I spent many, many hours in my teens playing Dungeons & Dragons. This was back in the era when D&D was blamed for teen suicides, violence, and pretty much every other ill that could befall an adolescent. A lot of parents in my little Texas hometown claimed the game was satanic and sternly forbade their kids from playing. But D&D had thoroughly captured my imagination, and I’m pretty stubborn, so I ended up gaming with college students instead of kids my own age. And they introduced me to other games: The Morrow Project, Gamma World, MechWarrior, and Robotech. I sacrificed many a weekend to jewel-toned dice and smudged character sheets.
As an adult, I don’t have time for long campaigns that demand regular gaming sessions, so most RPGs (like Pathfinder, which I quite enjoy) have been difficult to schedule. But I’ve come to really enjoy board games that you can finish in a few hours or less. We’re in the middle of a board game renaissance right now. If you equate board gaming with Sorry! and Monopoly and other titles you probably got tired of in your teens, know that there are some amazing board and card games out there right now.
Love Lovecraft? Try Eldritch Horror. Enjoy science fiction? Give Galaxy Trucker or Terraforming Mars a try. And if you’re pining for an old-school D&D experience but you’ve got kids and only have an hour to play? Try Castle Panic.
Some of the best games are highly influenced by genre fiction, even if it comes through intermediary forms like movies. The reason I was attracted to RPGs in the first place was because I loved fantasy fiction and wanted to play in those worlds. I’ve seem most every aspect of genre fiction reflected and refracted in games, from adventure to mystery to strategy … it’s all there.
What can genre fiction writers learn from games? Games are, first and foremost, fun. If you’re not having fun playing a game, something is desperately wrong.
Games are probably not the best place to learn about narrative or dialog. But world-building? Sure; you can find good and bad examples in games, although you’ll have to go deeper in fiction. Conflict? Absolutely … and especially if you’re watching the other players deal with a rules dispute!
But the thing games do best is show you how to keep people engaged. How to keep them motivated. How to pique their interest, reward them, and keep them coming back for more.
My Media Tie-In and Gaming Credits
“An Adventure in Badger Country” – Tales of Excellent Cats: A Monarchies of Mau Anthology, Onyx Path Publishing, 2018. (forthcoming)
“Roperian Ocean Cleanup” – Fish Wrangler, November 2018.
“Innsmouth Island Adventure” – Fish Wrangler, October 2018.
“Big Love Island Adventure” – Fish Wrangler, February 2018.
“Along the Scenic Route” – X-Files Vol. 3: Secret Agendas, IDW Publishing, October 2016.
“Moon Palace, Serpent Sea” – Shadowrun: Drawing Destiny: A Sixth World Tarot Anthology, Catalyst Game Labs, September 2016.
“The Warlady’s Daughter” – Champions of Aetaltis, Mechanical Muse, April 2016.
“Jessie Shimmer Campaign Setting” – D6xD6 Expanded Game, Popcorn Press, February 2015.
“The Grace of Dice and Glossy Cardstock” – Chicks Dig Gaming, Mad Norwegian Press, November 2014.
Flavor text – Dollars & Sense: The Complete Financial Planning Game, Franklin University, 2014.
“However ….” (co-written with Gary A. Braunbeck) – Hellbound Hearts, Pocket Books, September 2009. Honorable mention, Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 2
“Fable Fusion” (co-written with Gary A. Braunbeck) – Doctor Who Short Trips: Destination Prague, Big Finish Productions Ltd., June 2007.
“Homecoming” (co-written with Gary A. Braunbeck) – The Further Adventures of Xena: Warrior Princess, Ace Books, September 2001.