5E To boxed text or not to boxed text

pemerton

Legend
having played with more than a few DM's who have decent experience in story telling, as in the vocal art, I can honestly say that evoking emotions is part and parcel of a performance.
Absolutely! But in my view the main job of a GM is not performing. It's establishing compelling situations, and helping resolve them (together with the other participants).

Relying on the players to evoke emotional responses, is, IMO, an exercise in frustration. They're far, far more likely to go with a dick joke than dive deep into trying to evoke feelings.
I was thinking more about exhibiting emotional responses themselves, than evoking them in other participants. But that can happen too, eg when the whole table is on edge wondering whether a player will make a certain call, or how some declared action will turn out; or when the players are debating something among themselves, trying to decide what it is that they want to do.

So here, too, I'm not seeing the players' role as one of performance: it's about inhabiting their characters in the fiction.

When I play a RPG I am not going to experience fear because of the referee's narration. That's a response appropriate to a book or film, perhaps, but not a RPG.

In a RPG, my emotional responses are generated by the context for, and consequences of, the actions I declare for my character.
WAT, this comment makes zero sense. In fact it makes negative sense.

I don't know how you managed to figure out how to emote backwards, but somehow you did. I'm not interested in arguing with you, you emote however you want man. I will say that this sounds like the kind of thing someone would write on the internet to argue a point while not actually acting that way in reality.

Again, you're sort of promoting this weird "I don't emote in response to situations, I emote after situations" or something, honestly it's terribly confusing and I have no idea how you're doing that.
When I'm watching a film or reading a book (or being read a book) I'm experiencing a performance or someone else's composition. That work evokes a response in me (assuming it's any good).

When I'm playing a RPG, I'm being my character. I'm making choices in the context of a situation that the referee has established. As in real life, the emotion comes not from appreciating a performance or a composition, but from having to choose and facing the (imagined) consequences of that choice. That's what makes it imaginative play.

To put it another way: in a film, the lighting of the set, the framing of the shot of the farmstead, the soundtrack (or it's absence0 are all crucial. But in a RPG, the narration is secondary - it's role is to estabnlish an imagined choice sitution. It's the choosing, for my character, and having to (in the ficiton) wear the consequences of that, which produce the emotional weight of the epxerience.
 
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pemerton

Legend
I mean, okay? Definitely not a game I'd like to play. I mean, why even bother with entire genres of TTRPGs (you know, CoC, VtM, WoD, Dread, or even bother with any Ravenloft in D&D?).
We played a Cthulhu Dark session not too long ago. No text, boxed or otherwise. It was pretty fun.

I mean, it fits in a weird way with the rest of his argument if he's got one of those really weird ultra-analytical minds that just doesn't emote much. If I assume that about him it fits with the preference for bullet-point information and the demand for situations he can analyze and respond to rationally, vs situations he reacts to emotionally.
This is a complete misdescription and misreading of what I said.

One way to have your emotions aroused is to be an audience member to a performance.

Another, different way - much more like real life! - is to have to make a hard choice. Rationality has nothing to do with that. Both rational and irrational people experience emotions when they have to make decisions.

The last session in which I was a player (as opposed to GM) I explored the tower of the Great Master and demon summoner Evard. There, I discovered old letters writen by my mother to Evard, suggesting that the latter was my grandfather. I burned them.

The emotions I expereinced weren't resulting from the GM's performance. They were resulting from my inhabitation of my character and the situation. That's what makes it RPGing, rather than storytelling and acting.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
We played a Cthulhu Dark session not too long ago. No text, boxed or otherwise. It was pretty fun.

This is a complete misdescription and misreading of what I said.

One way to have your emotions aroused is to be an audience member to a performance.

Another, different way - much more like real life! - is to have to make a hard choice. Rationality has nothing to do with that. Both rational and irrational people experience emotions when they have to make decisions.

The last session in which I was a player (as opposed to GM) I explored the tower of the Great Master and demon summoner Evard. There, I discovered old letters writen by my mother to Evard, suggesting that the latter was my grandfather. I burned them.

The emotions I expereinced weren't resulting from the GM's performance. They were resulting from my inhabitation of my character and the situation. That's what makes it RPGing, rather than storytelling and acting.
I get what you're saying a little better but...

I'm still not terribly sure why you're stacking these things as separate elements. This is, again like what I got at in my first post in this thread, it's weird to me to ask these to be separate. Not from a DM perspective mind you, since there are times when the flavor can make the crunch unclear or difficult to understand. But it's something of a package deal. And you can achieve the emotive experience responding to a situation laced with flavor just as well as you can achieve the emotive experience responding to a situation that is not.

You call it "RPGing" like, this is some thing that is separate from acting or storytelling. But it's not really its own thing not because it is stands out uniquely in its own right, but because it combines gaming, acting, storytelling into one complete whole. In some respects, you are an audience member, because you get to sit back and watch the performances of the other players, the DM being the NPCs, and the descriptive elements the DM adds to help set the stage. But you're also an active participant, you have a turn where then others get to watch your performance and respond to the elements you add to the scene.

Hence why the name "RPG" is an acronym. "Role" "Playing" "Game". There are multiple elements combining to form a unique experience that in some respects is like watching a movie or reading a book, at least when it's not your turn. But also isn't totally like a game either. And it isn't wholly acting either.

It's great that your character had an emotion....but like the people who started this discussion, I still feel like you're trying to draw a line between you and your character which is an inherently fuzzy boundary. But someone should be reacting to the flavor of the information put forward, be it you or your character. And if you want information completely devoid of flavor, then quite frankly I just don't understand the worlds that your characters live in.

If your issue here is that I was referring to "you", then keep in mind I refer to "you" in a general sense as the Player/PC unit. I don't consider these things to be separate. I talk to the player at my table, and the PC takes actions within the game. To me these are not separate and distinct units. A PC has no life of its own, no decision-making capacity, no ability to act without the player. The player similarly has no ability to actually act within the game world, other than through the window that is their character.

Your perspective still seems strange to me. What about the performance of the DM behind NPCs? Does your DM not run NPCs? Who does? Are they interesting? Who makes them interesting? Whose performance is responsible for that?

I still feel like, in asking for everything to be cut and dry, you're making an argument that you don't actually participate in at the table. There must be some performative elements on behalf of the DM, otherwise to me, it sounds like your game world is little more than Matrix-code running down a screen.
 

Satyrn

Villager
Did you whistle the tune?
I can't whistle, so I used audio from the movie!

The scenario I used had Orcs forcing a captured NPC adventuring party to build a bridge across a river of lava so they could reach the tomb on the other side. The NPCs were whistling to help guide would-be rescuers to their location.

The party leader, a tinker gnome, refused to be rescued and threatened to raise the alarm because he really wanted to finish his grand project. But it worked out well enough for the players, since they assured him he could continue his work . . . for them.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
The party leader, a tinker gnome, refused to be rescued and threatened to raise the alarm because he really wanted to finish his grand project. But it worked out well enough for the players, since they assured him he could continue his work . . . for them.
Darn, and rivers of lava are such convenient body disposal sites.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm still not terribly sure why you're stacking these things as separate elements. This is, again like what I got at in my first post in this thread, it's weird to me to ask these to be separate. Not from a DM perspective mind you, since there are times when the flavor can make the crunch unclear or difficult to understand. But it's something of a package deal. And you can achieve the emotive experience responding to a situation laced with flavor just as well as you can achieve the emotive experience responding to a situation that is not.

<snip>

if you want information completely devoid of flavor, then quite frankly I just don't understand the worlds that your characters live in.
I don't understand the contrast you're drawing between flavour and crunch.

Is the fact that the orcs might get to my horse before I can flavour or cruch in your terminology?

Similarly I don't understand the contrast you're drawing between information and flavour.

You call it "RPGing" like, this is some thing that is separate from acting or storytelling. But it's not really its own thing not because it is stands out uniquely in its own right, but because it combines gaming, acting, storytelling into one complete whole. In some respects, you are an audience member, because you get to sit back and watch the performances of the other players, the DM being the NPCs, and the descriptive elements the DM adds to help set the stage. But you're also an active participant, you have a turn where then others get to watch your performance and respond to the elements you add to the scene.
I don't see the pleasure of RPGing being performance for an audience.

An analogy would be conversation. Generally I don't see conversation as a performance in the artistic/thespian sense; and the relation between interlocutors in conversation isn't one I see as performer and audience. Of course there are modes of "conversation" which do have the performer/audience structure, but I associate these with a certain sort of upper-middle class status game-playing rather than sincere conversation.

What about the performance of the DM behind NPCs? Does your DM not run NPCs? Who does? Are they interesting? Who makes them interesting? Whose performance is responsible for that?

<snip>

There must be some performative elements on behalf of the DM, otherwise to me, it sounds like your game world is little more than Matrix-code running down a screen.
NPCs are interesting because of the framing of the situation. Why do I care about my PC's mother's parentage? Because I wrote my mother in to my backstory; and now the GM is putting that element of the fiction under pressure.

There can be narration without performance in the artistic sense: again, think of telling your coworkers how you spent your long weekend.

It's great that your character had an emotion
I talked about me having an emotion. That I had in common with my character (in a certain fashion - there's an element of metaphor or isomorphism rather than literality here, although I think it's quite complicated to unpack).

I still feel like you're trying to draw a line between you and your character which is an inherently fuzzy boundary.
I don't undestand what you're pointing to here. As I just reiterated, I am talking about the player having an emotion, in virtue of the situation in which s/he has to choose for his/her PC.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
Yeah I'm just gonna go ahead an excuse myself from this conversation.

It's clear you know what I'm talking about and simply want to play mindless word games. I've got better things to do.
 

pemerton

Legend
It's clear you know what I'm talking about and simply want to play mindless word games. I've got better things to do.
Huh? I don't have a clue what you're talking about. I'm talking about whether the quality of narration is important in RPGing. I assert that it's not. That the emotion is generated by the choice situation that confronts the players, not the performance of the GM.

I take it you disagree, but I don't have the least idea what you think "flavour" vs "crunch" has to do with this. The contrast I'm drawing applies as much to Cthulhu Dark (which has virtually no "crunch") as to 4e D&D.
 

Hussar

Legend
Huh? I don't have a clue what you're talking about. I'm talking about whether the quality of narration is important in RPGing. I assert that it's not. That the emotion is generated by the choice situation that confronts the players, not the performance of the GM.

I take it you disagree, but I don't have the least idea what you think "flavour" vs "crunch" has to do with this. The contrast I'm drawing applies as much to Cthulhu Dark (which has virtually no "crunch") as to 4e D&D.
Is it important? I would say maybe. Can it be important? I would say definitely. The difference between a DM who has no presence and no story telling chops and one who does is massive. You're basically arguing that if I presented all my game from the DM's side in a flat monotone, no excitement, no emotional reaction, that my game would be just as good as if I was animated, and used some good presentation habits.

To me, that's just wrong. Part of ANY presentation is the presenter. There's a reason that live play's are popular and part of that is the DM. Sure, adventure design is hugely important. It is and I won't argue otherwise. But, the notion that the "art" (for lack of better word) of presentation isn't also very important is something I do not agree with.

How you DM is just as important as what you DM.
 

Staffan

Adventurer
I prefer bullet points, and the main reason is that I always need to rewrite the boxed text in my head anyway. That's because the boxed text in D&D adventures is in English, and we play in Swedish (well, more like Swenglish - we usually use English terms for game mechanics and most monsters that don't have an immediately obvious translation, but the "flow" of the game is mostly Swedish).

So, for example, if the adventure has boxed text saying "The cave mouth opens into darkness from which a breezes blows, carrying the faint odor of death. Inside is a natural cave, its floor and ceiling uneven. The passage leads to the west, narrowing as it proceeds.", I still have to translate that to something like "Grottmynningen öppnar sig in mot ett mörker där ni känner hur en bris blåser, och den bär en svag lukt av död. Inuti finns det en naturlig grotta med ojämnt golv och tak. Passagen leder västerut och smalnar av allt eftersom den går vidare."

That is of course a very simple example, taken from a published adventure. And translating that on the fly is kind of hard, particularly when English flows differently from Swedish. For example, the construction "a breeze blows, carrying the faint odor of death" does not feel natural in Swedish. My translation changed that to the equivalent of "and it carries the faint odor of death". But I'm not sure I'd have caught that if translating on the fly.
 

pemerton

Legend
If I was [MENTION=6981174]Immortal Sun[/MENTION], this would be my reply
And if I was me (which I am) my response would be that [MENTION=6981174]Immortal Sun[/MENTION] misdescribed and mischaracterised my post, and then seemed to get cut when I (reasonably politely) explained how and why.

You're basically arguing that if I presented all my game from the DM's side in a flat monotone, no excitement, no emotional reaction, that my game would be just as good as if I was animated, and used some good presentation habits.
I don't think so. In a post not far upthread I made the comparison to conversation. Most conversation invovles expressing responses. But most conversation is not performance or presentation in the relevant sense.

A GM who in fact doesn't have reactions to things is a different kettle of fish - I haven't thought about that, but I think that could make GMing difficult as (I'm guessing) it would make it much harder to follow and contribute to the dynamics of play.

There's a reason that live play's are popular and part of that is the DM.
Yes, this is true - but live plays are performances. Watching and enjoying a live play is like watching and enjoying comedy quiz shows (QI and the like). It's not RPGing, any more than watching one of those shows is taking part in one.

Another analogy, maybe less apt, is this: to be a good television chef requires having a certain sort of vibrant or quirky personality. But it's not true that being a good chef requires the same.
 
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Hussar

Legend
But, [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], you rarely have anyone else in the kitchen when preparing a meal. You aren't making any sort of presentation while cooking, because, well, typically you're by yourself. OTOH, during a game, a DM is always presenting. The DM is presenting every single element of the game that isn't being presented by the other players.

Of course DMing is a performance. I'm actually a bit surprised that this is contentious. DMing isn't conversation - that implies a completely equal level and type of participation by everyone in the conversation. I present an idea, you agree or disagree, present your idea and back and forth. But, running a game isn't like that. You are running a game, not engaging in a back and forth exchange of ideas. Even in pass the story stick type indie games, you still generally have the idea that the person presenting the information is doing so in such a fashion as to increase the entertainment at the table. Or, at the very least, keep things moving along.

Gaming is partially performance. Great gaming is very much a performance by all participants who are engaged in creating something that everyone finds entertaining. Simply laying out dry bone facts on the table and then asking which the players want to engage with isn't a fun game to me. That's Warhammer, not role play.
 

pemerton

Legend
But, [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], you rarely have anyone else in the kitchen when preparing a meal. You aren't making any sort of presentation while cooking, because, well, typically you're by yourself. OTOH, during a game, a DM is always presenting. The DM is presenting every single element of the game that isn't being presented by the other players.

Of course DMing is a performance. I'm actually a bit surprised that this is contentious. DMing isn't conversation

<snip>

Gaming is partially performance. Great gaming is very much a performance by all participants who are engaged in creating something that everyone finds entertaining. Simply laying out dry bone facts on the table and then asking which the players want to engage with isn't a fun game to me. That's Warhammer, not role play.
I don't agree with the comparison to Warhammer. And I want to stick by my comparison to conversation. I'll try to explain.

Central to RPGing on the player side is being one's character. Some people use the term "immersion" but personally I find that that terms carries a lot of baggage. So I prefer to talk about inhabitation of one's character. What I mean by inhabitation, by being one's character, is that - as a player - the choice situation in the game should (in some sense) be the same as the choice faced by one's PC.

Because they're (obviously) not literally the same, imagination is involved. The player has to imagine him-/herself as the character. This imaginative projection is what makes events in the fiction matter - eg the reason why I, as player, am shocked by the discovery that Evard was my (PC's) grandfather is because I, as player, am imaginatively projecting myself into the fiction of my character. A good game system should help with this - for instance, it should be designed so as to engender correpsonding emotions in player and PC (eg it should produce a sense of tension in the player that correlates to moments of tension for the PC, which can be done through the design of action resolution rules).

This is the difference from Warhammer. Warhammer - and similar tabletop wargaing/boardgaming - don't involve this imaginative aspect of inhabiting the character, and they don't locate it at the heart of making choices in the game.

Turning to the comparison to conversation. Conversation isn't monologue, and isn't performance: it's engagement with another person, responding to what they say and inviting their response to whay you say. It's a back-and-forth that is more than just the turn-taking of a boardgame or wargame.

The back-and-forth in RPGing is structured, and focused, in a way that differs from typical conversation. But it's still a back-and-forth of response and invitation-to-respond. The GM has to present (imagined) situations that invite response from the players. And the players have to not only respond, but respond in ways that invite something to come next.

DMing isn't conversation - that implies a completely equal level and type of participation by everyone in the conversation. I present an idea, you agree or disagree, present your idea and back and forth. But, running a game isn't like that. You are running a game, not engaging in a back and forth exchange of ideas. Even in pass the story stick type indie games, you still generally have the idea that the person presenting the information is doing so in such a fashion as to increase the entertainment at the table. Or, at the very least, keep things moving along.
I think this may be the core of our different opinions on this matter.

I think that RPGing very much is the presentation of an idea, and agreement or disagreement. Of course - and here we do agree - the roles of GM and player (in a typically-structured RPG) aren't the same. The GM has to present one category of idea - the engaging situation - and the players a different category of idea - here's how I respond - and the motivations are also different from normal conversation - the player, in particular, should be deriving responses from imaginative inhabitation of his/her PC.

But it's still a back-and-forth of ideas: ideas about the shared fiction. The function of the game mechanics, when they get activated, is to settle disagreements about those ideas when the two participants are each sticking to their guns.

Just as a conversation sometimes falls flat, or comes to a halt, so can RPGing. Keeping it going, by responding and inviting response, is a skill (but not an artistic performance skill). Inexperienced players, or players who have developed bad turtling habits at a particular sort of table, have trouble declaring actions that invite a here's what comes next from the GM. Inexperienced GMs sometimes have trouble framing situations that invite response - in particular, they can sometimes want to write in the response also (this takes many forms: some examples include GMPCs or dominating NPCs; deus ex machina resolutions; flat-out railroading; etc). They can also have trouble with establishing consequences that invite response rather than shut down response (and too much of this can lead to the aforementioned turtling, which in my personal view is a death-spiral for good RPGing).

Simply laying out dry bone facts on the table and then asking which the players want to engage with isn't a fun game to me.
That's not whay I'm describing. Asking the players what they want to engage with isn't presenting an engaging situation to them.

Just the same as offering someone a list of possible conversation topics isn't conversing with them. In fact, a typical way in which a certain sort of shy or socially inept person demonstrates that shyness or social inaptutide is by presenting a list of topics rather than actually conversing.

But what I am asserting is that presenting an engaging situation isn't an artistic performance challenge. It's not about eloquence of wording. It's about the idea - the invitation to respond which the player then picks up on.

Which is what I was pointing to in the Strahd example: a situation containing covered furniture, an open window through which enters a breeze and moonlight, and a mirror that does not reflect is an invitation to respond. That's where the power of the description lies when considered from the point of view of RPGing.
 

Hussar

Legend
Pemerton said:
Which is what I was pointing to in the Strahd example: a situation containing covered furniture, an open window through which enters a breeze and moonlight, and a mirror that does not reflect is an invitation to respond. That's where the power of the description lies when considered from the point of view of RPGing.
But, imagine two DM's. Same scene, both are good DM's, so, let's not go down that particular road. Both are good DM's with good players. It's a healthy table.

The only difference is one DM presents exactly what you just said: There is a room with covered furniture etc. No presentation skills, no, for lack of better word, acting ability.

The other is a DM who is a skilled story teller, can use body language, tone, and tempo to really hammer home meaning.

Which table would you rather sit at?

To me, presenting interesting situations is of course part of good DMing. But, the other side of it, during play, the performance side of it, is equally important.
 

pemerton

Legend
But, imagine two DM's. Same scene, both are good DM's, so, let's not go down that particular road. Both are good DM's with good players. It's a healthy table.

The only difference is one DM presents exactly what you just said: There is a room with covered furniture etc. No presentation skills, no, for lack of better word, acting ability.

The other is a DM who is a skilled story teller, can use body language, tone, and tempo to really hammer home meaning.

Which table would you rather sit at?

To me, presenting interesting situations is of course part of good DMing. But, the other side of it, during play, the performance side of it, is equally important.
We are disagreeing on your last sentence. I don't think that acting/performance is of equal importance. Everything else being equal, a melifluous GM is a good thing, but in my experience it's not normal that everything is equal. Especially when it comes to how published material articulates what matters to GMing and RPGing.
 

Hussar

Legend
Yeah, I don't think we're going to come to any consensus here. I feel that the performance art of DMing is far more important than you seem to.
 

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