Interplay's Scott Bennie on RPG Writing

You may not know who Scott Bennie is, but there's a good chance you've read or played something he was involved in, be it various pen and paper RPGs, Interplay titles such as Fallout and Star Trek: 25th Anniversary, or even Blizzard's World of Warcraft. And if you'd like to know more about this veteran writer, there's a fresh interview with him up on Steemit, where he talks about his early career, his tenure at Interplay, and the current state of video game writing. He also speaks highly of Chris Avellone and offers some advice for aspiring writers. An excerpt:

How did you get into games – was it always on computer, or did you get into pen and paper first?

Scott: Pen an paper. In an editorial back in 1981, someone suggested that they publish a bounty hunter NPC class. The editor suggested the readers send in their class designs. I rose to the challenge, submitted mine, and lo and behold, it was published in Dragon #52 – the one with the Boris Vallejo cover.

Wow, it must have been awesome to be in the same stable as some Vallejo work?

Scott: It was certainly awesome to claim you had a Boris cover! (Even if it really wasn't an illustration of my stuff. :)) I kept writing for Dragon, but I wasn't good enough to make consistent sale for about three more years. But I kept at it, and Bruce Heard eventually commissioned anthology pieces and finally full modules from me.

At the time, I worked on Dungeons & Dragons, Champions, Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, and Traveller, and I joined several gaming APAs, amateur press compilations, which further honed my writing, exposed me to more games and design philosophies, and allowed me to make more contacts in the game industry.

And the Bounty Hunter was reprinted in Best of Dragon, but that's as far as he got.


So, is there a single career highlight that you are most proud of?

Scott: The Star Trek series was where I thought I clicked as a designer. LOTR was huge as my first work, and Castles was a huge seller, but Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary was the first work I was truly happy with. And beyond that, there was Starfleet Command and Fallout; two classic titles I was proud to be associated with.

Oh man, Fallout. What a game.

Scott: I didn't have that much to do with Fallout. A few maps, some bits of the Hub, and some system messages. And the Mysterious Stranger Perk. And I named Dogmeat – if anything endures of my writing career, it will be the name of that dog.


Do you still play many games – if so what?

Scott: A few strats, a few MMOs like World of Warcraft... Some RPGs like Torment: Tides of Numenera. I haven't finished it, but I like what I’ve seen. And I loved Planescape: Torment. Greatest RPG of all time.

I have to agree with you there. Some of the best writing (possibly the best?) in an RPG, would you say?

Scott: Easily. Chris Avellone is the best. I think we've got some tremendous talent in the business. I wish we were doing more with it than just creating shooters.

What do you think of the way game narrative has changed in the last couple decades. Are there some standouts for you?

Scott: There's a bit too much sameness in theme for me. I don't see the Secret of Monkey Islands or the Full Throttles in today's market. But the games that are out, like Last of Us, are excellent in writing and design.

Yep, Last of Us really has amazing writing – probably my favourite game of the last decade. Finally, do you have any advice for those who may be dreaming of a career in RPG writing?

Scott: Read broadly. Not just games, not just geek culture. Study history, read biographies, study the great plays of the mid-20th century. Look for genres that are not currently in favor and look for why they worked in their time. Get hired by a company in any capacity, and work your way up.