Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour?

Satyrn

Villager
I agree completely. Problem is, for purposes of presenting a common-to-all 'survey question' I couldn't think of a way to frame it as a level of anticipation without having it be a bit premeditated.

I could have framed it more like "On 1-10, how would you rate a session you had just played where the whole session was spent on in-character conversation that didn't advance the story but did advance the PCs' chaacterization?", and almost did; but the unavoidable variable there that would prevent clear answers would be "What was the conversation about?".
I like the original version better. Because there's no way to know how I'd rate the specific session after the fact. I mean, I've never had a session like that that I'd rate highly, but I fully expect it's possible I could thoroughly enjoy it. Theoretically.

But your original, I can answer well. I would totally dread such a session because the odds are it won't be a session I enjoyed. Or in analogy: Your original was asking me how much I'm looking forward to watching a Thor movie. Totally a 10. Big fan.

This new version is asking me to rate The Dark World.
 

Hussar

Legend
Notice that you've got three different action declarations here. Two of them are contrasting:

* Grgur walks down the hallway, be cautious and looking carefully to see if anything is out of place.

* Grugr strides down the hallway.​

And one is less specific:

* Grugr moves down the hallway.​

I don't know why you think that the extra information in the two contrasting declarations doesn't count as "content" in the way you're using that word - that extra information is all about what Grugr is doing.

And I don't know why you think this shows that RPGing is importantly literary. I don't care how eloquently or poetically the player conveys the manner in which Grugr proceeds down the hall; but knowing what that manner is may (in some systems) be highly relevant to action resolution.
Not really. In all three examples the character simply moves from A to B. Content wise there is virtually no difference. There is no action declaration other than moving.
 

Hussar

Legend
If the literary is unimportant, then why do DMG’d include dungeon dressing sections, most of which has little to no mechanical impact?
 

Hriston

Explorer
Because color (dungeon dressing) is content that provides atmosphere when imagined by the participants at the table. The quality of form with which it’s expressed isn’t what’s important but rather whether the odors, noises, furnishings, and items found in an area suggest a torture chamber, a harem, or a wizard’s laboratory. In other words, it’s the actual content that matters, not the particular words that are used and the way they are said.
 

Riley37

Villager
Not really. In all three examples the character simply moves from A to B. Content wise there is virtually no difference. There is no action declaration other than moving.
"looking carefully to see if anything is out of place" isn't an action declaration?

In D&D 5E, I'd interpret that as taking the Observe action each six seconds, while moving at base rate. Similar rules apply in Hero System.

If a guard were watching Grugr, then that guard might notice Grugr's caution. If the declaration were "Grugr strides down the hallway, as if Grugr owned the place", that gets a different response - possibly leading to the guard assuming that Grugr is a familiar, regular guest, rather than a cautious intruder.

In real life, there's certainly a difference between how guards respond to the former and to the latter, so I'd want the same difference to apply in the narrative.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
Because color (dungeon dressing) is content that provides atmosphere when imagined by the participants at the table. The quality of form with which it’s expressed isn’t what’s important but rather whether the odors, noises, furnishings, and items found in an area suggest a torture chamber, a harem, or a wizard’s laboratory. In other words, it’s the actual content that matters, not the particular words that are used and the way they are said.
Disagree... otherwise the most bland & basic description of content would engender the same response as a better embellished and constructed description of the same content... and IME most of the time that just isn't the case.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Disagree... otherwise the most bland & basic description of content would engender the same response as a better embellished and constructed description of the same content... and IME most of the time that just isn't the case.
Well the words the GM uses can matter for sure, but I just don’t think being evocative or emulating literary narration helps as much as it hurts. And I think ultimately it is the content itself that matters most. Personally I favor much shorter description. The old advice of including all the senses in a description, I think loses peoples’ attention more than I gains. In terms of game products themselves, a bit of flavor in the text is fine. But barebones solid content is much easier to deploy. When the flavor gets into novel writing territory then I think it detracts from the content. Doesn’t mean it can’t be well written though. Essoterrorists is a very well written game book, but Laws takes a minimalist approach to the text and the mechanics which I admire. I think some of the monsters just have two to three sentence descriptions for instance.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
Well the words the GM uses can matter for sure, but I just don’t think being evocative or emulating literary narration helps as much as it hurts. And I think ultimately it is the content itself that matters most. Personally I favor much shorter description. The old advice of including all the senses in a description, I think loses peoples’ attention more than I gains. In terms of game products themselves, a bit of flavor in the text is fine. But barebones solid content is much easier to deploy. When the flavor gets into novel writing territory then I think it detracts from the content. Doesn’t mean it can’t be well written though. Essoterrorists is a very well written game book, but Laws takes a minimalist approach to the text and the mechanics which I admire. I think some of the monsters just have two to three sentence descriptions for instance.
Ok let me again make a few points...

1. I'm not arguing that being evocative or emulating literary narration matters most... Only that it does matter to the game and it is a core part of the game... in whatever level and capacity one chooses to engage with it.

2. You are setting up a weird (I'd say false) dichotomy here that doesn't exist. There is nothing inherent in minimalist description that is at odds with it being judged as more or less evocative... good or badly written/spoken and so on. So I'm not sure why you keep making a point of harping on length when that isn't what is being discussed.

3. For you maybe barebones solid content is easier to deploy but I think well written boxed text with a nice level of description can be easier to deploy for a new GM with new players... or an old GM whose not good at adding details on the fly. Again you seem to be making a point about length so let me try and express this in a different way... would you rather have minimalist drab, poorly written content or minimalist, well written and evocative description? Or are you claiming that neither matters to gameplay...

EDIT: My personal take is I'm not going to sit through multiple adventures (much less a campaign) of minimalist, drab and poorly written/expressed description... just because the content is there. It's not going to grab me or make me interested enough to get to the content and engaging with it and that, IMO is the problem with claiming it's not core to the game.
 
Last edited:

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Ok let me again make a few points...

1. I'm not arguing that being evocative or emulating literary narration matters most... Only that it does matter to the game and it is a core part of the game... in whatever level and capacity one chooses to engage with it.

2. You are setting up a weird (I'd say false) dichotomy here that doesn't exist. There is nothing inherent in minimalist description that is at odds with it being judged as more or less evocative... good or badly written/spoken and so on. So I'm not sure why you keep making a point of harping on length when that isn't what is being discussed.

3. For you maybe barebones solid content is easier to deploy but I think well written boxed text with a nice level of description can be easier to deploy for a new GM with new players... or an old GM whose not good at adding details on the fly but with players who enjoy evocative description. Again you seem to be making a point about length so let me try and express this in a different way... would you rather have minimalist drab, poorly written content or minimalist, well written and evocative content?
I want good, gameable content. I am much less concerned about the writing quality than whether the content itself is solid, inspires me as a GM (this is more about the content than the description), and that the text is easy to navigate during play. What I want is well designed modules and games. I will take good writing if it is present but like I said before I don't think there is a connection with good writing and good design (and sometimes I think good writing clouds bad design). These are not novels. They are not works of literature. They are games that need to function at the table. What I want are good ideas. The packaging is a lot less important to me than the ideas themselves.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
I want good, gameable content. I am much less concerned about the writing quality than whether the content itself is solid, inspires me as a GM (this is more about the content than the description), and that the text is easy to navigate during play. What I want is well designed modules and games. I will take good writing if it is present but like I said before I don't think there is a connection with good writing and good design (and sometimes I think good writing clouds bad design). These are not novels. They are not works of literature. They are games that need to function at the table. What I want are good ideas. The packaging is a lot less important to me than the ideas themselves.
Again false dichotomy... you can have good writing quality and good content...

EDIT: They are also games that need to exist in a shared imaginary space and without being well written and evocative in play... well the game has a harder time achieving that with many people.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
EDIT: My personal take is I'm not going to sit through multiple adventures (much less a campaign) of minimalist, drab and poorly written/expressed description... just because the content is there. It's not going to grab me or make me interested enough to get to the content and engaging with it and that, IMO is the problem with claiming it's not core to the game.
As a GM or as a player?

Again, just to be clear. I want the GM to be engaged and interesting. I just can tell from what you and Hussar are saying, my idea and your idea of what constitutes an engaging GM interaction is worlds apart. I really don't want to sit there listening to a GM try to be evocative. Twenty years ago, my answer would be like yours. I've just learned over time, I am not there for a flavorful recital. I am there to play a character. As long as the moving parts are all cool and work, and the scenarios are interesting to engage with, I am good. Not there to listen to the GM say things like "As you peer into the rancid carcass...". Communication matters obviously. If I don't understand what is going on because the GM can't provide some clarity, that is an issue. I just don't need polished prose and I don't need the GM to thrill me with words
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Again false dichotomy... you can have good writing quality and good content...

EDIT: They are also games that need to exist in a shared imaginary space and without being well written and evocative in play... well the game has a harder time achieving that with many people.
Imaro, I never said it was a choice between the two. We just have different preferences here. I have no problem with you liking what you like. But I've gamed long enough now to know what works for me at the table. And evocative descriptions are just very, very far down the list of what i look for (same for writing quality).

Here is how I would frame it:

I would rather run and read a module that has good ideas and content, than one that is well written with bad content.

If a module is well written and has good ideas, that is great, but the writing isn't the thing that pushes it over the edge for me. Still if the writing is good enough that it makes the good content easier to absorb, great!

However if the writing is so much of the focus that it detracts from my ability to absorb the good content (because it has long descriptions or just places too much emphasis on that kind of flavor) then that is a mark against it for me.

These really shouldn't t be controversial positions I think. I know a lot of gamers who feel the way I do about this stuff.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
As a GM or as a player?

Again, just to be clear. I want the GM to be engaged and interesting. I just can tell from what you and Hussar are saying, my idea and your idea of what constitutes an engaging GM interaction is worlds apart. I really don't want to sit there listening to a GM try to be evocative. Twenty years ago, my answer would be like yours. I've just learned over time, I am not there for a flavorful recital. I am there to play a character. As long as the moving parts are all cool and work, and the scenarios are interesting to engage with, I am good. Not there to listen to the GM say things like "As you peer into the rancid carcass...". Communication matters obviously. If I don't understand what is going on because the GM can't provide some clarity, that is an issue. I just don't need polished prose and I don't need the GM to thrill me with words
Yeah at this point if all I am concerned with are the gameplay mechanics and interacting with interesting scenarios I'd much rather play something like Divinity Original Sin 2 with my buddies... for me, what you claim you don't need from the GM is one of the few things that differentiates roleplaying games from other interactive media, his ability through prose and delivery to engage me at a level a videogame can't.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
Imaro, I never said it was a choice between the two. We just have different preferences here. I have no problem with you liking what you like. But I've gamed long enough now to know what works for me at the table. And evocative descriptions are just very, very far down the list of what i look for (same for writing quality).

Here is how I would frame it:

I would rather run and read a module that has good ideas and content, than one that is well written with bad content.

If a module is well written and has good ideas, that is great, but the writing isn't the thing that pushes it over the edge for me. Still if the writing is good enough that it makes the good content easier to absorb, great!

However if the writing is so much of the focus that it detracts from my ability to absorb the good content (because it has long descriptions or just places too much emphasis on that kind of flavor) then that is a mark against it for me.

These really shouldn't t be controversial positions I think. I know a lot of gamers who feel the way I do about this stuff.
Yes but the problem is one side has announced what I like isn't really core to roleplaying games ...
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Just to frame it another way, I don't particularly care how good of a writer the designer is. I care how much I like their ideas and how good they are at game design and adventure design. I am not the kind of GM to get infuriated by things like an abundance of passive voice or clunky prose for example. If the ideas are sound and inspired, that is what I am looking for. The quality of the writing doesn't do much to impress me, except in certain cases (like the Essoterrorist book I mentioned because the writing is all in service to the design and to live play).
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Yes but the problem is one side has announced what I like isn't really core to the game...
It isn't core to the game. That doesn't make it bad as a preference. But if you insist it is core to the game, then by the same token you are saying we are not engaging a core feature of the game. That is why this fight is so bitter for people.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
Just to frame it another way, I don't particularly care how good of a writer the designer is. I care how much I like their ideas and how good they are at game design and adventure design. I am not the kind of GM to get infuriated by things like an abundance of passive voice or clunky prose for example. If the ideas are sound and inspired, that is what I am looking for. The quality of the writing doesn't do much to impress me, except in certain cases (like the Essoterrorist book I mentioned because the writing is all in service to the design and to live play).
I on the other hand have a ton of ideas, content and scenarios but getting that content into a state where it is evocative and willingly latched onto by my players is as fundamental a part of my game as coming up with said content.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
It isn't core to the game. That doesn't make it bad as a preference. But if you insist it is core to the game, then by the same token you are saying we are not engaging a core feature of the game. That is why this fight is so bitter for people.
Wrong it is core (see how easy it is just to declare something).

As to the rest of your post yeah you are choosing to downplay a particular element of roleplaying games that you don't care about... doesn't mean it's not core and it doesn't make your preferences bad. There are people who engage very little with the combat engine when running games of D&D... Is combat a core feature of the game, yep. Does this make their games any less D&D? Nope. Does it make their games bad? Nope. Can they now declare combat isn't core to D&D... Woah! Hold on their buddy.
 

Ilya Bossov

Villager
RPGs are a creative endeavor, I think we can agree on that. Writing campaign books is similar to writing your own adventure books, and is thus literary.

Writing character backstories would also classify as literary.

For example, if GRR Martin was playing a rogue assassin in a D&D campaign, he could show up to session 0 with the entire Song of Fire and Ice, and say, "Hi, my name is Arya Stark. Here's my story."

The interaction between the game master and players can be thought of as a brainstorm. A structured, rule-based brainstorm. And then it seems a little literary to me, although the method of story creation is a bit unorthodox.

But stories come out of it just the same.

I suppose you would only call it a "literary" approach if you also consider improv theater a literary endeavor.
 

Advertisement

Top