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Re: [mythsoc] RPG fiction

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  • Joshua Kronengold
    ... Well, yes. But it -is- the soul of RPG -- an RPG is a mechanism for collaboration on a story game which, unlike other mechanisms, there are specific
    Message 1 of 27 , Dec 21, 2012
      On 12/20/2012 10:47 PM, David Bratman wrote:
      > "Joshua Kronengold" <mneme@...> wrote:
      >>> I had to look up "PBEM" (play by e-mail). Well, there may be no
      >>> significant difference between letter-games and other pbem games, but
      >>> if so, they're very very different from tabletop games. Much more
      >>> writerly exposition necessary.
      >> Clearly. But while that eases translation, the overall structure is the
      >> same; you have rules (however simple), and characters, and somewhere a
      >> story happens around them.

      > Actually, I don't see that as the soul of RPG at all, not least because a
      > vast amount of fiction with no connection with RPG at all, or with what
      > might as well be called "RPG style", fits the same broad description.

      Well, yes. But it -is- the soul of RPG -- an RPG is a mechanism for
      collaboration on a story game which, unlike other mechanisms, there are
      specific pre-arranged rules governing the collaboration (and if one
      differentiates RPGs from other story-games, where some players take on the
      roles of characters).

      > What distinguishes "RPG style" to me is wandering around in an unknown
      > world without a controlling plot, possibly with "the search for Adventure"
      > being the principal motivation.

      And this feels to me like mistaking RPG for early D&D -- as it has no
      resemblance to any RPG I've played since the 1980s (including later games of
      D&D, which had a structured plot at the session level even when they didn't (as
      usually) have a structured plot [however terrible] at the campaign level.

      The early '90s were a huge watershed in terms of RPG technology -- mainstream
      games started having the GM design a plot and run the players through it, and
      all games started having background and motivation be a central part of player
      character creation and a driving mechanism of plot. And in this century the
      ground changed again, as more collaborative techniques of building plot were
      designed and gained popularity. The long and short of it is that typical rpgs
      now aren't much like typical rpgs were in the '70s.

      > We can discuss how much fiction actually inspired by RPGs fits that
      > description, but it's essentially that which dissatisfies me about fiction
      > fitting that description.

      That's fair enough -- and I'll note that none of the fiction I mentioned as
      inspired by rpgs fits that description.

      > And William Morris, whom I mentioned earlier, fits that description, though
      > he wasn't inspired by RPGs at all.

      Which argues that there's a prior source for loose-structure episodic adventure
      fiction--which seems to be what you're describing as "RPG-inspired."

      > This separates it from sharecropped or shared-world novels, in which the
      > details of the world are fully known by the authors, and by the characters
      > as much as needed; and from something like "Sorcery and Cecilia" which is
      > really just collaborative fiction. Turn and turn-about is one of the two
      > main ways in which collaborative fiction is written; there's nothing
      > specifically RPG about it, and taking the persona of characters in order to
      > write novels about them is so common as to be totally unremarkable.

      And this unremarkability is fundamentally why I object to labelling bad fiction
      as "rpg-inspired." RPGs have been moving towards better and better techniques
      at improvising collaborative techniques--from rules and styles that actively
      impede the creation of coherent fiction to embracing trivial-rule collaboration
      as the "light" rpg, to designing rules intended to inspire and structure the
      resulting fiction and enhance collaboration.

      >>> Anyway, I did read and passingly enjoy _Sorcery and Cecilia_. And I
      >>> suppose that's technically role-playing, so I must modify the sweeping
      >>> statement to acknowledge that, but it is of a quite different kind than
      >>> what we were talking about, so modifying "RPG" in some way is sufficient
      >>> to maintain the point.
      >> It isn't really clear what the point is.
      > The point is to identify the features of "RPG style" fiction. We are
      > currently in the stage of matching up the borders of the style with the
      > borders of the phenomenon, thus the discussions of what counts as RPG.

      That's my point as well (as well as to identify the features of RPG style
      fiction as well as the thing you're pointing at when you used the term).

      Since we're talking about the borders of RPG in general, it's probably worth my
      outlining Fiasco here. Fiasco is a relatively recent and fairly popular single
      session RPG designed to allow players to improvise a story with a plot
      structure similar to many Cohen Brothers films (although in a variety of
      mileaus--any setup where deeply flawed characters are trying too much, too far,
      and at least as likely to fail ingloriously as succeed gloriously). The
      gameplay consists of players using the rules and inspiration to determine how
      their characters are connected and two "issues" for each character, then taking
      turns narrating/roleplaying scenes about their character where the acting
      player works through the character's issues either by narrating the opening for
      a scene and letting other players decide how it ends up or asking them to
      describe the scene and deciding how it will end--with a quasi-random twist in
      the middle that must be worked into the overall plot. In the end of a
      game/session, a character randomly rolls an overall weal/woe result (partially
      determined by how consistent their second plot arc was) and tries to wrap their
      story up in a way that fits the overall plot and the rolled outcome.

      Does this fit what you think of as how RPG-inspired stories work?

      >> IIRC, this started by your saying that the Jackson movies felt too much
      >> like RPG fiction.

      > No, it did not. I got into the D&D/RPG discussion in the first place by
      > expressing my opinion of it as storytelling in response to a post of
      > Alana's which in turn was responding to the phrases "games oriented" and
      > "D&D approach" which had been used by Dale Nelson and Larry Swain,

      I stand corrected; since you weren't previously concrete in exactly what your
      criticism was beyond mentioning Morris (who I've never read, although I've
      heard a few pages narrated), I presumed [incorrectly] that you were continuing
      the prior argument; apologies on that.

      > Whatever Dale and Larry may believe, this is not what I consider a
      > particular controlling flaw of Jackson. What bothers me about D&D as
      > storytelling is a large-scale structural problem, and Jackson took his
      > large-scale structure from Tolkien, so that's not the problem. What I said
      > about Jackson was "American-style action/adventure movie".

      Which I think is accurate. I haven't seen the Hobbit yet, but most of the
      flaws in the first three movies that bothered me were ones that involved making
      the story structure closer to that of an American-style action/adventure movie
      (I'm not sure whether removing the points of rest and compressing time count
      here or as a separate category).

      > Consequently I'm not going to respond to your further comments about what
      > you believe I think, because you have - quite innocently, it's easy to
      > forget who said what - mistaken me for Dale and Larry.

      Yup. Whoops.

      Joshua Kronengold (mneme@...) "Release the |\ _,,,--,,_ ,)
      --^-- ... patents...and drop everything into the public /,`.-'`' -, ;-;;'
      /\\ domain. OPEN SOURCE." "It's so scary when you say |,4- ) )-,_ ) /\
      /-\\\it like that" -- Howard Taylor (Schlock Mercenary) '---''(_/--' (_/-'
    • David Bratman
      To Joshua Kronengold I think the discussion of whether what has been called, by various people, gaming- or RPG-style fiction, has reached
      Message 2 of 27 , Dec 23, 2012
        To "Joshua Kronengold" <mneme@...>

        I think the discussion of whether what has been called, by various people,
        gaming- or RPG-style fiction, has reached the limits of its fruitfulness in
        regards to how well it fits the variety of contemporary RPG practice, not
        least because of the limitations of my knowledge of that subject.

        But about the kind of storytelling I was referring to, whether or not it's
        exactly what Dale and Larry were referring to, I can say this:

        1) It does exist;

        2) You can call it "early D&D style" if you want to; in regards to itself,
        and apart from critiquing RPGs for RPGs' sake, which I have no interest in
        doing, the label is unimportant;

        3) It is not merely "bad RPG", as some have tried to categorize the style
        depicted in "DM of the Rings";

        3) It has been very, very popular and attracted many, many people, as the
        huge surge in popularity of D&D in those days proved, and as demonstrated by
        my friends who kept playing for decades the very game that I walked away
        from in boredom - these are smart people with quite sophisticated tastes in
        fantasy literature;

        4) Whatever else may also be going on in RPG land, this style is still
        around in gaming today and still popular, as "DM of the Rings" demonstrates;

        5) It has been hugely influential on written fantasy literature and on film;

        6) It didn't start with gaming, as my cite of William Morris intended to
        show; in fact, I think that D&D was invented to fill a desire for this sort
        of storytelling;

        6) I find it wholly unattractive and failing to meet my wants and needs in

        Its salient characteristics are:

        1) A detachment of the protagonists from the story and the landscape, either
        in the form of the lack of an overarching plot, when the characters are just
        out seeking for Adventure, or, if there is one, a sense - frequently
        mentioned by the author of "DM of the Rings" as what he tries to create -
        that the characters are riding along it on rails.

        2) A front-loading of backstory, which the reader is supposed to care about
        before having any reason to, i.e. before becoming captivated by the
        characters (a particular flaw of Jackson's in contrast to Tolkien).

        3) An absence of depth: everything is there for the purpose of serving the
        plot, not for its own sake (a particular flaw of Morris).

        4) A quotidian approach to character motiviation; they're there to advance
        themselves rather than a greater cause (a particular source of hilarity in
        "DM of the Rings").

        5) A mechanistic treatment of magic and even of fighting (strangely, the
        worst example of this I've read was in Thomas Berger's "Arthur Rex").

        6) A sense that the created world is minute and limited, and that there's
        nothing significant or relevant outside of what's known to the reader,
        unless it's pulled out of a hat as a deus ex machina. (This contradicts
        point #1, and mostly comes from tabletop board-gaming rather than D&D-style

        7) A pressure on the reader to identify with the protagonist as yourself or
        a person you could be, rather than as someone you like and care about as a
        separate individual. (Emphatically not limited to this kind of fiction.)

        Again, a lot of readers seem to like and want this. They flock to stories
        told in this manner, and, most interestingly to me, they try to assimilate
        The Lord of the Rings into this kind of storytelling. (Point 6, the most
        directly antithetical to Tolkien, is particularly striking in some criticism
        of the actions of Tolkien's characters, particularly by a writer named
        Michael Perry. They sound as if they think the characters' mistake was not
        having read the book first.)
      • Damien
        Hello David, May I add a foreigner s point of view to the ongoing discussion? ... This reminds me of the French Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes , at the
        Message 3 of 27 , Feb 4, 2013
          Hello David,

          May I add a foreigner's point of view to the ongoing discussion?

          > >> Have you noticed that the literarily prestigious examples of this, at
          > >> least
          > >> in English literature, all date from before the mid-17th century?
          > >
          > > I'm not sure how that affects the aesthetic question. In any case there
          > > are many many excellent modern movie/TV series/operas/plays that closely
          > > follow modern sources
          > Those are open adaptations to the dramatic medium. Not retellings in the
          > medieval/Renaissance sense. (So, for that matter, is most of Shakespeare.)
          > The point in a general sense is that, since the mid-17th century,
          > originality has been prized in literature, and to find evidence that it is
          > not prized, you need to go back to an earlier era that took a very different
          > view, that all the stories had been told, essentially, and that all writers
          > could do was retell them.

          This reminds me of the French "Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes", at the end of the 17th century (start: 1687; end: 1694). I believe it had quite an impact on European literature at the time, and can indeed be seen as a turning point when originality became prized for its own sake.

          > > There are even cases where the source and the copy are within the same
          > > form: e.g. The Threepenny Opera follows the Beggars' Opera (admittedly not
          > > in English literature, but not sure why that distinction would matter.)
          > Not really prized for literary prestigiousness, but for the music (which is
          > entirely original). And I specified English literature because I'm not
          > entirely certain how far my rule applies outside of it.
          > > There are several cases of modern novels and poems that follow older
          > > sources fairly closely e.g.
          > > The Once and Future King, T.H. White (follows Mallory quite closely in
          > > long sections)
          > Not really. Quite a reinvention - and of a traditional story that long
          > predates Malory. Expansions into novel form of something told in a more
          > condensed earlier form are not really the same thing.

          In French literature, one could name tons of examples of famous works of art of the 19th and 20th centuries extensively quoting or retelling ancient stories. Victor Hugo's _La Légende des Siècles_ (1859, 1877, 1883); Jean Giraudoux's _La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu_ (1935), _Électre_ (1937); Jean Anouilh's _Eurydice_ (1942), _Antigone_ (1944), _Roméo et Jeannette_ (1946): these are just a few examples that spring to mind.

          However, as you point out, most if not all of them are really reinventions of these stories, developing the characters very differently from the originals, even if the events closely follow the original story.

          Best regards,
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