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  • Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand

From Gaming to Adventures, Stories, and Novels on Demand


I got my start as a writer by writing for shared worlds—and I don’t mean writing fan fiction (for my opinions on copyright theft, see my short story “Hell to Pay”). No, I started as a role-playing gamer. You know, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Top Secret, Boot Hill, Chill, Timemaster, Paranoia, James Bond, Cthulhu, etc.), playing in the many convention tournaments put on by The Role-Playing Game Association Network (RPGA). In my career, I played more than 600 different characters (orcs, spies, goblins, paladins, dwarves, wizards, clones, dragons, gamblers, Jedi knights, elves, maidens, assassins, bards, gnomes, cowpokes, university professors, shape-shifters, superheroes, bugs, sentient weapons, gypsies, and on and on) in 460 (sometimes multi-round) sanctioned tournaments, winning more the half the tournaments I played. For more than 15 years, I was the RPGA Network’s highest ranked player of classic roleplaying games. So, naturally, I wanted to give back to the hobby by gamemastering (around 150 rounds) and authoring or co-authoring tournaments (twenty-three scenarios in seven very different game systems/worlds). In many ways, I am the poster child for someone who has moved to writing from roleplaying gaming. What’s that mean, except that somewhere is an old, huge, scary-looking poster? Well, it means that much of what I know about writing I learned from playing, running, and writing roleplaying games. When you are handed a character sheet at a roleplaying game tournament describing a character you have never seen before (with only the basics of its statistical abilities, its skills and equipment, a two or three paragraph synopsis of its personality and background, and three or four sentences each on what your character thinks of the other four or five player characters in the game) and then have to think, act, and talk like that character (syntax, knowledge, accents, goals, etc.) real time for the next four hours without hesitation or dithering, you learn how to make a character come alive in a hurry, learn to generate dialogue that matches the character and the setting without being cliché, and how characters interact with one another. When you are running a tournament, you learn how to direct the action of your characters in an overall plotline without being obvious, how to maintain a proper pace, how to drop clues, hints, and red herrings in a way that is interesting and fun, how to set the scene and the mood by narrative description, and how to manage fighting and action sequences that are exciting and heroic. When you are writing tournament scenarios for classic roleplaying games (and, thus, writing the characters and their backgrounds, personalities, and their summary attitudes and thoughts about each of the other characters), you learn something about developing plots and subplots, about avoiding story arcs that are too simple, too obvious, too linear, or even too complex, about matching the characters to the story, about using secrets and character conflict to drive the story, and about reaching a satisfying conclusion. Lastly, because all of these adventures occur in worlds and game systems created by others, you learn to write in compliance with the setting, rules, background, and mood established by other writers. On the writing side, you also learn about having your work reviewed, edited, and ultimately controlled by the authors/publishers who created that world. The other thing that makes me a poster child for becoming a writer through roleplaying gaming is the progression of my writing career. First scenarios for RPGA sanctioned play, then monsters, dungeon crawls, scenarios, and background and source book material for various published game systems/worlds (Forgotten Realms, Paranoia, Timemaster, Chill), then short fiction for shared worlds (Dragonlance, BattleTech), then short fiction in non-shared worlds, and on to longer works—screenplays, novellas, novels, etc. Along the way, you learn to write quickly, both for game material (when another author failed to deliver a Dragonlance adventure tournament for a charity convention at which opportunities were being auctioned off to play with Margaret Weis playing Tasselhoff, I generated in two hours a four-hour adventure that a guest gamemaster ran later that afternoon) and for themed anthologies (my best is seven hours from concept to submission for a DAW themed anthology). I firmly believe that being a gamer helps me write both fast and creatively. In a roleplaying game, if your character dithers—doesn’t know what to do or say—the game goes on without the character getting to do or say anything and consequences flow from that fact. So whenever the specter of writer’s bloc rears its head, I ask what I would do if I was in a game. For example, in my near future military scifi novel, Forced Conversion, I had a situation where a character needed to surreptitiously communicate with another, hidden character, without a companion noticing. When I was initially stumped, I literally looked back to see what the character had on her (sorry, no pen or pencil, but she did have a hiking map with ads on it) and fashioned what I would have done in game to solve the problem. It ended up as a much more fun and creative scene than if I had simply gone back and given the character a writing implement. Both this experience and my experience in writing for themed anthologies in general has shown me how limitations (of the scene, of the character, of the shared world, or of the writing assignment) can prompt and focus creativity and generate stories that never would have existed otherwise. Believe me, I have written plenty of stories (BattleTech and Transformer tie-ins, stories about sentient animals, stories about particular historical events, and on and on—more than forty published pieces of short fiction for themed anthologies, and counting, most of them on demand), that I never would have thought to write had there not been a request or an open anthology posting or a need to build my resume’ to forward my writing career. Gaming has also introduced me to writers, editors, and publishers that my non-gaming writing friends covet. My second novel, GREENSWORD: A Tale of Extreme Global Warming, a darkly comedic eco-thriller about global warming, got published when and how it did because of contacts I made through gaming and tie-in writing, which in turn led to an opportunity to write my third novel, a spy thriller. And, despite the ego-centric nature of the paragraphs above, I don’t think that I am the best or the fastest or the hardest-working or the most creative writer in the world, in my group of writer friends, or even in any random group of two, but I do think that gaming, shared world/tie-in writing, and writing on demand for themed anthologies has given me the skills and the discipline to meet the opportunities and deadlines that may arise in the future to author original and adapted short fiction, novels, screenplays, and teleplays in worlds of my own or someone else’s making. (For more shameless self-promotion, see my website at www.donaldjbingle.com or see the next paragraph.) Audible and Amazon are currently running a 92% discount on the audio version of Net Impact, narrated by voiceover artist, Bruce Pilkenton. Grab it, give it, listen to it, review it now at a great price. Aloha! Don

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