12PAX: Coming at it as a Writer

This was my first PAX.

For those not in the know, PAX is Penny Arcade Expo, a gaming convention.  It spanned the three days over the Labour Day long weekend, and had many things that interested me.

I went to a ton of panels with interesting people talking about interesting things.  I mostly tried to come at it from my perspective as an author.  It was nice; a lot of the talks really applied to writing, and not just in video games.

I wanted to share a bit about some of the writing related panels I went to, and the points I took away from them.  The speakers were engaging and humourous, informative and well thought out.

First up: Loving The Alien: Non-Humans in Fiction and Games.

This is extremely relevant to writers of science fiction and fantasy in particular.

The panelists were Erin Evans, author of Brimstone Angels and The God Catcher, David Noonan, lead writer of TERA, and referenced weekly in our D&D campaign, and Keith Baker, creator of the Eberron campaign setting in D&D, writer of two trilogies, as well as the creator/writer on a host of other RPG and computer games.

I know, right?  Writers makin’ it.  So good.

These good folks talked about non-human characters and the challenges faced by writers trying to flesh them out.  It was interesting, though I felt rather pretentious when I had the thought “I know all this.”  I DON’T know all this, but I guess it feels like that sometimes when you’ve spent time thinking about a topic.  …But then, I’ve been doing A LOT of thinking about this; I am in the throws of writing a novel where the main character is non-human.

The one point I hadn’t really thought about was, when you have non-human species, show them interacting in places where they’re forced together with other species.  You get to see all kinds of tensions, their differences, but also their similarities when you show where their borders clash.  Showing a non human character in their element is fine and dandy, but show them at odds with other species to really make them shine.


The next day, a panel that caught my eye was called Making Magic Work: Designing Magic Systems for Games and Books.  I was, unfortunately, behind the last person admitted.  :/  The Tabletop Theatre was consistently too small for the number of people that wanted to see the panels there.  I saw tons of people turned away from every talk there!  I hope next time they have a bigger venue for such interesting panels.  I found an interesting read if you’re into magic systems.

One good thing happened there, even without me actually getting into the panel: a girl in the line got a game going.  It was a simple game to learn, and a lot of fun.  It drew strangers together.  I purchased it post haste!  I ended up proliferating her idea, and started a game of it while waiting in another line up.  It was just a fun social interaction that left everyone feeling great.

The game is “Spot-it” if you’re interested.  Colours and shapes; you’d think it was easy.

Anyway!

Later that evening, I attended “Setting the Mood”, on what makes a good RPG.

I was pleased to see Keith Baker again; he had a lot of interesting things to share about his experience with RPGs.  Also on the panel were Will Hindmarch and Logan Bonner.

These guys had a lot of RPG experience between them. They went over many great ideas, from using music as an aid, to party cohesion, to dealing with problem players. It was all about steering the story in the direction it should go, helping players play their characters, and just having a good time.

Ok, not explicitly about writing, but it was about storytelling.  It was a lot of anecdotes, some good Q&A, and just a lot of fun.

On the third day, I went to a panel called “Sympathy for the Devil: Creating Killer Villains for Games and Books.”

This was a lot of fun too.  It was hosted by, again, the fantastic Erin Evans, as well as Susan Morris (author of Writers Don’t Cry, five books, and D&D for kids!) and Philip Athans (author of several of the Forgotten Realms books).

What this panel made me want to do was just talk with them about vilains.  Interesting panels have this effect.  It sometimes causes the Q&A to get a little dumb (we’re here to hear the panelists, not you, random audience member).  But my friends, who were also listening with me, and I had some great discussions afterwards about villains and villainy.

It was interesting hear the panelists talk about their favourite villains; my friends and I made observations about them based on which villains they identify most with.  I completely agreed with Erin Evans, who said the her favourite, Ozymandeous, was not actually a villain.

One of the most interesting points they made was to have someone trusted turn out to be the villain.  Guy keeps supplying you with weapons?  Arms dealer bent on destabilizing the region for his master plan.  Sometimes it’s easy to have a stereotypical view of villains.  But the best villains have good ideas, make you want to join their cause, help them carry out their grand plans.  It just so happens that they’re going to kill millions of people in the process.

The more human you make your villains, the more compelling they are.

So, that was PAX from a writer’s perspective.  There were a lot of other interesting things going on, and I think in my next post, I’ll write about it from the perspective as a gamer.  Good times.

…Especially when the creative team from Ubisoft joined our gaming session in our hotel on the last night.  Wow.

But more on that in my next post!

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.

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About H.G. Bells

H.G. Bells writes around the intersections of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. She has several short stories in print, and is repped by Beth Campbell for her novel Sleep Over, coming soon from Skyhorse Publishing.
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