Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Art-Inspired Game-Writing Prompts

Writing is truly a creative art – putting word to a blank piece of paper and ending up with a full-fledged story rife with character and plot.”

William Shatner

Wandering around bookstores one often comes upon a rack of notebooks labeled “Writing Prompts” and other such inspirational titles (usually near the blank notebook section). Occasionally I pick one up, check out the exercises, and imagine how something like that might apply to inspiring roleplaying game writing and design. I think these exercises can prove useful both to newcomers seeking to explore their writing potential as well as experienced authors continuously honing their craft (although they rarely have time to indulge in such frivolous experimentation...though goodness knows I should find the time). In ambling around the vast cacophony of ideas and opinions inundating the interwebzes I stumbled upon two resources that provide inspiration for game-writing prompts...or more precisely prompts for creating source material for fantasy roleplaying games. Unlike the “writing prompts” notebooks I’ve seen, these offer visual inspiration specifically attuned to roleplaying gamers.

Dyson Logos has become a cornerstone of the online adventure gaming community; call it the Old School Renaissance (OSR), do-it-yourself gamers (DIY), or one of the generous online creators who release their works for the general gaming good. He renders amazing maps in a natural style (with some computer-assisted enhancement), large and small, one-shots and series, dungeons and towns. He releases at least one map a week, often more, each with his own inspirational notes as to what might inhabit the map. He invites gamers to use them for their own scenarios, with the first few of each month actually released free for commercial use. He maintains a Patreon page where folks can financially support his endeavors, but such commitment isn’t required to use the maps, whether in free products or paid ones. I used to support Dyson’s Patreon, but opted out during Patreon’s Bad Decision of 2017; I recently joined again to support his numerous, generous contributions to the gaming community. While I don’t use them in material I release through Griffon Publishing Studio, I have used them to enhance my personal gaming activities.

Artwork by Jeshields.
James Shields (also known on the interwebzes as Jeshields) creates roleplaying game art. I’ve seen him and his work on and off on social media; what I’ve seen pleases me in its crisp line-art style (even the full-color work) rendering characters from across the roleplaying game genres, though primarily fantasy and science fiction. He recently returned to freelance illustrating and, as part of his routine, decided to do a “warm-up sketch” each day for around an hour before diving into the scheduled freelance assignment. He’s releasing these sketches to his Patreon supporters for free, including personal and commercial use, with possibly four a week but at least 10 per month. He’s also releasing one a week to the general gaming community for free (again for both personal and commercial use). This is a great opportunity not only for creators to access a large stock of artwork but to find inspiration for new projects and exercises to push their bounds and improve their skills.

Gamer Exercise

While both Dyson and James’ generous gifts to the gaming community can provide hobbyists and professionals with useful, quality artwork, their frequent releases also give gamers a steady stream of inspiration. And that brings me to the “game-writing prompts” exercise. James sets a good example, taking an hour or so to “warm up” before beginning his assignments for the day. Nothing serious, nothing intended for a deadline, nothing adhering to a client’s specifications. Good practice to hone his skills, with the results posted for free through Patreon. Most writers don’t have time for warm-ups or exercises; we’re often trying to fit whatever purposeful, assignment-oriented writing into our busy schedules. But establishing such a routine has its benefits. Writing doesn’t improve without practice and experience...and the requisite reflection on and evaluation of our writing with an eye toward improving it. It can help clean our creative slate, giving us a momentary break from our regular assignments so we can return to them with renewed perspective. They can help us build a reserve of material upon which to draw and revise for future projects.

May by Dyson Logos.
So I offer a challenge – one I hope to accept once a week myself – to take a Dyson map or a Jeshields illustration and draft a short piece inspired by it. No more than 1,200 words, maybe even less. (The 1,200 word mark is what I shoot for with each Hobby Games Recce post, with a minimum of 750.) Perhaps a short dungeon or a location. Maybe a new monster or non-player character. It might function as a warm-up to other writing work or serve as the basis for one’s own explorations into roleplaying game writing. Once finished set it aside and return to it later in the week to reflect on the draft; what could you cut, how could you enhance it, what needs correcting, how might you revise it to best suit your intent and the usefulness to readers?

Such exercises can give newcomers some initial experiences on which to focus their growth as creators. They can also provide a place where seasoned designers can try new techniques and further hone their craft. The fact that these resources remain free to use in commercial publications provides additional incentive for anyone using them, whether or not as prompts, with even small pieces offered for free online or next to the “tip jar” as pay-what-you-want product.

Dyson Logos and James Shields provide small hobby publishers with limited budgets a source of high-quality, free artwork and maps, though not necessarily customized to their particular projects; Patreon supporters, however, have some engagement with these two artists and often the opportunity to make suggestions on their future work. Certainly other creators of artwork and maps exist, even on Patreon; I highlight Dyson and James because they make specific accommodations for using some or all of their work for hobby and commercial use. How we use those resources can at least enrich our own game experience and possibly enhance material shared with the greater adventure gaming community.

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice.”

Ray Bradbury

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Peter for such a fantastic idea to promote reflective practice in game-writing.

    I shall endeavour to take up the gauntlet you have thrown down here.


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