Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour?

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
No one is arguing for dull descriptions. The fact that situations must be described has also been noted in the OP and elsewhere. None of this suggests to me, however, that descriptions of content in an RPG must be of a literary quality for the players to be interested in the game's premise and situations, which is, I think, a common goal of RPG play.
If you aren't arguing for dull descriptions, then you are acknowledging that the narrative can have better or worse quality, and you are choosing better. Can people go overboard with descriptions? Sure. Does that mean that quality descriptions aren't a goal of the DM? No. The entire point of the DM choosing certain adjectives over others or over no adjectives at all is to impart his vision to the players so that they can envision something close to what he does. That's narrative quality, and it's present in the vast majority of games, regardless of playstyle.

How does describing an uninteresting situation differently, without changing any of the actual content, suddenly make it interesting?
A situation is more than just 2 orcs on a hill. The description of those two orcs, the hill itself, and what the orcs are doing on the hill can turn an uninteresting situation into an interesting one.

And here you're suggesting that RPGs that lack "flowery language" are dull and resemble board games. I'm sure you can see this is just a statement of your preference.
Nope. I made no mention of "flowery language." That's your fallacious response to what we are saying.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
This is a very important point. The description isn't what makes a situation in an RPG interesting: the situation is what makes interesting because it is interacting and part of a back and forth conversation.
It's not this either.

What makes a situation interesting is a combination of the situation, and how it's described. A bad description can take a situation that should be interesting and make it dull. A great description can do the opposite. Most descriptions are somewhere in-between bad and great, but still accent the situation making it more or less interesting.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I think of all people on this thread, I have the most reason to be wary of Pemerton's posts (if you think that thread was bad, read the racist colonialist orcs thread). When I saw the OP I initially read it in a negative light. But I made a point of re-reading to see if I was reading my own feelings into it. I reached the conclusions this was very different from our previous discussion. Also, in that thread, I was guilty of plenty of emotional and angry posts myself. Just because I was ticked off at Pemerton in that thread (and I think with some fair amount of good reason), doesn't mean I need to always be negatively disposed towards him. As I took pains to say in that thread, I do admire Pemerton's intelligence and I do admire his ability to make a good argument. I would be foolish not to consider his posts fairly because when he does make a good point, it is often insightful.

I don't see him denigrating a style in this case. In fact in this argument, I think it is the other side that is largely doing the denigrating. Just because I disagreed with him before or thought he was being a bit rude about something before, doesn't mean he is always wrong or that I, and others, are never also being rude. I would encourage you to read some of the posts by yourself and by others on your side of this debate again and then look at our responses to them. There have been moments where I've responded more emotionally than I would have liked, but on the whole I feel I have been reacting fairly calmly given the tone of some of the posts directed at me.

Also, please don't go mining my prior posts to post a gotcha of me in this thread. I understand why you are doing it, but in my view, that doesn't show a lot of good faith. If I have to defend not only my posts on this thread, but posts I've made in previous threads, that isn't exactly a friendly discussion and starts to feel more like an inquisition.
It's not this either.

What makes a situation interesting is a combination of the situation, and how it's described. A bad description can take a situation that should be interesting and make it dull. A great description can do the opposite. Most descriptions are somewhere in-between bad and great, but still accent the situation making it more or less interesting.
I don’t know that this is as true for me as it is for you. Like I said, people are assuming what they find interesting or engaging is the same for them as other people. I don’t find GM narration or description especially interesting. I am saying it never matters to me. Just it isn’t where I find my excitement or interest. I see the GM much more as an adjudicator than As a master narrator or storyteller.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I don’t know that this is as true for me as it is for you. Like I said, people are assuming what they find interesting or engaging is the same for them as other people. I don’t find GM narration or description especially interesting. I am saying it never matters to me. Just it isn’t where I find my excitement or interest. I see the GM much more as an adjudicator than As a master narrator or storyteller.
This is fine and I can completely believe that. It doesn't have to be as true for you as it is for me. I've seen some of the examples that you say you are happy with. There is at least some small measure of it that is true for you, and that is qualitative literary content. That's all we are really getting at. The literary quality is present to some degree in pretty much every game. That doesn't mean you are playing our playstyle or we yours, or that we are trying to advance an agenda. We are just saying that literary quality is part of RPGs, even if you don't value it highly.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
This is wrong. All it takes to be literary is to have something written.

lit·er·ar·y
/ˈlidəˌrerē/
adjective
adjective: literary
1.
concerning the writing, study, or content of literature, especially of the kind valued for quality of form.

lit·er·a·ture
/ˈlidərəCHər,ˈlidərəˌCHo͝or/
noun
written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.

What you guys seem to be missing is the word "especially." While artistic and merit are prized, they are not required for something to be literature or literary. A grocery list is written work for God's sake. Unless you are running your games with nobody writing anything down, you are using literature and your game has literary aspects.



The OP engages in the opposite tactic. He re-defines or attempts to eliminate certain definitions in order to advance his playstyle or put down a playstyle he dislikes. He gets lots of push back over it.



I have't seen the last part of that here. I've yet to see someone try to push the One True Way over RPGs containing literary portions.



This is a Strawman. Nobody is claiming literature has to be good, other than people on your side anyway. RPGs are literary because they contain written works. RPGs are literary, because most, if not all people who run them try to make descriptions more interesting than, "In the room are 2 orcs," which is an attempt at higher quality literature.
Except exceptionally is super important here because it is the pivot point where equivocation occurs. You even do it yourself in the same paragraph (where you first deny the second half of the definition before embracing it when it comes to GM descriptions being attempts at higher quality literature. And this is the key aspect turning off posters like myself to your argument. If you want me to accept that words are involved in RPGs, well of course they are. Words being involved doesn’t mean RPGs are aboutbor must involve attaining greater literary heights with your GM description. Once you state something like that I can tell you 100% truthfully we value different things in that respect.
 
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Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I think of all people on this thread, I have the most reason to be wary of Pemerton's posts (if you think that thread was bad, read the racist colonialist orcs thread). When I saw the OP I initially read it in a negative light. But I made a point of re-reading to see if I was reading my own feelings into it. I reached the conclusions this was very different from our previous discussion. Also, in that thread, I was guilty of plenty of emotional and angry posts myself. Just because I was ticked off at Pemerton in that thread (and I think with some fair amount of good reason), doesn't mean I need to always be negatively disposed towards him. As I took pains to say in that thread, I do admire Pemerton's intelligence and I do admire his ability to make a good argument. I would be foolish not to consider his posts fairly because when he does make a good point, it is often insightful.

I don't see him denigrating a style in this case. In fact in this argument, I think it is the other side that is largely doing the denigrating. Just because I disagreed with him before or thought he was being a bit rude about something before, doesn't mean he is always wrong or that I, and others, are never also being rude. I would encourage you to read some of the posts by yourself and by others on your side of this debate again and then look at our responses to them. There have been moments where I've responded more emotionally than I would have liked, but on the whole I feel I have been reacting fairly calmly given the tone of some of the posts directed at me.

Also, please don't go mining my prior posts to post a gotcha of me in this thread. I understand why you are doing it, but in my view, that doesn't show a lot of good faith. If I have to defend not only my posts on this thread, but posts I've made in previous threads, that isn't exactly a friendly discussion and starts to feel more like an inquisition.
This is fine and I can completely believe that. It doesn't have to be as true for you as it is for me. I've seen some of the examples that you say you are happy with. There is at least some small measure of it that is true for you, and that is qualitative literary content. That's all we are really getting at. The literary quality is present to some degree in pretty much every game. That doesn't mean you are playing our playstyle or we yours, or that we are trying to advance an agenda. We are just saying that literary quality is part of RPGs, even if you don't value it highly.
Sorry but I am not convinced. Just because I am talking well with my players, that doesn’t mean I am engaged in a literary activity or that the concern is providing literary quality description. I am talking, not writing. It is a different medium.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Except exceptionally is super important here because it is the pivot point where equivocation occurs. You even do it yourself in the same paragraph (where you first deny the second half of the definition before embracing it when it comes to GM descriptions being attempts at higher quality literature. And this is the key aspect turning off posters like myself to your argument. If you want me to accept that words are involved in RPGs, well of course they are.
They are an attempt at higher quality than 0. I wasn't saying that they achieve high quality, or that it fails to be literary if they do fail to achieve high quality.

Words being involved doesn’t mean RPGs are aboutbor must involve attaining greater literary heights with your GM description. Once you state something like that I can tell you 100% truthfully we value different things in that respect.
This is another Strawman, but not one which I think you made intentionally. I think you really don't understand our side of the argument. Nobody over here is saying that "RPGs are about or must involve attaining greater literary heights." First off, RPGs aren't "about" anything. Or more accurately, they are about a great many things. Secondly, we've never said that DM descriptions must involve attaining greater literary heights. We have said that 1. Those descriptions are literary, and that is factually true. Even for something as simple as, "The kobolds are three foot dog men." 2. RPGs contain qualitative literary description.
 

pemerton

Legend
It's not about long winded or flowery language, per se, it's more about the craft of the narration being the primary concern. Is it more important that I as GM convey the situation clearly to the players, or is it more meaningful that I do so in a way that attempts to evoke a certain emotion or tone or mood?
this most definitely was not what the main disagreement has been about
It is very close to it. The notion of the craft of the narration is as good as any other way of putting it.

For my part, the limitaion in what hawkeyefan says is the emphasis on clearly conveying the situation. I think this is important, but not sufficient. As per the OP,

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.​

This requires not only conveying a situation, but conveying a situation that will draw in the players. In this thread I've also referred to that as the invitation to respond.

This is a false dichotomy since nothing about literary quality necessitates lack of clarity.

<snip>

Why, inherently, would you have to sacrifice one to get the other(s)?
Upthread, I already posted why crafted narration and conveying a situation that draws in the players might come into conflict. The first benefits from preparation (and the resulting opportunity to test, edit, etc). Whereas the second - like conversation, which has been my reiterated comparitor - benefits from spontaneous engagement within the back-and-forth at the table.

EDIT:
The description isn't what makes a situation in an RPG interesting: the situation is what makes interesting because it is interacting and part of a back and forth conversation. I honestly don't care if the GM is stumbling over words, uses the same adjective twice in a row for no reason, uses a ten dollar word that somewhat misses the mark, when a more precise 1 dollar word would do....those are all things I care about when I am reading quality books. When I am playing a game I am engaged with another human being and through them, a situation as my character.
This is as good an account of the OP claim as any other.
[MENTION=48965]Imaro[/MENTION], [MENTION=23751]Maxperson[/MENTION] - you may disagree that what Bedrockgames describes here, and what I describe in the OP, is a good account of RPGing. That's fine and (it goes without saying) your prerogative.

But I don't see why the discussion about this raises any issues about the meaning of words. I don't see how it helps the discussio by trying to argue that I, or Bedrockgames, is engaged in self-contradiction.

Instead: tell us about how you see RPGs working. For instance, what do you see as the role of situation in RPGing. Why do you think the narratie crat with which a situation is presented is so important?
 
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pemerton

Legend
The reason books as a medium have a higher standard than talking face to face, or at least one important reason, is the writer only has one shot to convey what he or she means, because a novel is a one-way form of communication
I think there is another reason that books impose demands that are different from RPGing.

The goal of a book (typically) is to evoke some sort of response in the reader in virtue of having read the book. This depends heavily on the craft of the narration, on its literary quality in the way the OP uses that phrase.

Whereas the goal of a GM's narrration - I assert in the OP and reiterate here - is to invite the players to makes choices, as protagonists, in response to the situation presented. This is a different aesthetic goal, and therefore imposes different demands on the narrator. The crafting of the narration becomes less important. Being able to appreciate the "pulse"/dynamic of the back-and-forth at the table becomes more important.

This is getting a pretty fundamental divide. Do you see the GM as a narrator and storyteller or do you see the GM as a facilitator or adjudicator?
This would certainly be one way of explaining a difference of view about the centrality (or not) of literary quality to RPG narration.

He isn't saying emotion is absent from the table.
Far from it! Emotion is (in my view) central to (non-classic-dungeoncrawling) RPGing.

The OP is talking about the way that emotion is brought about.
 
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uzirath

Explorer
Upthread, I already posted why crafted narration and conveying a situation that draws in the players might come into conflict. The first benefits from preparation (and the resulting opportunity to test, edit, etc). Whereas the second - like conversation, which has been my reiterated comparitor - benefits from spontaneous engagement within the back-and-forth at the table.
I'm intrigued by this conflict and how you think it should best be resolved. I am largely sold on the idea that crafting meaningful situations that draw the players in is more central to the activity of RPGs than working on descriptive language and whatnot. With that said, however, fantastic descriptions and unique details are often the things that I, as a player, latch onto and remember. Somewhere upthread people were talking about kobolds on a hill. For me, it would be helpful to hear about their drool or bloodshot eyes. Such descriptions would seed my imagination, immersing me more deeply in the fiction. To the extent that it requires preparation to have such details at hand, then I would think some such prep work is worthwhile and beneficial (whether it is "literary" or not).
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
For me, it would be helpful to hear about their drool or bloodshot eyes. Such descriptions would seed my imagination, immersing me more deeply in the fiction. To the extent that it requires preparation to have such details at hand, then I would think some such prep work is worthwhile and beneficial (whether it is "literary" or not).
To me that is just coloring unless the bloodshot ideas lead somewhere else. When think of a situation like that as a GM my fist thought isn't about description: it is about background (why are the kobolds on the hill? What did they just do? Where are they going? etc). Any details I provide, it is more about those kinds of things than caring about whether I describe them in a sufficiently literary style. So I probably wouldn't mention the eyes. I may mention one is holding a wooden basket filled with books and there is a bloody robe near the fire (if they had just murdered a local official and stolen his belongings for example). But the form of the description isn't that important to me.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
They are an attempt at higher quality than 0. I wasn't saying that they achieve high quality, or that it fails to be literary if they do fail to achieve high quality.
But no more than my natural talking style in everyday speech. I keep my games very conversational. I am not interested in stylizing my narration or consciously narrating a scene. I just converse with the players and don't think much about the words I use.


This is another Strawman, but not one which I think you made intentionally. I think you really don't understand our side of the argument. Nobody over here is saying that "RPGs are about or must involve attaining greater literary heights." First off, RPGs aren't "about" anything. Or more accurately, they are about a great many things. Secondly, we've never said that DM descriptions must involve attaining greater literary heights. We have said that 1. Those descriptions are literary, and that is factually true. Even for something as simple as, "The kobolds are three foot dog men." 2. RPGs contain qualitative literary description.
People keep saying this, then they also keep saying how important quality in the description is. And what is the purpose of identifying the narrative aspect of RPGs as literary if not to make a further point about how you ought to narrate. It seems any time the question of an ought is raised by your side in this discussion, I am in strong disagreement. And the ought very much appears to stem from the notion that RPGs are a literary endeavor (or involve literary elements). Maybe I am wrong, but I don't think this is a straw man. If I hadn't spent half the thread arguing with people that descriptions don't have to be high quality to be good in an RPG, then I might see your point. But since people leaning on literary also seem to be advocating for emulating literary measures of quality....what should I think here?
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm intrigued by this conflict and how you think it should best be resolved. I am largely sold on the idea that crafting meaningful situations that draw the players in is more central to the activity of RPGs than working on descriptive language and whatnot. With that said, however, fantastic descriptions and unique details are often the things that I, as a player, latch onto and remember. Somewhere upthread people were talking about kobolds on a hill. For me, it would be helpful to hear about their drool or bloodshot eyes. Such descriptions would seed my imagination, immersing me more deeply in the fiction. To the extent that it requires preparation to have such details at hand, then I would think some such prep work is worthwhile and beneficial (whether it is "literary" or not).
Can I pick up on your example (bolded by me to call it out) and a possible risk in play? Not to denigrate the example, but to try to connect it into how I'm thinking about things.

It seems to me that it is possible that the GM might narrate the koblds' drool and bloodshot eyes, hoping and intending to evoke a particular response and engagement from the players, only instead to trigger responses about the kobolds having had a hard night out, being stone/hungover, etc. (Similar to [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION]'s reference, I think upthread, to players making d*ck jokes.)

This is a risk that arises in the spontaneous back-and-forth of RPGing that doesn't come up the same way in a book. A reader might snigger at some line or phrase in a work, but there's at least a tenable sense of "work" in which that response leaves the work itself unchanged. Whereas when we think of the RPG experience as yielding a "work", the player response can't be excluded in the same way.

So to begin an answer to your question - and it's not more than a beginning - while prep can of course be helpful (for everything from thinking up situations, to thinking up choice phrases, to drawing some maps or pictures that might be useful for communicative or - in some RPGs - resolution purposes), I think the nature of RPGing will always tend to bring the dynamics of the here-and-now to the fore.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Instead: tell us about how you see RPGs working. For instance, what do you see as the role of situation in RPGing. Why do you think the narratie crat with which a situation is presented is so important?
What is it that you think we've been doing this whole time? It's not engaging in playstyle wars or pushing a playstyle agenda.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
But no more than my natural talking style in everyday speech. I keep my games very conversational. I am not interested in stylizing my narration or consciously narrating a scene. I just converse with the players and don't think much about the words I use.
That's fine. It doesn't require you to think about how and what you narrate. Even if you are not conscious of it, it's still there. Let's go back to 13 kobolds on a hill. That's the situation. Adding a description, even in normal language enhances the quality of the situation. Telling the players that there are 13 three foot dog men up on the hill is better than the above. It gets better still if you say something like, "You see 13 three foot dog men up on the hill dancing around a stump." With just that little bit of description, you have now taken a boring situation, 13 kobolds on a hill, and turned it into an interesting one. Are they engaged in a ritual? Dancing? Having fun in the moonlight? Casting a magic spell? Something else? Investigation by the players will determine that. You don't need to think about things like, "Green ichor drips down their faces." or "You see bits of the kobold's last meal stuck in his teeth." to be literary or to have a description that enhances the situation.
 

pemerton

Legend
pemerton said:
tell us about how you see RPGs working. For instance, what do you see as the role of situation in RPGing. Why do you think the narratie crat with which a situation is presented is so important?
What is it that you think we've been doing this whole time? It's not engaging in playstyle wars or pushing a playstyle agenda.
To elaborate on my question, then: upthread [MENTION=48965]Imaro[/MENTION] seemed to assert, or at least very strongly imply, that whether or not a situation is interesting is a player-independent state of affairs. Do you agree?

What do you think the GM should have regard to in coming up with situations? [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION], in other threads over many years, has posted that the GM should always author scenarios without regard to which players and/or PCs will engage with them. Do you agree?

Upthread [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] has complained about players who just want the GM to "roll up the plot wagon". What do you think the players have a duty to bring to the table? For instance, do you think the players have a duty to be enthusiastic about the situation the GM presents?

Not at all far upthread [MENTION=6831843]Be[/MENTION]drockgame posited a contrast between GM as storyteller/entertainer and GM as facilitator/adjudicator. Do you think this is a useful contrast? If so, which side of it do you favour? If not, why not?

Upthread - both a long way upthread, and in my past few posts - I've made some comments about what I see as possible tensions between a GM issuing an invitation to respond via narration and a GM aiming at literary quality in his/her narration. Do you agree that those tensions obtain? If so, what do you do about it? If no, why not?

These are some of the matters, most of them raised in this thread, that I think might be more interesting to discuss than the meaning of the word "literary".
 

Imaro

Adventurer
To elaborate on my question, then: upthread @Imaro seemed to assert, or at least very strongly imply, that whether or not a situation is interesting is a player-independent state of affairs. Do you agree?
Just to be clear...I never asserted or implied this. It can be but like most things there's no absolute, 100% all the time answer.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I think of all people on this thread, I have the most reason to be wary of Pemerton's posts (if you think that thread was bad, read the racist colonialist orcs thread). When I saw the OP I initially read it in a negative light. But I made a point of re-reading to see if I was reading my own feelings into it. I reached the conclusions this was very different from our previous discussion. Also, in that thread, I was guilty of plenty of emotional and angry posts myself. Just because I was ticked off at Pemerton in that thread (and I think with some fair amount of good reason), doesn't mean I need to always be negatively disposed towards him. As I took pains to say in that thread, I do admire Pemerton's intelligence and I do admire his ability to make a good argument. I would be foolish not to consider his posts fairly because when he does make a good point, it is often insightful.

I don't see him denigrating a style in this case. In fact in this argument, I think it is the other side that is largely doing the denigrating. Just because I disagreed with him before or thought he was being a bit rude about something before, doesn't mean he is always wrong or that I, and others, are never also being rude. I would encourage you to read some of the posts by yourself and by others on your side of this debate again and then look at our responses to them. There have been moments where I've responded more emotionally than I would have liked, but on the whole I feel I have been reacting fairly calmly given the tone of some of the posts directed at me.

Also, please don't go mining my prior posts to post a gotcha of me in this thread. I understand why you are doing it, but in my view, that doesn't show a lot of good faith. If I have to defend not only my posts on this thread, but posts I've made in previous threads, that isn't exactly a friendly discussion and starts to feel more like an inquisition.
That's fine. It doesn't require you to think about how and what you narrate. Even if you are not conscious of it, it's still there. Let's go back to 13 kobolds on a hill. That's the situation. Adding a description, even in normal language enhances the quality of the situation. Telling the players that there are 13 three foot dog men up on the hill is better than the above. It gets better still if you say something like, "You see 13 three foot dog men up on the hill dancing around a stump." With just that little bit of description, you have now taken a boring situation, 13 kobolds on a hill, and turned it into an interesting one. Are they engaged in a ritual? Dancing? Having fun in the moonlight? Casting a magic spell? Something else? Investigation by the players will determine that. You don't need to think about things like, "Green ichor drips down their faces." or "You see bits of the kobold's last meal stuck in his teeth." to be literary or to have a description that enhances the situation.
That they are dancing is more about content than description. The thing that makes the scene more interesting is that the kobolds are dancing for some reason, not how the GM describes the dance
 

pemerton

Legend
upthread [MENTION=48965]Imaro[/MENTION] seemed to assert, or at least very strongly imply, that whether or not a situation is interesting is a player-independent state of affairs.
Just to be clear...I never asserted or implied this. It can be but like most things there's no absolute, 100% all the time answer.
OK. In that case I think it's fairly clear why two GMs might present the same situation with the same degree of clarity and at one table get buy-in while at the other table it falls flat.

Or in other words, the answer to the question you posed here seems fairly straightforward:

If what you are claiming above is true then if given the same quality content that is communicated clearly there should never be deviation in how players respond to it (either being interested or not interested)... which begs the question if it's purely a question of quality of content and clarity then why can numerous DM's try to hook their players to interact with the same content and get totally different responses from their players insofar as interest is concerned?

Those players who don't find it interesting are probably the ones for whom it is not interesting.
 

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