Writers as Gamers and Tea Hosts

Okay, folks. Here’s another wander through Bubonicon 2010. This time I’m going to focus on two events I particularly enjoyed: first, a panel discussion on writers who game; second an event I think might be unique to Bubonicon, the Author’s Tea.

As I mentioned last time, New Mexico is home to a surprisingly large number of professional science fiction and fantasy writers. A rather large number of these writers are also, or have been, gamers.

When I use the term “gamer,” I’m using it in the specialized sense of someone who plays role-playing games – not board games or military strategy re-creations, but the sort of games where you sit down and, abiding by an agreed-upon set of rules, play at being something you’re not. It’s a hobby that suits many writers very well.

My panel members included Melinda Snodgrass, Daniel Abraham, Walter Jon Williams, Carrie Vaughn, and myself. I should note that this barely dabbled a toe in the writer/gamers who attend Bubonicon. Others include John Jos. Miller, Ian Tregallis, Pati Nagle, George R.R. Martin, Laura Mixon, Steve Gould, and others I’m probably forgetting now. If you notice a certain overlap with the Wild Cards shared-world series, well, this isn’t a coincidence, but they tell their own story well enough elsewhere.

We started off sounding rather like an A.A. meeting: “Hi. My name is X. I’m a writer and I’ve been gaming for X years.” Then with a roll of the dice (hey, I was the moderator and I could if I wanted), we went on to discuss how writing has colored our gaming and gaming our writing.

Walter talked about how the “Rome Game,” which was set in the dying days of the Roman Republic, influenced both the political design and a few of the characters for his “Dread Empire Falls” series. Walter was careful to stress that he did not transcribe the game, but that the theme of a great empire committing suicide from within fascinated him.

Melinda Snodgrass took the other direction, noting that Richard Oort, the protagonist in her “Edge” series, was a favorite gaming character of hers. (I certainly knew this, having played with Richard in at least three different incarnations: cops, FBI, and space opera).

Melinda went on to explain how as much as she enjoyed playing Richard, she never felt she was able to investigate his “back story” as much as she would have liked. As a good gamer, Melinda understood that gaming is an interactive process. Sitting around brooding about one’s past is not exactly conducive to making the other players enjoy your company. The novels, however, gave her the opportunity she had desired.

Daniel Abraham, in neat contradiction to the theme that it’s never a good idea to think you can transcribe your game into fiction, went on to discuss a sold (but as yet unpublished) project on which he is collaborating. This space adventure will use not only the reams and reams of background material that Daniel’s collaborator developed, but also some of the characters and adventures.

Daniel stressed that while they’re using the material, they’re adapting it heavily. Carrie also weighed in with a reminder that most magazines warn against the gamer’s fond belief that a simple transcription of your latest adventure will make a story of interest to anyone other than the gamers involved.

I’m going to stop here, because I want to also talk about the Author’s Tea.

The Author’s Tea, as our listing in the program book states, is not tea for the authors, it’s a tea with the authors as hosts. Those of us who put it on take that hosting seriously. Many of the food items – sweets, breads, and savories – are cooked by the authors. Four teas are offered – each year one classic black, one spiced black, one green, and one tisane – all brewed on the spot.

The idea for the Author’s Tea came some years ago when the writers on the first panel of the morning decided to bring refreshments for those who staggered out of bed to attend. This evolved into a formal afternoon English High Tea.

What we do is take over the Con Suite and the room across the hall and turn them into a Tea Room. In addition to the above mentioned food, there is a hats and gloves contest, with prizes for categories ranging from “Most Creative” to “Most Elegant.” This year’s judge was writer/artist Betsy James. We also have a drawing for signed books.

I’ve been saying “we” here, but it’s only polite to note that the coordinator of this event, the person without which it never would have gotten started, and the one who keeps it going, is Pati Nagle (who also writes as P.G. Nagle). Pati selects the teas. She makes up the pretty signs and keeps the boxes of gear in her garage. She makes the world’s best cream scones with currents.

Since I’m her Official Second in Command, I can state most cheerfully that Pati needs me like she needs a second head. (Her first is well-balanced and creative enough).

Well, I’ve wandered long enough. Time to go write fiction…

5 Responses to “Writers as Gamers and Tea Hosts”

  1. Nicholas Wells Says:

    Interesting that you would mention the part abut gaming writers. I tend to game a lot myself, though I’ll admit I prefer RTS (real time strategy), and I don’t do it much online. Of course that because of my internet, but we won’t go there.

    Still, I have done some RPG stuff, as well as “sim groups” which are message boards where you create a character, and interact with other characters in a situation. Both have helped me dig a little deeper into my characters, understand the little things of how people work, realize the quirks and traits they have or might have.

  2. janelindskold Says:

    Hi Nicholas,

    Despite the scorn that gaming still draws in some areas, it’s amazing how many people in the SF/F field have some experience with it.

    Just yesterday I was talking to a editor who admitted he was a gamer.

    One thing that came up on the panel is that different people game in different ways. I really enjoy the human element. Walter Jon Williams (with whom I’ve gamed for a scary number of years) said that our group is more like improv theater than dice rolling.

    I agree.

    My opinion — and I’d love to hear others on this — is that ultimately skill-based systems provide more stimulus for writers/creative people than do those systems based on character classes (rangers or elves or whatever).

    Indeed, I’d argue that the latter leads to sloppy writing since there is no way one “fighter” is identical to all fighters any more than one writer is the same as all writers.

  3. Tori Says:

    The Writers Who Game panel was far and away my favorite this year. I loved Carrie Vaughn’s tales of dealing with power gamers in her group and how she’s foiled them before: “My character is a pregnant teenager!” I also felt like this panel could have easily gone on for another hour and the authors would still have interesting stories left to tell.

    The Author’s Tea has become one of my favorite things about Bubonicon and it was lovely once again this year!

  4. Heteromeles Says:

    Fun topic, and I’m sad that I missed it.

    I used to play back in the day too, and I think you’re right about skill-based systems. They’re more fun certainly.

    A couple of weeks ago, I was idly trying to figure out what a level-based society would look like. Caste-based, obviously. But do women get to be, say, ninth level moms, capable of dealing with….teens? I didn’t come to any conclusions, but that whole idea seems to be saturating our society via MMORPGs. Who knows? Maybe in a decade, people will want to level up at work just to stay employed.

    One thing I really valued about gaming was probability and statistics. When I took stats in college, it was quite easy, because I had been rolling dice for years. Therefore, I think parents definitely should have their kids play RPGs the old-fashioned way, so that they’ll learn the fundamentals of stats and mathematical modeling (/evil grin suppressed).

    Advertising note: for anyone interested, I started my own blog: http://heteromeles.wordpress.com/. I’m talking about the intersection of the life sciences and science fiction. Since I like being provocative, it’s only fair that I take my turn in the dunking booth and hand out baseballs too.

  5. janelindskold Says:

    Heteromeles —

    I like your idea that gaming teaches math!

    Certainly, the old-style does just that. I’ve never been a math wizard, but I do simple calculations a lot faster than I ever did because of the need to do so when I’m running a game.

    Good luck with your project!

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