Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour? - Page 85
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  1. #841
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    Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
    But let's think about this statement for a second. This assumes that there is a universal type of RPGing ... which is the (IMO) category error that the OP falls into.

    That's why I thought it was helpful to break out other, specific, types of RPGs. Like CoC, and Paranoia (to cite just two of countless examples). Or, heck, LARPing.

    I mean, let's talk about LARPing for a second. For me, that's a bridge too far. I have my own hangups about that in the same way that some people on this thread keep talking about how they play in a conversational way because they refuse to do "funny voices."

    But I wouldn't deny that there are those who really enjoy LARPing. And that it is roleplaying. With like, rules and stuff. And performance and narrative.


    But what does it all mean, Basil?

    The following:

    1. There is no universal RPGing. Different approaches work at different times for different people; just as, for example, there are different styles of writing, or to use a more germane example, different types of movies ... and they all have different points of emphasis.

    2. People can improve and change. I wasn't as socially aware or had the same strong sense of theme or mood when I started as I do now; this is something that I acquired and cultivated. It's akin to saying (to use an example), "What do you do if you have someone sign up for an acting class that can't act?" Well, maybe they can get better!* Because repetition does amazing things ... or ...

    3. Maybe they will gravitate toward games that don't have as much narrative and theme that is required. That's fine! If you are innumerate, you can play Amber, right?

    It's odd, to me, to see a qualitative statement (that someone isn't playing "well") when people have disparate goals for playing. As I always remark- the games that I run with grognards are not the same as the ones I run for kids and teens; but they are both fun.


    *Again, this is why TTRPGs are great for people on the autism spectrum, and are also really helpful for kids and teens that lack self-confidence and social awareness.
    1. Yes, I agree. But I also think people can and will try games beyond those that seem to offer what they are interested in.....players who want a creepy setting playing CoC, for example.

    2. Yes, they can improve. Which means get better....which means at some point they aren't playing as well as they could be. So I think in that sense, you're saying that these skills are essential, even if the skills may vary a bit from game to game.

    3. Must....have.....dice!!!

    Maybe another way of looking at it is that all these different types of RPGs and styles and so on....they seem to have a short list of traits common to them all. Is there some skill or technique that would benefit all of them, from Fate to GURPS to LARPing?

  2. #842
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    Quote Originally Posted by hawkeyefan View Post
    1. Yes, I agree. But I also think people can and will try games beyond those that seem to offer what they are interested in.....players who want a creepy setting playing CoC, for example.

    2. Yes, they can improve. Which means get better....which means at some point they aren't playing as well as they could be. So I think in that sense, you're saying that these skills are essential, even if the skills may vary a bit from game to game.

    3. Must....have.....dice!!!

    Maybe another way of looking at it is that all these different types of RPGs and styles and so on....they seem to have a short list of traits common to them all. Is there some skill or technique that would benefit all of them, from Fate to GURPS to LARPing?
    Well .... I mean, I think that having a sense of imagination is really helpful!

    IMO, RPGs are nothing more than structured forms of collaborative storytelling.

    You mess around a lot with the various fiddly bits-

    Is there a referee or DM in the game, and if so, how much control does that individual have over the collaboration (and/or rules for collaboration)?

    How much of the collaboration is determined by chance (must have dice! lol) and how much by narrative concerns?

    I could keep going, but you get the idea; I guess that when it comes to theoretical analysis, I tend to fall in two camps:

    1. The Mailahti School- An RPG is created in the interaction between players and/or between players and a referee within a specified diegetic framework.

    2. RPGs are what you do while you are hangin' with friends, eatin' pizza.

    In short- Role playing games are what role players play; sometimes when rolling.
    Last edited by lowkey13; Tuesday, 28th May, 2019 at 10:32 PM.
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  3. #843
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    Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
    Role playing games are what role players play; sometimes when rolling.
    I see you rollin'.

    Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
    nothing more than structured forms of collaborative storytelling
    I hope you're open to friendly amendments. RPGs are structured forms of collaborative storytelling which *can* include other elements. Sometimes they are structured forms of collaborative storytelling *and* also a miniatures war game. (Can they be a floor wax AND a dessert topping? I have not yet seen an RPG which works well in both those roles.)

    At a gaming convention last weekend, I played "Fall of Magic", which is essentially a forking path of storytelling prompts. It's a bit like Fiasco, if you wanted to produce something more like "Never-ending Story" rather than "Fargo". It eschews many of the elements of mainstream RPGs, which works well for its purpose, but which also reminded me of how significant those elements can be, for other purposes.

    Words I learned today: "diegetic". That's quite a useful word for discussion of the IC/OOC distinction. There's a scene in "High Anxiety" in which ominous music plays, and the main characters (all in a car, on a coastal highway) tense up and look around. A bus comes the other way; the bus passengers are all musicians, an orchestra, playing the ominous music.
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  4. #844
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maxperson View Post
    I've seen you engage in it. You once gave an example of the angel feather being a potential object for the PC to rescue his brother from the balrog. You didn't describe it a widget. You didn't describe it as object #1. You didn't describe it as a thing. You made it an angel feather, because an angel feather will evoke an emotional response that object #1 or widget won't. You engaged in wordcraft to make the situation more interesting and compelling. It may not have been wordcraft to the level of Shakespeare, but it was still wordcraft.
    With respect, this is silly. Describing things isn't *wordcraft* in the relevant sense. Four year old children have the vocabulary to describe the things that matter to them, and use it. But they're not engaged in literary activity. They're just speaking.

    If you think that there is no difference between describing things per se, and describing things in ways that evince quality of form and aesthetic merit in and of themselves, then run that argument. I think it's a hard argument to run, because it runs rougshod over some common-sense understandings and practices around composition (of fictional writing, of poetry, even of some non-fiction), but not impossible. But you have to actually run it!
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  5. #845
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sadras View Post
    However, unlike @pemerton I do think literary endeavour exists within RPGs. Certainly when one looks at CR, the word usage by Mercer is important in order to immerse the players (and viewers) into the fictional world and the unravelling story.
    Many of us attempt to do same in our own games.

    All you have to do is look at Stephen Colbert's eyes as Mercer was wordsmithing away.
    It is important, whether you're writing a book for the enjoyment of millions or whether you're forming a tale together at the table for the enjoyment of a handful. They're both literary endeavours.
    This engages directly with the OP. Thank you.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aldarc View Post
    It seems like they are narrative endeavors or storytelling endeavors. I don't necessarily think that the word "literary" applies when we are talking more about story-craft or fiction-craft than the crafting of literature, even if we apply the technical sense of pertaining to written words.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
    See, this? This right here? This is the goalposts on roller skates I'm talking about.
    But @Aldarc is not me. I've already posted that some of the things Aldarc is distinguishing from literature I would, for my purposes as per the OP, characterise as literary endeavours.

    The world has room for multiple conversations!

    (And having just written this reply, I notice that Aldarc says something similar in the next post in the thread.)

  6. #846
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    Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
    Some of us have a different view about the point of RPGing, and, for that matter, the "aesthetic merit and aesthetic power of RPGing[.]" Perhaps that is why there isn't one, universal, system that all people equally enjoy (or one style, for that matter).
    You say this as if its controversial, or something I'm unaware of. But to quote from the OP, with some empahsis added:

    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    My answer to the question in the thread title is a firm No.

    RPGing requires narration: GMs describe situations, and players declare actions for their PCs that respond to those situations. But I don't think the literary quality of that narration is important.

    What matters to me is that the players feel the significance of the situations the GM describes - that they feel the pull to action, and the threats of inaction. That is, that the situation engage and motivate the players as players, not as an audience to a performance. And player narration should, in my view, engage with and build on this fiction in ways that display the player's view of the fiction, perhaps challenge other players (and even the GM), that make the other pariticpants go "I didn't see that coming!"

    This is how I see RPGs, with their emphasis on participation in the creation of a fiction that is structured through distinct player an d GM roles, working. And it's how I see them differening from more directly narrative mediums such as books and films.
    This is why I XPed @Sadras's post about Matt Mercer and Steve Colbert. Not because I agree with what Sadras said - he is putting forward a conception of RPGing that differs from the one I put forward, and that places an importance on the literary quality of the narration that I am denying.

    But Sadras's post engages fully and unequivocally with my OP. It puts forward a conception of RPGing that includes entertainment and audience, and hence a role for literary endeavour. And it does so without any needless detour through word meanings and attempts to prove that someone or other is engaged in self-contradiction.

  7. #847
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sadras View Post
    He does not even make that concession that someone could engage in a literary endeavour for their RPGing.
    Quote Originally Posted by darkbard View Post
    you are both wrong in your characterization of @pemerton's position. Many times now he has articulated that all things being equal, literary presentation can improve the quality of a game, but that caveat requires that the core activity of TRPGing be not in the presentation itself but in the invitation to meaningful engagement of the situation on the part of the PCs, that at its heart the issue is not performance but framing situations that invite protagonism.
    What darkbard says is correct, with one caveat that perhaps gets closer to the heart of Sadras's concern: I think that the invitation to action often requires spontaneity or real-time judgement in tthe back-and-forth; whereas wordcraft tends to benefit from reflection and editing. So I think there can be a degree of tension between the two.

    So there is a second claim, on top of the claim that literary quality is not core to RPGing. It is that, while everything else being equal literary quality (and the resulting entertainment) can be a good thing, everything else may often not be equal.

    Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
    I have tried to highlight the history of why this thread was created.
    And as I've already pointed out, you're wrong about this. As the OP says, it was prompted by multiple threads. Not just the boxed text thread; also the action declaration thread, in which @Hussar was criticising some other posters for insisting on "talky talky" as key to action declaration, and they were trying to articulate a contrast between effective description for RPGing purposes and what I would call descriptions having literary merit. @Hussar was sceptical of that distinction being drawn in that thread, so it doesn't surprise me too much that he's sceptical of such distinctions being drawin in this thread.

    What has surprised me, though, is that in that thread Hussar was against such descriptions and in favour of "I roll a climb check: 16", whereas in this thread he wants the players to bring the evocative descriptions. I'm not saying that Hussar is inconsistent, just that he's drawing his boundaries of desirability in a different place from what I had anticipated.
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  8. #848
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sadras View Post
    And the author of the OP?
    What about me? Do you mean, what did I hope to get out of the thread?

    One's never sure in advance beyond "interesting conversation". But the discussion about storytelling and various modes, driven mostly by @Aldarc and @hawkeyefan, has been interesting.

    @Hriston and @darkbard have helped refine my framing of my point. That's helpful. And also led it in the direction of "advice to GMs", which led to some fruitful discussions with @uzirath whom I've not engaged with very much before as a poster.

    And @Manbearcat has pushed with some challenging posts about pacing that I haven't replied to yet.

    Ultimately, the reason I post on a discussion board is to have discussions.
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  9. #849
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    Quote Originally Posted by Manbearcat View Post
    I think most people can agree that economy of language is a large component of pacing. If a scene is in the midst of the precipice of its Rising Action to where its transitioning to Climax (because the mechanical state of affairs says it should be there), I think we can agree that its poor GMing for a GM deploying 100 words where 10 will more impactfully convey the information. Quantity, economy of language, matters.

    So after quantity, we have type/kind. When you're evolving a scene from one (lets call it) "arc-state" to the next, can one descriptor (of the same quantity) more aptly convey the urgency, gravity, or tempo of a situation vs another?
    Quote Originally Posted by Manbearcat View Post
    Is there a collection of, say, 15 words that can impel the gravity (say, better depict the steep angle of descent down the Falling Action roller coaster) better than any other collection of 15 words, where both collections of words conveys the situation appropriately (appropriately here meaning, inform players sufficiently that they can make intuitive action declarations for their PCs).
    OK, so in my earlier reply to you I had located "pacing" as something happening at the scene/scene transition level, but here you are bringing it back to the word choice in the moment level.

    If your two questions (at the end of the first quote, and in the second quote) are accepted as purely rhetorical, then I think you're putting a lot of pressure on the form/content distinction: because the best way to present the invitation to action is via this rather than that choice of words.

    I think my feeling is that, while there may be some word choices that are clearly better than others in this respect, (i) there is no optimum, and (ii) crossing the bar to satisfactory is generally straightforward enough that it's not a significant challenge of composition. But I need to think more. And I'll try and see what happens the next time I GM a game!
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  10. #850
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    Quote Originally Posted by hawkeyefan View Post
    It's a dichotomy in that I think most games have both, sure.
    I'm saying it may not be much of a dichotomy in may cases because the *how* is not cleanly separable from the what. Or, the how is part of the what.

    To take an example that will probably mean something to most of us here. John Williams' score for the Star Wars movies. Those pieces generally stand on their own, and communicate things without the movie. I dare folks to claim that those musical pieces are not content, in and of themselves. The presentation of Star Wars would not be the same story if it had, instead, music by... Abba, say.

    But I think that there are examples in other media we could point to where how the story is told is more important than the story itself. Something like Mulholland Drive, let's say....or most of Lynch's work, to be honest.

    Do you think this exists in RPGs?
    I certainly think sometimes, yes.

    Lowkey may be averse to LARP, but I am not. In one game for which I was a routine NPC, the resurrection of dead PCs went through an afterlife. Within the afterlife, the "what" was incredibly simple - interact cogently with one of the NPCs for long enough, and we'd give you a card that would allow you to leave. The *how*, was everything. The large, open, darkened space that echoed conveniently. The masks we wore. That we spoke cryptically in ways the PCs thought meant things (they didn't). No PC ever failed to get resurrected, but they didn't know that failure was nigh impossible to do. People actively avoided death in combat in large part because we made the afterlife anxiety-inducing. Our "how" influenced the "what" of PC choices.

    I think that horror is tough, honestly.....I don't know if trying to establish a spooky mood through language often works in RPGs. I think it can, for sure. I think it tends to help when there's already some kind of content that's unsettling in some way.

    As for humor, while I've never played Toon or Paranoia, there are always lots of laughs in my group's RPG sessions, and most of them are due to spontaneous comments more than any kind of craft.
    So, at the cross section of horror and humor... I used to help run a very large, very long session of Paranoia each year.

    We could have said, "The Production, Logistics, & Commissary citizens feed you some gross food." Instead, when dinnertime for the players came around, we tossed them baggies filled with shredded bologna in mustard with red food coloring, cooked spaghetti with chocolate sauce, and other foods that were actually entirely wholesome, but just looked nasty, or had weird textures.

    Which do you figure would drive players to actually take action against each other to get choice bits - the words, "some gross food" or the *actuality* of gross food that they're expected to actually eat?

    But I think this also kind of raises a good point.....what about a player in such a game who just isn't that funny? Maybe they love humor, and enjoy comedy, but just aren't that great at being funny themselves.
    Well, that sounds like "willing, but without skills". In D&D, there are classes that are mechanically more simple than others (like, say, a typical fighter) that can be used until such time as the player learns somethings. Analogously, comedy has a role of the "straight man", who is kind of essential, but doesn't need to be quite so high-speed creative.

    Or aren't that comfortable with it?
    Well, then we find another game they are comfortable with. Not all games are for all people, and that's okay.

    What about a player who doesn't have a strong sense of theme or mood in fiction? Do these players not enjoy the game as much as other players? Are they not playing as well?

    Are these skills essential in some way to RPGing?
    Change it from RPGs, to soccer - a game without all this presentation nonsense, right? What about the player who's a middle-aged guy, who's gone a bit round in the middle, can't run very fast or far. Are they not playing as well? Are they not enjoying the game as much?

    Within RPGs - take the person who really doesn't have a flare for mechanics, and can't optimize their way out of a paper bag. Are they not playing as well? Are they not enjoying the game as much?

    Whether or not they enjoy it as much probably mostly depends on whether they are in with people with the same general skills and desires out of play. The middle aged guy, playing in a pro game, probably won't enjoy it much. Playing with the other dads and moms in a neighborhood league, however, may be loads of fun.

    But, let us be honest - most of us as GMs are not Tolkien or George RR Martin. Most of us are not professional writers or actors. We are not the soccer equivalent of Beckham. The learning curve isn't all that steep.
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