I've got an idea: If I were to use GURPS (Generic Universal Roleplaying System) for creating a story, then in-universe inconsistencies would practically be impossible. You wouldn't be able to turn Leia into a space fairy who can instantly use the Force because she never spent any skill points on it, it's written on the character sheet (A piece of data-container, used to track a character's abilities, items, etc...)! Let's dub it the "Game Master technique."

But I read a scathing review:

"...The series is the poster boy for fantasy banality -- there is not a single speck of creativity to this series. The same can be said of pretty much all the rest of R.A. Salvatore's works. This author has the (dubious) distinction of getting TWO of his series tossed onto this list.

I know there was a PC RPG made from this series, but with the number of fantasy cliches present in the novel, it reads more like a straight GAME-TO-BOOK tie-in novel than the other way around. You can literally hear the sound of the dice rolling in the background as you read. Bleh.

Part of me is disturbed by the lack of evidence from the reviewer's part, the other is concerned about whether the reviewer is right this time. So, am I doomed to fail, or can I avoid writing pitfalls when using a game-system to lay out the framework (what happens) of the story? What should I watch out for?

  • 4
    R.A. Salvatore has sold about 10 million books. The Crystal Shard kicks ass. Generic? So what. He's good at it. Be good at what you do.
    – Stu W
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 2:36
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    I'm not entirely certain what it is your asking, nor what the point you're making is. Salvatores novels are exactly a game-to-book tie in - that's how they started and that's what works for them - as are any D&D based books. Or are you searching for works that started out as RP games but have 'moved' beyond that (or at least, are stand-alone in that regard)?
    – user18397
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 3:50
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    I don't think that the review you linked is complaining about Salvatore's consistency - he's not saying "the characters' abilities were too consistent and predictable". (What the review is actually saying: virtually nothing, aside from "I love hyperbole and the sound of my own writing voice".)
    – WolfeFan
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 18:16
  • Here is a bit of evidence for rpg bleeding into the Drizzt book. At some point the character takes a level of Barbarian to round out his build. This comes up with him raging once (rage, barbarian key ability) in a pointless fight against a Basilisk, and is then never seen again. That spot was so much of a goner for me that i distinctly remember it 15 yrs later
    – Andrey
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 19:03
  • @Andrey Well, that's a relief. D&D is broken as heck, once you try to apply it to reality (armor class, anyone?). GURPS has no such flaws (if you use the 'realistic' rules). Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 20:16

5 Answers 5


Random (dice rolling) is good for role playing games, but not so much for fiction. Allowing dice to determine the outcome of any scene robs you, the author, of your opportunity to instill meaning and value in the outcome of every scene.

The victories and defeats which your characters encounter in their early adventures should shape them towards the characters you want them to become by the conclusion. Leaving those early experiences up to the dice is a tragic waste.

Character sheets are just one treasure which can be drawn from role playing game procedures. NPC profiles, monster/artifact/technology descriptions and over-arching pre-story histories are all great techniques, which can be leveraged for creative writing.

But the dice have no place in fiction.

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    Well, the question didn't specify any actual dice rolling. It could be that "rolling" the dice in this setup means deciding what the outcome should be (and then maybe from time to time checking the "rolls" whether they have a too large bias to still be credible). Note that I have zero GM/role playing experience, so I have no idea whether this would work, I'm just pointing out that you are making assumptions not found in the question.
    – celtschk
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 12:06
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    @celtschk, thanks for the feedback. The dice rolling that I am referring to is part of the GURPS rules that the OP is talking about. Characters are created with a fair distribution of strengths and weaknesses by using dice rolls as randomizers. Later, those initial strengths and weaknesses can grow based on the positive or negative outcome of character challenges & combat. In GURPS, those outcomes are dictated by dice rolls. I actually write up role-playing-game character sheets as part of my writing character development step, but I choose the numbers. No dice or randomness involved. Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 17:45

If you look anywhere people will tell you there is no worse writing than people writing about their DnD campaign. I think those people are wrong. I often in media watch things and go "I think this came out of an RPG session". Even the good stuff tends to give it away to me by some of the items mentioned below.

I have written stuff based on things I have GM, so here are my thoughts. here are things to not do

Everyone Is different but equal. In an rpg you tend to stat a bunch of characters to be of equal power and usefulness. This is not how the real world works.

There is no main character. SO you had 4 players that all had to be main characters at some points. Great for a group, but for writing, you most likely will have to find a story with a real plot ark for your main character.

Rinse and repeat formula. Characters get to town, CHaracters learn of a problem. Characters solve problem with two combats. Characters move on. Great for tabletop, bad for books. The story should be about the characters, not the world throwing little problems at them.

Getting new powers. Rpg characters spend points and get new powers. All at the same time. New abilities need to feel really earned

I feel like I have repeated this a few ways, but the tabletop week to week open narrative structure just does not work well for a book. The trick is to find a real story somewhere in there, and not retel the events


RPG rules and character sheets are a simplified abstraction of the mechanics of the universe where the story takes place. Such inaccuracies are necessary to not make a game system too complicated to handle. If you adhere too much to the rules, you might end up with unrealistic situations like people getting backstabbed with siege weapons because the game designers neglected to make a rule which says you can't. And you will also waste a lot of potential in your plot if you are unwilling to bend your self-imposed rules in order to accommodate it.

For example:

you wouldn't be able to turn Leia into a space fairy who can instantly use the Force because she never spent any skill points on it, it's written on the character sheet

Is it really impossible to turn into a space fairy in your universe? An RPG system would not allow a player-character to do this easily, because space fairies are overpowered. But when it is still theoretically possible within the fiction of your universe and when it leads to a good plot, then why not? Game balance is important for games, but not for non-interactive fiction.

It is even something you can do in fan fiction. Why not write a Star Wars fanfic where Princess Leia turns into a space fairy with godlike force powers? How would that affect the power dynamic between the characters? How would Leia herself deal with her newfound powers? How would this change the plot of the Star Wars saga? All concepts which might be interesting to explore.

Maybe "force points" are something which actually exists within your universe. It might be a scientifically provable concept which is known to the characters and openly discussed (like "power levels" in the Dragonball universe). In that case, violating the established rules without a good explanation would be lazy writing. But the canon Star Wars universe doesn't have any established rules like this (besides a vague reference to something called Midi-Chlorian count which many fans would prefer to erase from their minds). When "force points" are just an abstraction you use as a storytelling tool but which isn't actually a thing in-universe, then violating your self-imposed force point rules when they stand in the way of the plot is not an issue.

This is even more true when it comes to random chances. In an RPG game, the outcome of many situations is determined by rolling a die and comparing it with the numbers on the character sheet. The people over at RPG.SE will tell you to never let the rules get in the way of a good story. But it is still an instinct which is hard to suppress when sitting at an RPG table with the dice in your hand. There is no good reason to let this bad habit spread to other forms of media.

When you are writing non-interactive fiction, then you decide how the dice fall. So when a character is trying something where both success and failure are both plausible outcomes, one outcome leads to an interesting plot and the other to a boring one, always choose the interesting plot.


A good GM knows the rulebook is more like guidelines than law. They will fudge the rules if it makes the story/game better. For instance, no letting the first redshirt bandit kill a player character in one hit because he rolled a natural 20.

The same will work for writing a story using GURPS. Use the dice as a way to make sure things stay reasonable, but don't let them boss you around. You're the author, they're just plastic.


If it were impossible to create a good story from the framework of a role-playing game then it ought to be impossible to create good fiction from any other game-like framework. Yet there are many memorable sports stories from Rocky to Dodgeball. Similarly there are stories about beauty pageants, political contests, and real life war. If the constraints of an RPG system are too strict for a story to flourish then real-world events would be too.

It's not the mechanics of the story which will make it successful but the charm of the characters, the turns of the plot and the lens through which you view the world. Skill points are not character, upgrading them is not character development, and rolling dice is not plot. You can certainly use those things to create a course of events, in the same way one could take the known facts about the Titanic or Apollo 13, but that would only be the skeleton of the story. The fun stuff is what the author brings to the story to elevate it above a set of facts.

As an exercise rent a few movies based on games or sports or historical conflicts and see how much emotional content is hung upon the bare branches of the central contest. That is the stuff you will add to your stats to create living people, in believable worlds, with genuine ambitions and perils.

  • Exactly. The game itself isn't that important.
    – mwo
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 15:41
  • Rocky and Dodgeball might be about sports, but their plot isn't determined by actual mechanics of the sports they portray. They are determined by what's interesting to watch. The writers of Rocky didn't say "Let's film Stallone and Weathers having a boxing match and see who wins". They carefully plotted every second of it in advance for maximum story tension. And in Dogeball they even made up rules on the spot to make the story more interesting.
    – Philipp
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 15:42
  • This feels off topic, this is not a book about playing an RPG
    – Andrey
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 18:32

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