Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour?

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
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...
Fair enough, what I should have said was I think it isn't core because a sizable enough body of the gaming community doesn't engage it. To me it is a non-essential feature of RPGs. RPGs can be totally serviceable with bad writing. You don't need good writing to play them. Generally you need the other core elements of the system (though there are exceptions of course, like with combat if a group simply never has combat encounters).

I don't think the element of good writing is core in the way combat is though.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
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.
OKay, that is reasonable. You conceive of the game this way and it is important to you. But there are at least two posters here who don't (and I can think of many other gamers I know who share my views on this). I am not saying you are wrong. All I am trying to assert here is 'neither am I'. I fully understand there are players and GMs like you and Hussar who see and play the game differently than I do. And I consider that just as valid of an appproach. I just don't consider it core, because regarding it as core suggests our approach to play is some how deviating from the core purpose of roleplaying (and for as long as I've been in the hobby 'good writing' has just never been a serious factor for me). In fact a lot of the early gaming material that is foundational doesn't have particularly good writing by the standards Hussar and you are advancing. And not every module utilizes things like boxed text. Boxed text is a tool a designer can use, it isn't essential. A module is still very much a module even if it doesn't have boxed text.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
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.
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I don't see how being similar to writing an adventure book makes something literary. Most adventure books I read fall pretty far short of being literature. It is entertaining gaming material. But literature is a much higher bar. There are a few books I'd say strive for or manage to hit the level of being literary. But honestly that is an aim that has nothing to do with how good of a game book it is.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Can they now declare combat isn't core to D&D... Woah! Hold on their buddy.
We are just talking about games. I am not trying to take anything away from you or be mean to you. I am simply expressing my view on how I see gaming material and how significant I think good writing is to it. We just happen to have a very different philosophy here.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
I think “good writing” and “presentation” are getting mixed up here.

For something like a pre-written game module, the quality of the writing may or may not be relevant to the game. For some GMs, that may be the selling point that inspires them to use the material. Certainly, in such a case, the quality of the writing matters.

However, for other GMs, it’s more a matter of the content within the module. It can be minimalist in how the information is presented....maybe simply a list of bullet points. In many cases, this might be all that’s needed, and the GM in turn can make this information compelling to his or her players.

Take the dungeon shared by @Hussar a few pages ago. On its own, it’s a bare bones approach to an adventure. But I’m sure I could take that map and key and tuen it into something fun at the table. Sure, I’d embellish and add to it during play....mostly based on what my players seem to find interesting.


Ultimately, the quality of the content in a published adventure may or may not matter. It may be the thing that inspires the GM or it may be an obstacle to actually running the game. How that information is then presented to the table is another matter entirely. A GM can take an incredibly well written and evocative bit of writing and pare it down to its basic components and share that with his players. Likewise, a GM can take a list of bullet points and can breathe life into then in how he chooses to share them with the table.

I think these are two separate things, and while both are fundamentally necessary, the importance of each will vary from table to table.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
Take the dungeon shared by @Hussar a few pages ago. On its own, it’s a bare bones approach to an adventure. But I’m sure I could take that map and key and tuen it into something fun at the table. Sure, I’d embellish and add to it during play....mostly based on what my players seem to find interesting.
This is another point I feel is being glossed over... If you are embellishing it yourself, adding description, writing up a description, etc... then it still seems to reason that the presentation and the quality of said presentation is core (and if it's not why bother creating it??). Otherwise one could just read off the bullet points since they are the most succinct and easiest way to relay the content. IMO this is like claiming content isn't core because you create your own. Doesn't matter who creates it for the game, it's a core part of playing the game.

@Bedrockgames I'm curious as to how you play (since I could be assuming that most DM's don't just read off a bullet point) Do you simply read off bullet points or do you embellish and add description? If you do embellish or add description, even just a small amount... why if it's not core to the game?
 

Imaro

Adventurer
OKay, that is reasonable. You conceive of the game this way and it is important to you. But there are at least two posters here who don't (and I can think of many other gamers I know who share my views on this). I am not saying you are wrong. All I am trying to assert here is 'neither am I'. I fully understand there are players and GMs like you and Hussar who see and play the game differently than I do. And I consider that just as valid of an appproach. I just don't consider it core, because regarding it as core suggests our approach to play is some how deviating from the core purpose of roleplaying (and for as long as I've been in the hobby 'good writing' has just never been a serious factor for me). In fact a lot of the early gaming material that is foundational doesn't have particularly good writing by the standards Hussar and you are advancing. And not every module utilizes things like boxed text. Boxed text is a tool a designer can use, it isn't essential. A module is still very much a module even if it doesn't have boxed text.
I wonder if the D&D 5e rules and adventures were poorly written, or just skeletal in nature consisting of dry rules and bullet points... would we be seeing the same type of resurgence that we are seeing now. It may not be core for you but at this point I'm also not too sure that you represent the majority of those in the hobby (which are indisputably D&D players). I don't think 5e released as a black and white pamphlet with the rules bullet pointed would have made the same splash... I also don't think bare bones modules would have sold in the quantities that 5e is. In fact I think it would have turned quite a few people off from the hobby before they even gave it a try.

EDIT: Here is perhaps a more succinct way to make my point. Starting out videogames were all about gameplay and content... Pong was literally 2 rectangles you could move and a square that bounced... graphics just weren't core to videogames at that point because of technical limitations and because gameplay was key... fast forward to 2019 and graphics are just as core to videogames as gameplay is... Things change especially as a wider user base brings their preferences, desires and own way of using something... same with rpg's.
 
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Bedrockgames

Adventurer
@Bedrockgames I'm curious as to how you play (since I could be assuming that most DM's don't just read off a bullet point) Do you simply read off bullet points or do you embellish and add description? If you do embellish or add description, even just a small amount... why if it's not core to the game?
I think we are confusing things because we are talking about abstract general concepts and using them as proxies to fight over specifics. What I am pushing back against is the idea put out there that GMs should engage in a style of narration that is flavorful and literary in nature. I much prefer a more conversational style that isn't consciously performative. That doesn't mean I list off bullet points. It means I am fairly concise, not particularly emotive like an actor would be, and that I am talking to my players like I talk to my friends. I see it much more as a conversation like Permerton does. The impression I am getting from posters like Hussar is they value things like the GM speaking in voices, using evocative words to paint a picture and atmosphere, etc. I am not into that as a player or as a GM. I will give a brief description of what is there, then say "What do you want to do". If an NPC is talking, I speak as the character. But I am not shifting voices or performing.

I would say my style is laid back and it isn't too concerned about peoples' performances. My main interest is whether I am having fun and people are engaged with what is going on in the game. I am what I call a 'roll off the couch and play GM'. I don't look at each session as a big production. It is just a game session and I keep my expectations as both a player and a GM fairly realistic and appropriate to that. One of my pet peeves as a player is other players who are overly critical or have super high expectations of play. I just don't like this idea of judging other peoples performance at the table like that. I am not there to be awed by your dwarven accent.

I have podcast recordings of my sessions. I would be happy to share them with you or with Pemerton by PM. But I would honestly rather not post them here given the level of heat that has arisen in this discussion.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I wonder if the D&D 5e rules and adventures were poorly written, or just skeletal in nature consisting of dry rules and bullet points... would we be seeing the same type of resurgence that we are seeing now. It may not be core for you but at this point I'm also not too sure that you represent the majority of those in the hobby (which are indisputably D&D players). I don't think 5e released as a black and white pamphlet with the rules bullet pointed would have made the same splash... I also don't think bare bones modules would have sold in the quantities that 5e is. In fact I think it would have turned quite a few people off from the hobby before they even gave it a try.
I don't play 5E, and the reason why is I am put off by the production values and the density of flavor content. I get that it appeals to a lot of people. That stuff is important in terms of reaching an audience and marketing. But it isn't essential to being an RPG. 5E than isn't more of an RPG than say a black and white retroclone because it has full color art, glossy pages, excellent layout and well written text. I do think 5E has succeeded for a number of reasons. Part of it is they took the design very seriously and didn't take customers for granted. It felt like they listened to everyone and tried to make a product that could appeal to the broadest possible audience. And the art, the writing, the gloss, etc all help. No doubt. I am not trying to take anything away from 5E, but hopefully you can understand not everyone is into that kind of production. And some of us find the flavor a bit much and a bit heavy in places. I honestly couldn't even read the new Ravenloft adventure (because it was too heavy on flavor, text and I found the art distracting from those things). But a lot of people I know who played through it like it, and I know a couple of GMs who really liked reading it in prep for it. So I get I am just one opinion in the mix.

When I came into the hobby much of the art work was black and white, and probably by todays standards not very good (I would say it was good but just not photo-realistic which has become the dominant aesthetic). Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate a well made book. I loved the Ravenloft line back when they were using the Fabian artwork (though that was black and white and not photo-realistic). But if we are talking about core features, I don't think slick production is a core or essential feature of an RPG.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
@Bedrockgames I'm curious as to how you play (since I could be assuming that most DM's don't just read off a bullet point) Do you simply read off bullet points or do you embellish and add description? If you do embellish or add description, even just a small amount... why if it's not core to the game?
Just to answer this again with more specifics on description. I tend to have a 'get out of the way' approach. Which is I don't want the players focused on my descriptions as much as what they are doing, what the NPCs are doing and what is going on. So I will generally be a bit brief in my descriptions. Once in a while I try to throw in a dash of color but I always aim to keep it to a single word or image in my head. And generally those dashes of color are for intense moments like martial arts combat. But I don't have the concern many here have expressed about making sure all the players are imagining the same thing or that they are imagining what I am imagining. I realized a long time ago, people often bring much more to the table on their own in that respect and that retaining the ability for individuals to imagine the scene differently is a key element of immersion.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
I think we are confusing things because we are talking about abstract general concepts and using them as proxies to fight over specifics. What I am pushing back against is the idea put out there that GMs should engage in a style of narration that is flavorful and literary in nature. I much prefer a more conversational style that isn't consciously performative. That doesn't mean I list off bullet points. It means I am fairly concise, not particularly emotive like an actor would be, and that I am talking to my players like I talk to my friends. I see it much more as a conversation like Permerton does. The impression I am getting from posters like Hussar is they value things like the GM speaking in voices, using evocative words to paint a picture and atmosphere, etc. I am not into that as a player or as a GM. I will give a brief description of what is there, then say "What do you want to do". If an NPC is talking, I speak as the character. But I am not shifting voices or performing.
But this is arguing over degrees... the point is it's still there even in your gameplay example above when you speak as the NPC... you're literally just saying you only want X amount while [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] wants Y amount which is fine, but it's still there in both games which is why I feel it is core. Unless you can totally excise something out without loosing quality in your gameplay... I feel it is core.

I would say my style is laid back and it isn't too concerned about peoples' performances. My main interest is whether I am having fun and people are engaged with what is going on in the game. I am what I call a 'roll off the couch and play GM'. I don't look at each session as a big production. It is just a game session and I keep my expectations as both a player and a GM fairly realistic and appropriate to that. One of my pet peeves as a player is other players who are overly critical or have super high expectations of play. I just don't like this idea of judging other peoples performance at the table like that. I am not there to be awed by your dwarven accent.
We aren't talking about judging anything... performance & presentation in and of itself is subjective. My only point is that it is core to the game, even if only done minimally it is still done by the majority if not all groups.

I have podcast recordings of my sessions. I would be happy to share them with you or with Pemerton by PM. But I would honestly rather not post them here given the level of heat that has arisen in this discussion.
That's cool if you feel like sharing I'd be interested in listening to them but I feel like I couldn't really discuss them here so there may not be a point at least as far as this thread is concerned.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
We aren't talking about judging anything... performance & presentation in and of itself is subjective. My only point is that it is core to the game, even if only done minimally it is still done by the majority if not all groups.

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Hussar most definitely was talking about judging performances and that is largely where my disagreement centered. Again, I get what you saying here, but I don't see how something that can be so minimal would be regarded as core or essential. Particularly with performance. I think that word in particular is very counter to how I see running and playing. Like we said before in this discussion there is a big difference between performing your character and naturally playing your character. In terms of presentation. Well technically I could argue presentation is present in everything. That doesn't make it a core feature of everything. Especially since neither presentation nor performance are things that set RPGs apart from other things.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
Hussar most definitely was talking about judging performances and that is largely where my disagreement centered. Again, I get what you saying here, but I don't see how something that can be so minimal would be regarded as core or essential. Particularly with performance. I think that word in particular is very counter to how I see running and playing. Like we said before in this discussion there is a big difference between performing your character and naturally playing your character. In terms of presentation. Well technically I could argue presentation is present in everything. That doesn't make it a core feature of everything. Especially since neither presentation nor performance are things that set RPGs apart from other things.
Yes but then neither is interacting with a situation...or content for that matter.

EDIT: Actually the GM (a single player) performing as different characters within the context of playing a game is kind of unique to D&D... though admittedly I could be mistaken if you have any examples outside roleplaying games I'd be happy to hear them.
 

Hriston

Explorer
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.
All things being equal, there’s nothing wrong with well crafted narration. That’s not the point. The point is rpg groups don’t get together to listen to flowery descriptions of the contents of rooms. That’s what poetry recitals are for. They get together to engage, as their characters, with the situations presented in the game. Any literary quality possessed by that presentation is in service and subordinate to those situations.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
All things being equal, there’s nothing wrong with well crafted narration. That’s not the point. The point is rpg groups don’t get together to listen to flowery descriptions of the contents of rooms. That’s what poetry recitals are for. They get together to engage, as their characters, with the situations presented in the game. Any literary quality possessed by that presentation is in service and subordinate to those situations.
This doesn't speak to whether it is a core aspect of the game or not. If the group isn't interested in engaging with the situations presented because your presentation/performance doesn't make it interesting to them... well there's no game. It's an ingredient of the whole just like everything else. Are eggs or milk not a core ingredient for a cake because you aren't eating the cake to experience drinking milk or eating an egg?
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
This is another point I feel is being glossed over... If you are embellishing it yourself, adding description, writing up a description, etc... then it still seems to reason that the presentation and the quality of said presentation is core (and if it's not why bother creating it??). Otherwise one could just read off the bullet points since they are the most succinct and easiest way to relay the content. IMO this is like claiming content isn't core because you create your own. Doesn't matter who creates it for the game, it's a core part of playing the game.
The presentation is important, of course. Can’t have a game without it. The literary quality of that presentation is another matter. It’ll matter quite a bit to some, and only a little to others.

Personally, I can see both sides of the discussion. I can understand someone wanting clear and concise description only from the GM so that they as a player can decide what they want their character to do.

On the other hand, I can understand a GM who wants to infuse some mood into the scene, and I can understand players who prefer such narration in order to help them feel in character.

I don’t see it as any different from liking the writing style of someone like Patrick Rothfuss versus that of someone like Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake). One is descriptive and poetic, almost lyrical at times. The other is like a punch to the gut.

There’s a place for both in most games, probably, but each group will have their preference. For me, I think it’s best to vary it up depending on the specific scene and what you hope to get out of it.

I don’t agree that RPGs cannot have a literary approach, but nor do I agree that anyone who’s not totally focused on performance is simply “roll-playing”.
 

Hussar

Legend
I don't play 5E, and the reason why is I am put off by the production values and the density of flavor content. I get that it appeals to a lot of people. That stuff is important in terms of reaching an audience and marketing. /snip
Considering that 5e now dominates the market, online play at least shows almost 70% of all RPG sessions are 5e, and 5e is selling in droves, would you care to restate your point that "lots of people" think like me that you've made a few times in the last few pages?

Brushing it off as "marketing" seems a bit self serving no? You don't care for it, so, it's just marketing, and not core to an RPG. OTOH, I'd argue that the, by far and away, most popular RPG's EVER have deeply relied on presentation - all the way from Dragonlance and the unbelievable production values of the time, to modern AP's like Pathfinder and 5e - have all had presentation as a core value of the game. Never minding a fair library of DM/GM advice over the years that does focus fairly strongly on presentation, or, as we're using it in this thread, the literary.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Considering that 5e now dominates the market, online play at least shows almost 70% of all RPG sessions are 5e, and 5e is selling in droves, would you care to restate your point that "lots of people" think like me that you've made a few times in the last few pages?

Brushing it off as "marketing" seems a bit self serving no? You don't care for it, so, it's just marketing, and not core to an RPG. OTOH, I'd argue that the, by far and away, most popular RPG's EVER have deeply relied on presentation - all the way from Dragonlance and the unbelievable production values of the time, to modern AP's like Pathfinder and 5e - have all had presentation as a core value of the game. Never minding a fair library of DM/GM advice over the years that does focus fairly strongly on presentation, or, as we're using it in this thread, the literary.
No. I never said a majority of gamers think like me. But just because something is popular or fashionable, doesn’t make it core or essential to the medium. And we don’t know how much that accounts for it’s success. There are lots of other things people like about 5e
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Brushing it off as "marketing" seems a bit self serving no? You don't care for it, so, it's just marketing, and not core to an RPG. OTOH, I'd argue that the, by far and away, most popular RPG's EVER have deeply relied on presentation - all the way from Dragonlance and the unbelievable production values of the time, to modern AP's like Pathfinder and 5e - have all had presentation as a core value of the game. Never minding a fair library of DM/GM advice over the years that does focus fairly strongly on presentation, or, as we're using it in this thread, the literary.
D&D’s popularity didn’t begin with Dragonlance. Sure adventure paths are popular. But that doesn’t make them essential features or core parts of the RPG experience. Adventure paths are not required in the least
 

Imaro

Adventurer
D&D’s popularity didn’t begin with Dragonlance. Sure adventure paths are popular. But that doesn’t make them essential features or core parts of the RPG experience. Adventure paths are not required in the least
Okay question... what is IYO..."required" for the rpg experience? I'd also be curious to hear (because its come up a few times before and has been tied to core experience) what do you believe is unique to the rpg experience?
 

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