Stories, Obstacles, and Magical Woods

Storytelling, myth, and how to overcome the obstacles in your way

My Journey as a Writer in Game Design

Elise Cretel @DNDElise

My earliest tabletop gaming memories were with my grandmother. I was dropped off at my Gram’s house regularly. Her yard was shaded with towering trees and fragrant red tulips and popup lilies filled the garden.

Grandma’s house was always filled with the aroma of delicious homecooked food. After a meal, we would sit on the couch. She always asked if I wanted to play a game of war (cards) or a board game. I spent many hours of my childhood sitting on that couch playing with her. These were some of my happiest childhood memories and the start my journey in gaming. 

The first DM’s Guild writing project I was invited to was Undermountain: The Lost Chambers, lead by Micah Watt of Pyromaniac Press. When I tackled writing my first two adventures, I was fortunate to have Micah and other team members show me the ropes. I learned quickly that designing games was quite different than developing content for my home games or writing short stories. 

Creating adventures for D&D is its own science. It requires designers to craft engaging stories and evocative nonplayer characters (NPCs) in a small space. Designers must provide enough information to help Dungeon Masters (DMs) lead the narrative and keep players engaged while leaving room for DMs to customize the game.

When writing adventures, designers must also account for a group of fighters, wizards, bards, and others who are contributing to the story in the game. They are not only reacting to plot hooks and encounters with ferocious dragons and goblin hoards, but they are also playing a role in the narrative of the game. They have goals designers are unaware of, which creates challenges unique to TTRPG writing. While designers can create individual objectives, obstacles, and resolutions for NPCs, they must also account for the whole group of players who all might impact the outcome of the story.

At some point, every author is inflicted with writer’s block. Last year I worked on an industry-level project. It was a fantastic experience, and I received a lot of insightful feedback that helped me see the blind spots in my writing. However, after this realization, I was in paralysis when it came to working on D&D adventures. I still participated in projects creating monsters and magic items, but I had trouble getting the pen moving when it came to finishing adventures. I felt like my adventures were not great, and I was afraid of making any more content because I didn’t know how to make them better. I felt burnt out.

After taking a short break, I began deep diving into books on writing and game design. One resource I found was a game-changer. I was perusing the writing reference section at the bookstore when I saw a book titled Consider This by Chuck Palahnuik. At first, I thought someone had misplaced a book from the fiction or horror section. His books were the ones you didn’t want your parents to find out about back in high school. Why was the author of Fight Club in the writing reference section?

I picked up the book and discovered it was a book about his journey as a writer. I really liked his books when I was younger, so I bought it. 

Most books about improving your writing are not the most exciting to read. I normally make a cup of tea before bed and then read a chapter. Consider This was the exception. It was one of the first books I read on the subject that was not only entertaining to read but seemed to have all the gems I was hunting for in one book. Before, I felt like I had to read a lot of fluff in other books to find only a few good bits. It felt like a lot of digging. 

I started Chuck’s book and did the recommended reading and exercises. As I did so, I noticed I was regaining my motivation and ideas were beginning to brew again. I thought of ways to translate this information into game design and was finally pulling myself out of the adventure writing rut. 

Soon I was getting the wheels turning again on all my projects and starting new ones. All it took was reading the right book and hearing the right advice. I broke through a major barrier that had been preventing me from working on adventures.  I still have a lot to learn as a creator, but I found the muse I needed to continue writing and improve my craft as a game designer. 

You can find my DND Supplements here.

Elise Cretel is an Ennie nominated writer for the DM’s Guild and DriveThruRPG. She is the project lead of the #ThroughTheVeil Feywild series (D&D5e) and a contributing author of bestsellers such as Uncaged, Blackstaff’s Tome of Wizardry, and The Great Dale Campaign Guide. She is also published on HitRecord and a contributor to the Emmy winning Create Together series.

This post appears in the ‘Wild Woman Gamer’ monthly feature on Wild Women Press

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What We Are Reading

Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

Jane McGonigal

Drawing on positive psychology, cognitive science, and sociology, Reality Is Broken uncovers how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy and utilized these discoveriesto astonishing effect in virtual environments. Videogames consistently provide the exhilarating rewards, stimulating challenges, and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. But why, McGonigal asks, should we use the power of games for escapist entertainment alone? Her research suggests that gamers are expert problem solvers and collaborators because they regularly cooperate with other players to overcome daunting virtual challenges, and she helped pioneer a fast-growing genre of games that aims to turn gameplay to socially positive ends.

Published by Vintage (5 April 2012)

Available here

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What We Are Playing

Baba Yaga (Baobab Studios)

Immerse yourself in the enchanting world of Baba Yaga, the newest virtual reality narrative from 6-time Emmy Award-winning interactive animation studio Baobab Studios. Sometimes a force for evil, sometimes a force for good, the enigmatic witch Baba Yaga uses her powers to protect the forest. When your mother, the village chief, falls deathly ill, it is up to you and your sister Magda to do the unthinkable—enter the forest, uncover its hidden mysteries and get the cure from Baba Yaga. With an award winning cast, Baba Yaga is family friendly experience about finding courage and facing your fears.

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#WildWomanGamer is curated by Victoria Bennett & published by Wild Women Press.