Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour?

Hussar

Legend
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
Sorry. I didn’t realize I had to give more evidence. 1e modules almost all had boxed text. Tomb of Horrors, one of the earliest modules has a picture gallery to show players. Until recently, setting guides were very, very popular books with hardcore fans who are dedicated to the canon of the setting.

On and on. Hundreds of pages in Dragon dedicated to the performance end of running a game. Endless player handouts and other goodies to use at the table. Entire libraries of gaming music.

For something that’s not essential, it sure has gotten a ton of attention over the years.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Sorry. I didn’t realize I had to give more evidence. 1e modules almost all had boxed text. Tomb of Horrors, one of the earliest modules has a picture gallery to show players. Until recently, setting guides were very, very popular books with hardcore fans who are dedicated to the canon of the setting.

On and on. Hundreds of pages in Dragon dedicated to the performance end of running a game. Endless player handouts and other goodies to use at the table. Entire libraries of gaming music.

For something that’s not essential, it sure has gotten a ton of attention over the years.
Again is a module without boxed text still a module? If yes then Boxed text isn’t essential. And I never said setting books were not good or important. I love setting books. Where you and I disagree would be on his they should be written, what kind of art they ought to have, etc.
 

Hriston

Explorer
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.
If the problem is that the situations aren’t interesting, then I think the solution is to use more interesting situations, not more flowery descriptions of uninteresting situations!

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?
You need eggs and milk to make cake batter. You don’t need flowery language to play an rpg.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
If the problem is that the situations aren’t interesting, then I think the solution is to use more interesting situations, not more flowery descriptions of uninteresting situations!
Orrrr... maybe present them better. I never made the assertion that the situation wasn't interesting...



You need eggs and milk to make cake batter. You don’t need flowery language to play an rpg.
Good thing no ones arguing for "flowery" language as core then.
 
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Hriston

Explorer
Orrrr... maybe present them better. I never made the assertion that the situation wasn't interesting...
You said the group wasn’t interested in engaging with the situations. That sounds to me like the group thinks your situations are uninteresting.

Good thing no ones arguing for "flowery" language as core then.
Just replace “flowery language “ with “quality of form”. Isn’t that what you’re arguing for?
 

Imaro

Adventurer
You said the group wasn’t interested in engaging with the situations. That sounds to me like the group thinks your situations are uninteresting.
ORRR... your presentation of them wasn't done well enough to hook the players... or are you claiming that's not a possibility?


Just replace “flowery language “ with “quality of form”. Isn’t that what you’re arguing for?
Well which one are you arguing against because they aren't the same thing...
 
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Hussar

Legend
Honestly, I think two things are very true in this thread.

1. People have equated literary and performance with "flowery language". That is not what's meant and has never been meant. Literary or performance simply means HOW the material is presented in the game, either in written form or in oral during a session. Literary carries additional connotations of utilizing various literary devices. Did you use pathetic fallacy during the session? Did you use foreshadowing? Did you engage various tropes of the genre? Then you are using literary devices.

2. Essentially this argument is as old as gaming. Which is more important, fluff or crunch? Some folks think that crunch (@Pemerton refers to task resolution) as all important and fluff (or flavor, or performance, or whatever you want to call it), while perhaps interesting, is largely unimportant. Others, like myself and I believe [MENTION=48965]Imaro[/MENTION], think that flavor and crunch are both equally important and equally needed in an RPG. That an RPG without flavor is, well, pretty much that randomly generated adventure dungeon I posted a couple of pages ago.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Honestly, I think two things are very true in this thread.

1. People have equated literary and performance with "flowery language". That is not what's meant and has never been meant. Literary or performance simply means HOW the material is presented in the game, either in written form or in oral during a session. Literary carries additional connotations of utilizing various literary devices. Did you use pathetic fallacy during the session? Did you use foreshadowing? Did you engage various tropes of the genre? Then you are using literary devices.
Again, literary has a lot more connotation than that. But I don't use literary devices when I run games. Lots of people do not use them. Especially something like foreshadowing because I try not to plan future events. But what you say here just isn't true in the thread, and it is an example of why I am so wary anytime people propose new language like this (especially when they do so taking existing terms with loaded meaning). You keep saying this is just about presentation but then keep slipping into arguments over how that stuff should be presented (and the terms you have been opting to use, seem to favor how you think it should be presented).

2. Essentially this argument is as old as gaming. Which is more important, fluff or crunch? Some folks think that crunch (@Pemerton refers to task resolution) as all important and fluff (or flavor, or performance, or whatever you want to call it), while perhaps interesting, is largely unimportant. Others, like myself and I believe [MENTION=48965]Imaro[/MENTION], think that flavor and crunch are both equally important and equally needed in an RPG. That an RPG without flavor is, well, pretty much that randomly generated adventure dungeon I posted a couple of pages ago.
No one really objects to talking about fluff and crunch (though I think the hard division between those things can lead to bad products---a lot of stuff that came out during the d20 boom bothered me for that reason). If we frame things as flavor and crunch, I don' think there is as much disagreement. The disagreement all centers on how things out to be played out and written/designed.
 

Riley37

Villager
Did you engage various tropes of the genre? Then you are using literary devices.
I don't use literary devices when I run games. Lots of people do not use them.
BRG, you don't use any genre tropes when you run games?

Who are these "lots of people" who run TRPGs without using genre tropes? Could you name, say, five of them?

I've done a lot of TRPG that's squarely within the stock genres, such as Western, superhero, swords & sorcery, science fiction, horror; and a bit outside those genres, such as a Fiasco game set in the newsroom of a TV news team. But even that Fiasco game involved tropes: the idealistic journalist who wants to bring The Truth to The People, the ruthless career climber, the secret extra-legal government program, Who's Got The Tape (as if no one would make backup copies), the villain digging himself into tragic ruin, and so forth.
 

Riley37

Villager
Honestly, I think two things are very true in this thread.

1. People have equated literary and performance with "flowery language". That is not what's meant and has never been meant. Literary or performance simply means HOW the material is presented in the game, either in written form or in oral during a session.
Or in non-verbal, non-linguistic forms. You mentioned the Tomb of Horrors picture gallery. Any map which is more illustrated than the "no-frills" minimal map. If I draw a picture of my PC, that's also presentation of material. Use of figurines; if a figurine is more expressive than a chess piece, then that figurine is part of presentation, because it influences the mind's eye. Mercer uses a lot of voice sound effects; those are not words, and they are part of his attempt to give players a shared understanding of what's happening in the story.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
BRG, you don't use any genre tropes when you run games?

Who are these "lots of people" who run TRPGs without using genre tropes? Could you name, say, five of them?

I've done a lot of TRPG that's squarely within the stock genres, such as Western, superhero, swords & sorcery, science fiction, horror; and a bit outside those genres, such as a Fiasco game set in the newsroom of a TV news team. But even that Fiasco game involved tropes: the idealistic journalist who wants to bring The Truth to The People, the ruthless career climber, the secret extra-legal government program, Who's Got The Tape (as if no one would make backup copies), the villain digging himself into tragic ruin, and so forth.
I definitely use genre tropes. Tropes are not literary techniques like foreshadowing, which is what I had in mind. But again just because something in literature is used, that doesn’t make RPGs literary endeavors. There is a lot more to literature than tropes. And literature isn’t the only thing that has tropes.

also just to make a more general point. RPGs by their nature tend to employ a lot of things from other mediums. But that doesn’t make those mediums core features of the game. The core feature might be its heavy borrowing. But I just don’t see my campaigns, my books, my adventures or my sessions as literary. Literature imo is a high bar and not one I am shooting for in play. Again I think if you examine the discussion you will see much of this is really about what RPGs books should contain, how sessions should be run, and how RPGs should be written (because posters keep coming back to that despite saying otherwise—-and their opinions are stark and favored by a model that embraces the terms being used). My experience with definitional based arguments, jargon based arguments and model based ones online is they are usually more a reflection of the posters gaming preferences than an objective assessment of what is going on at the table.
 
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Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I've done a lot of TRPG that's squarely within the stock genres, such as Western, superhero, swords & sorcery, science fiction, horror; and a bit outside those genres, such as a Fiasco game set in the newsroom of a TV news team. But even that Fiasco game involved tropes: the idealistic journalist who wants to bring The Truth to The People, the ruthless career climber, the secret extra-legal government program, Who's Got The Tape (as if no one would make backup copies), the villain digging himself into tragic ruin, and so forth.
Not what I am arguing
 

Imaro

Adventurer
I definitely use genre tropes. Tropes are not literary techniques like foreshadowing, which is what I had in mind. But again just because something in literature is used, that doesn’t make RPGs literary endeavors. There is a lot more to literature than tropes. And literature isn’t the only thing that has tropes.

also just to make a more general point. RPGs by their nature tend to employ a lot of things from other mediums. But that doesn’t make those mediums core features of the game. The core feature might be its heavy borrowing. But I just don’t see my campaigns, my books, my adventures or my sessions as literary. Literature imo is a high bar and not one I am shooting for in play. Again I think if you examine the discussion you will see much of this is really about what RPGs books should contain, how sessions should be run, and how RPGs should be written (because posters keep coming back to that despite saying otherwise—-and their opinions are stark and favored by a model that embraces the terms being used). My experience with definitional based arguments, jargon based arguments and model based ones online is they are usually more a reflection of the posters gaming preferences than an objective assessment of what is going on at the table.
You've yet to state what you think is core and unique about rpg's... yet continually dismiss what you dont like as not core. Can you state what you think is core and unique about rpg's?
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
You've yet to state what you think is core and unique about rpg's... yet continually dismiss what you dont like as not core. Can you state what you think is core and unique about rpg's?
Didn’t realize I had to do so. I am not the one presenting a core idea of RPGs. My approach to that would be reluctant. I think it is too easy to define away approaches and play styles I don’t engage in. I would prefer a broad approach based on common use age of what it means to play an RPG, rather than an essential or core approach.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
This is highly contingent on (i) system and (ii) ingame situation. To give one example, based on Burning Wheel: I stride down the hall sounds like a Conspicuous test, while I move cautiously down the hall looking carefully for anything out of place looks like a Perception check, perhaps also Stealth and/or Inconspicuous.

In Prince Valiant the first might be a check on Presence, the second on Brawn.

The consequences for failure on either check is also likely to be quite different. It's certainly not a given that all that matters is that the PC moves from A to B. And if that's all that is at stake, ie if nothing turns on the description of how the character moves, if it's mere colour, then maybe we're getting a bit of establishment of character. That can be done whether the character is said to stride down the hall, walk purposefully down it, or walk down it at a steady pace with an imposing look.

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.
Whereas what I see as central to RPGing is the capacity of the referee to respond to the players, and frame situations in response, that engage with a focus, specificity and degree of particularity that non-human interactions can't deliver.

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.
My take on this is the same as [MENTION=6787503]Hriston[/MENTION]'s - it sounds to me like the situation is not interesting enough! As I've already posted in this thread, my advice to that GM would be to work on situation, not to work on voice modulation.

People have equated literary and performance with "flowery language". That is not what's meant and has never been meant.
I'm probably qualified to say what I meant by literary in the OP:

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.

Literary quality of the narration means - as [MENTION=6787503]Hriston[/MENTION] posted at post 19 - quality of form:

There seems to be a fair bit of wrangling going on in this thread over the definition of the word literary. I think it's pretty clear, however, from the context of the OP, that what is meant accords well with the standard definition found in Google dictionary, for example, "concerning the writing, study, or content of literature, especially of the kind valued for quality of form." I think the OP intends to put some emphasis on the "quality of form" part of this sort of formulation of what makes something a literary endeavor.

Literary or performance simply means HOW the material is presented in the game, either in written form or in oral during a session. Literary carries additional connotations of utilizing various literary devices. Did you use pathetic fallacy during the session? Did you use foreshadowing? Did you engage various tropes of the genre? Then you are using literary devices.
The notion of how is too expansive. Speaking with sufficient volume to be heard, sufficient crispness of enunciation to be understood - these all go to how, but don't show that we're engaged in a literary endeavour.

I made some comments on literary devices in post 40, replying to [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION] :

dramatic pacing (probably) can't be completely divorced from the words - the form - whereby the content is conveyed.

In the context of a RPG, though, where the pacing concerns - at least the sort that you refer to - are more at the "scene" level than the line-by-line level, I think the dependence of pacing on words becomes pretty lose. A GM who can't control his/her words at all is going to have troube wrapping up a scene, or cutting to the next situation, in a smooth way; but I think the threshold of skill to be able to do this falls well short of being able to write an evocative opening or closing line.

I'll finish this post by saying that, in denying that RPGing is a *literary* endeavour I'm not denying that it has an important aesthetic component. But I think that the aesthetic component is much more connected to a sense of motion and drama in human affairs, than to a sense of beauty in composition or performance.

As far as the use of tropes is concerned - that's typically not about quality of form or beauty in composition at all.

Essentially this argument is as old as gaming. Which is more important, fluff or crunch? Some folks think that crunch (@Pemerton refers to task resolution) as all important and fluff (or flavor, or performance, or whatever you want to call it), while perhaps interesting, is largely unimportant. Others, like myself and I believe [MENTION=48965]Imaro[/MENTION], think that flavor and crunch are both equally important and equally needed in an RPG.
This has absolutely zero to do with what I'm talking about. For instance, you seem to be the only poster in this thread who has said anything to imply that action resolution = "crunch", because you seem to think that additional fictional context in action declaration - such as striding vs walking cautiously - makes no difference to resolution.

The role of the fiction in framing, declaration and resolution is one of the fundamental differences between RPGing and boardgaming and much wargamin. The distinctive first-person protagonist role of most of the participants is the other. And obviously the OP in this thread takes these features of RPGing for granted, as not even needing to be stated.

It's precisely because of these features of RPGing that it is possible for it to be an activity which (to quote again from the OP) is based on the players feeling the significance of the situations the GM describes - feeling the pull to action, and the threats of inaction. That has nothing to do with "fluff vs crunch".

That Evard is a demon-summoner; that he might be my grandfather; that my family's claim to honour might rest on such poor foundations; that my fidelity to the Lord of Battle might be so fundamentally compromised: how would anyone think that those things are about "crunch"?
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
Or in non-verbal, non-linguistic forms. You mentioned the Tomb of Horrors picture gallery. Any map which is more illustrated than the "no-frills" minimal map. If I draw a picture of my PC, that's also presentation of material. Use of figurines; if a figurine is more expressive than a chess piece, then that figurine is part of presentation, because it influences the mind's eye. Mercer uses a lot of voice sound effects; those are not words, and they are part of his attempt to give players a shared understanding of what's happening in the story.
Isn’t it more a case of the quality of the gallery art or map or pawn or GM voice? All the things you’ve described, you’ve made a distinction between the base requirement for such a thing to be part of the game, and then an improved version designed to enhance the experience.

A bare bones map is certainly sufficient, no? Especially since it may only be the GM who actually sees it. A basic pawn is sufficient to play on a grid if that’s the kind of game you are playing. The GM being able to speak or otherwise communicate to the players is fundamental.

It seems to me that you are saying that going further than the basic is what’s required? The map must have evocative images, the mini must be from Hero Forge, the GM should be a professional voice actor.

To me, none of those things are required. None of them are bad, not by any means. But they’re well beyond what’s “core” to the RPG experience.

A RPG is a conversation between the participants in which they create a shared fiction. What’s core is communication, some kind of rules system, some shared set of assumptions on genre and story....things like that. These are the fundamental requirements.
 
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Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Whereas what I see as central to RPGing is the capacity of the referee to respond to the players, and frame situations in response, that engage with a focus, specificity and degree of particularity that non-human interactions can't deliver.
I know we disagree on the particular way this is utilized, but definitely agree with this point. When I talk about feeling strongly in character, like I am there and fully immersed, it is because I have the ability to say to the GM "I want to try to do X" (and that could be virtually anything) and the GM responds and reacts. What words the GM uses to respond is not as important as the fact that he or she can, and what that response is. I am not there to listen to a novel recitation. I am there to be my character and feel like I am present in the world or situation we are exploring. I don't need pretty words for that. I need a human mind that can adjudicate the situation in a way that feels believable and engaging.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.
Now we're back to both being equal. The bolded above is true. However...

If the descriptions are non-existent or dull, the players are going to cease getting together as their characters to engage with situations presented in the game, making those situations subordinate to the good descriptions.

Both are necessary to engage the players and keep them coming back.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
If the problem is that the situations aren’t interesting, then I think the solution is to use more interesting situations, not more flowery descriptions of uninteresting situations!
Descriptions are what make the situation interesting. I can give you a situation of 10 gargoyles on a hill. One DM will make it bland and dull, the other through descriptions will make it interesting and exciting.

You don’t need flowery language to play an rpg.
Yep. I've been in RPGs that were dull and played like a board game. Bored game?
 

Hriston

Explorer
ORRR... your presentation of them wasn't done well enough to hook the players... or are you claiming that's not a possibility?
I’m not sure what you mean by “well enough”. I’m claiming that as long as the situation is clearly understood by the players, which is an issue with communication, not with quality of form/literary merit, and it fails to interest them nevertheless, that focusing on the artistry of its presentation is unlikely to generate the desired interest in the situation and is more likely to resemble some other form of entertainment that relies on such artistry, like a novel or a movie.

Well which one are you arguing against because they aren't the same thing...
My bad. I was using “flowery language” as a euphemism for formal quality in narration, which I thought was fairly obvious. Sorry if that has caused any confusion in the discussion.
 

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