the story behind the story

When I announced Midnight Never Come as my next novel, I made some allusions that, for some of you, need expansion.

Or, to put it a different way, I need to apologize for (on the surface of it) committing one of the cardinal sins of fantasy writing: I’m writing up a role-playing game.

Generally, of course, that phrase indicates something along the lines of “an elf, a dwarf, and a ranger walk into a dungeon . . .,” and in such cases it is rightly despised; god only knows how many bad queries agents and editors see that are thinly-disguised writeups of D&D campaigns, even when they aren’t working on the Forgotten Realms. But of course game systems have come a long way since D&D debuted, as have the uses to which people put them, and this particular instance is about as far away from the dungeon scenario as one can get.

Last year I ran my first RPG, a one-year (okay, ten-and-a-half-month) tabletop game based on White Wolf’s system Changeling: The Dreaming. In a very tiny nutshell, the idea of the system is that faerie souls have survived into modern times by taking refuge in mortal bodies, and that when the mortal host dies, they reincarnate. So I ran a game that went through 650 years of English history — backwards — going from 2006 to 1916 and so on back to about 1350, and then back to 2006 to finish up the plot. For structural reasons, I called it Memento, after the very intriguing Guy Pearce movie.

The 1589 segment of the game grew like kudzu. It didn’t run any longer than the others (three sessions), but by the time I was done, its background and consequences stretched the entire length of the game, from the time of the Black Death through to nearly the last of our 2006 sessions. And at the heart of that web of action and reaction, folly and consequence, was Invidiana, Queen of the Onyx Court, who ruled the fae of Albion for a period of time mostly overlapping Elizabeth’s reign.

Midnight Never Come is not really a Memento novel; the overarching plot that spanned all that time (which was basically a 650-year alchemical experiment) will be absent, and many of the outlying tendrils of Invidiana’s plot will be pulled in, to make a more compact story. But she wouldn’t leave my head, and neither would a lot of the characters surrounding her, and I gradually came to realize that it wouldn’t be all that hard to file off the Changeling-specific serial numbers and make it an independent story about curses and dark pacts, lost memories and betrayed loves, Machiavellian intrigues and faerie/mortal politics. And while the proprietary ideas that belonged to White Wolf will be gone, those were never the central part of it anyway; the most important bits will still be there, and that’s why I can make it a novel. It was very nearly standing on its own two feet to begin with. (Hell, I’d thrown in so many things that violated White Wolf canon, half of it was hardly recognizable as Changeling anyway.)

So there you have it: I am committing RPG novelization. I pray you all forgive me.

0 Responses to “the story behind the story”

  1. jimhines

    “Generally, of course, that phrase indicates something along the lines of “an elf, a dwarf, and a ranger walk into a dungeon . . .,” and in such cases it is rightly despised”

    Ahem. I’ll have you know that there were no rangers in my book, thank you very much.

    The rest of it … um … did I mention that there were no rangers? 🙂

  2. d_c_m

    Good stories are good stories. I know the players of the game agree. 🙂 Write it!!!!

    And do remember that me being a Unitarian means I have to commit a little act of heresy at least once a week or my soul whithers and dies. 😉

  3. sartorias

    Several good ones have been done–whereever the idea comes from, a good story is a good story, imo.

    • Marie Brennan

      Exactly, and a lot of more recent game designs have been more focused on character and story, less on the monster-mashing of D&D, which makes them much more likely sources to mine.

  4. brigidsblest

    Forgive you? How about I thank you, instead? Changeling is my favorite RPG, and there are just too few good novels out there about any flavor of the Fae, IMO.

    • Marie Brennan

      Changeling has its flaws, but it also has a lot going for it. I found it a really great base to use for building up the somewhat wider-ranging structure of Memento (which, as I said, got pretty radically non-Changeling in places).

      For the novel, mainly I’m having to figure out how to maneuver around certain plot elements that originally involved freeholds. The rest of the game-specific details are pretty trivial to get rid of.

  5. mrissa

    If I could forgive , I can forgive you.

    Although gave me quite a turn the first time we were trading gaming stories and he said, “When Steven was still running the Dragaeran game, before he wrote any of the novels….”

  6. ninja_turbo


    Commit novelization, just do so Awesomely. 🙂

  7. gollumgollum

    I’d point and laugh and call you a geek, but a)Turbo beat me to it and b)i’m having too much fun with our midnight conversations. (;

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