From Author to Gamer

So there I was, barfing over the side of a wooden ship, headed towards a land that only had a name, with a carefully picked selection of items in my pack and a name I kept forgetting.

I’ve written five books and tons of short stories, so when Tracy invited me to play some Pathfinder with him I jumped at the chance. After all, if I got so much joy out of telling stories, how could I not love the collaborative storytelling that is at the heart of tabletop gaming?

Well, I did find joy there, but it was a weird bumpy road before I was able to acclimate my writer’s brain to the chaotic world of Pathfinder. My first session contained the scenario described above, one missed roll and my rogue, a shrewd-eyed demon who gave his enemies plenty to consider before they crossed him, as I had seen him, was vomiting over the edge of a ship while the marines on board laughed and a lord insulted him.

That wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. It wasn’t all bad either, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like I was throwing up in real life. But it was still a jarring experience to have a character that had been conceived in my head, like every other character I’ve written, suddenly wrenched out of my control by the toss of a die. This is my character, I kept thinking, dammit he doesn’t puke unless I say he does.

And believe me, my characters puke. In most of my early books my main characters tends to vomit at moments of deep personal insight. I’m not sure how I wound up with that as a motif, and I’ve let that fun trend slip away in my later books, but the notion of throwing up has, oddly, become a hallmark of my writing. It’s a powerful thing to make a character do. It’s disabling, disorienting, derailing. Plans for the night or for the week can suddenly collapse when one’s stomach twinges due to a flu. It can signify physical durability, or lack thereof, emotional stability, or lack thereof, and can indicate an inability to handle stress in an otherwise stoic character.

No. Tossing one’s cookies is not an action I make my characters suffer lightly. But it was the first thing my character did in my first tabletop rpg ever. And not by choice, but because I had failed a role.

It was a slap in the face but it got across the message clearly. This was not my setting. I wasn’t in control of these characters. I was a character, and someone else was playing god.

I swear, as a writer who has controlled the minute actions of hundreds of characters at every moment in their lives for over ten years, the sudden lack of control was enough to make me nauseous.

Welcome to tabletop RPG’s, I thought.

And that was before I started to interact with all those “other players.”


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Joseph Devon is the author of Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions . Think X-men meets Pulp Fiction meets The Wire meets The Seven Samurai. And some other stuff as well.


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About Joseph Devon

Joseph Devon is the author of Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions . Think X-men meets Pulp Fiction meets The Wire meets The Seven Samurai. And some other stuff as well.

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