Is RPGing a *literary* endeavour?

Satyrn

Villager
Well, I'd say that rather depends on how you define "performance". Is a live performance the same as a recorded one? I wouldn't say so. I'd never sit and do nothing but listen to a single band's music on CD for hours on end. But, I'd certainly go to a concert by that band and listen for a few hours. Heck, live music, frequently, isn't even as good as what you get on a CD, but, I'll still go see a live gig over just sitting in a room and listening to the same songs.
Oh man. I've spent a full day listening to Rush on CD. More than once.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Note no one is claiming it is more important. Just very important.
I understand that. But specific things are being advanced as important under the heading of "performance" and a lot of them are things I don't think are particularly important, and in some cases even find misguided as ideals in GMing. It could be there is some speaking past each other here.
 

Hussar

Legend
I understand that. But specific things are being advanced as important under the heading of "performance" and a lot of them are things I don't think are particularly important, and in some cases even find misguided as ideals in GMing. It could be there is some speaking past each other here.
Yeah, that typically happens when folks can't agree on working definitions.

Yup, some of the things that are included in "performance" might not be important at your table. Cool. But, that doesn't follow that performance isn's important. It's not like speaking in the 3rd person suddenly removes the "performance" aspect or speaking in 1st person is necessary for performance.

Go back a page or so, and I lay out exactly what we're discussing. Since no one seems to disagree with those definitions, let's use those, please?
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] laid out a bare bones writeup of his session in Evard's tower. To me, I'd be so checked out of that game that I might as well be asleep. No exposition, no description? The tower isn't even important and is completely unremarkable, to the point where Pemerton cannot even remember what it looked like? No thanks. To me, that's a terrible game. I would strongly advise DM's/GM's NOT to do that.

The situation was interesting, the setup was great. The execution was a complete snore fest, at least, judging by that writeup.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Yeah, that typically happens when folks can't agree on working definitions.

Yup, some of the things that are included in "performance" might not be important at your table. Cool. But, that doesn't follow that performance isn's important. It's not like speaking in the 3rd person suddenly removes the "performance" aspect or speaking in 1st person is necessary for performance.

Go back a page or so, and I lay out exactly what we're discussing. Since no one seems to disagree with those definitions, let's use those, please?

[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] laid out a bare bones writeup of his session in Evard's tower. To me, I'd be so checked out of that game that I might as well be asleep. No exposition, no description? The tower isn't even important and is completely unremarkable, to the point where Pemerton cannot even remember what it looked like? No thanks. To me, that's a terrible game. I would strongly advise DM's/GM's NOT to do that.

The situation was interesting, the setup was great. The execution was a complete snore fest, at least, judging by that writeup.
One of the reasons why I frequently push back against coining new terms and concepts is because they are often just vessels for playstyle arguments, where people try to advance a position in the hobby as the best approach by controlling the language we use to discuss gaming. You can come up with a new term if you like, but my default position is to push back on new terms unless or until they can be shown to be useful and needed (and gain a certain amount of natural traction). Otherwise it is just more jargon that we don't need.

Looking at your post, I just don't understand this division of RPGs into content and performance. What I was objection to wasn't categorizations and terms (though I think this divisions seems a bit artbitrary and not particularly useful to anything). What I objected to, and what I think Permerton objected to, was the way this concept of performance is being used to advance an idea of good GMing that includes things like acting and improv. It also just frankly seems like the wrong term. I don't think of what is going on at the table as a performance.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] laid out a bare bones writeup of his session in Evard's tower. To me, I'd be so checked out of that game that I might as well be asleep. No exposition, no description? The tower isn't even important and is completely unremarkable, to the point where Pemerton cannot even remember what it looked like? No thanks. To me, that's a terrible game. I would strongly advise DM's/GM's NOT to do that.

The situation was interesting, the setup was great. The execution was a complete snore fest, at least, judging by that writeup.
I would need you to link to Pemerton's write up for me to understand this enough to comment.
 

pemerton

Legend
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'.
This is all consistent with what I was trying to say in the OP.

Further unexpected agreement!
 

pemerton

Legend
pemerton laid out a bare bones writeup of his session in Evard's tower. To me, I'd be so checked out of that game that I might as well be asleep. No exposition, no description? The tower isn't even important and is completely unremarkable, to the point where Pemerton cannot even remember what it looked like? No thanks. To me, that's a terrible game. I would strongly advise DM's/GM's NOT to do that.

The situation was interesting, the setup was great. The execution was a complete snore fest, at least, judging by that writeup.
So, tihs is dead on-topic.

And, to me, is strange.

I'll relate it to something you've posted recently in another thread - not as "gotcha", but because I'm trying to work out where you're coming from.

In that other thread, you were discussing approaches to adjudication, and expressed a preference for swift adjudication rather than (what you saw as) a lot of needless narration.

But here, from my point of view you seem to be advocating needless narration. What colour was the box that held the letters in Evard's tower room I don't recall. I suspect it was never established. But why should it be? How is that part of what is exciting about play?

If we had a character with a Belief "I will recreate the cabinet work of the great carpenters of yore", then I'm sure the GM would have approached that matter differently. But we didn't. The GM, correctly in my view, focused on those aspects of the situatiion that mattered. The back-and-forth with the demon (the words as well as the fighting), which tested my character's devotion to the Lord of Battle and to the defence of innocents. The discovery of the letters, which reveaal the unwelcome truth about my ancestry. Why is the tower such a big deal?

I assume you don't describe the hat and cape of every peasant the PCs pass on the road. They're just part of the setting. Likewise Evard's tower.
 

Hussar

Legend
I don't adventure in every hat and cape in the setting though. I DO adventure in Evard's Tower. And if Evard's tower's description is essentially "a tower", then well, why is it even a tower? Because wizards live in towers?

Again, maybe this is because I play exclusively online. The images that I use in my game are rather painstakingly chosen or created. I could simply use an "O" with a circle around it for an orc, or, I could use a cool image for that orc that shows the players why they shouldn't just ignore said orc.

That's the basic difference, [MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION], that I'm talking about between content and performance. If a black and white line map a la Dyson Logos along with simple black and white letter tokens floats your boat, then, well, go for it. For me, it doesn't.

How you present is just as important as what you present. Which includes all sorts of things. It's not about simply redefining elements, it's about actually using definitions that we can agree upon. If you don't like the definitions we're working from in this thread, either present your own, or don't bother arguing because, we cannot actually discuss anything until we can lay down some basic ground rules. Apparently Pemerton understands what I'm saying and so does everyone else. Otherwise, I'd have gotten more push back. Why participate in a discussion if you aren't even going to bother with the basics?
 

Hussar

Legend
Ok, let's boil it down even further.

Content is what you do at the table. What is the situation about? What needs to be done?

Performance is how you communicate that content to the players.

Is that clear enough?
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I don't adventure in every hat and cape in the setting though. I DO adventure in Evard's Tower. And if Evard's tower's description is essentially "a tower", then well, why is it even a tower? Because wizards live in towers?

Again, maybe this is because I play exclusively online. The images that I use in my game are rather painstakingly chosen or created. I could simply use an "O" with a circle around it for an orc, or, I could use a cool image for that orc that shows the players why they shouldn't just ignore said orc.

That's the basic difference, [MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION], that I'm talking about between content and performance. If a black and white line map a la Dyson Logos along with simple black and white letter tokens floats your boat, then, well, go for it. For me, it doesn't.
I think we play in very different ways for very different reasons.


How you present is just as important as what you present. Which includes all sorts of things. It's not about simply redefining elements, it's about actually using definitions that we can agree upon. If you don't like the definitions we're working from in this thread, either present your own, or don't bother arguing because, we cannot actually discuss anything until we can lay down some basic ground rules. Apparently Pemerton understands what I'm saying and so does everyone else. Otherwise, I'd have gotten more push back. Why participate in a discussion if you aren't even going to bother with the basics?
I feel like I am addressing the points you raise Hussar. I don't think participating in the conversation means I have to either accept new terminology or offer new terminology of my own.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Ok, let's boil it down even further.

Content is what you do at the table. What is the situation about? What needs to be done?

Performance is how you communicate that content to the players.

Is that clear enough?
I do not see why this distinction is important or useful to make. And I do not see how it ties to Permorton's original claim about the non-literary nature of RPGs. What I do think is the word performance naturally suggests a lot of things you value in a GM that I don't.
 

Hussar

Legend
I think we play in very different ways for very different reasons.




I feel like I am addressing the points you raise Hussar. I don't think participating in the conversation means I have to either accept new terminology or offer new terminology of my own.
Without a common framework of language, all we are doing is talking past one another. I'd hardly call defining content vs performance as "new terminology". It's using the words pretty much as they come out of the dictionary.


I do not see why this distinction is important or useful to make. And I do not see how it ties to Permorton's original claim about the non-literary nature of RPGs. What I do think is the word performance naturally suggests a lot of things you value in a GM that I don't.
A little context. This thread spawned out of a discussion about boxed text in modules. [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] argues that the boxed text is pointless since all you need is the basic elements of the situation in order to have a good game. You are getting hung up on the word "literary" and well, we've moved past that since, even in the early parts of this thread, [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] agreed that "literary" was the wrong word.

It's not like performance has any positive or negative connotations at all. It doesn't. It's pretty much as neutral of a word as content.

So, can we at least agree that how you present information to your players is as important as what you present to your players? Or, do you take [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s stance that how you present this information doesn't matter in the slightest. It's completely unimportant how you present the information, so long as you get the information into the player's hands.

That's the basic elements of this discussion.

What information you impart to your players = content.

How you impart that information to your players = performance.

Is that clear enough?
 

pemerton

Legend
Ok, let's boil it down even further.

Content is what you do at the table. What is the situation about? What needs to be done?

Performance is how you communicate that content to the players.

Is that clear enough?
Clear enough, but it doesn't capture what I'm talking about, because - for instance - it renders ordinary conversation a species of performance.

That usage is fine enough for a certain sort of cultural studies or communication theory seminar, but doesn't map onto what I'm saying in this thread.

I don't adventure in every hat and cape in the setting though. I DO adventure in Evard's Tower. And if Evard's tower's description is essentially "a tower", then well, why is it even a tower? Because wizards live in towers?
Correct. Evard's tower is in the game because there is a character - Aramina - who wants spell books, and specualted that Evard's tower is in the neighbourhood. (At the table, this is player introuced content, confirmed by a successful Great Masters-wise check.)

No one is interested in Evard's tower except as a site to meet Evard and (perhaps) find his magic. The tower, itself, is just a plot device.

When Thurgon and Aramina were in an abandoned chapel of the Iron Tower the architecture got more attention, although even then it wasn't a principal focus of play.

The images that I use in my game are rather painstakingly chosen or created. I could simply use an "O" with a circle around it for an orc, or, I could use a cool image for that orc that shows the players why they shouldn't just ignore said orc.
When we play 4e, and therefore have to use tokens, I pull out my bags of old plastic coloured children's boardgame counters. The green ones are orcs, the big yellow one is an ogre, etc. When I needed bigger tokens for T-Rexes, purple worms etc I cut out cardboard of the appropriate size and did my best (= not very good) sketch of a dinosaur, worm, etc. The fanciest token I ever made was copying and reducing a picture of Orcus from the MM to paste onto my 4x4 cardboard counter for Orcus.

The players's sense of why orcs can't just be ignored doesn't derive from the counters, but from their knowledge of the system (fighting orcs can hurt) and of the fiction (the orcs aren't their friends).
 

pemerton

Legend
You are getting hung up on the word "literary" and well, we've moved past that since, even in the early parts of this thread, [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] agreed that "literary" was the wrong word.
Small point of order - I didn't.

But as we all know, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet! (Ie, in less literary terms, what matters isn't labels but phenomena.)

can we at least agree that how you present information to your players is as important as what you present to your players? Or, do you take [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s stance that how you present this information doesn't matter in the slightest. It's completely unimportant how you present the information, so long as you get the information into the player's hands.
Obviously there's a lot of room between is equally important and doesn't matter at all. Upthread I said that, everything else being equal, a mellifluous GM is a good thing - though I also agree with [MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION] that, often, things aren't equal.

A key point that I've relied on, and that you're not expressly engaged with, is that conversation is a medium of communication in which emotion and interest are often established and conveyed, but that doesn't rely on performance. If you don't agree with that, then our differences of opinion about RPGing may reflect a deeper difference of opinion about human communication and interaction.

If you do agree on conversation, but nevertheless disagree about RPGing, then I think RPGing is where our key difference lies.
 

Hussar

Legend
Frankly, playing an RPG isn't a conversation. I don't pretend to be someone else during a conversation (generally), nor am I trying to convey that new person to everyone else around me during a conversation.

So, yeah, I'd say that's where the greater disconnect lies. Playing an RPG and particularly role playing during an RPG, while still of course using language, is not a conversation. A conversation is the back and forth introduction and examination of ideas with the purpose of communicating some sort of information.

Role playing, otoh, is attempting to portray some sort of character to the people at the table in such a way that the other people can get some sort of mental image of what you are. There's very little back and forth. It's primarily a performance. And that performance is judged by the people at the table. A player who is nothing but a dice bot with a heart beat is communicating excellently - he's playing the game. But, he's not someone I want at my table.

While you CAN convey emotion during a conversation, the point of a conversation is rarely to evoke emotion in the other person. ((Although, I've certainly had conversations that have evoked quite strong emotions)) In fact, typically, evoking a strong emotion from the other person isn't what you wanted to do, but, because of something someone said, a strong emotion comes out.

OTOH, in a performance, the entire point is to evoke emotions in other people.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
...

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.
And you're invested in this example because (I think it's Thurgon) is your character, which only makes sense.

But the question is this: during this scene, to the several other players just sitting there watching, how entertaining are you and the GM? Are you boring them to tears, or keeping them engaged? I mean, like it or not you're playing to an audience of more than just yourself...so how are they reacting?
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Frankly, playing an RPG isn't a conversation. I don't pretend to be someone else during a conversation (generally), nor am I trying to convey that new person to everyone else around me during a conversation.

So, yeah, I'd say that's where the greater disconnect lies. Playing an RPG and particularly role playing during an RPG, while still of course using language, is not a conversation. A conversation is the back and forth introduction and examination of ideas with the purpose of communicating some sort of information.

Role playing, otoh, is attempting to portray some sort of character to the people at the table in such a way that the other people can get some sort of mental image of what you are. There's very little back and forth. It's primarily a performance. And that performance is judged by the people at the table. A player who is nothing but a dice bot with a heart beat is communicating excellently - he's playing the game. But, he's not someone I want at my table.

While you CAN convey emotion during a conversation, the point of a conversation is rarely to evoke emotion in the other person. ((Although, I've certainly had conversations that have evoked quite strong emotions)) In fact, typically, evoking a strong emotion from the other person isn't what you wanted to do, but, because of something someone said, a strong emotion comes out.

OTOH, in a performance, the entire point is to evoke emotions in other people.
I guess what I am trying to say Hussar is I am not there to watch other people perform, which is why I think saying half of RPGs is constituted by performance feels strange to me. People can perform to play their character, but I don't consider that necessary to my enjoyment of the game. I think it is one way to play, but it can just as often be annoying as it is entertaining.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
A little context. This thread spawned out of a discussion about boxed text in modules. [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] argues that the boxed text is pointless since all you need is the basic elements of the situation in order to have a good game. You are getting hung up on the word "literary" and well, we've moved past that since, even in the early parts of this thread, [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] agreed that "literary" was the wrong word.
Well, I was responding to the OP and then responding to what other people said. This is a long thread. I am not going to waste time reading every post in a thread. I was just focused on the OP, my post, and peoples' responses to my posts.

That said, I tend to agree with Pemerton on boxed text. It is fine as an example, but I don't think it is generally necessary. The GM can just draw on the entry description to provide a description that is more fluid and natural to the situation.

It's not like performance has any positive or negative connotations at all. It doesn't. It's pretty much as neutral of a word as content.
I didn't say it was negative or positive, but it has a connotation of acting. But more importantly its core meaning is the issue. I don't think of roleplaying as a performance. I think about a fourth of players do approach the game that way. Most players I play with are not there to act out as if they are on stage or in an improv group. There is a big difference between that and a more natural style of speaking in character or talking to the group.


So, can we at least agree that how you present information to your players is as important as what you present to your players? Or, do you take [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s stance that how you present this information doesn't matter in the slightest. It's completely unimportant how you present the information, so long as you get the information into the player's hands.

That's the basic elements of this discussion.

What information you impart to your players = content.

How you impart that information to your players = performance.

Is that clear enough?
First, if you want to make the argument that presentation matters, well call it presentation, not performance. Second, I don't think dividing the game into content and presentation provides any useful function (I have yet to hear why this is important for us to do). I hate to beat a dead horse, but I don't like the proliferation of jargon these discussions lead to (because it creates barriers to understanding and confusion down the line when four people concoct new terminology in a very specific discussion then try to make use of it in conversations with others later on).
'
Neither Pemerton or I seem to be saying presentation doesn't matter at all. We are questioning how important it is, but I think more significantly we are taking issue with the specific ways people in this thread think presentation should matter (and ultimately I think that is the much more significant issue at stake because that is what ultimately becomes best practices advice---whereas presentation versus content is more academic).
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
But the question is this: during this scene, to the several other players just sitting there watching, how entertaining are you and the GM? Are you boring them to tears, or keeping them engaged? I mean, like it or not you're playing to an audience of more than just yourself...so how are they reacting?
I think this is where there is a fundamental disagreement. I want the players invested int he situation and in what their characters are doing. I don't want them to be entertained by the performance of the GM and player who happen to be doing something. I don't think that means you can't have atmosphere. Atmosphere can be important. But any time I see a GM try to narrate like they are an author, I start to lose interest. I would take an efficient and dry referree, who knows how to make good judgement calls and can play NPCs consistently, than someone who puts on a performance. And I realize people are trying to load more concepts onto performance than just acting. But the fact is, if acting and literal performance are not important to me, I am not going to accept it as a term (especially when it is being positioned as 50% of play).
 
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Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Role playing, otoh, is attempting to portray some sort of character to the people at the table in such a way that the other people can get some sort of mental image of what you are. There's very little back and forth. It's primarily a performance. And that performance is judged by the people at the table. A player who is nothing but a dice bot with a heart beat is communicating excellently - he's playing the game. But, he's not someone I want at my table.
.
This is just not something I am particularly hung up on. Some players do this, and do it well, and that is fine. Some people basically just play themselves, and that is fine. And some people are shy and don't talk as much in character, which doesn't bother me if they are contributing in other ways. I guess what bothers me about the position you are taking is it feels like player performances are being rated and judged. It think there is a lot more going on in a group of people playing an RPG than that (and I think what is important socially is much more about other things). Don't get me wrong, I have some players with ace acting skills and they can add a certain amount of sunshine to a game. But those kinds of players can also sometimes hog up the spotlight and take the game in directions that have more to do with their acting than with what is going on in the adventure. I think it is good, but it isn't everything, it isn't the most important thing, and like anything else it can have serious downsides when done too much. This is especially the case for me with GMs. I am less hung up on how the GM is saying things than on what they are saying.
 

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