Writing Excuses 7.36: Writing Gaming Fiction with Monte Cook

Fans of role-playing games should know the name Monte Cook well, because he’s been writing some of the highest-profile tomes in the field for two-and-a-half decades now. Monte joins us in front of a live audience at GenCon Indy 2012 to talk about writing games.

We start by talking about some of the differences between straight-up prose, and prose tooled for games. With role-playing games, this often boils down to the fact that it’s not the writer doing the storytelling — it’s the role-players. The writer’s job is to provide the gamers with the tools they need. Monte and the hosts cover the roles of world-building, character development, and plotting, and talk a little about the path you might consider if you’re looking to get published in this field.

If you’re ready to relinquish story control to your readers, if you are prepared to let them breathe life into the places, monsters, and characters you’ve created, this is the episode for you.


For some reason one character is put into the body of another character.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, narrated by David Colacci

19 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.36: Writing Gaming Fiction with Monte Cook”

  1. Fascinating podcast. Different POV, different set of priorities, but a lot of overlap with SF/Fantasy. I know the “Wild Card” series started out in a gaming group who decided to make fiction out of it; this podcast gives me a lot of appreciation for what went into the transition.

  2. I found this podcast very information, particularly because I’m currently translating a fairly recent campaign into book form.

    In the podcast, you mention reasons why campaign translations fail, and what can be done to help make this a success. In my experience it is the transition of focus. In most campaigns, DMs are focused on making the adventure full of action, and puzzles, and myriad other things that help to make the game as fun as possible for the players. Less focus is paid to the actual story line. The reason for this is DMs are expecting, nay, relying on the players to build the story. The DM is only setting the scene and letting the players build the story. In effect, you are almost exclusively world-building.

    What I’ve found works for me thus far is to take the world-building I’ve done, tie in the key story parts that were made while playing through the adventure, and then growing from there. I’ve had to go from building action/game-focused storytelling to extensive character building. Although I’ve had to eschew some of the player characters that were used when playing the game, the key characters I kept, and built their back story and relationships and motivation from what was first introduced in the game.

    In other words, I’ve gone from building a backdrop for the gamers to building a story for the reader.

    So far, so good!


  3. Reminds me of when I used Neverwinter Nights to plan out my tabletop adventures. Best RPG aid of all time. I’m surprised Monte Cook didn’t mention flowcharts/dungeon design.

  4. One thing I didn’t hear mentioned is the side-questing arcs. In RPGs (especially older ones) it’s quite common to have long quest threads – to get plot-critical-npc’s help for the next stage of the game, I need to do this favor for him, which requires me to do this other favor for someone else which requires me to slay this monster for another person….

    It’s an annoying enough formula when you’re playing the game, but I’ve read a couple of books where similar quest arcs were carried over into the books.

    You probably shouldn’t use this formula even in game format, but it absolutely murders the tension of the book. (Baldur’s Gate 2 has something similar – after the intro sequence, one of your party members is kidnapped and you have to earn enough money to pay for a ship to follow. You can subsequently spend months (in-game) ignoring the money target (or surpassing it by several orders of magnitude) and running around town and the surrounding countryside ensuring everyone is either happy or dead as a result of making someone else happy. It’s an excellent game, but losing track of the primary storyline that way would kill the dramatic tension.

  5. For me, game mastering pencil and paper role playing games for my friends was a major contributor to me becoming a writer. It taught me a lot about crafting a story and pacing. I switched to writing when my friends and I grew up and no longer had the time to get together regularly to role play. I still had all these stories in my head and no outlet so I began writing them.

    They are similar but not identical crafts. My first (published) book was loosely based off of a role playing campaign my friends and I did in a setting we crafted a decade ago. I strayed from the game plot right from the start for all the reasons stated in the podcast. A great game does not equal great novel and vice versa. The only thing that stayed intact was the names of a few of the characters. Everything else, from the setting to the themes, had major changes to make the novel entertaining.

  6. Excellently put Rashkavar. I hate the long quest threads in games and fiction too. I don’t want to go from A to B to get C so I have to go to D to use C to get E which then requires me to get F at G. I think it annoys us because it’s not really changes in the plot but one long continuation of a single task within the story. One of these guys said in a much earlier Writing Excuses podcast not to mistake “stuff happens” for “plot”. Things could be blowing up left and right and still be incredibly boring if it doesn’t matter to the character or advances the story.

  7. “Hear the dice roll as I turn the page” LOL!

    On a side note for entertainment purposes, there is a movie out called The Gamers 2:Dorkness Rising that is about a group of people playing an adventure, though the adventure is also played out on screen in costumes, and such. Several of the things mentioned here are mentioned and played for jokes in the movie.


  8. I must have a higher tolerance for punishment than most gamers. The most rewarding games I’ve ever been in have put me through pretty harsh try/fail cycles, but in the end they were worth it. (I was never a big fan of the plain old dungeon crawl, though, so perhaps I’m already biased.)

  9. Ok, you got me. My main fantasy novel I’m writing initially started as an old DnD campaign I ran, but it’s so far removed from that I don’t even think of it as such anymore. In truth, much like Fletcher above, the only things to carry over at this point is some of the world-building and character names. But the characters themselves, the magic system, the plot, the events, have all been remolded into a new story not based on any specific campaign or adventure.

    I think the games can be excellent ways to develop the world and use the players to test specific elements, and perhaps it can provide some inspiration, but likes books vs. movies, they are different mediums that require different storytelling aspects. Success in one does not necessarily translate into the other, at least not without being able to understand those differences well. But running those games and telling those stories gave me the taste for wanting to become a writer one day, so in that respect, they were invaluable.

  10. Interesting how role playing gave both Jeff and I the creative impetus to want to become writers. I wonder how many more like us are out there.

  11. @Talmage …wondering how many more people are in situations like you and @Jeff? Plus one!

    I too transitioned the campaign ideas and story lines that I have either drafted up or run through with my characters rolling dice into story. Getting together gets harder when life starts to get in the way. Writing is the ideal outlet for all of that creativity, in my view. With some role-playing (1e or 2e of course) thrown in when I can :)


  12. Hm, good episode. I never tried to write game fiction until now but interesting theme. I think there will be completely different creative writing rules and suggestions for writing gaming fiction.

Comments are closed.