How to Write About Your Gaming

Several people mentioned that they’d like to hear my thoughts on how to talk about their game sessions online. I’ve had pretty good luck talking about my game sessions. It’s not easy! So let me warn you about that up front. You’ll fail a lot, but you won’t even know it because folks are generally polite. Think about what your goals are: better conversations, self-improvement, bragging, pluses, social cred, relationship building, therapy. They’re all legit.

Know Your Audience

Who exactly are you talking to when you write up your AP? If you’re keeping notes for yourself (which is a great idea) then you’re the audience; anyone else who happens along and likes what you have to say is gravy. That’s not what I do, and since folks are asking me to tear down my methods let’s just get that out of the way.

My audience is imaginary me, fifteen years ago. I think a lot of trad-rooted players in my life (atoms and bits) are in a similar place. They’re fans of different games than me, but they’re walking a similar path. That’s who I write for. I’m not actually writing for myself but for those players and GMs.

More broadly, I’m writing for roleplayers with an active interest in self-improvement. I bring a hyper-critical eye to my play that probably most people don’t. I speculate that most GMs are satisfied with where they’re at, and most players don’t really think about what they do as a particular craft. And that’s absolutely fine. But for those who want to improve, I’m sharing my war stories. That requires honesty about your fuck-ups. It also requires a level of introspection/navel-gazing that borders on narcissistic. (Borders?)

Structure

Welcome to high school! Your first writing assignment goal is to identify your thesis.

What salient points do you want to get across? I usually focus on a specific thing that the session brought to mind: an observation about gaming in general, or about a particular dynamic at your specific table, or something about the human condition – no really! If I’ve got several points I want to hit, the very first thing I’ll do is list them out, just words, then backfill and try to connect the ideas. For example I might think through my last The One Ring session and quickly doodle down:

  • Player who wants to beat the system
  • What are incentives for winning?
  • Incentives other than winning?
  • Are Tolkien characters incentivized or are they just following along where the writer points them?
  • Is avoiding Shadow an actual incentive? For everyone?

You can probably see the beginnings of one of my posts just from those bullets. Well, that’s how I do it. I start with freeform bullets, start looking for connections, then start filling in. (Yeah, I’ll probably write that post at some point.)

Relatability

Facts about your game’s storyline are not interesting to anyone but the participants; roleplaying is not a spectator sport. There are some detail-oriented APs out there that are inspiring, but I guarantee they don’t inspire through blow-by-blow recounting. The reader needs to relate to what they’re reading.

This is where you need to stake out your Opinions (capital O, it’s important). Those might be contentious, or they might just be wrong. Whatever, doesn’t matter. You need an editorial viewpoint here: I think playing within a license has this effect on players’ decisions (oh yeah, when I played Doctor Who I saw the same thing!); I think my ongoing games burn out because my players stop doing emotional labor at the table (oh yeah, I haven’t checked in with my players for a while!); I think roll-under sucks the joy out of play (oh yeah, nobody in my group likes that either). I think, I think, I think.

Find the experiences you’ve had you think others can relate to, and talk about that.

But you need to establish context, right? So look at those relatable themes you want to hit and think through the bare minimum you need to talk about that. Don’t be like that funny dude in Ant-Man who can’t explain his caper.

So: use the broad outline of your session as an illustration of your theses, your salient points. Did your last session of Dresden Files make you think about how the session doesn’t really reflect what’s in the books? Talk about that, not the details of the session. The details are boring. Are you finding it really hard to get characters pulled together in Urban Shadows? Use the at-the-table experience, not the in-the-fiction details, to illustrate that point.

Get Woke (About Games)

This is more related to my personal goals in writing about my gaming, but I think it matters: learn about RPGs. That means playing more than what you’re used to, playing stuff outside your comfort zone, really learning about the scope of gaming. Stretch. If you think you’ll reach a place where your experience will become unrelatable, you’re wrong. Stretch forever.

The reason you want to do this is to increase your relatability (above), therefore expand your audience (also above). If you only know how to talk about a particular sliver of gaming – D&D-style or metaplot-splatbook style or Fate or freeform or whatever – anyone who lies outside your points of reference won’t have anything to hook into. That of course means it’s on you to relate your experiences back out in a variety of ways.

Be Concise

This means not only keeping it short, but keeping it information-dense. For practice, try this:

1) Write your thing the way you want, following my audience, structure and relatability ideas above.

2) Cut it in half, still keeping your audience, structure and relatability in mind.

Believe it or not, this is the method I used on this very piece. For my bigger pieces, I absolutely draft in Word, let it percolate a while, then start cutting, and then post.

Like I said in the intro, it’s not easy work. If you want easy likes/pluses/upvotes, post funny gifs. I also have many decades of professional writing experience (games, feature writing, marketing, etc.), and I don’t want to downplay that. But I’m convinced the vast majority of AP writing out there would be improved by taking into account:

  • Audience
  • Structure
  • Relatability
  • Experience
  • Concision

Go forth and be awesome.

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0 thoughts on “How to Write About Your Gaming”

  1. Judd Karlman yours is more concise. Folks should just do it that way if they want to do straight AP, for sure. Your methodology makes your posts one of the few anyone reads!

  2. “Facts about your game’s storyline are not interesting to anyone but the participants; roleplaying is not a spectator sport.”

    PEOPLE LOVE MY FACTS.

    running out of room, weeping

  3. Solid.

    Also, I want to see the dude from Ant-Man recapping a session of his campaign. Just one. Also, I want to see him run a campaign.

  4. Paul, do you have any advice for procrastination in writing AP?

    I hate the part of me that doesn’t want to write, because

    a) I find it boring when there are so many good books to read, games to play, etc,

    b) I over-criticize my writing and/or find it stupid

    c) I don’t feel motivated because if I write for myself, it’s only point-form notes, and if I write for others, I feel no one will read it anyway.

    Also, this article you wrote is fantastic and really made me think about the subject in a different light

  5. John Love​ my advice is to not do it if you’re not clear on why you’re doing it.

    EDIT: I say this as someone who very often had to ask himself why he’s bothering! For me it’s about helping to structure and process my experience, which helps me understand it and improve. If I didn’t have the self improvement impulse I wouldn’t bother at all.

  6. Excellent post, that extends beyond rpgs. I got a lot out of this.
    I feel a bit of an idiot asking this but what is “AP” aside from analysis paralysis?

    I don’t play rpgs but I enjoy these threads and I’m interested in rpgs, but I just turn off when people in my gaming group give blow by blow accounts – as you highlight above.
    It also holds true for most other gaming. If I’m spending 6 hours in a basement playing in an LCG or X-wing tournament, I don’t really want to hear your turn by turn account bad beat story; but if we share learning experiences or you phrase your bad beat experience as “how can this be overcome” then it’s more engaging.

  7. Another thing I find with AP threads as the years go by is that it is really nice to be able to go back, a decade later and read about a game with friends who are scattered hither and yon.

    It is cool to have the minutiae of those gaming moments that I would have forgotten.

    “Such things I have seen…”

  8. I never read AP. I never listen to AP. Sometimes I skim AP if it seems like it’s getting a lot of attention, or if someone else points it out to me.

    But actual analysis of a game session? I love that. I am not invested in Count Glorbalorp and why he wants to monopolize all the Cheese-doodles, or why the Cheese-doodle Wizard figured a band of ragged mercenaries with laser pistols was the best solution to the problem. What I do care about is what about the game were the people at the table invested in and why.

    Did they find ways to tie their backstory into the adventure at hand? Did that reward them mechanically, or was it just for their own enjoyment? What mechanical rewards does the game give? Are you using them? Could you be using them differently? Does a given rule seem like an artefact of iterative design, or does it seem like it has a purpose to fulfill, even if you didn’t engage with it this time.

    That’s a long-winded way of saying I really like Paul Beakley’s play reports, and don’t actually think of them as “AP” in the traditional sense at all.

  9. Very helpful advice. Hoping to find time to write up why my group changed from Fate to Fate Accelerated tonight and I’ll use this as a guide.

  10. Things I ask myself when I’m writing them now:

    What cool moments will I want to remember in 10 years?

    What technique or mechanic worked or didn’t work that should be reflected on so someone else can use the info to their advantage?

  11. So I’m a bit more…maximal in my APs, as the two gigantic threads I did for Trail of Cthulhu over at Story Games demonstrate. I took as my premise, “if RPGs are supposed to create stories, are they any good as narrative?” and workd from there. So I preserved about 90% of the actual dialogue at the table, although I sometimes elide or summarize things that maybe took a long time to work through.

    Whether I succeeded…I’m not a good judge. I think so, but then I would, wouldn’t I? I will say that doing these very long APs got me to think about campaigns in a more narrative way–certainly my “Eternal Lies” campaign benefited from me thinking thematically about the different chapters and NPCs, which gave me a much stronger backbone for the campaign than I might otherwise have had.

  12. A few briefer thoughts on APs:

    –As Paul says, always include the mechanics. In my “maximal” APs I tried hard to always include commentary on when Investigative spends were used, to give guidance to how that was supposed to work. So you get to see both the fictional results of the spend, and the actual mechanic of the spend. I find APs without discussion of the mechanics to be incredibly frustrating–I couldn’t find any like that for Cortex Plus Drama, which caused a lot of floundering when I ran it.

    –The ‘net being what it is, be careful when talking about other people on it. I always anonymize my players, using the initial of their character and “P” to indicate the player, and try hard not to reveal any personal details–not even their gender.

    –If you’re going to do an AP, recording your sessions is probably a good idea. I used a free recording app on my phone which is fine to preserve a record of what happened, and oTranscribe (a web based transcription app) to do the transcription.

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