I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.

–William Carlos Williams

I’ve often felt this way about writing. I’ve given it up several times, due to work or family constraints. I chose a field in academia that was a writer’s field — history is a literary genre, not a social science — so I could feed the beast. No matter how many times I stop writing, I’m still writing; I might be blocking out scenes in my mind that are disconnected from any real narrative, sketching out ideas for a world for a story, coming up with characters and plots…

Much of this effort eventually works its way into gaming. I’m often the gamemaster for my groups, more due to my ability to come up with adventures and campaigns on the fly than any desire to be top dog. (Every time someone offers to run, it breaks down after a session or two due to their schedules, etc.) In many ways, GMing is a substitute for writing — I don’t need as much time to think, plot, and write as I do for a game, so it’s only logical a lot of the ideas I have migrate to the games we’re playing.

And like writing, gamemastering is a disease. When relaxing, doing chores, or riding my motorcycle, I find myself blocking out scenes, what an NPC’s reaction to events might be, what hooks and surprises I can spring on the players. As with writing, or perhaps because it is a surrogate for writing, game preparation takes up much of my downtime processing cycles.

When I play in other games, I find myself deconstructing the GM style, plot, and characters — much like I do when watching a movie or reading a book. Are there things the GM is doing that I could incorporate? Are there things they are doing I should avoid? I consider if the system that was used adequately pushed the story or genre, or was a hinderance to play. Would another system work better? Would the game mechanics of the game being played work well for the stuff I’m running?

It doesn’t matter if I’ll never run the game. I’ve had ideas for a Jovian Chronicles game for years, and much of that material migrated into the current Battlestar Galactica game because I’m unlikely to ever run JC. The politics of the BSG campaign borrow heavily from ideas for a James Bond RPG campaign that has never really gotten off the ground because it’s dark and seriously morally ambiguous — enough I thought the fun would be stripped out, but all the material worked well in the current BSG game because it is stripped of the immediacy of current events and politics. Similarly, there have been books and short stories that I will never write, or publish, but have informed game campaigns. My six year run of Star Trek was one of these that started as an idea for a sci-fi novel (or series of), but worked much better as a game setting.

I know there are players who write up characters, even when they aren’t in a game because it’s fun and it’s a means of creative outlet. Like an abscess, this creative impulse must have out.

[This piece was inspired by Don Mappin’s latest post on Gnome Stew. Scott]