The short answer is there’s not much difference between a GM’s job and a writer’s. I was a Game Master a long time before I ever considered writing Tales of The Screaming Eagle. I learned what made a game exciting and fun, then took that information and put it to work in my writing. It taught me a lot and I’ve been quite successful so far. So here you are, a new GM or a beginning writer, and your struggling with how to put your story together. Where do you start?
The answer is simple; you start with heroes and villains.
Heroes are actually the easy part, so I won’t say too much about them. As a GM you don’t even have to worry about creating the heroes, the players do that. They will diligently pore through the rule-books, roll dice, and even scribble a charming little illustration of their hero for you. All a GM has to do is take a few minutes to read the character sheets and that part is done. As a writer this job actually requires some effort on your part, but it’s not really that hard. Writers must determine who their protagonist is, what he/she is capable of, what his/her limitations are, and what the hero wants (fame, riches, power, love, whatever). If you ARE a writer and are reading this gaming website in the first place it’s safe to assume that, like me, you have a foot in each river. There is no reason that you can’t take a few moments to fill out a character sheet for your novel’s protagonist. Don’t have any role playing rule-books in your house? Easy fix,download Star Run off this site. No believable character is omnipotent. Weather in a novel or a role playing game, heroes are defined by their abilities, limitations and goals.
Remember star pilots make poor forest rangers, lumberjacks suck at space ship engineering, and atheists make terrible missionaries.
Now as to the villains. To be frank, they’re often more important to your story than the heroes. A friend of mine was telling me about some problems he was having coming up with the plot for his novel. He went on to tell me his writing method was to constantly ask himself’ “then what.” He’d start with the opening scene and then ask, “then what” to develop the next scene. Sound a little boring? It is because his question was extremely vague. He was frustrated because his story wasn’t going anywhere, and I can see why. The same problem can be encountered in a role playing game. The GM may have the character sheets memorized and read the rule-book from cover to cover, but the game goes nowhere because he’s always asking “then what” as he meanders with the players form one boring scene to another. To get things going, enter the villain!
Not only is your villain as real as your hero (abilities, limitations and motivations) but he provides all the drama your game or story requires. Your heroes may be in a World War II game and, even if they never meet him, Hitler is the villain. What are Hitler’s abilities? He has command of all the resources of Germany. What are Hitler’s limitations? He’s bat-shit crazy. What does Hitler want? The total domination of Europe under the Third Reich and the extermination of the Jews. Now that’s a villain (and unfortunately he was all too real), now what are your heroes going to do to stop him? As a GM or author, your job is to put your heroes square in the path of the villain’s plans and then give them a nudge forward. Now we have a story! Good vs. evil on a grand scale or small. Good resists evil, the villain becomes aware of the heroes and reacts, heroes move into position to block evil’s next move and the game is afoot! The plot moves forward until the villain is finally defeated or the heroes are ground to a pulp. Either way, you have a story!
A game or a novel, it makes no difference, both have plots, and a plot is the whirlpool created when the villain pushes one way and the heroes push in the other. In the end, one side will remain afloat and the other will go down the drain. You don’t have to think of every scene in advance. Just think like the characters and ask yourself, “what is she going to do about that?” Followed by, “She did THAT? Oh, hell no, he’s going to have to do THIS!” And so on until it’s game over.