A few weeks ago, I discussed the fact that my three fish-out-of-water main characters from Flow - Kit, Chailyn and Hadrian - were all characters from roleplaying games that, for one reason or another, hadn't got enough play in their original homes. I introduced them to each other, they hit it off (... sort of), and the book was born.
I've always enjoyed roleplaying games, and I often use them as writing aids. For instance, the sourcebooks for GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System) are often surprisingly great starting points for research or brainstorming. GURPS Religion contains as thorough a checklist for creating fictional religions as any book specifically geared to fantasy writers.
Then, of course, there's character generation. Every RPG system has its own method to create characters, sometimes starting from a point that a writer would normally never choose. I find this really useful for thinking about characters in a different fashion ... and being able to quantify abilities, relative strength, etc, between characters can be helpful, even though (obviously!) the numbers never show on the page. Of course, the flip side of this is that once you enter the writing phase, nothing on the character sheet is a rule. It's more like a guideline ...
Miayde, the eponymous protagonist of Butterfly's Poison, originally started out as a character in a short-lived Exalted game. (Exalted is an eastern-inspired fantasy game centered around exceptional martial arts feats ... all of which disappeared by the time Miayde became a part of the world of Seventeen Seas.) In a moment of full-circle poetry, I designed a roleplaying storyline in the same setting, different system, that was never played out - but it may some day become a new novel in the same world.
Of course, I would be painting myself in too marvelous a light if I claimed I've always used roleplaying games appropriately. I'll confess to writing a long-since (and permanently) shelved epic where I actually used the system and its random rolls (... mostly ... sometimes I'd change my mind) to resolve action scenes. On the other hand, sometimes this would send the story off in a direction I hadn't intended, and I found it was better for the diversion.
When I set out to write Who Wants To Be A Hero? I wanted to simulate some of the randomness and unpredictable turns of ... well ... reality. I felt that having the spontaneity in the writing process was important for making the final book feel right. So I ended up giving my characters very simple stats - basically just a handful of numbers indicating broad areas of competence, such as Magic or Diplomacy.
For each round, I picked an appropriate stat(s) that would apply to the heroic task at hand. Sometimes, there would be the "option" to use another, less appropriate stat, at a penalty. Each character got a random roll plus their stat to determine how they did.
At this point, I took randomness back out of the equation somewhat: any of the top three were eligible to win; any of the bottom three might go home. I'd write the action and the first phases of judging, then assess how events had fallen out.
Of course, I had executive control, but I had an understanding with myself: think about standing back and watching what happens ...
That's really what appeals to me about using roleplaying systems as a supplement, ultimately: it makes you look at things in a new light, whether it's filling in part of a character sheet that has nothing to do with your story or dealing with a "weird" random roll. But as always, the numbers can't tell the whole story: that's up to the author.