Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour?

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Sorry, but, which part aren't you following? I thought I was pretty clear in my definitions.
I thought I grasped Permerton's OP and responded accordingly in agreement. But the subsequent replies I responded to I understood 0% of. I wasn't responding to anything you said though. I haven't even seen your post.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
Then again, no, I don't see RPG's as anything remotely like anything other than a (somewhat complicated) game. That's all they are. I could have a great time playing Euchre for three hours as well. And, part of playing an RPG is the performance aspect of it. Performance is a big part - whether it's the art for my virtual tabletop game, or selecting a decent soundtrack to go with the session, or my own personal performance, it's all important to the experience.
That triggers the following thoughts (I'm not challenging your statement; I'm riffing off of it because it made me think...)

RPGs can be played entirely without the performance aspect, entirely in direct statements in the 3rd person or even second person ("you see him ...").

I've run games for tables that saw the game as a detailed minis wargame... and almost entirely in 3rd person.

For me, the defining part is the intent to form a story by play of the game. I'm almost as happy when it's all 3rd person as when it's all 1st person provided an interesting story results.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
That triggers the following thoughts (I'm not challenging your statement; I'm riffing off of it because it made me think...)

RPGs can be played entirely without the performance aspect, entirely in direct statements in the 3rd person or even second person ("you see him ...").

I've run games for tables that saw the game as a detailed minis wargame... and almost entirely in 3rd person.

For me, the defining part is the intent to form a story by play of the game. I'm almost as happy when it's all 3rd person as when it's all 1st person provided an interesting story results.
Well, that brings up two interesting points-

The first is that, IME, the more people get into a "detailed mini wargame," the more people begin to invest in other performative aspects- such as terrain, customization, painting, etc. Otherwise, they'd just play with chits with names. Which you don't really see.

The second is that the closer it gets to t "detailed mini wargame" and loses the referee/GM difference (see Wesley/Arneson/Gygax), then you pretty much have given up on the entire reason that RPGs were created in the first place to differentiate them from wargames. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯



(That said, yes, TTRPGs can be played without performance, in the same way that a novel can be written without punctuation, or a dramatic movie can cast only terrible actors. That doesn't mean that a person would reasonably say that punctuation isn't reasonably important to writing, or that acting isn't reasonably important to film.)
 

pemerton

Legend
That said, yes, TTRPGs can be played without performance, in the same way that a novel can be written without punctuation, or a dramatic movie can cast only terrible actors. That doesn't mean that a person would reasonably say that punctuation isn't reasonably important to writing, or that acting isn't reasonably important to film.
You seem fairly outraged by my posts in this thread, but I didn't compare anyone's game to movies with terrible actors or unpunctuated writing.

Which appears to be what you're doing here.

What makes a movie with terrible acting suck is that a movie is, to a significant extent, constituted by its acting. But what about RPGing demands thespianism?

I'm playing my character. I'm exploring the tower of the mysterious, probably sinister, possibly deceased great master Evard. And in a chamber I find old letters which seem to have been written by my mother as a child, acknolwedging Evard as her father. What do I do?

That situation is intense because of the pressure it puts on me as my character. I don't need to enjoy someone else performing the tension (through acting, lighting, staging) - I'm experiencing it! I don't need the GM to persuade me that I should care about this situation - I bring that with me in my conception of, and play of, my character!
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
You seem fairly outraged by my posts in this thread,
No, I am not outraged; you seem to selectively quote my posts and miss my point; this may indicate that you don't actually understand what I am saying.

But to make this clear, again:

Your opinions are fine. I think that you often have a habit of universalizing your experiences, as we see in this thread; it is not enough to say that you enjoy a certain style of game, or even to recommend that to other people.

Instead, you feel compelled to say that your style of play (or, at least, the style you are currently playing- I have to assume you haven't always had these fully formed and unshakable opinion about what a real TTRPG experience consists of) must be the universal experience. Hence a thread arguing that RPGing cannot be a literary endeavor, and that performance is unimportant to RPGs.

That's where we disagree. And I've repeatedly cited example of games where this is not the case, but you don't bother engaging with that.

Again- play like you want! Just don't tell me that the ways in which I, and others, play aren't real RPGs because you're doing something else.


but I didn't compare anyone's game to movies with terrible actors or unpunctuated writing.
There you go again. I hope you're not doing this on purpose? You do understand analogies, right, even if you disagree with them?

So people can always say that something isn't important because it can be taken away. Which is what the post I was responding to was doing (by essentially arguing it was wargaming). But here, you keep saying that it's different than film, because in film, performance matters. But what does matter for film? It's not acting. You can have documentaries. You can have non-narrative or non-representational film. You can have amazing amateur film with poor acting (the film equivalent of folk art). You can have films that are good precisely because the acting is bad (camp, think of The Room). All sorts of factors.

Just like you can have unpunctuated writing; I was going to write with "no letter e" but that seemed too obscure (unless you're into French literary movements). But again, e e cummings? How It Is? What, is Samuel Beckett not qualified to be a good writer?

Which appears to be what you're doing here.
Nope.

What makes a movie with terrible acting suck is that a movie is, to a significant extent, constituted by its acting. But what about RPGing demands thespianism?
Nothing- I mean, other than the sense that it involves communication and storytelling in a group, which is performative, and we have been using that as a synonym for "literary" (having a marked style intended to create a particular emotional effect).

RPGing, as a general rule, is enhanced by artistry and performance. I just don't get why you want to die on this hill; improv is an interactive and emergent storytelling form as well, but it also helps to have performance as I'm sure you've realized if you've gone and seen the difference between good improv and .... less good. There are innumerable game systems that I have repeatedly referenced (horror, humor) that thrive on presentation and performance (intended to create emotional effects). Heck, some people just enjoy the aspects of TTRPGs that are found in the written materials and illustrations (see also, Art & Arcana).

I'm sorry that your group doesn't play like that, and I'm not going to force you to; but please, read my posts and try to understand that my issue isn't with how you play, but with your prescriptive (as opposed to descriptive) arguments for TTRPGs.

I'm playing my character. I'm exploring the tower of the mysterious, probably sinister, possibly deceased great master Evard. And in a chamber I find old letters which seem to have been written by my mother as a child, acknolwedging Evard as her father. What do I do?

That situation is intense because of the pressure it puts on me as my character. I don't need to enjoy someone else performing the tension (through acting, lighting, staging) - I'm experiencing it! I don't need the GM to persuade me that I should care about this situation - I bring that with me in my conception of, and play of, my character!
Don't know. Do what you want. But this is roughly the same argument as people have made since time immemorial w/r/t videogames. Choice does not preclude performative aspects, and I've never met someone who felt that the DM and players could not aid (or hinder) immersion due to the way they played.

YMMV. Which is fine- it would be great if you could realize that others' mileages vary as well.
 
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Imaro

Adventurer
I'm playing my character. I'm exploring the tower of the mysterious, probably sinister, possibly deceased great master Evard. And in a chamber I find old letters which seem to have been written by my mother as a child, acknolwedging Evard as her father. What do I do?

That situation is intense because of the pressure it puts on me as my character. I don't need to enjoy someone else performing the tension (through acting, lighting, staging) - I'm experiencing it! I don't need the GM to persuade me that I should care about this situation - I bring that with me in my conception of, and play of, my character!
Question... Do you agree that for others the delivery of this information would be paramount to the intensity they feel around it or whether they even feel inclined to engage with it? You're extrapolating what is intrinsic for YOU to participate in/enjoy a rpg... but without acting, lighting, staging, description, etc... the game wouldn't even grab the interest others who play... for them this is intrinsic to the expereince of a roleplaying game. I can honestly say I would have never continued playing rpg's if my first DM had relayed only the absolute minimum of necessary information in a monotone voice with no theatrics. For me, at least a minimum of that is necessary for a roleplaying game.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
You seem fairly outraged by my posts in this thread, but I didn't compare anyone's game to movies with terrible actors or unpunctuated writing.

Which appears to be what you're doing here.

What makes a movie with terrible acting suck is that a movie is, to a significant extent, constituted by its acting. But what about RPGing demands thespianism?

I'm playing my character. I'm exploring the tower of the mysterious, probably sinister, possibly deceased great master Evard. And in a chamber I find old letters which seem to have been written by my mother as a child, acknolwedging Evard as her father. What do I do?

That situation is intense because of the pressure it puts on me as my character. I don't need to enjoy someone else performing the tension (through acting, lighting, staging) - I'm experiencing it! I don't need the GM to persuade me that I should care about this situation - I bring that with me in my conception of, and play of, my character!
And you don't need to act it well to enjoy yourself. I think half the fun of roleplaying comes from speaking in character but I don't think it needs to be done with the charisma of a professional actor. As long as you and the group are feeling it, it is fine. For me the game is all about immersion into a character and I lean toward first person style gaming. Sometimes when people bring too much acting chops to that, it makes it more about them than the character and what is going on (at least for me). I know a few people who can pull that off well, while also helping bring the group together. But I also have met players who just use it to turn the spotlight on them.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Question... Do you agree that for others the delivery of this information would be paramount to the intensity they feel around it or whether they even feel inclined to engage with it? You're extrapolating what is intrinsic for YOU to participate in/enjoy a rpg... but without acting, lighting, staging, description, etc... the game wouldn't even grab the interest others who play... for them this is intrinsic to the expereince of a roleplaying game. I can honestly say I would have never continued playing rpg's if my first DM had relayed only the absolute minimum of necessary information in a monotone voice with no theatrics. For me, at least a minimum of that is necessary for a roleplaying game.
I don't know Pemerton's answer, but mine is it isn't so much the delivery as whether there is enthusiasm behind it. I want the GM and the players to be interested and invested. If some can deliver lines well, that is great. But I don't want to be in a group of improv actors.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
I don't know Pemerton's answer, but mine is it isn't so much the delivery as whether there is enthusiasm behind it. I want the GM and the players to be interested and invested. If some can deliver lines well, that is great. But I don't want to be in a group of improv actors.
Hmmm... I don't know. An example of delivery is ...If I'm playing a horror rpg... I want the DM to describe things in a way/voice/manner that either builds dread, suspense, and a sense of uneasiness or at the least doesn't take away from it (which I most definitely feel a monotone, bare bones description or upbeat presentation would do)... Maybe we mean the same thing when you use the word enthusiasm, I'm not sure... but I'm not necessarily speaking to improv acting either... IMO presentation, description & flair (for lack of a better woird) are all things that I find integral to a roleplaying game if I am to participate it. Now the techniques used to invoke these things can vary by GM as well as how much is there but I'm not going to play in a game that is totally lacking in presentation, description or flair.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Hmmm... I don't know. An example of delivery is ...If I'm playing a horror rpg... I want the DM to describe things in a way/voice/manner that either builds dread, suspense, and a sense of uneasiness or at the least doesn't take away from it (which I most definitely feel a monotone, bare bones description or upbeat presentation would do)... Maybe we mean the same thing when you use the word enthusiasm, I'm not sure... but I'm not necessarily speaking to improv acting either... IMO presentation, description & flair (for lack of a better woird) are all things that I find integral to a roleplaying game if I am to participate it. Now the techniques used to invoke these things can vary by GM as well as how much is there but I'm not going to play in a game that is totally lacking in presentation, description or flair.
With horror, I would honestly prefer GMs lay off the moody and atmospheric narration. I find that stuff actually pulls me out because it is something one does very consciously and isn't natural speaking. I much prefer the GM speak in a natural voice but be engaged and present. With Horror, I think it is more about what is going on, than the GM's delivery (and I spent years believing it was the other way around, but these days, my views on horror in RPGs is very different). If someone can be Vincent Price and do it very well, sure. But 99% of people aren't that talented. There are a handful of GMs I know who I think can go there and keep the group engaged. However, I don't think their horror games are more successful than more dry counterparts. For me the bottom line with horror is: was I afraid?
 

Imaro

Adventurer
With horror, I would honestly prefer GMs lay off the moody and atmospheric narration. I find that stuff actually pulls me out because it is something one does very consciously and isn't natural speaking. I much prefer the GM speak in a natural voice but be engaged and present. With Horror, I think it is more about what is going on, than the GM's delivery (and I spent years believing it was the other way around, but these days, my views on horror in RPGs is very different). If someone can be Vincent Price and do it very well, sure. But 99% of people aren't that talented. There are a handful of GMs I know who I think can go there and keep the group engaged. However, I don't think their horror games are more successful than more dry counterparts. For me the bottom line with horror is: was I afraid?
I feel like I am talking presentation in general and you are focusing on a specific example in our exchanges... So let me go extreme to try and stress my general point... would you be ok with them doing say a silly voice for a horror game? Because if you are agreeing presentation doesn't matter or isn't an integral part of roleplaying... well then it shouldn't matter how it's delivered...right?
 

Hussar

Legend
Totally agree that effort is the key here, rather than degree of professional acting ability. The simple fact that you are trying is, by and large, more than good enough.

Permerton said:
I'm playing my character. I'm exploring the tower of the mysterious, probably sinister, possibly deceased great master Evard. And in a chamber I find old letters which seem to have been written by my mother as a child, acknolwedging Evard as her father. What do I do?
"mysterious", "sinister", "great master" - these are all important elements of performance, not of content. None of those elements matter one whit about the letter written by your mother. Yet, you include all this descriptive language, even in something as bare bones as this scenario.

It's virtually impossible to avoid the performance aspect of the game. I'd assume that the DM would describe the tower much beyond simply its dimensions - there'd be descriptions to set mood, tone, and whatnot. The whole set up of Evard as well already includes mood inducing language.

While resolving the scenario is important, you don't HAVE a scenario without the performance. Without the performance, you have, "You are in a tower of wizard named Evard. You find a letter signed by your mother acknowledging that Evard is your father. What do you do?"

I'm sure that that would be a LOT less engaging.
 

pemerton

Legend
And you don't need to act it well to enjoy yourself. I think half the fun of roleplaying comes from speaking in character but I don't think it needs to be done with the charisma of a professional actor. As long as you and the group are feeling it, it is fine.
I think we are broadly agreed on this.

Perhaps a first!

With horror <snippage> I much prefer the GM speak in a natural voice but be engaged and present. With Horror, I think it is more about what is going on, than the GM's delivery
This, too, is very much in the neighbourhood of what I'm saying.
 
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pemerton

Legend
I don't understand where this "monotone" red herring is coming from.

I have compared RPGing to a certain sort of structured conversation. Maybe I just hang out with unusual people, but I can't think of anyone I know who converses in a monotone. People talk more loudly, and/or more quickly, when they are excited. They snap when they are angry or frustated. In short, they manifest emotions and responses.

But (again, bracketing the salon-type scenario) none of this is performance - it's not artifice, but rather is just what is normal in human communication.

I can draw the contrast in my own experience as a teacher: giving a lecture has a significant element of performance; but supervising a research student does not. The former requires holding the attention of an audience; the latter is a conversation. But this does not mean that supervision meetings are devoid of passion, intensity, sometimes argument or contradiction, hopefully not very much anger.

Totally agree that effort is the key here, rather than degree of professional acting ability. The simple fact that you are trying is, by and large, more than good enough.
That already establishe the contrast with literature! Trying to write well doesn't make writing good, or enjoyable, or readable. You're an English teacher, and so I assume have marked written work, and hence know this truth only too well!

"mysterious", "sinister", "great master" - these are all important elements of performance, not of content. None of those elements matter one whit about the letter written by your mother. Yet, you include all this descriptive language, even in something as bare bones as this scenario.

It's virtually impossible to avoid the performance aspect of the game. I'd assume that the DM would describe the tower much beyond simply its dimensions - there'd be descriptions to set mood, tone, and whatnot. The whole set up of Evard as well already includes mood inducing language.
I don't think I'm following this. Of course I use certain adjectives to try and convey the situation to readers on ENworld - you weren't there. But those adjectives are my description of something I experienced in play, not my recount of something that someone said during the course of play.

Here is a bit more detail about the game I mentioned:

Thurgon, a knight of the Iron Tower, and Aramina, a sorcerer, are travelling through the borderlands between Ulek and the Pomarj. Thurgon has a Relationship wth Xanthippe his mother, who lives on the family estate of Auxol, and has a Belief "Harm and infamy will befall Auxol no more!" Aramina has a Belief "I'm not going to *finish* my career with no spellbooks and an empty purse!", and has a modest rating in Great Masters-wise. Aramina suggests that, if her recollection is right, the tower of the great master Evard is somewhere in the vicinity - mechanically, this triggers a Great Masters-wise test, which is successful.

When the two arrive at the tower, they encounter a demon disguised as Evard. Aramina's attempt to cast a spell fails, and she collapses from the strain. Two of Thurgon's Beliefs are now at stake here - "I am a Knight of the Iron Tower: by devotion and example I will lead the righteous to glorious victory" and "Aramina will need my protection" - and so he battles the demon, and is able to hold his own until the summoning magic expires and the demon departs the mortal world. As a result he earns a new reputation: he is infamous in the halls of Hell as an intransigent demon foe.

During the battle with the demon, it has become clear that the demon was summoned by Evard, and probably killed him; and that the demon is looking for the "Sunstone", an unknown artefact that also (as learned by the characters in prior episodes) seems to have been connected to a schism in the Iron Tower.

After tending to Aramina, Thurgon enters Evard's tower. Looking around, he finds the letters addressed to "Papa", and signed X for Xanthippe. He takes all the letters and burns them. (Aramina has a Belief "If in doubt, burn it!"; Thurgon has an Instinct "When camping, always ensure that the campfire is burning". So burning letters isn't hard.)​

I don't remember much about the tower itself, except that it had a loose stone where Aramina was able to hide documents so the demon wouldn't find them if we fell. The status of Evard as a great master isn't an aspect of performance; it's established through the system of play. The fact that Evard is mysterious is both implicit in the fact that he's a FRPG wizard in a rumoured wilderness tower; and is evident in his abandoned tower and the demon who has replaced him. The fact that evard is sinister is stongly suggested by him being a demon-summoner.

And this is all fundamental to the letters. They reveal something about my mother, and my ancestry, that I wish wasn't the case.

What is driving the game is investment in situation and character, not enjoyment of the referee's performance.
 

pemerton

Legend
Your opinions are fine.

<snip>

you feel compelled to say that your style of play (or, at least, the style you are currently playing- I have to assume you haven't always had these fully formed and unshakable opinion about what a real TTRPG experience consists of) must be the universal experience.

<snip>

Again- play like you want! Just don't tell me that the ways in which I, and others, play aren't real RPGs because you're doing something else.

<snip>

You do understand analogies, right, even if you disagree with them?

So people can always say that something isn't important because it can be taken away. Which is what the post I was responding to was doing (by essentially arguing it was wargaming). But here, you keep saying that it's different than film, because in film, performance matters. But what does matter for film? It's not acting. You can have documentaries. You can have non-narrative or non-representational film. You can have amazing amateur film with poor acting (the film equivalent of folk art). You can have films that are good precisely because the acting is bad (camp, think of The Room). All sorts of factors.

Just like you can have unpunctuated writing; I was going to write with "no letter e" but that seemed too obscure (unless you're into French literary movements). But again, e e cummings? How It Is? What, is Samuel Beckett not qualified to be a good writer?
I've made no assertion about your experience, or anyone else's but my own.

I've said nothing about whether or not what you are doing is RPGing.

As for your analogies: some unpunctuated writing is interesting avant gardism; most is just bad writing. Mutatis mutandis for film and theatre.

I'm not making a claim about what can be done in avant garde RPGing. I have expressed an opinion about what is core, at the heart of, RPGing as an activity. And have given some reasons for that. Most other artforms/cultural practices are able to tolerate discussions about what is at their core, with disagreements being expressed and debated. I always find it a bit puzzling that even doing this in the case of RPGs is widely seen as so controversial.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
Well, that brings up two interesting points-

The first is that, IME, the more people get into a "detailed mini wargame," the more people begin to invest in other performative aspects- such as terrain, customization, painting, etc. Otherwise, they'd just play with chits with names. Which you don't really see.
Actually, you do see it... drop the word "mini" from your searches and you're likely to find plenty. And not a few RPGers are using cardboard tokens (traditionally called counters, but tokens, pogs, or chits all have been used for them).

The ADB collection of counter-on-grid wargames
Federation and Empire
Star Fleet Battles
Federation Commander
Star Fleet Marines

Columbia Games has a mix of wood block on hex grid and wood block on spaces wargames.
Victory, Pacific Victory: block on hexgrid
Hammer of the Scots: Blocks on irregular areas.
Wizard Kings: fantasy version of Victory.

SJG:
Melee/Wizard: fantasy combat boardgames, just rereleased. Character scale.
Ogre: counters and chipboard standees on hexgrid.

Multiman still publishes ASL (Advanced Squad Leader) ... and it's their flagship. Ain't making them rich, but it's keeping them in business.

Battletech still has people playing counters on map. Not so many now as 10 years ago... but the system still supports such play.

Ion Age's Firefight is an excellent minis on map character scale wargame.

Space Hulk (which gets a reprint every decade, it seems) is also minis-on-map.

Starfire: counters on hex plus lots and lots of paper 4X game.

quite a variety of character scale boardgames that use area movement as a tactical element and card random encounters... Zombies! comes immediately to mind. So does MidEvil. there's one that's about aliens landing. There are several more.

I've not a few acquaintances who prefer those to RPGs.
I used to be a Starfire and SFB player.
Fed Commander is displacing SFB, but still has a growing base.

Gorilla Games' Battlestations is a character and ship scale (simultaneous) wargame that can be used as an RPG. 1E used cardboard. 2E uses minis. Ships are mapped on square-gridded squares.

The fanbases tend to overlap between the RPGs and assorted wargames. Which is part of why WFRP has done as well as it has. And the BI/FFG 40K RPGs.

Hell, I'd like to play an 18xx series game again - but I ain't laying out the cash for one when it won't get 1 player hour per $1 spent within a decade.

With the exception of Space Hulk, all of the games mentioned are still in print.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I feel like I am talking presentation in general and you are focusing on a specific example in our exchanges... So let me go extreme to try and stress my general point... would you be ok with them doing say a silly voice for a horror game? Because if you are agreeing presentation doesn't matter or isn't an integral part of roleplaying... well then it shouldn't matter how it's delivered...right?
We have to arrive at an understanding of what you mean by presentation through the specific examples you give. I don't know. Just based on what I see people saying, presentation appears to include things like moody and atmospheric narration, which is a technique I've found doesn't work as well as people think (it is in all kinds of GM advice, and I used to buy into it, but over time, I've come to a different conclusion about it). To answer your question, I don't think objecting to an obviously distracting, annoying or disruptive GM narration style, means that performance is prime. Again, I've said I want the GM engaged, invested and speaking in their natural voice. That isn't performance. That is being your relaxed and honest self. Performance is the opposite of that. I don't need the GM to do voices for example for monsters or characters. I don't need the GM to 'act'. If your definition of performance includes those thing, then I would say we have a disagreement over what is important. But yes, a GM talking in a silly voice when it isn't appropriate is going to be odd. Just like screaming in anger for no good reason is going to be odd. I don't think that is about performance as much as it is about being disruptive.
 

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