9
May

Creativity Tips and Tricks from LitRPG Author Eric Ugland

If you enjoy creative and entertaining fantasy books about heroes just trying to be good, The Good Guys series and The Bad Guys series of LitRPG books should be at the top of your reading lists. 

And to help you inject some creativity and entertainment into your Campaign, we hit up the author of those series, Eric Ugland, and asked him to share some of his secrets with us.

1) Do you have a method for coming up with memorable side characters?

Obviously, everything I’m saying comes more from a writer’s perspective, but when it comes to side characters, I always start with the basic idea that no one is really a side character. They’re the main characters in their own stories and/or lives, so there’s always going to be more to them than what the reader experiences. Most of the time, I’m just going to toss whomever comes to mind when I’m writing into the space.

2) Do you have a method for coming up with ingenious uses of spells or items?

So there are two ways to look at this question. If I’m coming up with a magical item, I’m going to lean on research. First of all, I’m always looking through other materials. Reading D&D manuals, looking through homebrew weapons, just trying to see what else is out there. All of that is bouncing around a bit in my mind when I’m trying to come up with a magic item. I try not to lift things directly, but some items are tropes unto themselves, so it’s a bit difficult to leave them out. See: Bag of Holding. But if I’m coming up with something wholly original, the real first question is: is it intrinsic to the story I’m working on? If yes, then it’s Chekhov’s gun and usually defines itself. Otherwise, I try to think of what someone in that world would want as a magic item, what could an item do that would be useful and/or neat for someone. Someone obviously had to make that thing in the first place, so why would that thing get made and how might it be used? Asking those sorts of questions can give a good idea of what it might do. And since I’m writing stories and not running a game, that’s kind of the end of it. I don’t need to worry TOO much about breaking the game with an item. I do tend to run it out a bit and see if it might break things, but usually not too in-depth, and I don’t need to worry about balancing magic items between a party to keep them all evenly powerful.

On the other hand, when looking at how to use items in an interesting way, it’s a bit about abusing the rules. So I try to find where I can do that within the rules I’ve written. Sometimes, it’s rules I’ve already written in a previous book, so I can’t make any changes. That’s one of my hard and fast rules, I never change the rules after they’ve been published. And because of that, sometimes I have to sit around and play with an item in my head before I can use it to overcome the obstacle I placed in the way of a character. I tend to think about old TTRPG groups I was in, and some of the ‘annoying’ players who would push things to the limit of the rules. If something helps moving through liquids, what liquids could work. How liquid does something need to be to be considered a liquid. Can I use the create water spell to create water inside a body. And then I try to temper it through the character I’m writing, you know, would that character think of this solution.

3) Do you have a method for coming up with how a scene/encounter will “twist”?

Usually it’s just a matter of subversion of expectation. And a way that writers have it easier than DMs/GMs. I can go back and edit a scene to put the twist in after I write it. I don’t have to do that too often, usually that’s done in the outline, but sometimes I’ll come up with a better twist as I’m writing, the characters take it in a different direction than I initially planned. But a lot of it is trying to think ahead and see what direction most people will think an encounter might go, and just push it a little.

4) Do you have a method for introducing things that will be important later without arousing the suspicion of the reader/player?

This is a weird one, and really only good for writers, but if you write in the passive voice (which you are never supposed to do) you can actually hide quite a few clues and most readers won’t notice them. You can also choose where the character focuses, so you can have a few clues offered, and the character follows the wrong lead. Though this naturally causes your readers to accuse your characters of being stupid, which can be frustrating.

5) Do you have any frameworks, structures, scaffolding, checklists, exercises, rules of thumb, methods of brainstorming, or questions that you ask yourself that consistently produce entertaining results?

I can’t say consistently. I tend to work things through in my head a lot, and then move to writing things down by hand. I generally generate a few pages of notes when I’m trying to figure stuff out. Maybe my method is over-generate content so you can find the gems within. I also ask a lot of questions against my ideas, you know, why does this happen, what are the causes, what would the fallout be if this thing was successful…

6) Do you have any resources or tools, like books, articles, or websites, that you would recommend for boosting creativity or for idea fodder?

There’s a series of subreddits that are all r/imaginarysomething, so monsters, knights, dwarves, landscapes, you name it, it’s probably there. I’ll go dip my creative toe in there.

Obviously, I look at a lot of the various RPG manuals, I’ve got most of the D&D books on my shelf, most of Pathfinder’s bestiaries, Call of Cthulu, older and more obscure games as well. There’s a wealth of information in there that can be used as inspiration.

TVTropes can suck up a day or two, and that’s a great place to pull what if questions out, then apply them to the story or setting you’re working on.

Just diving into wikipedia, looking at history. There’s a lot of weird stuff in the annals of humanity, and if you’re looking for inspiration for adventure, it’s a good place to go.

I also keep a notebook on me at all times. Basically all times. I go with ‘Field Notes’ because I like the standard size. I write down anything in there, from random phrases I hear to ideas to drawings. Lots of drawings of firetrucks lately for my son. But being able to slap an idea down is incredibly freeing. Sometimes those ideas turn into something, other times it’s just a big letter ‘W’ and I have no idea what that means.

7) What do you do when your creativity well runs dry?

When I get that feeling, it’s time to indulge in the best part of being a writer: consuming media. Read a book, watch a movie, play some video games, listen to podcasts. I love throwing on some podcasts and taking a walk. Or a drive. And sometimes the best thing to do is induce boredom. Go somewhere without a phone, just a notebook, and sit there. Watch the world. Let your brain reset and see if some ideas come about.

This last sort of step is a bit more involved, but it never really fails to kickstart my brain. You take a hundred notecards, and you write a word or phrase on each one. They can be specific as you want, or incredibly vague. After you’ve got all hundred, you put them word side down, shuffle them up, and deal out into stacks of five. Flip ‘em over, and in each group of five, throw out two of the cards. You’re left with three cards. You look at those three cards, and get your brain to make a story.

Humans love patterns, and even if you present it with something random, it’s going to try and make a pattern out of it. This is just a way to facilitate that.

Conclusion

A hearty thank you to Eric for giving us a peek into how he creates such interesting stories, so we can use those tools in our Campaigns. 

If you want to checkout the latest books from Eric or connect with him on his Discord, head over to ericugland.com.

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'


Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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