So about twenty years ago (1996-ish) I got an idea.
For the better part of my teens and into my early twenties, I’d been pretty deep into roleplaying games. (At this point you’re probably feeling shocked that a Sci Fi author has geekish hobbies, right?) Anyway, there’d been a lot of 2nd Edition D&D, but always with that annoying gnaw that something bugged me about the mechanics.
Somewhere I got it in my head that I could make my own game… and I did… dozens of times. I can’t even count the number of systems that I came up with, tinkered with for a few weeks or months, then forgot about. (Some of them never even made it off a notebook page).
A handful stuck around and represented the bulk of our (my and my friends’) game time, though we’re far from the days of the ‘playing till dawn’ benders of the old days.
To circle back to the 1996 thing… around that point I realized that we’d been pretty much sticking to fantasy gaming, and I wanted to do something different. Of course there were a couple of “non-fantasy” RPGs out there like Car Wars or R Talsorian’s Cyberpunk, but as anyone with a small degree of chemistry knowledge knows, mixing two reactants together often produces effects. In my case being young (and broke) + being (some people accuse me thereof) creative, I wound up making up a game system I named “Divergent Fates.”
In 1996, the groundwork for this system started. Later that year, I had a sourcebook and big plans to follow it (Main rulebook, Mars book, Space book, and so on). As it turned out, we were more interested in playing than making more content… so the world grew in little bits in scraps of notes and excel files (automated character sheets) and other “reminders” to add things to the rules.
Fast forward to 2012. A former supervisor I worked with at the time suggested I write; I’d been handling an email queue, and he asked me if I’d ever written anything like a novel or fiction. (In truth, I had… a 400k+ word monstrosity of a fantasy novel that I’m still not sure if I’ll ever look at again. They say all writers have one of these in a deep dark closet somewhere… I’m still not ready to break the wards guarding it.) Up to that point, all of my writing had been toward the gaming end of things and I never gave serious consideration to writing (and marketing) novels. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea.
Anyway, I thought for some time between writing fantasy or Sci-Fi, trying to pick a direction. At the same time, it occurred to me how similar the concepts were between coming up with plots and characters for a roleplaying game session and writing a novel. The biggest difference is there aren’t “players” involved to throw the storyline off course when they do unexpected (cough stupid cough) things. I’d been creating characters and storylines for most of my reasoning life; transitioning the effort from gaming to novelization seemed like a logical next step. Since Divergent Fates felt more ‘unique’ to me than adding another fantasy game to the massive amount already out there, I decided to get back into writing while using the world I’d established for the RPG as a backdrop.
Virtual Immortality was the first novel I wrote after making the decision to get back into writing. Perhaps this was a lofty starting point (I’m glad it worked) since it had a complicated story, shifting POV characters, and a lot of ground to cover. The inspiration for it came from a tabletop session of DF, though (obviously) much had to change between roleplaying session and novel. (If I tried to capture everything that happened at the table the book would’ve been twice as long, and it’s already huge.)
Anyway – twenty years ago, I wrote Divergent Fates the roleplaying game. The original idea behind the title was the political discontent between Earth and Mars, where the people of Mars wanted to split away from Earth and go their own way.
Now, twenty six or so novels later (Fourteen of which take place in the DF world) I had a lot more source material to work with, but I also had been harboring a lingering discontent with the system mechanics. Something about it (and I still can’t say what it was) bothered me despite my friends all saying they thought the system was fine.
The feeling wouldn’t go away, so I wound up rebuilding the mechanics of the system from the ground up, simplifying some things that were inanely complex, and adding in all the stuff I’d come up with in the twenty years since the game first took shape.
Divergent Fates version 2 is in beta now, a sourcebook finished in first draft. I’m not sure if people even still have interest in tabletop gaming in the days of the PlayStation and Xbox, but it’s here… and it feels a bit like watching a kid grow up.