Book 4: A Riddle of Scars
Book 4: A Riddle of Scars

“Against the Giants” (G1-3, TSR) is one of the best-rated and most-beloved modules from the AD&D era. In fact, it was written before the release of the original three core rule books. It is challenging yet rewarding and requires players to be at the top of their game (pun intended) to survive.

Then TSR allowed it to be turned into a novel and it was a miserable flop.

I have met several dungeon masters who shared a desire to turn one of their D&D campaigns into a fantasy novel. None ever got that far (writing a book is hard) and based on the track record of others who have, it’s probably a good thing they never took their effort far enough to be published.

“Just because each of them tastes good doesn’t mean you should put Hershey Kisses on a pepperoni pizza.”

The premise seems sound on the surface. A D&D game plays out similar to a fantasy novel. It can have all the necessary ingredients: risk and reward, character development, amazing scenery, dangerous villains, and heroic main characters. Even the side characters (NPCs) can lend some appreciated depth and flair to the story as it unfolds.

Why can’t you take the transcript of a D&D campaign and turn that into a fantasy novel?

Like putting chocolate on pizza, it’s a good idea in theory but rarely (if ever) a good idea in practice.

This is because what happens in a D&D game isn’t planned nor will it likely follow the standard kind of flow and plot points most people implicitly expect to find in a well-crafted fantasy novel.

Writing a novel is a different skill and craft than running or playing in a fantasy role-playing game.

There is one caveat to all this. What happens around a D&D gaming table can provide a treasure trove of inspiration for memorable action and even dialogue. Character names and personalities can come out from players who really get into their role. Even NPCs can provide inspiration for side characters that appear in a fantasy novel.

Ensuring the characters have the desired (and implicitly expected) struggles and development throughout the story requires understanding how to write far more than understanding how to game.

There is an integration or connection of sorts between my fourth novel, A Riddle of Scars, and my D&D game. Back in 2019, I came up with the story idea for my book, then decided to play-test it within the game of Dungeons & Dragons.

I converted my book’s plot into a campaign and ran it with a half dozen experienced players. These players knew that I was play-testing my book idea but were warned that what stayed in the book’s plot was still to be determined solely by me.

You’ll note that I already had the book idea first before introducing it to the D&D game. Doing it the other way around is what this article is all about — and is where my warning comes in. Don’t do it.

In the end, what ended up in the book was essentially the same as the original plot idea I created. Play testing it within the game of D&D didn’t change anything substantial. However, I did introduce a new character to the book based on one of the player characters (with the player’s full permission, of course). Other than that, the book’s plot survived being run as a D&D campaign, and according to the players, the campaign itself was immensely enjoyable.

Having gone through that experience and given it a lot of thought, I think it’s a fun source of inspiration to take a book’s plot and base a D&D campaign around it. Conversely, I’ve run many campaigns throughout my career as a dungeon master and none of them would make for a good fantasy novel. I’ve gotten tidbits of inspiration from the game, and as mentioned a great character idea, but the plot and sequence of what happens doesn’t translate very well from game to book.