Writing Partner: The Unusual Suspects

assorted miniatures for D&D, Death May Die, and Warhammer

So I’ve finally finished redoing my previous chunk of editing and I’m ready to get back to fresh work. In the next tent-pole chapter, our protagonists will be at a location with all the principle murder suspects. In this edit/re-write, I’ll be focusing on emphasizing these suspects and strengthening red-herrings for the plot. Because of this, I have chosen to represent each character with a unique figure to paint. Introducing: the unusual suspects!

assorted miniatures for D&D, Death May Die, and Warhammer

Look at this lovely police line up! This diverse group of individuals may not all look like my characters, but they do a good job embodying them.

Lets start with this great wizard from the Cthulhu: Death May Die board game:

Wizard miniature from Death May Die

This wizard will represent a colleague of the victim and will provide unique insight into his profession work in alchemy. He will also allow me to talk about the amoral nature of science and discovery through the lens of magic. The figure itself is a great fit for my book, as it’s a fantasy book in an early modern setting. Death May Die has a 1920’s aesthetic which makes it a perfect fit for this kind of project. Not to mention the monsters in it are gorgeous; I’m sure we’ll be seeing more from this set in the future.

Next up is a fellow Goblin:

Goblin miniature from Warhammer Fantasy (AOS).

This is one of the ornamental Goblins from Feast of Bones Warhammer set we covered a while ago. Because it looked plain by itself, I added one of the Ogre daggers to its back as if it was a Goblin sized broadsword. I think it looks pretty cool like that. In the book, this character is an ex-lover of the victim and will give me a natural way to talk about Goblin culture without it seeming like exposition (though it is). I picked this mini specifically because of that accusatory finger point!

The Third suspect is an Elf. My Elves are not Tolkienesque and are instead diminutive fae-folk so I chose a halfling from the Wizkids D&D line:

D&D Halfling Miniature
This one is a little rough…

I find that the Wizkids minis are extremely good for their price, especially the large ones. The smaller minis are sometimes a tad half-baked. This little guy, representing the prime suspect, needs some serious work. I have mold lines and extra resin to trim and it’s lacking detail in a lot of places. What I do like about him, is that dagger and posture. Much like the character I’m writing, he is much more dangerous than he appears.

Our fourth suspect is a Dwarf crime boss:

WizKids Dwarf warrior, D&D miniature.

This miniature is also from the Wizkids line and has some of the same issues ad the Elf. It is probably the least fitting mini of this group but I’m trying to avoid kitbashing it for the sake of time, so I’ll try not to let it bother me. The character it represents is one of the main crime lords in the city and has many reasons to hate the deceased. But did they do it?

I saved the best for last. The final suspect is a Demon:

This Wizkids demon doesn’t look much like the demon in my story, but I think it is a great visual representation of its inner evil. I love the detail of this mini. In D&D, this is called a Nalfeshnee, which is a mid-tier demon. I like its pig face and tiny wings. It is almost a parody of grotesque excess, which is perfect for my character. I’ll need to close up some gaps in the model but otherwise this should be really fun to work on.

There you have it! A new group a minis for a new chunk of my book. Like last time, painting these will likely last longer than the work on this chapter. I’ll probably keep working on this for the next five or so chapters or until I hit another notable section of the book.

Work is starting to get back to normal so I’m hoping I can start posting more regularly again. I don’t like posting once a week as it really only leaves room for updates. Hopefully, some time soon I can post another Upping Your Game article. I have a good one in mind. We’ll just have to see how the rest of the month goes!

Writing Partner: A Killing Machine

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature

It took a couple of weeks but I have finally finished my new short story. This one is a case horror story about an every day item posed with intent and malice. As I promised I worked to refurbish my poor abused Iron golem as my writing partner for this project.

As a reminder, this is where we started:

Iron Golem mini

After a couple sessions of layering and tarnishing it, here is the completed golem:

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature

Over all, I think it turned out pretty good. As good as an old, rusty, souless guardian can be at least. There are a few things I would have liked to fix but I think they would have required striping the mini and that wasn’t in the spirit of this project.

My short story focuses a lot on sound and I like to imagine what it sounds like for this golem to walk. I moves slowly, joints grinding together, almost screaming, as particles of rust flake off. It would be painful if it was alive. But it is not alive, you are. As it slowly and inexorably moves toward you know that the only thing it wants, needs, is to balance out that equation.

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature Sword

Imagine the sound of it sharpening its blade. Grinding the cutting edge against the plate armor of its forearm. Even with this effort, it is still far too dull to make clean cuts anymore.

The antagonistic machine of my story has no blade. It has no way of doing harm directly. Instead, it poisons minds and souls. Lulling its victims in to heinous acts through its cunning and its voice. It might not have a sword, but its intent is deadly sharp.

I’m going to submit this story to one competition and one journal. Both are ok with multiple submission entries so I’m going to hedge my bets. I have been finding the response times this year have been painfully slow, another consequence of the new world we live in, but I’ll let you know if it gets picked up. If it doesn’t I’ll find another way to get it to you.

I’ll have a post discussing my October plans up in the next week. I plan on shifting gears for the remainder of the year, but don’t worry, there will still be plenty to discuss.

Writing Partner: Two For One Rehabilitation Special

D&D Iron Golem and Copper Dragon mini

After a hard month at my day job, I’m finally back to a point where I can focus on my creative work again. I’m not kidding, it was a rough month – at one point I worked eleven, nine hour days in a row. But now I’m back and craving that sweet storytelling fix.

Because August was a fairly dry month creatively, I really want to hit the ground running. Beyond getting back to the 3rd draft of my book, I have two new short stories to work on. For those of you who have read a few of my blogs before, you know this means finding a couple of painting projects that fit my stories. In the spirit of refreshing new beginnings, I have decided to pick a couple old minis that could use a fresh coat of paint.

Project Number 1: A Deadly Construct!

Iron Golem mini

This poor golem has seen better days. I bought it on a whim (it is an Iron Golem from the WizKids line) and ended up using him to test paint markers. I do, however, think this will work as a base for what will be a weathered, ancient golem when I’m done.

The story it is paired with is for a contest inspired by Steven King’s flair for making every day things seem otherworldly and scary. The contest cites Christine and Cujo, but my mind went to The Mangler. Something about a normal machine with the desire to kill speaks to that bit of my brain that is far too willing to personify objects.

Project Number 2: A Pretentious Dragon!

D&D Copper Dragon mini

This poor brass dragon (also Wizkids) was the sad result of neglect. I was working on him during a group painting night and was much more focused on the social aspect of the event than my dragon. He was also my second mini of the night, so he got far less time and much more tired eyes. The result was far too much shader on a mini that, let’s face it, is already lacking in definition. I’m going to need to grab lighter versions of the red and copper I used and slowly build definition into the paint job.

This mini will be matched with a story about the character who originally inspired my color scheme. He’s one of the dragons from my own fantasy universe and, while he does not appear in my book, he’s an important part of the world he lives in. He’s also a huge hipster, and when I saw a contest pop up for hipster fantasy stories, it was a no-brainer.

Those are my two main projects for September. I’ll write up a post for the results of each. I’m pretty confident I can pull off the stories, but let’s see if I can fix those messy minis I ruined!

Upping Your Game: Fallout Through Abstraction

Welcome back to Upping Your Game, a glimpse into the minds of your GMs and storytellers trying their damnedest to improve the narrative experience without you noticing.

In the previous two articles on this topic, we discussed what is great about Fallout storytelling, narrative choice through non-combat interactions, and why tabletop gaming is such a great medium for it. We also explored the licensed tabletop game Fallout Wasteland Warfare. It’s interesting, but doesn’t quite fit what we are looking for.

See the previous articles: Part 1, Part 2.

Before we move on to my game suggestions, I have an honorable mention: Gamma World.

This game has a ton of flavor!

I would love to recommend this game as it has the right balance of comedy and nihilism and has really interesting game design with the incorporation of cards (that come in the core set) which I have always felt was a good way to lower the cognitive load of tabletop RPGs. However, there are two issues that keep me from doing so. The first is that while I own the seventh edition of the game, I still haven’t been able to get anyone to play it…

The other issue is that the game is currently out of print. But, as a proud owner of the game and one expansion, I think you should check it out if you can.

Now on to my actual suggestions.

No surprise to anyone.

Yes, yes. The fishman named Marsh suggests the Call Of Cthulhu RPG. Who could have guessed? Bear with me though. Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG is my favorite table top RPG, not because of the Lovecraft bits, but because of its game design. I have never used a single monster or setting from the Cthulhu mythos when running this game. I play it because the character creation and skill system are simple and easy to teach. Also, the gameplay is balanced to discourage combat. It would take little to no effort re-skinning monsters and weapons to make a grim and engaging Fallout RPG with this system. Better still, because of the re-skinning, many monsters will seem alien to Call of Cthulhu fans as well. This means you could inject new life into the game if it is already a favorite.

As we discussed, some of the best set-pieces in Fallout 4 are horror-themed. I’ll come back to this point later, but with some research into the maps, encounters, and creatures of Fallout 4 I think you could easily recreate their effect using this system. Hell, I’ve even heard of people online using the poison system for Chaosium’s game for creating radiation effects. Could be a perfect fit.

For my second suggestion I’m going to go in a very different direction.

For those unfamiliar to the system, Fate is a setting neutral RPG system. The game system itself is meant to help create the rules, archetypes, and boundaries for what ever setting you want to play in. It is also primarily interested in collaborative story telling with mechanics that allow the GM and players some push and pull in the narrative by exchanging points to develop the story on more even terms.

Using this system, you can build your gameworld through Fate’s “Games Creation”, “Character Creation”, and “Aspects” systems. These process will boil the world’s setting, mechanics, and characters into quantifiable pieces and allow the GM and players to use them to build stories.

As we have been discussing, the key here is to replicate the feel of exploring a hostile world using creative problem solving and character interactions. Fate’s strongest points are in helping players craft narratives and impact the story being told. That is exactly what we have been looking for.

fallout helmet
But where do we go from here?

In my opinion, after selecting your preferred tabletop RPG the next step should always be the same: grab a game guide for one of the fallout games. Seriously, while Fate will benefit most from this, I think this will be an invaluable resource for any GM looking to build a Fallout world in any system.

I have the Fallout 4 game guide on hand but any of them will do. We will use the book to skin character traits using perks, build out encounters based on setpieces in the game, and develop characters and locations that feel more authentic to the series.

For example, when designing our Fate character, we can use Fallout 4’s perks as a way to develop their aspects. When creating a location full of characters and quest opportunities we can take the pages devoted to an area like Diamond city and transpose what we need into our game. Finally, for memorable quests, you could pull from areas like the the Dunwich Borers quarry for the maps, enemies, and payoff of your session.

Collaborative storytelling is a process that should involve the players as much as the GM. If the GM is trying to be unique for the sake of being unique, or writing more than you need to give the story a solid start, it is just wasted energy. Your mileage on that philosophy may vary but my point is, let the books in your arsenal do the heavily lifting for you and take as much or as little as you need to create a fun and memorable experience. Tropes exist for a reason and when used properly they help people connect with a story efficiently. That’s the reason we’re trying to play Fallout in the first place.

This whole process has inspired me to pull together my group for at least a one off session using these techniques. My prep-work will go like this: take the set pieces I like from the Fallout games I have played; figure out the core elements that make them work and assign them to distinct locations; transfer those locations onto a map of the city we live in and figure out how to use local history and legends to express story elements that I already know work; then use Fate to develop the connecting tissue with my players. Using our city we can create a unique vault and explore the urban legends and mysteries already present in our backyard. From that point on the players can explore what ever they want at their own pace, just like in a Fallout game, and by leaning on the game guide I won’t need to stay one step ahead of them.

The next Fallout 76 event sets up the Brotherhood of Steel - Polygon
Now I just need to convince people to sign up for this experiment…

It might take me a while to set of a game of this weird Fallout chimera but I’ll post my results when I do. In the mean time, I hope you have enjoyed this rambling trek through the wasteland with me. Let me know if you’ve tried to do something like this yourself or if you know another game system that would be a good fit. In the next series, I’m sure I’ll spend way too much time trying to make a round peg fit in a square hole.

Maybe I’ll find a use for all those chaff Magic The Gathering cards I have laying around…

Upping Your Game: Fallout with Proprietary Dice

Fallout Wasteland Warfare

Welcome back to Upping Your Game, the series where I take a basic idea for improving a game and then wallow in the concept until I either go mad or strike gold. In the last article, I started talking about how you could bring the joys of the game Fallout to your gaming table. If you haven’t read the first part you can find it here: Fallout With Friends.

As I mentioned in the first article, a friend gave me the idea for this topic. What I didn’t mention is when he suggested it, I happened to have an idea already brewing in the back of my mind. You see, back in the before times when we traveled freely and conventions were not a half remembered dream, I had picked up this lovely text on a weekend gaming holiday:

Fallout RPG

I don’t know about you, but I tend to buy games and gaming accessories in binge sessions. I get a big pile of stuff and then slowly consume it before suddenly, months later, binge-ing all over again. I’m not proud to admit it but there is a chance that, if not for this series, this book may never have been read. Because it will be important later, I spent roughly $35 (USD) on the book.

Now, in preparation to discuss this topic, I finally had an excuse to crack the book open. However, when I began reading it, doubt crept into my mind. Had I made a mistake?

Fallout RPG Example
The hell is all this?

Strange dice, pictures with detailed painted miniatures, references to character cards, etc. This isn’t a stand alone RPG – it’s an add on to another game. So I did some research and found this:

Modiphius Entertainment B07GB5GRV6 Fallout: Wasteland Warfare ...
Add $78 to the tally.

So I bought the starter set because I’m a sucker and also because the minis looked very nice (more on that later). It arrived a couple of weeks later and I could finally test this product for what I originally intended. When I opened the box and started working it, I began having doubts again.

It has a lot of pieces, there are measuring sticks of various lengths, lots of proprietary dice (meaning they cannot be used in any other game), tons of little cardboard tokens, multiple books, and the aforementioned minis. It’s a lot to take in and my test players were very skeptical of it.

Just to explain our starting point Fallout: Wasteland Warfare is a skirmish level wargame. That means small groups of miniatures are used in turn based measured combat. Thus the dice, measuring sticks and bits. That was neither what my players signed up for or a good fit for my original goal. It is by definition designed with combat in mind, not collaborative storytelling.

As I have stated on multiple occasions, I don’t do reviews anymore. However, I feel like I should point out that Fallout Wasteland Warfare is, at the very least, a perfectly competent wargame. Our test games were fast, easier to understand, and most importantly fun. Though, it isn’t what I’m looking for when it comes to collaborative storytelling.

The rules are extremely crunchy. Even as an RPG, it is built off of a wargame’s rules. As such the tendency will always be to express the story through combat. This is an issue I have with D&D from time to time, but it is even more prominent here. It is faithful expression of the modern Fallout games, an action game with light RPG mechanics, but that isn’t what we’re looking for.

I do think that a full campaign of this could be a blast though. If you had access to the full game, the RPG book, extra minis for enemies, terrain and a group of players looking for a wargame with light RPG mechanics. But I think you can see the problem there. As a wargame, this is about average price. A small warband to play the game with could cost between $50 and $100. For Warhammer fans, that seems pretty sweet. However, as an RPG, it only works when you use the wargamming sets, each of with costs $50 to $100. Each type of enemy costs as much or more than most RPGs do to play and this price will only increase the longer you play, because you can’t play it without the extra bits. You need the character cards, the item cards, the new minis and accessories.

All of these factors really limit the accessibility of this game as an RPG: compelexity, game-play focus, and price. Worst of all, at least within the narrow focus of this series, none of these factors add to the story telling experience. The debate as to whether minis or theater of the mind makes a game more immersive wages on. I like both, but minis alone are not enough to sell me on this as an RPG I would develop a campaign for.

Fallout: Wasteland Warfare - Wasteland Creatures: Mirelurk Bundle
Probably still going to buy these Mirelurks though…

So we hit a dead end with the licensed games but are there another options? Tune in for part 3 where we’ll explore some alternate gaming systems that might be a better fit. At the very least, I guarantee they will be less expensive…

Upping Your Game: Fallout With Friends

Fallout Wasteland Warfare RPG

Welcome to Upping Your Game – a source for tips and tricks to telling better stories at the table. With this series of articles, we will be exploring different ways to experience the wastelands of Fallout with friends. This was a suggestion from a friend so I’ll start with a short explanation.

A few months ago, I was picking some brains for ideas for this series. I told my friends I was going to be writing about story-telling through gaming and asked what topics I should discuss. One of them gave me this little gem: “You should figure out how to make Fallout 76 good!”

Clipart Sad Fallout Vault Boy
Shots fired!

Now, I don’t want to go and disparage Fallout 76. A good portion of the world has already done that and I’m not really into beating dead, irradiated horses. Besides, I haven’t played it. I looked at it and recognized it wasn’t for me. However, the idea stuck in my craw. Lots of people were disappointing in Fallout 76 because they wanted to explore the wasteland with friends. There is definitely a desire to make something like this work, so why didn’t it?

Well, again, I didn’t play it. Though the general consensus, beyond technical and game-play issues, was that the storytelling was not engaging. Most players blamed the lack of NPCs, but I think the issues lies deeper than that. I think it is the same issue holding back Fallout 4. There are tons of options, customization, stats and perks, but none of them impact the story. A character with a low intelligence has all the same dialogue options as a character with high intelligence, the branching narrative is simple at best, and the character’s over all impact on the world is minor. Agency is at the heart of storytelling in Fallout and the way missions and choice has been implemented in the new games is surprisingly linear.

This is not to say these games don’t have their moments. There are some surprisingly effective horror set-pieces in Fallout 4 and I have heard that some of the log-based quests in Fallout 76 are very engaging. However, these are all examples of linear storytelling. Linearity isn’t bad, it’s just not what many people are looking for in a game like this. The excitement surrounding the announcement and release of The Outerworlds shows how rabid gamers are for narrative choice in their RPGs.

So, how do we solve this problem? Beyond getting Obsidian to make the next Fallout game, I think the answer is to change mediums. Moving to a tabletop RPG would solve both the desire to play with a group and give the players far more agency in the wasteland. But this opens up a new question; what system do we use? In my next article we will start with the most obvious option: licensed products.

Fallout Wasteland Warfare Tabletop RPG book
I hope you brought your wallet…

Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts Part 2

Part 1 can be found here: Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts Part 1

I want start off by reminding you that for the purpose of this prompt, I will be building a fantasy RPG character that could be used in D&D, Pathfinder, or any system that uses the same core ability stats: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

I chose to do this to make it easier to get the point across with a familiar system. I also randomly chose a familiar fantasy race. In this case: a Goblin. His name is Clot.

Clot, King among vermin

Clot’s Stats were rolled randomly and placed in the order they were rolled. After racial modifiers (D&D 5th ed) they are:

  • Str: 14
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 15
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 11

Weird stats for a goblin. He could make a good thief, like most goblins, but that doesn’t lean into our prompt. We want to explore weaknesses, hardship and formative experiences. The strength and con are very high, so that is where we will start. Sometimes standing out is a weakness.

When Clot was born, he was nearly twice the size of the average goblin infant. When his mother bore no further children, the tribe determined Clot must have eaten his siblings to grow so big. His size was a strange omen, one that filled the small with awe, but drew the worried gaze of other.

We have now established a myth or rumor for our character. It is unlikely to be true, but its existence can create conflict which is what drives plots.

I don’t want to make Clot into a fighter and I want to lean into his weaknesses. So how do we make his strengths into a weakness to overcome? And what do we do with those middling metal attributes?

As Clot grew older, he soon towered over his kin. His physical prowess was feared, but did not inspire respect. In a fully goblin tribe, Clot would have been a king, but his people were a lesser caste. Those who ruled his class were Orc, and they saw in Clot a rival to be put down.

While Clot has incredible physical attributes for a goblin, he is average by Orc standards. Moreover, the fact that he could potentially overpower one of the upper caste means he was not only feared, he was disdained.

How could he hope to thrive, jeered and beaten by all those around him? The Orcs hated him for rivaling their power. The goblins attacked and spit on him to impress their betters. Clot was relegated to the lowest position in his clan. He slept each night, bleeding in the gutter among the filth and the other vermin.

This harsh treatment can help to explain his high constitution. His skin is scarred and thick. He has been hardened by his life.

But we want to make use of his mental stats too. They have room to grow. Clot’s life is a prison he cannot escape through strength of body. 

Among the refuse, Clot found peers. The rats were like him: dirty, despised, discarded. But they were also strong. He saw in them the fire of survivors. That was something worth embracing.

Among the rot, Clot found friends. As he treated the rats with respect, they returned it. Food and warmth was shared. What started as respect grew to kinship. The rats grew to anticipate Clot’s needs, as if they could understand him.

Among the swarm, Clot found power. He was not imagining it, the rats listened to him. Clot soon realized he could hear them too. They started as many trembling voices. They shrieked in a chaotic choir. But they soon became one voice. His voice.

Clot found his way out. 

One night, the orcs returned from a raid with a stockpile of food and keg after keg of ale. Clot was never invited to feast, but this was his opportunity. He waited until the leaders and their favorite sycophants were drunk, and then unleashed the rage of his swarm upon them.

This is another opportunity to build a lingering myth or rumor for Clot. We know a low level character and a rat swarm couldn’t wipe out a whole clan. But that doesn’t mean this story can’t be exaggerated. 

The rats tore into the unsuspecting clan, aided by the strong hand of their king. In the low light, all the tribe could see was the glint of a thousand eyes and one bloody dagger. By morning, their bones were picked clean. The swarm was satiated – they had eaten well. So had Clot.

A grisly tale to inspire fear and respect. Whether it is true or not can be explored in the campaign.

As for his power, there are multiple ways to explain this. My choice is that Clot is a fledgling Druid. I know his wisdom is low, so his spell-casting potential is going to start off pretty weak, but this is another opportunity for good storytelling.

As Clot escaped to the wilderness, he found himself conflicted. The ways of nature were those of balance. But in his heart, he found little room for such thoughts. Peace was a concept beaten out of him. A cold flame burned in his chest. If he could tame it, he could build a kingdom. If he could not, he would burn his new kingdom to the ground.

If Clot can tame his hatred and anger, we can showcase this by putting all his ability modifiers into Wisdom as he levels. He may even go from being an objectively evil character to one with more of a neutral alignment. From a certain point of view, he could even become a hero.

If Clot gives into his rage, we will distribute his improvements more broadly. We can also express his inner turmoil through multi-classing. Maybe he adds some points to Charisma or Intelligence and takes a level or two of sorcerer or wizard to gain access to actual fire. Or maybe he dips into rogue or fighter and leans into the traits nature gave him. This would be followed by further improvements to his physical stats. In this way, he could augment his shape-shifting and relying on brute strength over spells.

Regardless of the direction we go in, Clot has a solid foundation. Moreover, we built it using the numbers we rolled for more than bonuses to hit rolls.

I hope this article inspires some awesome characters. If you use it and like the results, please leave a comment. I would love to see what you can come up with!

Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts

Welcome to Upping Your Game – the series where I help you make your favorite games tell a better story.

For my first article, I’m going to break down an old strategy I have for making engaging NPCs and player characters for tabletop RPGs. It’s pretty simple and seems like random generation, but let me explain my design method and I think you’ll see how this can lead to some great characters.

One more disclaimer: we aren’t aiming for “strong characters” in a game-play sense. If you’re a GM, you might want to give your players a re-do if they roll up a particularly difficult character. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re looking for a more challenging experience or play at a table that is more interested in role-play than combat, then this may be perfect for you.

The basic method is just to roll random ability scores. That’s it. But the really important part is that you have to keep them in the order they are rolled. That mean that for D&D or Pathfinder you will want to roll 6 sets of 3 D6 dice and place them in Strength, Dexterity, Consitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma in the order they are rolled. By contrast you would usually roll the numbers then place them in the most appropriate places. For games with races I would also suggest picking one at random. Then you pick your class or profession (game specific) based on what you have rolled.

If you are unfamiliar with D&D, check out a basic character sheet.

But why do this? Why do you choose the class, and how does it make interesting characters? Let me explain – good stats don’t make good characters. Bad ones do. Or, to put it differently, interesting characters are defined by their flaws not their strengths. A person is more defined by the challenges they face than the skills that come to them naturally.

Every fighter has a high strength stat. How could you ever make that interesting? But try to explain why they have a 7 in wisdom, and you’ll see what I mean. This can also apply to higher than average stats in strange places. Why does your wizard have a higher strength stat than wisdom, or an equal constitution to their intelligence? Are they natural factors, or did something in their life mold them? You can use these numbers, that would usually just be “dump stats” (the numbers you throw into your least important stats) to build your character’s background and explain why they chose the path they did.

In the next article, we’ll roll up a character as an example. Hopefully, we get a good one. The last time I did this, I created a giant-slaying gnome fighter. I’m hoping for a magic user this time. Fingers crossed!

Part 2 can now be found here: Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts Part 2

An Introduction to “Upping Your Game”

Why write about tabletop gaming?

You might be wondering: Jacob, you’re a writer trying to promote his craft, so why write about games? The answer to that is actually pretty simple: I write about them because they inspire me.

I used to write a lot of critical content. I have written reviews for movies, books and video-games professionally. But that isn’t what I want to work on here. The goal for my gaming series, “Upping your Game”, is to explore ways to tell better stories in games and the lessons a writer can learn from them.

When I play games (tabletop or otherwise), I can’t help but analyse them. It’s a sad habit I picked up in school and an inevitable outcome of consuming media now. Much like reading a book, watching a movie, or enjoying a great painting, I like to break down why games work and learn from them. Good game design is just another form of storytelling and you can learn from it, even if you don’t work in that medium.

Tabletop gaming is a great example of this because a lot of the storytelling is collaborative. A good game system provides a framework to inspire players to create and express themselves. While this is most evident in role-playing games, it can also be seen in card games, war games, and even board games.

As this series progresses, I hope to deal with some really strange topics. I want to create interesting meta-games and writing opportunities in well known games, but I also want to highlight some hidden gems that I find really get the creative juices flowing. But for our first article I’m going to start simple: we’re going to turn RPG character creation into a writing prompt. Stay tuned.

Making a writing partner.

I’m a big fan of tabletop gaming and, about three years ago, I passed that final nerd hurdle and began painting miniatures. At first I thought I would play wargames like Warhammer, but since I have played a full game twice in that time period, I have settled into the reality that I mostly just paint them. Now…I’m not very good. I think I have mastered what they call “tabletop standard.” That means my work is good enough to game with but won’t be winning any beauty competitions. I use them for RPGs and simply the joy of the hobby.

I have, however, found another use for them. I have found they make really great writing partners. No, don’t worry, I’m not crazy. I’m not saying they talk to me or anything… at least not yet.

What I find is that having one on the side of my desk to work on has really helped my productivity. I use them like fidget toys or desk curios. When I need to think over an idea I’m working on I paint. It is much better then other forms of abnegation or distraction like surfing the web. By the time I need to put the mini down to dry I have usually figured out what I’m going to write next. It’s a win-win. They help me write and by the time I’m done a project I usually have a fully painted mini.

The featured image today is a great example. I was commissioned to write the intro and outro scripts for a ghost hunting show (I’ll probably link to it at a later date) and I needed to get into the right mindset. So when I sat down to write the scripts I grabbed that mini. It’s from the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar line, in case you were wondering. As I wrote and rewrote those scripts again and again, trying to get the right balance of spookiness and daytime TV bounce, I slowly picked at the mini. It allowed me to keep my mind clear and working without getting distracted. By the end I had a script the producer was pleased with and a mini I love. Again, it’s a win-win.

This might not work for everyone. I get pretty zen when I paint and I don’t worry about perfection. It’s my side art. I know I’m not perfect so I don’t even strive for perfection. But if you’re a very talented painter or more of a perfectionist your mileage may vary.

For those who are interested, I’ll break down my selection process. I mentioned Warhammer but that isn’t the start and end of my painting. In fact, for this particular purpose, they often fall short. They don’t always fit for two reasons. One: big regiments of the similar minis; and two: they aren’t always generic enough.

Let me explain both issues:

The first is simple, I tend to paint one mini over the course of a project, a few if it is a long one. I try to match minis with my projects for the added thematic focus. I also work on a wide variety of subjects. This means I like variety more than repetition. This isn’t just a Warhammer issue, most war games have the same problem.

The second issue relates to my theme choices. Games Workshop (the makers of Warhammer, who I will refer to as GDubs from now on) make beautiful products but they are also heavily themed. This is usually a good thing – they have a rich lore they pull from with unique fantasy quirks. For example, if I were to write about dragons, one would think I could grab a GDubs dragon and go to town. Not necessarily. All of their dragons have riders. They have armor with custom heraldry on it. They have morphology that isn’t necessarily generic fantasy. The list could go on. Sometimes this is ok, or I can modify the mini to suite my purposes, but often it’s hard not to see a Warhammer dragon when I paint it. I want to see it as my own if it’s going to sit there, subtly influencing my own story.

How to I make my choices than? Well the short answer is: I buy too many minis. A better answer would be to say I (usually) buy individual minis, mainly heroes and monsters, and I (usually) buy figures that are not too heavily themed to what ever their game setting is. I break both of these rules all the time, but that just results in purchases that don’t end up becoming writing partners. I also purchase minis from a variety of sources, including the second hand market where I can sometimes find some real gems.

That is probably enough navel gazing about my miniature painting choices. I hope that wasn’t to long winded. I promise that the next time I bring this is up it will be to show you another fun mini connected to another fun project.