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Dense Worlds, Deep Characters

GLS 10

Trent Hergenrader

on 29 September 2016

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Transcript of Dense Worlds, Deep Characters

Driver’s License Info
Full name:
What would a head shot of this character look like?
Dense Worlds, Deep Characters
Trent Hergenrader
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Rochester Institute of Technology
RPGs, World Building & Creative Writing
Players "get into the head" of their characters
Explore and respond to a large an unpredictable world
RPG stories necessarily develop by
interacting with their
Location Example
"Keep on the Shadowfell"

collaborative | digital production | student - centered
narrative focus on character & setting
Daniel Makay
The Fantasy Role-Playing Game
A New Performance Art
Critical World Building
"craft criticism"
situating creative writing within specific institutional, political, social and economic contexts.
Congratulations on your new world!
Now tell did it get that way? How does it operate?
Metanarrative of the world = over 8,000 words
or 30 pages of collaborative writing.
25 students each assigned:
10 items (250 items)
5 locations (125)
5 non-player characters (125)

Discussions about the traits each item, location, and character should have in their entry

Wiki page templates modeled after the
Fallout 3
Wiki World Building
Social/politcal questions
Dense World, Deep Character...What Next?
* Tabletop role-playing campaign
Pros: Highly interactive, spontaneous, fun
Cons: Institutional challenges w/space, time; huge admin overhead
* Game-like writing exercises (Storymatic, random char+location+item)
Pros: Low admin overhead, maintains aleatory aspects
Cons: No embodied experience, loss of spontaneity
* World building + narratives (personal histories, narrative history)
Pros: No admin overhead, students free to explore interests
Cons: No game-like aspects, less engagement with other's writing
Contact Info
Trent Hergenrader
Rochester Institute of Technology
Twitter: @thergenrade
(Re)Writing Craft
Tim Mayers
Why RPGs for fiction writers?
Example Sites
game learning curve | logistics
unequal distribution of narrative power

keep positives, eliminate negatives!
keep RPG elements, lose game
RPGs Catalogs
Quantitative information
Objective (more or less)
Most often expressed numerically
Creates internal consistency for fictional world
Qualitative information
Usually subjective (more or less)
Expressed narratively
Often provides prompts or directions for play
RPG catalogs invite
between entries
Character Example
"Investigator General Nykolas"

RPG System
Uber RPG: Steampunk

RPG System
Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition

Perspective Characters
(i.e. player characters)

Critical worldbuilding
Perspective characters
RPG-inspired Methodologies
Mix of
aspects for richer characters
Instructor-Led PC Creation
1. Occupation (if any, or intended):
2. Economic class: poverty, lower, middle-lower, middle, middle-upper, upper, rich
3. Current living situation: (roommates?)
4. Style of dress: what’s this person wearing in August? October?
5. Overall quality of health:
6. Defining physical characteristics:
7. Allergies, diseases, physical weaknesses:
8. Tattoos, scars, or other distinguishing features:
9. Personal habits/quirks:
10. Left or right handed:
11. What does this character’s voice sound like: (phrase or sentence)
12. Diction/style of speaking:
Personal Biography
A stranger asks this character for the time at a bus stop. How would s/he describe the character?
Bus Stop Impression
Family background (parents, siblings, extended family)
Socioeconomic class growing up
First romantic/sexual experiences
Education (areas of interest, formal education, attitudes)
Choose two traits and split percentage of the two to equal 100%

60% Tender (sympathetic)
40% Scared (anxiety)
Core Personality Traits
3-4 sentences on
Character Motivations
Character Disposition

- in -


Historical worldbuilding
Works of literature
Application Beyond Creative Writing

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