How we turned a 5+ year game into a fantasy series!
When we discovered tabletop gaming in 2015, I (Talia) did not understand it. How do you play? What do you mean there is no board? But as a lifelong lover of fantasy, my interest was piqued. And when Dorian ran his first game and only two friends showed up, I offered to play to help build out the group. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Tabletop gaming worked its way into all aspects of our life. Art, cosplay, decorations, conventions, video games, board games . . . anything related to rolling dice and telling stories we wanted as part of our lives. So when it came to writing, this just seemed like another natural progression.
I knew early on I wanted to turn our homebrew TTRPG story into a book series. I have written stories my whole life and was actively involved in fanfiction as a teenager. I actually won a few community awards for my fanfics including Best Romance, Best Adventure, and Story of the Year. I had published a middle grade fantasy fiction through Amazon before as my fist “official” book. But after years of playing the same storyline, the passion for it fully took hold. I just had to turn this into a book!
As an experienced writer (and an online journalist through sites like The Nerd Stash and The Drive) I felt up to the task of translating a homebrew TTRPG game into a book. And I wanted it to be as dark and gritty as the actual game, but with points of humor and fun. I wanted it to capture this sweeping homebrew world that was created as well as easily dive into the very personal struggles of each character.
So here is a look at what it takes to translate a game into your own story!
Don’t Lore Drop All at Once
As the GM, Dorian had fleshed out an incredible homebrew world. As Assistant to the DM, he consulted me for geographical tips, historical events, and overall world building. So from early on in the game it very much felt like our own creation. Players were all given a few pages detailing Corventos as well as a map and a calendar.
However, that kind of stuff doesn’t really work for a book. You can’t drop all the history of the world at the beginning. It has to be worked throughout the story, sometimes across a few books. One big tip is that things should be name-dropped or hinted at first before really getting into the details. This helps readers not feel overwhelmed when they get to the lore.
Extrapolating on Scenes & Dialogue
I kept detailed notes of our games after about a 1 – 2 years of playing. I even kept track of some impactful dialogue I could remember. But, games flow differently than a book. Some scenes are skipped over at the table for ease of telling the story and making adjustments for player changes. We had one player change out his class entirely. He did really good at trying to keep a roleplay reason for it, but in the end all other characters accepted the changes easily without too many questions. It just helps push the story forward.
But in a book, more detail and explanation are needed. Often I find myself creating entire scenes from scratch to fill in these “holes” and tell a smoother story. So you definitely need to know your world and your characters thoroughly to be able to deviate from what happened in-game and make it feel right in the book.
As it was a homebrew world, we already had many creations of our own. We even had alternative names for the gods as well as our own take on them and what they meant. We especially took the lore of the drow and duergar and made it our own, creating brand new backstories, societal systems, and our own take on their religion. But of course we used normal monster names and item names that were already in the books.
So we have had to make up our own names for these things, or even reinvent them entirely. For example, we fought beholders in the game. But beholders got a complete remake for the book, including abilities, appearance, and a name. Many magical items are ignored for the book unless they have a central point to the plot. Readers don’t care about a +1 magical dagger for our rogue. But a dagger that comes back to the hand thrown is important.
This has had the added benefit of enhancing our games more. Now we use pretty much entirely homebrewed creations.
Point of View
One of the biggest questions was what point of view was this story going to get told in? I had always used third person omniscient, but that just didn’t feel like enough. I wanted to really be able to dive into each character and explore their minds and perspective. We also had a larger cast of main characters, and I wanted to ensure no one got steamrolled over the other.
So I employed a strategy to vary whose point of view the chapter is told from. I kept it to third person limited and changed it out each chapter. That way I could pick whoever was best for that specific chapter, and also get to dive into their needs and wants without pushing out other characters.
I first saw this used as a teenager in Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus books. I absolutely love those books and was fascinated how he would go back and forth between two characters in third person limited chapters. But also how he would use the first person perspective for Bartimaeus’ chapters. And with the chapter titles simply being their names, that shaped the young writer in me.
Telling a Story in Progress
The Thread of Souls series is based off our homebrew TTRPG game. But this campaign is not finished. So we are essentially telling a story in progress. I ensured I didn’t start writing until I was a few books ahead based upon my rough outlines. Currently I’m in the process of writing Book 3. But we are currently playing Book 7. This has impacted the way we play the games, but I think for the better all around. We are so committed to telling a great story, and delivering emotional roleplaying, that this has only enhanced our game.
Don’t be afraid to record your own games! It doesn’t have to be as a book. Maybe as art, or aesthetic boards, or story arc playlists. As we found out from our survey on players’ personality types, most of us that play are heavily creative and insightful. And the more ways we express our joys, the better.