Explaining Game Writing to Non-Gamers

Most of my non-gamer friends have no clear idea of what I do for a living, and when I try to explain it to them their eyes glaze over. It becomes, in the words of one person, “so much technobabble nerd speak”. They have some vague idea of what Dungeons & Dragons is, but they think in terms of board games and generally believe it to be a fixed thing; if the game already exists, what else is there to write about?I finally hit upon a couple of analogies that people seem to grasp. If I were in the automobile industry my company, Asparagus Jumpsuit, wouldn’t be the auto manufacturer like Ford or Chevy. We’d be the smaller company that makes after-market parts for owners of Fords and Chevys. Folks seem to get that. I don’t work for the company that makes D&D, and I don’t work directly on D&D, I make accessories for people who play D&D.

The other analogy that sort of works is to ask people to look at tabletop roleplaying games not as board games, but as sports. In football, for example, there’s a rulebook, but that’s not the end of the discussion. There are always interpretations of the rules. That’s why you have referees. Players have different strengths and weaknesses, that’s why you have coaches. The majority of players haven’t been signed by the NFL. Most of us are amateurs. We know what we’re doing, but we want to get better. It’s our hobby, we do it because we enjoy it, and we want to be good at it. If you keep imagining it as football, there are books and magazine and websites and videos and all sorts of material that address how to be a better player, how to be a better coach, how to be a better referee, how to understand the nuances of the rules, how to understand the statistics, and so on. There’s plenty to write about. So it goes with tabletop roleplaying games as well.

Explaining Game Writing to Non-Gamers

So with allegorical context, I can explain what I actually do with more clarity. I don’t write for D&D, although I might next year when the new rulebook comes out. Going back to sports, think of me as a sports writer, not a football writer. I don’t cover football, I cover other sports. To be really specific, I write mostly for a game called Pathfinder, which is a lot like D&D. I’ll give you another sports analogy, to try to explain the relationship between D&D and Pathfinder. Remember back when they changed the designated hitter rule in baseball, and a lot of people didn’t like it? Now, imagine if a bunch of people said no, we’re not going to accept the change, we’re going to keep playing the way we’re used to playing. Then those people split off and formed their own league. So you end up with two baseball leagues, one that carries on the name of Major League Baseball but with new rules, and one that’s got a new name but is playing under the old rules. D&D is the new game with the old name, and Pathfinder is the old game with the new name.

It gets a lot more complicated than that, but I don’t want to hurt your brain. It hurts mine, and I understand the way things are and why.

I have a license from the company that owns and publishes Pathfinder to create and sell Pathfinder-compatible material. It’s all legal and above-board. There are rules that I have to follow, but I get to play with their toys. I can create things that work with their rules, I can create variations on their rules, and I’m not violating their copyrights because I have their permission.

There are a million other things that I could be writing, and I do write other things, about other games, and a lot of non-game stuff. I keep writing for Pathfinder because it’s where the money is for me right now. It’s the market that sells the best and pays the best. Since money is everything for us right now, with the big move to Finland coming up, I follow the money. It’s fun to write, it’s a creative outlet, and it’s more stable and lucrative than writing short fiction.

Hopefully, that clears some things up for my non-gamer friends and readers. Feel free to ask questions.