Extraneous Voices of Picayune > Citadel Tavern

Perspective in RPG writing


It was brought to my attention recently that much RPG writing just appears to be lists of facts.  Do you think there is a common tone and voice to RPG fiction?  What dod you think that tone is and how would you describe it?  Why is that tone popular and would we be better served by a more narrative or personal style of writing? 

I think the fact-based writing comes from a) the style most published RPG manuals use, and b) the purpose of the writing. Most RPG stuff gets written to be used, and to that end a writer tries to describe the useful stuff: the origins of the item, its effects, how to put it into a campaign, etc. They read like an encyclopedia listing. These are things that make the writing useful, because it simplifies getting whatever the writing's about into our game.

Now, good RPG writing as both facts and interesting tone. Look at CP's Boots Too Fine for the Earth, or Muro/Scras's Thick As Thieves. They weave the encyclopedic information on the subject as well as an interesting story and mood. I think the purpose of RPG writing does require the encyclopedia entry content, but the style can and probably should be adjusted to make it more atmospheric.

I have seen the opposite side of this tone, where there are not really lists of facts, and everything is presented from an in game perspective complete with biases, secret information or lacking major points of information. This was really much more prevalent in the 90s where a lot of material was presented in a vague fashion.

While it was certainly more entertaining to read, it was a harder to actually use as players and DMs who had read the same books could get into arguments over in game material because there were no facts, just artfully presented opinions. White Wolf was a major offender, and everything was a cipher, or red herrings, or all that.

The difficulty is striking the balance between something that is useful but ultimately boring (Dungeon Master's Guide) and something that is an engrossing piece of art but leaves everyone scratching their head because they don't know what is what (Vampire's The Book of Nod)

Thick as Thieves is an excellent example of what I am talking about.    It may communicate the central idea about a thieves guild convention but it seeks to go beyond that in telling a very specific story about the origins of the convention, the personalities behind the convention and the culture that supports the convention and takes part in it.   But the perspective and voice of the piece is unclear.  For example in the "Origins of the Convention" paragraph one it is written

It all began when the upstart Dodgy Brotherhood, led by the ambitious Hoel Spaca began to encroach on the business interests of the venerable and established Soft Wall House, led by its charismatic guild master "Sil".

In this line we get several pieces of information and very efficiently the agon is defined. However, would the Dodgy Brotherhood agree with being characterized as upstarts and more importantly with other readers or players agree with the Dodgy Brotherhood being considered Upstarts.  Would everyone agree that Sil is charismatic and the Soft Wall house is venerable?  An interesting thing about gaming roleplaying as a media for storytelling is that SIl may by definition of his character Stats be charismatic and the role-playing notes for Spaca may read "ambitious".  Thus, if the point of this section was to tell a GM or writer how to assemble a story, than those observation may be necessary.  But the point of this section is not to tell a GM how to tell a story, it is a story to justify the existence of the  convention.  The entire vignette of father Jarry serves only to add flavor to scenario of the convention.

So who is writing this paragraph?  We are getting opinions about the characters and their actions i.e. it was wise for law enforcement not to get involved.  In paragraph two of the same section, during the description of the "Monsters Ball" the authors wrote

The "Monsters Ball" was a celebration not unlike a combination of our present Halloween and Carnival.

Here the authors make clear that their audience is modern day people, and thus we have story that is more like a recounting of a story.  That is what is interesting about this to me.  Instead of telling us the story, the author summarizes the story as if the story exists elsewhere.  For example if I were to summarize "A Game of Thrones"  by saying   the worship of the Seven, as a religion, is analogous to christianity. If George R.R. Martin were to say that in an interview it is one thing, but if he broke form and wrote it in a Sansa chapter I believe it would seriously dilute the immersion and voice of the story. Even though it may clearly communicate a view the author wishes the reader to take.

The authors are laying forth a backstory a gaming resource, but there also graphic or poetic asides

Blood flowed freely, only to be washed away by the rains.

But picking apart this single post in particular is not what I am interested in here.  The real question I want to ask is what is it about this tone that role-players find appealing.  Are people drawn to roleplaying because they like to see the world, any world, in an unambiguous fashion-a God complex if you will?  Or (as I have often postulate) role-players are not truly interested in the material, they see the material more as launching off point for their own ideas?  But if Strolen's Citadel was ever just an idea guild, it left that long ago.  Ideas are critiqued here on their writing, on their "believability and style.  Would "Thick as Thieves" have been voted Golden if it didn't have this long back story? 

I randomly open a roleplaying source book "Star Wars Galaxy Guide: Scouts" and I saw a very similar tone in the player's section.  They didn't break form to overtly reference modern day events or concepts, but it had this same all knowing yet opinionated style.   Thick as Thieves has 21 votes and is a Golden sub. What is it about this style that draws people to it?  Why refer to stuff that has perspective or personality as "Fluff" as Scrasamaz does?


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