Side-Fiction; or: The stories the table doesn't tell

To clarify what I’d like to talk about here: Fiction created by the players about their characters that didn’t happen in the game itself - not diaries, not even POV diaries (though that might run over a bit), but something that is actually fan fiction for your dear beloved character.

I am very guilty of this.

In a shared campaign I played in, I created side fiction for my character, and I loved doing this. Exploring who they are and what crazy things might happen to them - I liked that. A lot. Still would, but I don’t want to impose an my fellow players’ time or patience.

Couldn’t help myself with my Masks group, I just had to write up a snippet of background history as fiction, but feedback was rather positive and my GM incorporated it in the game.

Does anybody else do this? Do you share these? Or hide them in a drawer and just use them to inform your own play?

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I did this in my Stonetop game a bit, adding on to my characters background as the story unfolded. Also, in a run of the Veil, the players did intense tear-jerking epilogues after the game in a forum, up to and including a suicide of one character that was unexpected but completely logical based on how their worldview had been destroyed during the game.

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I’ve never done it myself, but like I mentioned on the Slack, I have a Masks playgroup that has totally been writing little bits of fiction, we have a shared folder for our campaign and a “Fan (?) Fiction” folder within that. And it started with one player, but it’s been spreading to the rest of the group, where they’ll do things like a backstory flashback, a side story that happened in between different events at the table, or a character study.

It’s great! There’s so much enthusiasm from the players, and it really gives us a sense of how everyone’s connecting with their characters. And I absolutely pulled from the Janus’ “here’s where we meet all my high school friends” flashback fiction.

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I definitely have the inclination to do that, but would never share it, so I don’t actually write it down!

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I do it sometimes, throw it up in my notes alongside the character section :slight_smile:

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Do you share it with the other players, or is it just for yourself?

That group I mentioned, they even wrote GM-less collaborative fiction between just two characters. Has anybody done something like that?

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Our Shadowrun GM has implemented this, with players having the option to add in small stories discussing what they’ve been up to (if they weren’t able to make it to session).

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I’ve never done this myself, except as a highly stylized way to write a “after play report”. I was in a campaign where the characters would wander into adventures and share their findings in a Facebook group. (It was kind of a “West Marches” style of setup, so it was pretty important to share this information.) I ended up writing my “after play reports” in-character, as memoirs. It was fun, and I think the others enjoyed reading them.

I have two things to contribute to this thread:

Once upon a long time ago, I was running a long, ongoing D&D campaign, and ended up moving 3,000km away. Playing online wasn’t possible back then, and we wondered what to do next. I started writing emails to my friends, explaining the situation they were in (at the end of the previous session) and idly wondering what they might want to do next. There wasn’t a clear goal in mind here; it was just an excuse to stay in touch and to keep the game going.

Much to my surprise, they all got together and wrote a full-prose reply to my email, with action and dialogue. It was intense and really interesting to read! Given that kind of authority over the narration and the action, the characters and the story developed in the space of just a few pages into something far beyond anything that had happened in our game so far. (That was my first real experience with how empowering players to make creative contributions can really change a game, and I often think back to it.)

My second comment is for those people who choose to keep such things private:

I would never assume that the other players will be interested to read your fan fiction/made-up in-universe stories (you might be disappointed!), but I would always read anything like that someone in my group put together. It’s interesting and it enriches our roleplaying - a win-win. Unless they produce so much material that I literally can’t get through it all, I’m always interested in this kind of thing, and so are most people I know. So, if you’re just feeling shy, go ahead and make it public! So long as people know they’re not required to read it, it should only entertain your friends and improve your game.

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I share all of my notes, naturally.

These things are less character fiction so much as character dialogue/narration though. Like I write the game notes then might write a little aside next to those notes showing what my character is thinking about this information.

E.g.

  • The Black Widow wants The Oracle’s blood and his service. I need to send this spidery bitch back down the waterspout and fast. What does she have on Rose? Gotta get ahead of this one before they get me

  • Lee’s friends are being preyed upon by a mysterious Fey. Monsters or assholes, seems like there’s always something causing trouble for those guys. Maybe I can point Lee in the right direction

And bigger ones next to major characters etc.
Ruby always tells Richie it’s better to be the organ grinder than the monkey. He thinks she’s an organ grinder alright, and he tells all the pretty young things looking for a tip on their future to steer clear of Ms Chance. This town will eat you alive, and chances are good Ruby’ll do the feeding. Still, when he looks a Second time, he also sees the pretty young thing who came here 20 years ago. Doesn’t look much different than Ruby now, really - and I mean really - but that girl’s drive changed from hope to hunger, and after years of starvation… well. This town feeds on dreams, and it fed on Ruby long before she took her place in the food chain. Sometimes the safest place to swim is with the shark.

Moved to LA in the last couple of years. From back East, only goes by the single name, ‘Lee’. Beneath the desert grime and miles of the road, you can see a wiry kid looking out at the shining lights of LA. Sleeps rough off Santa Monica Blvd, runs with a pack of other kids with no other place to go. Since he’s been around, people don’t push those guys around too much. The prudes, the pervs, the tough guys, the holier-than-thou creeps… they don’t come prowling around at night anymore. He’s a good guy, real stand-up joe, but he puts himself out there like that in this town? Sooner or later a target is going up on his back. Might even be one there already.

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I definitely do this. I find it helps me understand the character more deeply and more quickly than just letting them unfold during play. I use it as a tool when I feel like I’m not clicking with a PC I created, and it usually helps!

I’ve also done this sort of thing with establishing background with another PC (we co-wrote the story of how our PCs first met). We’d met years before the time of our campaign so didn’t have to worry about tromping on the current world unfolding, and it was really helpful to get us on the same page to clarify our current relationship in-game. Rather than floundering, we had shared concrete details to draw from.

Sharing things like this can be tricky since it’s asking something of your fellow players/GM that they didn’t necessarily sign up for (unless everyone’s doing it of course), so I typically keep them to myself and use them to help inform my play at the table. If it makes an appearance there, then it’s “canon” and can be drawn on in live play. Until then, it’s all flexible and just for funsies. If something happens at the table that contradicts my own musings, then that one hundred percent takes precedence. No one wants “that person” at the table who’s established so much side-fiction that they can’t actually play the game anymore without pulling out a “well, actually…” every five seconds.

Also, I can’t respond to this without mentioning…if you’re one of those people that enjoys writing these sorts of adventures down, you’re quite likely to enjoy a good play-by-post game as well!

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If I’m understanding the topic correctly, are you saying you write fiction tied to your character that is never integrated into the game? Now, nobody should be forced to share what they don’t want to, but as part of the collaborative storytelling experience, shouldn’t we encourage sharing this exposition with the group? I think most people can come to the understanding that player knowledge =/= character knowledge, so we shouldn’t have any hangups about character spoilers (unless the story is specifically about that).

Like many, DnD was my gateway to RPGs. It was customary amongst my playgroups to write up a one to two page character backstory and present it to the group before the first session had begun. These backstories were also shared with the GM ahead of time so they had the opportunity to pull plot hooks from it. If a player ever had to miss a session, we would commonly do a quick GM - player story exchange just to get them up to speed without having to strain the GM to generate content just for one player. I’m not trying to disrespect anyone’s endeavors or right to privacy, but it’s strange to me to generate character fiction and not want to integrate it into the game.

I think backstory is a bit different than what we’re talking about here. (And to be fair, the backstory I mentioned earlier was shared with the group in that case - at least a summary version, just spoken at the table so everyone was aware of the details we’d hammered out, but I’m not going to sign everyone up for reading something they don’t want to!)

My understanding of the OP was that these sorts of narrative explorations were more divergent from the actual game than core to it; something just exploring for the fun of it, and separate from actual gameplay, catching up from missed sessions, or baseline backstory, which I agree ought to be shared freely with the group. I’m not a big fan of secrets at the table, personally. :slight_smile:

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If it was up to me, I’d shower my groups with fiction about my characters! But there are a few things that keep me from doing that: First of all, I don’t want to take up too much space with my character - neither by asking my fellow players to read all the things I write, nor by defining too much of the shared imagined space with my character’s exploits.

I mean, I can daydream about how the Serenade of Thorns tried to climb the Makalu summit when they were young and how they met a Yeti while sheltering in a cave. Here’s where I describe what I think the Yeti are, and nobody else gets to interact with that. Better to keep it in my head, and if yeti come up, I can either ignore my head canon or see if it makes sense to bring it up.

Now, backstory created before play is quite different, and I absolutely agree that it should be shared. But it also should be a reasonable length - some people write 20 page exploits, and that’s quite a lot to read. (I mean, I’ve been totally guilty of this, and it was fun; but I understand that a GM has maybe other things to do to prepare for a game.)

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For the first point, I suppose that’s fair, I guess the point I was shimmying around in my post would be, why do you think your fellow players aren’t interested? Not saying you need to force them to read it, but I’m coming from a position of genuine curiosity how you’ve created this piece of fiction that was at least partially inspired by the collective story you and your fellow players have created; why wouldn’t they be interested?

As to your second point I think I need some clarification. I totally get what you mean about not trying to presume your own interpretation about the world over another player’s. But does this mean your character has these Schrodinger’s fictions about them that is real to you but not real in the fiction of the game? Suppose you shared your story and the other players were completely on board with what a yeti is? Or they could even add onto your description and keep building the fiction. It’s confusing/interesting to me that you are able to have this dichotomous character, like there is a part of their story that is your own monologue versus the story that emerges from them performing in the game.

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Good question … maybe I’m just being a bit self-conscious, I guess? Also, while I like my fiction, I can’t really say if it’s good, and I don’t want to spam people.

Also, I have to be careful not to dominate the creative dialogue. :no_mouth:

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It’s not at all my place to tell you what to do! But, just in the spirit of thinking out loud, some thoughts and things to try:

  • Chances are VERY good that the other players will be interested. (Unless they’re criminally busy, perhaps - like if your gaming group is lawyers preparing for a case.)
  • Do inform the others that you’ve written some stuff.
  • Tell them that you’re happy to share it if anyone requests to see it.
  • Set yourself some constraints/limits for whatever format you write in (e.g. word count, page size, specific topics, whether the situations you describe are allowed to be set up or resolved, how often you write/publish something, etc).
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I’ve definitely done this before. I used to write little vignettes for campaigns I was in back in uni, and our Blades in the Dark group from a couple years ago had a shared blog where we posted fiction about our characters (sometimes even using that as a way of dealing with our downtime actions out of game).

I haven’t done any RP writing recently though, because I tend to feel guilty about it in much the same way I do when trying to write fanfiction. My inner critic chides me that if I’ve got time to write stuff like this, I should be using it to work on more serious writing projects. (I know, my inner critic is a jerk though, and I probably shouldn’t listen.)

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I used to write leeeengthy backstories for characters when I played D&D, and turn them over to my DMs. I haven’t found myself doing that with the PbtA or FitD type games I play nowadays, since there’s often more of an emphasis on creating characters with interwoven backstories.

It’s not exactly the same as writing out actual side-fiction, but I definitely tend to think back on previous sessions and head-canon little alterations to the action? Not anything that would really change how things played out, but sometimes I’ll think like “gah I should have said THIS in that scene! That would’ve been so dramatic!” Especially if I feel like I was a little flustered and nervous RP-ing and let that freeze me up a bit in the moment (which is most of the time)… So I’ll end up with these slightly more “edited” versions of the game that would be like the “if this were an actual movie” or whatever take on the scenes we’ve played.

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One of the players in my home game for Stonetop has turned our campaign into a ~100K word novel, largely from her character’s point of view. And because the campaign took like 60ish sessions and over 2 years (and my notes are for crap), it’s kind of become the official “canon” for the story.

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Jeremy,

That’s super interesting! How many people have read this novel? Are there any clashes between people’s memory of the campaign and what’s in the text?

I’m assuming you were the GM; in this case, did you assist with answering questions in the process of writing, or find any bits and pieces that disagreed with your vision of events or some of your prep?