Wednesday, 23 July 2008

A Short Post on RPG Fiction

Good rpg-inspired fiction. Why hasn't there been any?

Oh, there has been entertaining fluff. Lots of entertaining fluff: what are R. A. Salvatore or Weiss & Hickman if they aren't amusing nonsense? (I think that even at the age of about 13, when I was first reading the Dragonlance Chronicles, I knew they were nothing better than amusing nonsense. I'd finished The Lord of the Rings about three times by then, and like to think I got the difference between the two.) But why has there never risen up out of the ether anything that is really worth reading? Something more than a mindless way to pass the time? The wikipedia entry I just linked to says that there have been 190 Dragonlance novels - a figure that boggles the mind from every direction - but I'll wager virtually none of them have been more than potboilers.

There is China Mieville, who I've talked about at length before. His books don't directly have anything to do with rpgs, but he's at least open about the fact that he was a gamer and his experiences impacted on his fiction. He's an exception, though. By and large, there exists a strange, and wide, gulf between "proper" fantasy/sci-fi/horror fiction and fiction related to games (and also films and TV series).

I wonder why this is. Is it just a case that the best writers are worried they'll be constrained to the rpg ghetto? Possibly. I suppose if I was a writer brimming with confidence in my abilities I'd rather be known as a good writer than a good D&D (or whatever) writer. It's likely also a problem with the publishers, who are probably more willing to stick with tried and tested methods (the Dragonlance and Drizzt cottage industries being a case in point) than experiment with something new - which is what good writers usually do.

Still. It's unusual that while there is so much cross-fertilization between fiction and rpgs, that cross-fertilization hasn't resulted in anything approaching a Great Book as I would understand it. Or even a properly Good Book. Is it maybe the case that us gaming types invest all of our creative energies in the hobby itself, leaving nothing to spare elsewhere?


  1. I always start each new game I'm involved with (either as a player or as a GM) by crafting a bit o' short fiction set in the game world. It helps me get centered and better understand my character and his/her relationship to the setting. Usually this fiction just sits on my computer for me to stumble upon and read six months down the road, but occasionally I've shared it around the gaming table -- which usually prompts other players to pull out their own rpg short stories that they've composed recently.

  2. Patrick: I used to do that sometimes with my old gaming group, when I was about 11-14. I think I still have those stories somewhere. Most of them involved lots of severed limbs, blood, and hot babes, if I remember correctly.

  3. I believe that Raymond E. Feist's 'Riftwar saga' was based on an RPG campaign he and his friends played...I think many of the characters are even their PCs.

    I really loved the first four or five books in that series back when I was in high school...not sure how well they've aged though.

  4. You might try tracking down Ian Watson's Warhammer 40k novels. The Inquisitor Trilogy ends a bit weak for my tastes, but it fits in perfectly with the sort of stuff that Mr. Watson traditionally wrote outside the gaming genre. And it's wonderfully weird in that way that only sci-fi from the 60's and 70's can be. I consider his work serious literature, but like Joyce and Burgess, it can be something of an acquired taste.

    Steve Erikson's work is openly inspired by a GURPS campaign he was involved in. However, I'm not certain it crosses the line in to great literature. Certainly skirts the edge of it, but I'm not sure it makes the leap.

    - Brian

  5. Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels should go into the 'RPG-inspired' pile as well, and I'd certainly call them good.

  6. Terry: I never knew that. I've actually never read any Raymond E. Feist - he's one of those writers I've always meant to get to know, but never have.

    Trollsmyth: I'll take a look at Ian Watson. I quite liked some of the Gotrek and Felix books.

    Jeff: Another recommendation for the list! I'll check him out.

  7. I think it's partially symptomatic of the difficulties the fantasy genre has in general; I ranted on something like this a while back on my own site. The issue is, people seem to have lower standards for fantasy in general than they do for standard fiction, and game-fiction is "supposed" to be able to be able to cover for its holes with its market appeal. Whether that works is another matter. (There are books that aren't held to genre standards that aren't "supposed" to be RPG fiction, either; just look at Eragon.)

    I've been trying to rectify this issue by emphasizing writing skills among gamers and trying to bring more writers into the fold; it'll be interesting to see how well that works.

  8. ravyn: Yep, I'm with you on that. Non-fantasy fans have low expectations, and fantasy-fans will more often than not read any old rubbish if it fits on the "fantasy" shelf in the bookshop. It's tough to break out of the cycle - partly because literary fantasy is also pretty inaccessible. (I like China Mieville, M. John Harrison, Gene Wolfe, people like that - but they're not always the easiest to pick up and read for a non-initiate.)