The Fun of Surprise: Matt Forbeck on Gaming & Writing

Matt Forbeck does it all – fiction, non-fiction, games, toys, editing, everything.  (Except poetry, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he did that, too.)  Forbeck’s vitae is so diverse that it’s nearly impossible to categorize what sort of writer he is.  Forbeck’s most recent novels are Ghosts of Ascalon (with Jeff Grubb) and Amortals.  Beyond fiction writing, he is known as the nicest guy in gaming, a consummate professional, and a brilliant editor.

I’ve had at least three occasions to interview him in the past on subjects such as collaboration, game design, and writing in a shared world.

Matt Forbeck contributed essays on Space Hulk to Hobby Games: The 100 Best and on Pokémon to Family Games: The 100 Best.


What has playing games taught you about writing (of any sort)?


Matt Forbeck: Good, complex games teach you about structure, pacing, and how to build an experience to a satisfying resolution. Roleplaying games (RPGs) even teach you about how to create characters that breathe on a page, even when listed as a set of numbers.

Writing game rules has taught me how to be succinct and absolutely clear in my meaning and how to revise so that my intent can be read without re-reading.


Is there a game every writer should try?


Matt Forbeck: Dungeons & Dragons is the obvious one, especially if you’re into fantasy. However, I’d also recommend two excellent storytelling games: The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Once Upon a Time. Both offer excellent explorations of competitive yet cooperative storytelling, and it’s no coincidence that James Wallis had a hand in each.


In what ways does playing games enhance your creativity?


Matt Forbeck: It keeps your mind sharp, and it offers a break from the routine. It’s a chance to get away from a screen for a while and enjoy the company of others. Also, it reminds you of the fun of surprise and how much you can still enjoy an experience in which things don’t turn out quite how you’d first hoped.


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher.  He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly.  He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.

3 thoughts on “The Fun of Surprise: Matt Forbeck on Gaming & Writing

  1. Hi, Matt–

    All great comments. I'd add one other thought: Games, especially RPGs can be a great way to get some collaborative insight. Pour a story straight from your head onto paper, and every plot twist, every character concept, every bit of chemistry and witty dialog has to come from you alone. But run that story concept in an RPG, and you get twists, concepts, chemistry, and other riffs from your players. Pick and choose what you like from that input to inspire your writing.

    I'm not saying that RPG campaigns translate well straight into novels–I doubt they ever would. But getting a group contribution to your concept for setting, plot, and characters can be really beneficial.

  2. Good point, Charles. RPGs can inspire more traditional narratives for sure. The trick is to make sure you don't bog down in trying to replicate your RPG experiences in your story. They can inspire a story but shouldn't be put down verbatim.

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