We are delighted to welcome back Leigh Perry. The Skeleton Makes a Friend, the fifth book in Leigh Perry’s popular A Family Skeleton Mystery series, just came out! Thanks for taking the time to stop by, Leigh!
I used to be a serious gamer, spending my weekends playing Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs. (That’s D&D and RPGs, for short.) I had stacks of rule books, notebooks filled with character sheets, and so many dice! I met my first serious boyfriend because he was wearing a dungeon master t-shirt, and he in turn introduced me to my future husband during a Christmas-themed game where we rescued Santa Claus from the Grinch.
Over the years, life got busier, and I slowly weaned myself from D&D and I haven’t played in decades. Still, I thought that I could use that otherwise useless knowledge of saving throws and character classes to provide fun background for one of my Family Skeleton books. I knew the game had evolved, but I picked my gamer daughters’ brains and found that biggest change was that instead of always playing in somebody’s basement—those scenes in Stranger Things are eerily accurate—a lot of gaming happens online. My girls play massively multi-player online role-playing games. (That’s MMORPG to make it a little shorter, pronounced ma-morg.) I decided MMORPGs would a perfect fit for Sid, one of the two sleuths in the Family Skeleton series.
If you haven’t read the series, I should mention that the Family Skeleton really is a skeleton. He walks, he talks, he makes bad bone jokes, and along with his BFF Georgia, he solves murders. For obvious reasons—meaning him being an animated skeleton—he doesn’t leave the house much and that meant that an MMORPG was just what the cleric ordered. (That’s an old-style D&D joke, cause clerics did most of the healing and… Yeah, I’ll stop now.)
Knowing that gamers are sticklers for details, I decided not to use a real MMORPG for Sid and run the risk of making a major boner. (I never promised to stop making bone jokes.) Instead I designed a fake one: Runes of Legend, an MMORPG with a Nordic flavor. My daughters helped design the character classes and a perfect group for Sid to join, and my husband Steve used his knowledge of Icelandic sagas to help me with names. (I even threw in a couple of Viking characters he’d created for a short story published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.) By the time I was done, I wouldn’t have minded playing the game myself.
You might think the game stuff was just scenery in the book, but remember how I dated one dungeon master and married another? RPGs have a way of sneaking into real life, or in this case, into my character’s lives. There’s something about RPGs that makes them different from most games—the role playing. People are intentionally trying NOT to be themselves, but the fictional selves they pick show a lot about who they want to be and sometimes, who they really are.
Going back to the book, a book character named Jen plays a tracker who figures out puzzles and shoots with a bow and arrow. Jen herself is constantly trying to figure out people, and keeps them at a distance. The character also has a domineering mother, and while Jen’s mother means well, it’s easy to see how Jen might see things differently.
Sid plays a trickster, which means he declaims alliterative verse to spur his fellow players to greater efforts. In MMORPG lingo, he’s a buffer because makes other characters more “buff”–stronger, faster, better. Now my mind was on game mechanics when I made Sid a buffer, but it makes a lot of sense for somebody like him. Due to his unusual lifestyle—meaning him not being alive—he is on the sidelines a lot, and his major contributions to Georgia are encouraging her, supporting her, and helping her. In other words, he’s just as much a buffer in real life as in the game.
Then there’s the game character Erik Bloodaxe. (I can’t tell you the book character’s name because the initial thrust of the book is Erik going missing, and Sid and Georgia trying to find him. It’s kind of a big reveal when you find out.) Erik is a mighty fighter with a big axe, which you should have with a name like that. But he’s also a true leader and hero, something that the person who plays Erik wishes he can be. (Small spoiler: by the end of the book, everybody agrees that the player really was pretty darned heroic.)
Now don’t worry –you don’t have to be a gamer to read this book. I limited the game stuff and kept what I did include as simple as possible so as not to slow down the action. But if you are a gamer, whether an oldstyle pencil-and-dice player like me and my husband or an MMORPG fan like my daughters, the game is afoot in The Skeleton Makes a Friend.
NOTE: If you’re interested, there is some serious research into how people choose their characters in RPGs, including an honors psychology thesis by my husband.
Readers: Have you ever become obsessed with a game? It doesn’t have to be a video game.
Leigh is giving away a book and skeleton swag to a commentor.