RPGs applied to collaborative novel writing?

edited April 2009 in Story Games
Does anyone know if there have been any efforts into applying ideas from RPGs into collaborative novel writing? By ideas I mean something like each person in charge of writing for one of the characters, and perhaps some rules for determining how the story goes when the writers don't agree. Basically an RPG but with the result being a novel.


  • You might want to check this site. It's design as a way to run play by post type of game, though the objective is clearly to generate a coherent readable fiction.
  • Steven Erikson and Cameron Esselmont created the background for their fantasy novels by playing 1-on-1 GURPS and stuff.
    He talks about it in an interview on YouTube.
  • edited April 2009
    Posted By: bouletYou might want to check thissite. It's design as a way to run play by post type of game, though the objective is clearly to generate a coherent readable fiction.
    Thanks for the link, boulet.

    Hey guys...I'm fairly new here, this is my first post. *waves*

    While the entire goal of our site is to create readable stories...we didn't start it with the idea of making a novel in mind. ...as a matter of fact the games are so sprawling...that to cut it down to the size of single printable novel, would be near impossible. I do, however have plans of creating some character specific books, using lulu (or something similar), adding graphics and making them available to the members. Some of the characters there, like Soldier Boy, seem to have a decent following.

    To clean up a game/story using this type of collaborative story type play, should be very minimal...cuz we try to keep a close tab on editing as we go. (Sometimes our enthusiasm gets the better of us.)

    Interestingly enough though...some of the writers at the site, have asked me about private space to work collaboratively on more formal projects. I think there is definite potential there as long as you kept your scope/vision narrow. ...thing with these silly games is that they gain a life of their own sometimes, like a boulder rolling down hill.
  • There are a series of YA fantasies that have been written by two collaborators playing the "letter game", which I gather involves exchanging letters written in-character to each other's characters, with no collaboration OOC. Not quite an RPG perhaps, but headed in that direction.

    I think if you structured this well you could definitely make it work. An Amber wiki game that I played in wasn't a million miles from it - we each had our own character and wrote collaboratively, with a GM providing opposition and drawing it together. We had kind of notional stats for things about our characters which offered structure to what they could and would do.

    See also my idea for a play-by-blog colonial diary game.
  • First, if you're going to write it as you go along (rather than writing it up after you played a game), it'll take a loooong time. Taking turns writing, if you alternate the characters, can take many hours (for synchronous/play-by-chat games) or even a week or more (for asynchronous/play-by-post games) just for one single scene. So for your first draft, consider a time frame of one to several years, unless all players/writers can play every day for many hours (like I did when I was in college).

    And I would think that at the very least, a collaborative story resulting from a game needs as much editing as the first draft of any novel. Which means someone will have to go in later and do major revisions, merge or split up characters, cut out whole chunks, add subplots, improve the pacing, and so on. And a lot of that is not just editing as you go (hi and welcome, China, by the way :), which is mostly grammar and spelling; it's editing a whole thing once you've got the vision of the complete novel.

    Still, I would love to see story gaming ideas applied to these kinds of games, something I've been thinking about for a long time.

    Mike, how long did that Amber game take you? What percentage of a "full novel" do you think resulted from that? That's pretty cool stuff.
  • I definitely see time being a big concern. To alleviate this I was thinking that one person would write an outline for each scene, giving the gist of what happens and what people say. Then the individual writers can come in to fill out their part. Because the outline is there, this can be done with some degree of nonlinearity. Matching dialogue could still have some issues, but as long as the parts written later match up to those written earlier (even if this doesn't match the chronology in the text) it would work. Actually, dialogue written in random order could be interesting.
  • I think that if you kept it small...and had just one or two dedicated collaborators, and a very detailed shared vision, it might go faster that you would expect.

    Especially if you used some of the collaborative tools available, that can sneak through security holes at the work place. I'm continually amazed by how many people do most of their writing while they're suppose to be working. A lot of wiki sites, google docs, and sites like mine, can sneak through most of those holes.

    I think the outline/shared vision is the key...as soon as you turn it into an honest to goodness RPG, where there are no tracks, and each player plays their character. Bam! It can become sprawling (awesome - but so big) and really hard to whittle down after the fact.
  • Posted By: Christian GriffenMike, how long did that Amber game take you? What percentage of a "full novel" do you think resulted from that? That's pretty cool stuff.
    It rocked on toast.

    Looking at the OOC emails we sent, we were playing for almost exactly a year.

    I'm guessing here, but I'd say if you edited it into a book we probably produced about one and a half to two and a half novels of the size that Zelazny wrote (i.e. short ones). My wet-finger-in-the-air call is that we had around 60,000 to 80,000 words all up. I could be underestimating dramatically.

    There were seven or eight of us, though - not all playing at once, some dropped out and others joined. There were usually about five at any one time.
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