Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour? - Page 128
  1. #1271
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    Quote Originally Posted by Riley37 View Post
    On another hand, Eric the Paladin died, when he responded to a gazebo, by pulling out his bow and shooting it, without making sure he understood what the DM meant by "gazebo".

    Eric the Paladin lived and died by "anything other than scenery is a level-appropriate monster for me to fight". If a githyanki sees my low-level character and charges with a knife, then attempting to surrender or talk it out of fighting has higher odds of survival than a fight-or-flight response.
    If a gazebo was charging at my character with a knife, I would definitely have questions as a player.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aldarc View Post
    It's not necessarily the literary work that has been done, but, rather, the cognitive ques are likely already present for "zombie" as part of the player's Euro-American culture. Zombie films, IME, probably have a greater mass cultural impact than zombies in literature.
    Yes, regarding cultural cues. The DM need not explain what a zombie is, any more than the DM would explain what a gazebo or a githyanki is. If the DM says twenty words (or so) to narrate the situation, then the other nineteen words besides "zombie" should not explain what a zombie is; those nineteen words should establish *other aspects of the situation*, such as whether it's sprinting towards the PCs (modern zombie!) versus shambling slowly (Romero zombie) versus already bisected by a fan-blade trap (and thus a clue that Father Grigorio has been here).

    Insofar as you categorize zombie *films* as separate from *literature*, IMO you're switching to a less-situationally-useful definition of "literature". You and Maxperson can haggle over whether the relevant definition is both "written word" AND includes "oral literature". Meanwhile, I recognize "Sean of the Dead" as a work of art which uses foreshadowing, changes of perspective, trope inversion, character development over time, and other techniques often considered "literary", only because of the many centuries in which written word was the main vehicle for the study of such techniques. (I do not recognize "Sean of the Dead" as *high* literature... but damn, high versus low literature is not the useful distinction for current purposes.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Aldarc View Post
    You are correct that a "qallupilluit" will likely be unfamiliar to those same players. Where I think you are mistaken, however, is that you make an argumentative leap between this unfamiliarity to "ergo you must then supply literary-esque narration to engage the players about the creature" (paraphrasing).
    Where I think that YOU are mistaken, is whether Hussar (or I) would spend many words on literary-esque narration *in the specific form of describing its appearance and only when the PCs first see it*. Yeah, Lovecraft would go on and on, about whether the monster, when it emerges into view from under the ice, is rugose, or ichthian, or squamous. There are other tools in the literary toolbox. One of those tools is foreshadowing. For example, the behavior of local Inuit can indicate that they're afraid of *something* under the ice. The PCs might hear a humming sound, long before they *see* the qalupalik (they might ask questions about that sound, they might make INT checks to recognize the sound, and so forth).

    Quote Originally Posted by Aldarc View Post
    You will likely give some description of the physical appearance, but I suspect that the important part will be when you say, "it grabs the child and drags it back into the water" or "it appears to be lying in wait for the child by the hole in the ice." I don't think that you have to go to literary language to communicate a monster or why they should care.
    Your players would not ask you *what it was* that grabbed the child and dragged the child into the water? I mean, a polar bear might do that, and so might a sea lion. I as a player would strongly prefer to know *before* making action declarations, whether I saw a polar bear, a githyanki, a gazebo, or something else. (Perhaps the PC saw the child, then looked away, then the child was gone when the PC looked again at the child's previous location. In which case, yes, it's the action which matters... *for that one round*.)

    See Lanefan's point: GMs should establish *sufficient description to prompt player agency*. I want to overcome monsters which are more than bags of hit points. My player agency includes reacting differently to a polar bear (or other Beast type monster), than to a gazebo (construct) or a qallupilluit (aberration? monstrosity? humanoid?). My player agency might involve trying to *persuade* the qallupilluit to return the child, perhaps persuasion enhanced with the Suggestion spell. (Especially if the child remains alive under the ice only as long as the qallupilluit maintains Concentration on Breathe Water; in that scenario, stabbing the qallupilluit is NOT my best option.)
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    In my own experience, when this occurs it's very often due to weak situation, weak framing, little or no call to action.
    Have you often (or too often) seen that happen, in a situation such that the GM attempted to paper over such weaknesses in the story content, via florid narration? or via other emphasis on the *scenery* of the story? The arboreal elven settlements in the Jackson "Lord of the Rings" movies are visually impressive, but using them as the setting is no substitute for call to action, nor is the term "arboreal" a substitute for call to action.

    If your experience with narration with literary pretensions, is narration which is not also in the service of effective situation, effective framing, and effective call to action, then you understandably have an axe to grind. Your experience would be like buying cake from a bakery which lacks competence at the skill of mixing flour, sugar and water, and heating them for the right temperature at the right duration; and which attempts to cover for that lack of core skill, by covering their cakes with way too much gooey, sugary frosting.

    Is cake-baking a frosting endeavor? No, not necessarily. But in practice, many of us expect at least *some* frosting on *most* birthday cakes. If you are on a Vendetta Against Frosting, some of us will rise to the defense of *appropriate* amounts of frosting on *competently baked* cakes. Similarly, Hussar and I are arguing for *appropriate* amounts of literary technique (including, but not limited to, narration vocabulary), on *competently baked* scenarios (which includes competently presented calls to action).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
    One thing that occurred to me via seeing a few posts a couple of pages back is this:

    One thing a description or narration should strive for, however else it's delivered or phrased, is to answer any obvious questions before they need to be asked.

    The example given was, I think, something like "You enter a room. Passages exit to the north and west. There's a staff." in its simplified form. This leaves a boatload of unanswered obvious questions and thus fails as a useful description. Some of the numeric dimensions can be left out of the verbal description if you're using a grid and map and just draw it out (which I often do) but noting the location of the staff, what it's made of, and whether there's anything else in the room; also noting anything special or unusual about the environment here e.g. the north passage has some water on the floor and there's an unusual amount of lichen on the west wall of the room - all of these seem like no-brainers to just describe up front as they'd be fairly obvious to the PCs.
    I think that this is a good point, and I think the main point of narration is to describe the situation clearly so that the players can use that information to decide what to do.

    Although I do think that questions are a good thing, so I dont think every single detail needs to be provided ahead of time. Only the most relevant and obvious. Leaving the chance for players to ask questions is key, I think. Its often a sign that theyre engaged and want to know more.
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    Quote Originally Posted by hawkeyefan View Post
    What do you focus on with your game prep? Do you focus on creating situations or scenarios with which to engage your players? Or do you focus on how the scenarios are presented?

    Lets say you have minimal prep time for a session....you can only get so much done. What kind of prep would you typically do?
    This weekend I have found myself in exactly this situation. We have a game scheduled for tomorrow and the usual GM bowed out. The group asked me to step in. I agreed, but prior plans have given me less prep time than I would have hoped for. I'm using a modified short adventure from an issue of Pyramid magazine that seemed to fit the current position of the campaign.

    My priorities have been the following, in descending order of importance:

    1. Get the basic premise of the scenario down. Customize things such that the particular PCs in their particular spot in the campaign have a compelling reason to get involved with the adventure. Make sure there are elements that connect to the PCs both in terms of roleplaying and mechanics (i.e., have something demonic for the demon hunter to engage with).
    2. Make two handouts (a few bits of text from a ship's logbook and a scrappy map). I don't typically do this sort of thing, but I enjoy such elements as a player, so when there's an easy way to do it, I go for it.
    3. Review some mechanics that might come into play that I'm rusty on.
    4. Think about various scenes (locations, really) that are likely to come into play and how I might describe them. Just jotting down some words in the margins basically.

    My sense is that by virtue of my first priority, I share some elements of @pemerton's position. (Indeed, I continue to follow this messy thread because I find the premise to be useful in terms of thinking about my own approach.) Some of my other priorities (i.e., #2 and #4), seem to veer toward the more literary camp. I don't really think of it as being "literary," in the sense of aiming for high art. The other players and I are fans of immersion, though, and I particularly enjoy vivid scenes, so I try to provide a certain level of detail and atmosphere. I find that if I wing all the setting elements, things end up too bland for my tastes. A bit of forethought gives me a chance to inject some life into it.
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  6. #1276
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aldarc View Post
    If I told the players, "You see a githyanki. It sees you and the githyanki charges at you with a knife," I suspect that in that moment the players would understand the critical part with that fictional framing of that scene without either knowing or caring what a githyanki is or its associated literature: i.e., "This damn thing is changing at me with a knife. F*ck that crap. I pull out my bow and shoot it."
    I'm okay with not knowing what a monster is if my PC also doesn't know. However, I wouldn't accept the above. I'd ask you to describe to me what it looked like. What a strange creature looks like is every bit as important to me as what it's doing, even when what it's doing is charging me.

    Does it have 2 arms? 4 arms? Claws? Hands? Does it have a mouth full of fangs or a mouth full of molars? Does it have quills on its body? What a creature looks like not only helps me visualize the scene, which is critical to me, but it also clues me in on how it may fight and possibly how to fight it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aldarc View Post
    It's not necessarily the literary work that has been done, but, rather, the cognitive ques are likely already present for "zombie" as part of the player's Euro-American culture. Zombie films, IME, probably have a greater mass cultural impact than zombies in literature.

    You are correct that a "qallupilluit" will likely be unfamiliar to those same players. Where I think you are mistaken, however, is that you make an argumentative leap between this unfamiliarity to "ergo you must then supply literary-esque narration to engage the players about the creature" (paraphrasing). You will likely give some description of the physical appearance, but I suspect that the important part will be when you say, "it grabs the child and drags it back into the water" or "it appears to be lying in wait for the child by the hole in the ice." I don't think that you have to go to literary language to communicate a monster or why they should care.

    If I told the players, "You see a githyanki. It sees you and the githyanki charges at you with a knife," I suspect that in that moment the players would understand the critical part with that fictional framing of that scene without either knowing or caring what a githyanki is or its associated literature: i.e., "This damn thing is changing at me with a knife. F*ck that crap. I pull out my bow and shoot it."
    But, at that point, why not just eschew all description? After all, the player has zero idea what a githyanki is, so, Generic Monster X has just as much heft. "You enter a room with monsters" should be just as good as "You enter a room with orcs" since all the background (what I'm lumping into literary anyway) doesn't matter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hawkeyefan View Post
    Although I do think that questions are a good thing, so I dont think every single detail needs to be provided ahead of time. Only the most relevant and obvious. Leaving the chance for players to ask questions is key, I think. Its often a sign that theyre engaged and want to know more.
    IMO that's good for both player engagement and player agency. When the player zooms in on specific aspects of the narration, and asks about those aspects, then that can also indicate where the character is directing their attention, and what the character is prioritizing.

    We humans don't process every detail in our field of vision. We pay more attention to some than to others. This reflects our priorities. Same for PCs.

    DM: "A dragon swoops down towards you!"

    Player A asks whether it's shiny, because Character A thinks in terms of alignment tendencies. Character A might overlook other details, while zooming in on whether this dragon is metallic.

    Player B asks how large it is, because Character B, the battle master, is more interested in a tactical threat assessment (young dragon versus huge ancient dragon) than in guessing its intentions.

    Player C asks whether it's unambiguously a literal dragon, because character C is a sage, and wary of false conclusions from first impressions. Character C is double-checking: is this actually a wyvern, or a pseudo dragon, or a dracolich, or something else which we might *confuse* with a dragon?

    Player D asks whether the dragon is carrying any items, because Player D's character only cares about monsters in terms of what loot they drop. I'm not saying this is a good trait, but it happens. (Player D finds it entirely reasonable that in WoW, you can kill a vulture, and afterwards, find a glass of vulture milk, upright on the ground, not a drop spilled.)

    These are all valid questions - well, at least three out of four are valid - and the GM is wise not to put the answers to ALL of them into the initial narration. All of the PCs see a dragon; each PC notices different details, varying according to their priorities - and their skills, if some questions provoke INT checks (possibly involving proficiencies such as History or Arcana).

    If the dragon immediately zooms away, and the PCs don't get a sustained opportunity to observe the dragon, perhaps the PCs would benefit from trading notes. You know, like a team made up of diverse specialists.
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  9. #1279
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    Quote Originally Posted by Riley37 View Post
    Insofar as you categorize zombie *films* as separate from *literature*, IMO you're switching to a less-situationally-useful definition of "literature". You and Maxperson can haggle over whether the relevant definition is both "written word" AND includes "oral literature". Meanwhile, I recognize "Sean of the Dead" as a work of art which uses foreshadowing, changes of perspective, trope inversion, character development over time, and other techniques often considered "literary", only because of the many centuries in which written word was the main vehicle for the study of such techniques. (I do not recognize "Sean of the Dead" as *high* literature... but damn, high versus low literature is not the useful distinction for current purposes.)

    Where I think that YOU are mistaken, is whether Hussar (or I) would spend many words on literary-esque narration *in the specific form of describing its appearance and only when the PCs first see it*. Yeah, Lovecraft would go on and on, about whether the monster, when it emerges into view from under the ice, is rugose, or ichthian, or squamous. There are other tools in the literary toolbox. One of those tools is foreshadowing. For example, the behavior of local Inuit can indicate that they're afraid of *something* under the ice. The PCs might hear a humming sound, long before they *see* the qalupalik (they might ask questions about that sound, they might make INT checks to recognize the sound, and so forth).
    These paragraphs, especially the bold, lets me know that you missed out on a lot of my past discussion. If you go back to a lengthy reply I made to Sadras fairly recently, I explain that much of what is getting labeled as "literary," including foreshadowing, actually belongs to the broader category of narratology. I regard TTRPGs as narrative endeavors but not literary endeavors.

    Your players would not ask you *what it was* that grabbed the child and dragged the child into the water? I mean, a polar bear might do that, and so might a sea lion. I as a player would strongly prefer to know *before* making action declarations, whether I saw a polar bear, a githyanki, a gazebo, or something else. (Perhaps the PC saw the child, then looked away, then the child was gone when the PC looked again at the child's previous location. In which case, yes, it's the action which matters... *for that one round*.)

    See Lanefan's point: GMs should establish *sufficient description to prompt player agency*. I want to overcome monsters which are more than bags of hit points. My player agency includes reacting differently to a polar bear (or other Beast type monster), than to a gazebo (construct) or a qallupilluit (aberration? monstrosity? humanoid?). My player agency might involve trying to *persuade* the qallupilluit to return the child, perhaps persuasion enhanced with the Suggestion spell. (Especially if the child remains alive under the ice only as long as the qallupilluit maintains Concentration on Breathe Water; in that scenario, stabbing the qallupilluit is NOT my best option.)
    I get the feeling that you skimmed what I said. Some description of the humanoid was presumably provided. I'm sure they would ask, and just because a player asked "what it was" does not mean that they would know or that as a DM that I am obligated to answer. Does their character know? :shrug:

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
    But, at that point, why not just eschew all description? After all, the player has zero idea what a githyanki is, so, Generic Monster X has just as much heft. "You enter a room with monsters" should be just as good as "You enter a room with orcs" since all the background (what I'm lumping into literary anyway) doesn't matter.
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