by Miles Tan

How the passion for writing is ignited varies for different people. Back in high school, mine was sparked by the usual suspects: intense emotions, unforgettable experiences, striking books and films. I stayed up late during school nights to scribble madly in my notebooks, and shared works-in-progress with my friends, who would pass my notebooks around. I enjoyed the thrill of seeing their reactions firsthand while they read. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. In college, I took up Fine Arts and eventually exchanged my pen for a paintbrush.

Until I was introduced to roleplaying games.

And no, not just the video game kind—that came a bit later—I mean, the pen-and-paper-roll-with-unusual-but-pretty-looking-dice kind of roleplaying. A college friend actually lured me to join his homebrew RPG (roleplaying game) with the colorful polyhedral dice they use, and I was genuinely curious what they were for. Right off the bat, I was told to create a character (I chose a redhead Red Mage with a flute. Don’t ask.) and given a very basic backgrounder: “I tell you what’s happening, you tell me what you want to do, I tell you what happens next.” And the rest, as they say, was history.

Imagine being anyone you wanted to be. You could be a better version of yourself or someone entirely different. Given the parameters of a specific game, you could create your own character’s backstory from scratch, give him strengths and weaknesses, a happy or tragic past, short and long term goals. And when you’re ready, the game master—the storyteller—thrusts you into a new and unfamiliar world where your choices and interactions define the rest of your adventure. This, I realized, was everything that I loved about writing.

The author as the GM

In game speak, GM is short for game master. They are the lead storytellers, the arbiters of rules and sometimes, even the other non-playable characters—important or supporting. GMs keep things in line and judge the consequence of the players’ choices and actions. They react to the decisions the players make and decide how a scenario or a core plot turns out.

Despite any GM’s carefully-laid plans and opening leads, the unpredictability of the players’ choices means there is still a very high possibility they end up winging it every session. The whole thing can be very exciting and highly addicting. A good GM would know not to deny the players their actions and to let things play out instead. This is something I found useful because even the characters I write tend to have a mind of their own. Some scenes don’t work out the way I initially imagined them, and characters refused to talk to each other properly. I had to call on the skills I had developed from playing RPGs to adapt and let the story be my guide.

Writing All I Want for Christmas and Hot Like This with Chris Mariano and Chrissie Peria was pretty much like being in a roleplaying game. We were the GMs for particular scenes, writing the scenes the way we think they should be. We had an outline but didn’t follow it strictly, and we just let it flow. Editing it was a group effort as well, and it was mostly to make the scenes come together seamlessly.

IC versus OOC

You must be thinking, that’s a lot of acronyms! In roleplaying, these terms are very important. IC simply means being ‘in character’ while OOC means ‘out of character.’ A player’s character has a limit to what information is available to them, and must not act on anything outside that information. The GM can also call ‘Check!’ if your prim and proper character suddenly acts OOC and charges into battle without provocation.

It’s the same with writing. I’ve become more conscious about my characters’ actions and thoughts, and how consistent or inconsistent they are. If something happens to them, how will they react? I try to know my character as well as I can. I put myself in their shoes, and try thinking about how they would solve their own problems.

Roleplaying has helped me work through scenes that I had trouble with. When a confrontation scene in Finding X stumped me, I asked a friend to help me figure out how exactly the scene could potentially work out. We each took on a character and played out how the conversation would go. Usually I do this a lot by myself, especially for work (see: rubber duck debugging). But there can only be so much you can do by yourself, right?

Gaining XP through gaming

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Mine obviously comes from gaming. Not having a lot of time to sit down with friends to play a tabletop RPG as much as I’d like, I earn experience points (or XP) by playing other games. From a mobile otome game to an immersive RPG with multiple endings, I discover different ways to engage the player into the story.

Believe it or not, even the crackiest visual novel game (dating pigeons, anyone?) can have the most heart-wrenching backstory or unforgettable characters. I would be playing a horror survival game, but ensuring two specific characters alive because they still had to confess their feelings to each other. Or I would be fighting my way through a horde of tainted creatures, keeping the same people in my party because I ship two of them together. Or maybe, I would be preparing to fight a war and recruiting people, only to (deliberately) overhear two people sharing a quiet time together in the eye of the storm.

I want to be able to tell a story that is engaging and reaches out to people, even if it’s just in that moment they read it. If I could tell a story just like that, I’d be more than happy.

RPGs have not only been a way for me to pass the time. They have also taught me a lot of things and helped me pwn most of my writing challenges. Now, every time I start on a fresh character sheet or every time I take the controller in my hands, I hope that each new game will help shape and share the stories in my head.

Now, why not pick up a d20 and roll for your character stats? ☁

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