Incorporating Poetry in a Game

Copyright Phillip A. Ellis © 2013

Edited by Terence Wynne for The Guild Companion

"My world is one the wakened know not // save in skeins of spun-out words."

There are many ways that poetry and poems can be used in a roleplaying game. What I want to address is not the obvious, such as in riddles to treasures, or in attempts at seduction or entertainment, but, rather, incorporating poetry in ways that reflect the sort of poetry that will appear in your game worlds.

One very obvious way is to take samples from real-world poets, and treat them as examples of the poets of the game world. So, for example, say you wanted a riddle: you could take one of the riddles from that famous scene in The Hobbit or from the Anglo-Saxon poets. Likewise, you could take a translation from the Greek Anthology, and treat it as a poem encountered or created by a character or non-player character.

Another way is to write the poems, but in such a way that the poems represent translations or analogues of the game's "original." So, if you said all Elvish poems rhymed, then you could represent their poems with rhyming verses. If the equivalent poems of the Dwarves use alliteration, do likewise.

The following is an example of one such poem, representing a translation from an alliterative riddle into modern English. You will note that most of it doesn't alliterate, but that, while the basics of alliterative verse involve four stressed syllables, I have done likewise.

I lie in wait for sleep to fall,
then summon scenes that only the sight
of a certain sleeper ever sees
but cannot touch or taste when wakened.

My world is one the wakened know not
save in skeins of spun-out words,
and yet I show the world without
in cunning ways and punning images.

See if you can tell what the solution to the riddle is.

You can use a combination of the two approaches, so that the more adventurous and creative players can use their own poetry, while the rest use poetry that has already been written. One thing that will result from this. No matter how you use poetry, is that the game world becomes all the richer as a result, and an added dimension to your games will become present.