’ll do one of two things. Either they’ll become bored at the possible railroad nature of what’s ahead of them (for those who aren’t familiar with the term ‘railroad’, I suggest checking out this excellent article: http://www.gnomestew.com/game-mastering/gming-advice/how-you-prep-is-how-you-run/ ), or they’ll immediately set themselves to knocking over that piece of scenery over there, or that light stand just next to the camera. Granted, there are those players who are just fine playing in a static world, but I find them to be few and far between.
The world building for an RPG, I feel, is best done dynamically. Much like the building of the world of the novel, things appear as they need to in order to serve the story, but in this case, the story evolves with the participancy of the players. You are no longer building a movie set, but a community playground. Because of this, I find that allowing the players share the heavy lifting can do a world (no pun intended) of good for the construction and the familiarity of the world. The dwarf needs a homeland to come from. If the player suddenly pipes up and mentions that his homeland has a problem importing grain, and he wants to make it a priority for his character to get some sent back? Instant world building detail, and the GM didn’t have to lift a finger.
Now, this particular detail can, of course, go off in many directions. You may, later in the campaign, revisit why the grain problem is as it is. Are there bandits? Is there some curse the dwarves are under? Is it politics? Is there perhaps a monkey involved? Suddenly the dynamic world building has brought you more game and more game-plot. Again, you didn’t have to lift a finger to get it. And if you don’t feel like you want to drive the plot in that direction? The world detail is still there for you to simply know about. It informs the dwarf’s character.
Further, a more dynamic approach allows the players to run amok in a world that they feel they have a greater stake in. When a merchant appears that one of the players mentioned in their backstory, there’s an automatic connection. Whether the characters know the merchant already or not, the players know that they helped create her, and that investment tends to draw players in much more quickly and completely. This is the ‘community’ nature of a community playground; when the entire neighborhood builds the swingsets and the slides, everyone feels they have a stake in both the upkeep and the general use of the place.
When writing for a novel, I almost always outline the action as I see it, and build around that. It is, as I’ve mentioned, a solo act. While writing a game, I have a small exercise I give to my players that involves them in the process; a sort-of forced brainstorming session that goes like this*:
During character creation, I have each player come up with three people their character gets along with, three that they don’t, and three that they just know, without any specific bonhomie or animosity. All they need is a name and a line or two of description. I encourage players to find ways to link their nine NPC’s together, and often I’ll give some small benefit to the players that do so (in the form of a little bonus XP or the like). If possible, I like to do this in a group; it fosters discussion about events, places, and people in the backstory of the characters. It’s more instant world building and investment for the players. Suddenly the elf’s uncle Chuck who was so nice to him is also the sneering noble that the human has crossed swords with, and their duchy is the one that the mutant druid grew up in. A whole corner of the world has sprung into being through the pre-game interaction of the players.
Of course, in the end, there is a certain level of authorship and editor-ship expected from you as the GM. You get key veto power. You can tell the dwarf that no, their clan didn’t invent the nuclear bomb, or that the mutant druid can’t live that far south, or that the mage isn’t betrothed to the princess. In lieu of this, however, I suggest taking the ideas and using them in different ways. Certainly, the dwarves did invent a super-weapon. It recently was stolen and is about to be detonated in the human lands. The PC’s might want to stop that. Certainly, the druid lived that far south. She was exiled from the northern tribes, and there are still bounty hunters looking for her because of it. Certainly, there was an almost-betrothal for the mage, but the princess has asked to extend the courtship for reasons that seem quite arcane and mysterious. In this practice, you as a GM still maintain power over the world, but the PC’s still get the feeling of investment from their work.
In the end, while world building for a novel encompasses a story, world building for a game encompasses many stories; at least as many as you have PC’s, and likely quite a few more. The lifting there is heavier, but you have a lot of extra hands to make the job light. Use them to your best advantage in building the best playground you can make.
Oh, and don’t ever forget to add a monkey. Trust me on this one.

*(Note: I apologize for not properly crediting whomever I lifted this from: I’ve been using it for decades, and I don’t remember whom I first got the idea from.)

Rem’s Dream has launched!

Rem’s Dream is out on all platforms. I’ve been looking forward to writing that.

Just to start off, here are some links:
Amazon
Other Distributors

This book is about coming of age in the near future, when dreams are fuel for the world, and also the home of the greatest threat to humanity. Nightmares abound and they have teeth.

Do us both a favor and give it a read.

REM'S DREAM6 ebook lq

Oh, and Tenlyres will be back this Friday, with Chapter 26. Don’t think that means I won’t still be talking about Rem’s Dream for a few weeks. And thanks to everyone who reads here.

As always, thanks for reading.

Rem’s Dream – Cover!

Tomorrow Rem’s Dream will release.

I’m excited to see what people think of it.

It’s a pretty big book compared to what I’ve released so far, and I think it also has the best cover of anything I’ve released yet.

And here it is.

REM'S DREAM6 ebook lq

Check out the book tomorrow. It will be available wherever fine ebooks are sold.

Announcing Rem’s Dream

A week or two ago, I mentioned that I had a new book ready to come out over at my website (timniederriter.com). Well, the time for that book to go free into the world is here.

Almost.

Rem’s Dream, my first full cyberpunk novel, will release on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and all other major online booksellers this Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016.

I’ve got the book ready, but as I go through the publishing process, I think it is important to stand back for a moment and let you what there is to love about this book.

Rem is a tough young heroine.

After a nightmare infects Rem’s brain, her ambition of becoming a dream-scout seems impossible. Haunting visions threaten more than her goal. The nightmare pursues her at every turn.

She must struggle to uncover the truth of the nightmare and find the secrets of the dream world before her mind unravels forever. Strangers become allies. Friends become enemies.

Dreams become reality.

Thanks for reading and keep watching this page and my website as the launch itself arrives later this week.

Words from Tim

This is the first post here that is neither podcast nor fiction in quite a while. The Serial, Tenlyres, has been going for about six months at this point.

I think it is about time I reintroduce myself and my other work.

That goes double because I have just got the updated covers of my short stories released, and I have another novel almost ready to release in ebook.

I want to go through the books I have out in the order I released them. It may seem a bit early in my career for a retrospective, but these stories are all still good and I want you to know a little about them. If you are a reader of Tenlyres you may have noticed the sidebar where I have the book covers.

Right now, there are four of them.

First of all, over a year and a half ago, is a little short story called Stolen Parts.

Stolen Parts is about a pair of necromancers who are also a girlfriend and boyfriend having relationship trouble. What can bring them back together? Her heart is stolen, and he tries to save her. He is gonna need her help to get it back from the small-town master necromancer who stole it. I think it’s a fun, and funny, little urban fantasy story.

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Next up, is the first story in my “Clean” world. It’s got a long name. Ludosensitvity.

Ludosensitivity means something along the lines of “sensitivity to play” or “game sense”.

The setting is the near future, but a very weird near-future where the population gains psychic abilities that they can use to network like computers. There are many complications that result from this set-up. This short story focuses on a corporate buy-out… resolved over a game of chess between two people, both using psychic abilities.

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I released my first novel-length fiction last January. It’s a series starter, and I am at work on the sequel.

It’s called “Hunter and Seed” and is the first in the Maker Mythos. It follows a man from another dimension but exiled to our Earth as he breaks the law to pursue a thief across multiple worlds. At stake? The creation and shaping of a new world. This is a fast-paced urban fantasy novel with a lot of adventure elements. It’s also a send-up of some classic fantasy tropes. The protagonist, Saul, is definitely a bit of an antihero. As he struggles to do the right thing he also has trouble giving up his own selfish goals.

The first part of Hunter and Seed, the Earthborn Hunter, is available for free on every major site my work is found other than Amazon at the moment. It’s quite popular over at Barnes & Noble.

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That brings us to Tenlyres, the current serial in progress. I’m pretty proud of the way this story is evolving, and I enjoy the serialization process. You can get the compilation of the first third of the story over at Amazon.com and on other sites like Barnes & Nobel and Apple. This story is VERY out-there epic fantasy with a lot of odd technology, including firearms.

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That’s where we stand. Rem’s Dream is my next novel. It’s cyberpunk, and should work for a younger audience. Follow the young heroine, Rem, as she grows up in a near-future where dreams are both the next frontier and the source of energy for the waking world. That will be up in a few weeks, and I will be back to chat with you again as that gets closer.

REM'S DREAM6 ebook hq

Another chapter of Tenlyres is out tomorrow. So watch out for that.

Thanks, and keep reading.

Announcement: Lore of the Worlds

Today I woke up in Colorado. I am here for my brother’s graduation from his PH.D. program. The ride through Nebraska was rough, but here I am.

As you have noticed by now, this post is not fiction. Tenlyres is on a break this week, as well as next week.

In related news, I am starting a podcast and youtube show next week.

Lore of the Worlds will be a lore podcast about the universes I make and have made. I wanted to bring you the first episode yesterday, but something about being in a car for over twelve hours really ran me down.

I am happy to say that this show will be semi-dramatic, in that I will not usually be as conversational in it as I am on this blog. I will have to wait to share it with you, however.

So, that’s my excuse for the week. I’ll be back soon.

Thanks for reading.