I had this idea noted for a long time. I was going to spew the knowledge on how to write fictions for your RPG campaigns. Not specifically HoR fictions, maybe not even ones that well suited to campaigns where you are trying to gain something. Fortunately, the vast majority of my blog posts are just made up with a few sentences in the cranial region and end up being whatever I type in the moment. So, I’m going to forget some highly important things … that I get to use for a subsequent post on the very same topic.
What is the point of a fic? Okay, in HoR, it’s to get something. Let’s go with why you would write fics in your home games (and HoR, too). To add depth to the campaign. How do they add depth to the campaign? By doing some of the character development that’s not going to happen on screen with your PC or someone else’s PC or a NPC. By developing some other part of the world than a character, like providing info on a location or a group or a character’s activities or whatever.
Other reasons for fics: entertain the GM, entertain the other players, provide a record of what has happened. Actually, for our Conan play, it was the last that was the original intent of fics. I take notes on every RPG session I play in, online, in person, convention. After a certain point, I can’t read my own notes. One of our Conan players was watching me take notes for a session and the GM was going into a long description of us on a boat moving under an archway with an aged, bronze(?) statue of some dude with a weapon … and so on. My note was “some guy” or something like that – I’d have to check my notes. That sort of shorthand is the bane of preserving gaming knowledge for posterity.
So, other than fics to describe what did happen, what is an obvious thing that shouldn’t exist in fics? What could happen on screen.
Some of my campaigns are more heroic than others. Let’s assume that you do heroic stuff a reasonable amount of time on screen during a campaign, on screen meaning during your play sessions. Then, your fics shouldn’t have heroic stuff going on. Not only is it tacky to give yourself achievement for things you didn’t earn, but the contrast between the heroic action during sessions and comedy/romance/philosophy/whatever in one’s fics only highlights the cool things you earned.
Now, everything is a guideline, and I’ve thrown some action, even heroic action, into some fics, but I think that tended to be in campaigns or in phases of campaigns when there wasn’t heroic action going on on screen. As part of earning your achievements (or going for humor, or cetera), usually, in my fics, my characters fail or get some sort of mixed result.
What are my most common types of fics once a campaign has been going a while?
It may be my PC as a child, my PC as an adolescent, or just my PC before the campaign started. Yesterday, I wrote about my Princess Police PC’s life just after adulthood (which is like only a couple years or so before the campaign started) during a memorable Winter night.
It went for humor, which is one of the most common things I go for. It went for contrast between the immature frat boy of a few years prior and the post Imperial Winter Court romantic military commander. But, one of the things I aim to do is highlight a particular aspect of a character that still exists.
The character gets a rap as a lech, when he’s really just a flirt. I also throw in character sheet aspects of the character, like how one of his patrol buddies hops away from a grapple attempt as they drunkenly brawl. My Hare is “not a leaper” but, rather, a lover … of nature. Not just thematically but mechanically as Usagi Woodsman replaces his SR-2 technique, so he can’t do the Usagi leap. I wrote in activities that try to get at how he has a low Agility but high Reflexes. His patrol leader calls him “idiot” and the others call him “stupid” because he will always have an Intelligence of 2, which is not bad in the world but really kind of dumb for a PC and extremely stupid for the sort of characters I normally like to play.
I don’t know if people catch all of the things that are written with intent, but any time I go to the “this is what the PC used to be like before the campaign” well, there’s usually a number of different things I’m trying to go for.
Sometimes, there will be a lesson. Maybe, there will be some connection to what is currently going on in the campaign. We are getting towards the end of the Princess Police and the carefree, backwoods days for the PC are gone – again, contrast. A lot of times I go to the “see how this PC started developing this skill/interest when he was young” well. An earlier fic was about the Hare getting trained in kyujutsu while practicing patrolling. Because I’m all about the sleazy character builds that totally min/max, this character started with a Reflexes of 5 (as a replacement, he didn’t start as a newb character) and was all about the “you can’t touch this” and Kyujutsu.
As a lover of NPCs who won’t rush out of bed the next morning, I often work on romantic subplots in fics because they don’t work so well during sessions, depending. Actually, probably the best benefit of online play is being able to easily have side conversations going on that don’t involve the rest of the party. In our Conan play, the relationship stuff was mostly done through fics. In our Princess Police play, most of the relationship stuff is done in private chat windows.
But, it can be other soap operaesque stuff, too. Maybe, it’s NPCs plotting against my PC. Maybe, it’s bro’s doing bro-y stuff. But, the focus is almost always on quiet things, like conversations … especially conversations, as I love dialogue. Could also be the PC’s thoughts or could be a NPC’s observations of one or more PCs. This last tactic is commonly used to help explain why the party adventures together.
One of my Princess Police fics, and I’m focusing on this campaign both because it’s most on my mind at the moment and because the fics are far more recent than the vastly greater number of Conan fics I did, was about NPCs talking about who my PC had the hots for. Now, the original version had one of the NPCs being an evil mastermind that was the behind the scenes villain of the campaign and how my PC’s on stage efforts only facilitated her rise to ruling the Empire with her healthy hips, but it was too much like another campaign villain, so I wrote a second version where she was just an interested observer.
Another fic was to both highlight and refute the PC’s reputation as an insatiable lecher. The character has actually managed to avoid having affairs with nearly as many women as he’s had affairs with. After one session where I actually rolled to resist Temptation, I wrote a fic to take the private conversation the two characters had and make their actual, siblingish relationship known to the other players. With humor. I think it was one of my better fics for the campaign as I did pull in other PCs and write dialogue and actions for them and the players were cool with that.
Because when you have geniusness, you are totally in the brainthings of others, knowing all and seeing less. Or, you could just send people a draft and have them approve/disapprove of your characterizations of their characters. But, hey, that’s the less geniusness way to go about things.
Anyway, the soap opera aspects of campaigns are often not easily played out on screen because they lack action and often lack involvement for the rest of the players. Obviously, different sorts of campaigns can be really different.
I also wrote an epilogue for a NPC that the players had no idea my PC cared about and where they basically had no idea who the character was, let alone why my PC was motivated to see someone get boiled ASAP as vengeance for what he had done to her. Fittingly, as one of the big differences between fiction and gaming is that the narratively most appropriate thing often doesn’t happen, someone else managed to dyify the baddie while my PC lay around on the ground, badly wounded.
Tying Up Narrative
That last example could fit here. One thing that often happens, especially when the other players aren’t as interested in the coherent narrative as I am, is that the on screen narrative is kind of disjointed. Session writeups, actually, while being their own category of fics, also can help immensely for clarifying the overarching narrative.
I have something that could fit into this category for the Princess Police, but it’s kind of strange in that it wasn’t intended to be used for such. I had written a fic to highlight something the character was trying for, when the GM decided to use it as a prologue for the next session.
I suppose another PP fic does address an on screen failure on my PC’s part (though it was failure by fiat), as the people I play with tend to focus on party successes and ignore screwing up, where I think the screw ups have tremendous narrative impact.
Speaking of which, HoR and its ilk incentivize writing fics to achieve personal goals that aren’t going to get reflected in module play. I’ll write fics for home games that reflect how someone developed a new ability as reflected on the character sheet. But, I also might write a fic about something the character is working on.
I wrote a Princess Police fic that goes into both. My Hare needed someone to illustrate his fantasy novels. He found a painter well-suited to such at Winter Court. At the same time, both because my PC would be really good at painting due to natural aptitude (Awareness went from 3 at beginning of WC to 5) and because she wasn’t deemed extremely reliable enough to where my PC would go to her every time he needed another novel published, I wrote about my PC taking lessons from her, struggling at some things but showing potential at others.
Again, fics can achieve many different things at once. I also highlighted how hyperactive the character is in the fic, something that doesn’t always come through during sessions. And, I referenced my PC’s affair. And, I gave voice to a couple of campaign NPCs with what they thought of his learning how to paint. And, I introduced the character’s parents ever so slightly with a reference to prior events.
It’s not unusual for me to play with folks who just want to play a game that has a story. They aren’t all that invested in their characters as characters, though they may be invested in their characters as character sheets.
Besides developing NPCs, which often will fall under the “Soap Opera” category, sometimes I like to give my take on OPCs (other PCs). This can confirm my vision of them or it can possibly even give another player something to run with to flesh out the character for oneself.
I’ve said before that I care more about NPCs than other PCs as characters, if not in these exact words, because NPCs are the interface into the greater world where other PCs are just more constructs like my PC, who often know less about the world than I do. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. I can get more interested in what other PCs are doing and what the players are trying to do with their characters from a thematic standpoint. I just need to have a sense of those characters and their interests and goals. If I can facilitate them having more “character”, more interests, or more goals, well, maybe worth an occasional story [fic].
I’m running out of categories that come to mind off the top of my head. I’m sure looking back at more Conan fics will jog my memory of others, but to bracket the categories, let’s finish up with the … future.
I come up with lots of ideas for what can happen in campaigns I play in. I wish it were as easy when I run them. I think it has to do with how restrictions breed creativity – shout out to Magic articles that I no longer read because of their suck new website.
While I will throw out ideas to my GMs, I also write about possibilities. These fics tend to be not only vague but really, really hard to follow for other players and the GM. Since they don’t relate to anything that has happened, they come across as “that’s an interesting story, but, uh, wtf?!?”
For my initial character in the Princess Police campaign, I wrote a fic that was about him, but it wasn’t at all clear, as it was about the character after he grew old and retired, and it involved a bunch of characters that had nothing to do with the campaign (considering how I’d just created them for the fic). What the point of the fic was wasn’t even clear. It was trying to do some of the character development that “Youth” fics do, only going the other direction timewise. I didn’t think it was bad, but I had the hardest time thinking about how I’d follow it up for that brief period before I got bored. That PC was a disaster, anyway, with his coolest achievements being kind of out of character.
Writing fics is awesome. I’m not always in the mood. I sometimes struggle. I can easily get pretentious and write horribly out of character fics where average intelligence PCs use numerous enormical words. And, my style probably doesn’t enthuse people who care about action rather than the behind the scenes soap opera, navel gazing, or the like.
But. I have a lot of fics I wrote that I enjoy reading. I surprise myself with how many subtle aspects of character development I can put into a story that might not even end up a full page. I often nail the personalities and something of the speech styles of GM created NPCs or other PCs, or, at least, I sometimes do and the other times nobody cares enough to complain.
The thing is is that I lack the patience and sustained enthusiasm to write enough to write professionally, even short stories (on my bucket list to write a novel but have a hard time seeing it), but I think (and read) in terms of scenes and dialogue, so as long as I don’t get bogged down in describing how things/people look, which I’m not so good at, and focus on two characters going back and forth about … who is sleeping with whom, who is going to be sleeping with whom, or who should be sleeping with whom, it’s all good.
Did I mention that I love writing romantic comedy, one might even call some of it farce?*
* How ironic is this when I tend to find slapstick in TV and movies painful? Guess it needs to have more romance and brain-humor and less physical comedy.