So far in this “style guide” we’ve talked about general rules, adventure-writing, and rules & mechanics. Now we’re heading into a slightly different area — fiction related to a roleplaying line. As I’ve said before, always follow the rules of the company you’re writing for when they differ from my suggestions. But I think you’ll find the following ideas helpful.
Breaking the Rules: Only break grammar and writing rules to achieve a specific effect that you cannot achieve otherwise. Only break them to tell a better story. If it doesn’t produce a better story, then don’t break the rules. Ask yourself, “what important difference will it make if I do X instead of Y?” If the answer is “none,” then reconsider.
“But That’s How It Really Happened:” Very few readers will care whether that’s the way a game really played out. It has to sound reasonable and “realistic” and believable when written up as a story. All we should be saying when we read your story is, “hey, that’s a cool story,” not “why did you write up your last gaming run and turn it into a story?” Remember that in many ways, real life (and real gaming runs) are stranger than fiction. Things that will work around your own table won’t work in a commercial product. There are hackneyed plots that your own group doesn’t mind, but that people will dismiss as trite if they see them in a commercial product. There are weird coincidences that your own group will see as cool while a commercial audience will dismiss them as ridiculous.
Good Fiction: Gaming fiction must be good fiction, completely independent of the RPG genre.
Good Roleplaying vs. Good Fiction: Things that make good roleplaying don’t always make good fiction, and vice versa. With rare exception, it’s more important that you write a good story than that it serve as a narrative example of a roleplaying session. (Note: the exception to this is bits of “fiction” used specifically to illustrate how rules work in play, or examples of play. Obviously those need to serve as good narrative examples of a game first.) Make sure that your story is a good story first and foremost.
Readability: Nothing else matters if your story isn’t interesting, enjoyable, or in other ways readable. It’s great if you want to use your story to get a message across, or as a metaphor for something, or whatever. But none of that matters one single bit if it isn’t readable and enjoyable as a plain old story as well.
“Realism:” While it’s more important to concentrate on good fiction than on an example of play, on the other hand, everything you write should at least be possible within the game system. Otherwise people familiar with the system will feel that your story doesn’t belong with it at all.
Say Something New: Fiction should add something new to the game, whether it’s plot information, atmosphere, or just a cool story. It shouldn’t be simple narrative summary of a corresponding piece of game non-fiction. What would be the point?
Terminology: Good gaming fiction should be readable by anyone who picks it up. The reader shouldn’t be required to read the rules of the game. So instead of using unexplained and inobvious game-terminology, show, don’t tell.