Author Topic: [Chaldea] My freelance gig  (Read 2382 times)

Ron Edwards

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[Chaldea] My freelance gig
« on: January 07, 2015, 09:40:50 PM »
Last July, a guy I know and I were talking on the telephone. We hadn't really caught up with one another for a few years and were catching up on our life-decisions as we turned fifty, him just having done so, me about to. I'd quit my job as a prof and wanted to improve the promotion and physical design of my own work, and to expand Adept Press into consulting and a contributive form of freelance work. He'd attended film school, produced and directed a short film, and was developing what I think is a really good idea: a high-end webcomic with periodic live-action episodes. He's aiming at the serious scale of production value for both, as well as a sprawling fantasy epic.

That's when we both paused and said, simultaneously, "Hey ...." He suggested we talk business turkey at GenCon, but I wasn't planning on attending. He owns GenCon, so he suggested I come anyway, and I thought about that for (estimated) three nanoseconds and said yes.

So Peter's been running this D&D game since 1981 called Chaldea, which as all such things have done, is now pretty much their home-grown system and setting (with a strong twist toward Burning Wheel these days, as I understand it). They have this monstrous map and a ton of different cool-setting stuff going on in dozens of places. The new project is set in Chaldea.

One of the features that really attracted me about the series is that it's not the point to transcribe the game events into the new medium but rather to springboard into doing something else entirely. So he has a team whose job is to work on interesting protagonists stuck in genuinely interesting and important stuff, separated across in many locations, not connected overtly to one another, and setting up original stories. This also means the whole setting gets altered into something more meaty and less obviously throw-it-in fantasy gaming fun. It also gets away from "our heroes travel to every damn spot on the map" and into a more reasonable "this is what's going on in each spot."

Here's what he wanted and what I offered, more-or-less the same things, hammered into shape during our conversation.
-   Extensive notes on real-world historical cultures - what history classes used to call "ASPIRE" for artistic + social + political + intellectual + religious + economic. But distilled into usable, engaging form for creative people to use as a common reference, and with an effort toward showing what real scholars think it was like instead of relying on "olden days" Hollywood tropes.
-   Highlighted details which strike chords with an audience and, as I put it, inspire writers to do better than merely clocking in standard plots or spinning out non-resolutions. The example I provided was the interesting detail about Roman slavery, that slaves not only could own property, but in some cases were wealthier than their masters.

A number of the spots on the map have designated regional identity: "Romania," "France," "Egypt," that kind of thing. I pick one of them, I pick an era that seems strong to me, I rough up a few points about it, show it to Peter, he says yes or no, and I develop it into a usable set of documents that gets posted in the Chaldea work-space.

Bluntly, I am not transcribing the Encyclopedia Brittanica. My early training in history has evolved into something scary and strong, such that I can put things together and make comparisons, that plenty of PhD profs cannot. I'm constructing unique and usable packages for a region which are intended to make creative people say "Wait, what?" and "They didn't?" and "Oh, so that would mean ... [scribble scribble]." As well as compiling visual material that makes people want to put on those clothes and grab those weapons. And still stand up to a real historian's observation, such that he or she would say, geez, those guys really did the research. Since it's a fantasy "informed by" concept rather than a straight-up historical or an alternate-world concept, the point is not to be complete and picky-perfect, but also not to be wrong.

My ideal moment would come when an audience member thinks it was really cool for the comic or show to make up Y for culture X to do, and then they learn that they really did do Y, from commentary or something similar, and then they adopt that knowledge as insider-geek knowledge. Ken Hite once cited this scene as the perfect distillation of geek culture and status, and he's right: do Stiff Little Fingers (0:26 to 1:15) for a geek and he or she is yours for life.

What I like about the deal is that I'm not one of the team and I have no role at all in the development of the story or the medium itself. I'm being paid as I go along to compile and present good, strong material. They can use what I post, or change it all around, or not use it at all, and that's out of my hands. My task is to provide, not to produce. That way I can enjoy doing a really good job exactly at that scale of involvement, which in the end, I think, will mean more of my work will probably end up being used or at least being inspirational, rather than less, and no creative turf or ownership issues need trouble any of us.

For some publicly available stuff about Chaldea, here's Peter's Facebook page about it.

Ask any questions! I don’t' think I can tell you exactly what I've provided per location so far, but I think it's OK to say I've done Russia, Japan, Rumania, and France, all in very non-Hollywood historical periods. I've learned a hell of a lot and it's been fun to see stuff I knew already snap into place.

glandis

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2015, 02:04:05 PM »
Fascinating project. I'm of course reminded again of Steven Erikson & Ian Cameron Esslemont's Malazan series as a similar sprawling campaign world that inspires a subsequent artistic creation. But Chaldea->comic/live-action retains more of the RPG group-creation than Malazan->various novel series, which is really cool.

Any sense, Ron, of how the transition from play to, um, presentation(?) is managed? As in, do the graphic novels/short films somewhat closely represent decades-ago play? Recent play? Or are they more aptly characterized as more inspired by (in the "inspired by real events" sense) rather than connected to the play? Is your work feeding into play first, or directly into the presentations?

(ASPIRE seemed vaguely familiar to me from decades-ago classes, so I tried to look it up - seems like PERSIA is the current common acronym, with some use of the final 'A' as 'Area' (used like Jared Diamond does?) rather than 'Art' (collapsing art into 'Intellectual'). I'll also hold my nose and point at this guy - I mean, I don't know enough to have an informed opinion about his scholarship, but I encountered the ideas in what I consider a fairly odious business context - thus the nose-holding.)

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2015, 02:45:55 PM »
As it's explained to me, the role-playing isn't setting the content of the stories, and everything they started with (from the role-playing) is subject to revision, redefinition, or excision. It really shouldn't be seen as a translation from play, although a fair amount of stuff may make it through that R/R/E process when it turns out that it's good enough. In other words, play-stuff is just like newly-conceived stuff; it's raw material, and stays in or gets into the new project based on the criteria of the latter.

glandis

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2015, 06:08:05 PM »
That's a sensible approach, though I keep hoping to find such things with more ... let's call it "commitment" to stuff generated in role-playing. Do you think at all about targeting role-playing vs. targeting the web comics/films directly in the stuff you're generating?

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2015, 07:34:41 PM »
My target is the writing team. The material I'm posting is basically their "use this stuff ad lib" bucket - it's not even setting as such, it's the real-world underpinning of various parts of the setting. The specific setting material is more in Peter's hands and people he's brought in at that level.

It happens too that my ideal is pretty different from what you're reading - here I'm not talking about this exact project but more generally - in that I see no special merit in generating Story X through play, and then putting it into movie form. I guess I'd see it as a more laborious process than the regular way, and prone to special pitfalls of its own that I really don't want to see or deal with.

Then again, I'm turning into such a curmudgeon that I might as well cut off a lower leg and buy a whaling ship. I even confess I get very annoyed and "Oh shit" when I learn about some book I like being made as a movie. I used to like it in the sense that I'd get to see Thing X be done two ways now instead of one, but that seems to have worn off.

Well, no one will ever make a movie of Witherwing or Wyrldmaker, so I guess I'll always have those.

glandis

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2015, 12:20:57 AM »
So, no assumptions from me about YOUR ideal - the thing about more commitment to stuff generated via role-playing is something I've wondered about, is all. I'm sure you're right about "pitfalls of its own." The closest thing I can point to in the area is what I thought AEG was gonna try to do with their 7th Sea "subscribe to our special program, send us what happens when you play this adventure, and we'll build the story together" plans. It died; got cancelled well before 7th Sea itself tried to go d20/collapsed. In retrospect, I curmudgeonly expect that there was never any spirit of creative adventure/innovation involved, just some sort of (perhaps "extractive") marketing plan. But it, the whole subject of computers and "interactive storytelling", and who knows what else floats in the back of my brain, leaving me wondering what might be possible.

One more try at a question that might touch on that and yet is still hopefully about Chaldea and your work rather than a hijack: Are you finding any difference (or particular similarities) in doing this stuff targeted to the writing team rather than what you've done with one-sheets and background stuff in your role-playing? I mean, you paint a pretty good picture of why what you're doing is useful and why you like doing it - how would you contrast that with what's useful in RPG source material/prep and what you like about doing that?

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2015, 04:01:16 PM »
That's an interesting question. I don't think so, no. My one-sheets are an orienting device for a group creative activity, whereas this material is more like "this is what the armor looks like" or "this is how you kill someone with a knout," or in reference to the latter, "there is no such thing as a trial as we know it, but they did something all right, here's what it was, and that's why it's called a trial."

What you're talking about more abstractly ... I find myself aversive to it. Part of it is witnessing the whole history of Glorantha, which originally was presented as, "we're all playing in Glorantha, come play in it, with us, and when you write about what you did, it becomes textual setting too." That turned into a real problem - a fandom that was rabidly dedicated but impossible to deal with, wrapped up in entitlement issues and authority issues. When Hero Wars came out in 2000, Greg specifically said, "all done with that, from now on, everyone's table is their own Glorantha, you can't be told what's really there or tell anyone else what's really there, and quit running to me to take your side," and more than half the fandom said, "well what's the point then" because their whole loyalty to the setting was wrapped up in their ability to lecture and dictate shit to one another.

A similar issue arises in memory - when someone asked me at the Adept forum at the Forge, I think, whether the events at the Sorcerer table could be validated by translating directly into prose or film. That was very much his perspective, that these media were "real" and that our hobby was only good insofar as it could provide scripts. Reminded me very, very much of the views toward comics during my time in college (1983-87), the idea that they had to be "novels" or become movies in order to become real media.

glandis

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #7 on: January 17, 2015, 05:29:45 PM »
So what you're doing for Chaldea vs. a one-sheet: basically distinct activities. I can see that - your one-sheets are for something where you'll continue to have personal creative participation, where as with Chaldea, when you're done you're done. What about vs., say, Azk'arn and etc. from the Sorcerer books? I guess I'm asking both what you think analytically about the activities and anything particularly similar/distinct you've noticed about your attitude to the material.

The issues raised in the Glorantha example strike me as potentially solvable, though maybe not easily and maybe there's nothing really gained. I wonder, though.

The notion of role-playing as 'not real' and only useful if a novel/film/whatever results ... yeah, that just needs to be taken out behind the barn and shot. I mean, some might prefer public pillory and hanging, but me, I'm just more of a mercy-killing kind of guy.

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2015, 04:32:03 PM »
Quote
What about vs., say, Azk'arn and etc. from the Sorcerer books? I guess I'm asking both what you think analytically about the activities and anything particularly similar/distinct you've noticed about your attitude to the material.

I've been trying to figure out how to respond to this and then to figure out why I couldn't. It finally came down to one of those absurd moments when I say "whaddaya mean whaddaya mean?" specifically the phrase "what about." What about it? I don't know, what about it?

I'll try a little. Remember, the Azk'Arn stuff did come from play, and I was using it not as a set of sheets or prep that the reader can use, but as an example of a number of rules in action. I remember that exact transition, as I did have my handouts in front of me, and copy-pasted them in, and then started filling in more and turning it into the piece I wanted - I could literally tell the exact second it stopped being a usable for-play document and started being a readable thing with a purpose of its own in this particular book. I think there's a sentence or two in there, somewhere, about "this material is a mix of what we said prior to play and what happened during play," which I wrote because of that sensation.

glandis

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2015, 08:56:37 PM »
Hey, maybe this will be useful, or maybe I'm wasting bandwidth, and after checking your G+ for the first time in a while, you certainly are plenty busy elsewhere. But let me sum up with commentary, in case it reveals anything interesting:

I wrote "Are you finding any difference (or particular similarities) in doing this stuff targeted to the writing team rather than what you've done with one-sheets and background stuff in your role-playing? I mean, you paint a pretty good picture of why what you're doing is useful and why you like doing it - how would you contrast that with what's useful in RPG source material/prep and what you like about doing that?"

You responded: "That's an interesting question. I don't think so, no." (My thinking: um, no what? No difference, no particular similarity, no contrast? I don't think I meant there to be a yes/no question in there, and if there is, I'm not sure I see what it is) "My one-sheets are an orienting device for a group creative activity, whereas this material is more like "this is what the armor looks like" or "this is how you kill someone with a knout," or in reference to the latter, "there is no such thing as a trial as we know it, but they did something all right, here's what it was, and that's why it's called a trial." (ah, OK, so one-sheets=orienting device, Chaldea stuff="interesting/potentially useful/impact-full facts"(?), full stop. No=no particular similarity.)

I continue: "So what you're doing for Chaldea vs. a one-sheet: basically distinct activities." (Just to make sure I've got the No right) "I can see that - your one-sheets are for something where you'll continue to have personal creative participation, where as with Chaldea, when you're done you're done." (Trying to mine that No for some extra insight) "What about vs., say, Azk'arn and etc. from the Sorcerer books?" (Because my translation of the No seems to make it clear your answer was only about one-sheets, not the other options I mentioned) "I guess I'm asking both what you think analytically about the activities and anything particularly similar/distinct you've noticed about your attitude to the material." (Here I'm trying to make sure you know I'm not looking for a specific thing, but am hoping to hear anything that comes up for you in considering this)

You continue: "I've been trying to figure out how to respond to this and then to figure out why I couldn't. It finally came down to one of those absurd moments when I say "whaddaya mean whaddaya mean?" specifically the phrase "what about." What about it? I don't know, what about it?" (I guess - What about an answer for it like the answer (I think) you gave me for one-sheets?)

"I'll try a little. Remember, the Azk'Arn stuff did come from play," (OK, I see, a similarity to one-sheets) "and I was using it not as a set of sheets or prep that the reader can use, but as an example of a number of rules in action." (A difference from one-sheets) "I remember that exact transition, as I did have my handouts in front of me, and copy-pasted them in, and then started filling in more and turning it into the piece I wanted - I could literally tell the exact second it stopped being a usable for-play document and started being a readable thing with a purpose of its own in this particular book. (Fascinating! And maybe similar to what will happen for the writers if the choose to use your Chaldea stuff in their projects) "I think there's a sentence or two in there, somewhere, about "this material is a mix of what we said prior to play and what happened during play," which I wrote because of that sensation."

And we're caught-up. I could follow-up with asking about the other "settings" in Sorcerer books. The Woods one, e.g. - was that from play/prospectively for play, and do you see anything interesting in comparing/contrasting it with your Chaldea work? But at this point, if I haven't triggered any "now that you mention it, I think ..." reaction, this line of inquiry is probably done.

Miskatonic

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #10 on: January 22, 2015, 12:10:32 AM »
Ron,

Congratulations, sounds like an interesting opportunity.

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2015, 09:58:59 PM »
Oh now come on, Egyptian New Kingdom, really?

1. There's a whole god who protects the genitals of the dead. And that's separate from the four (4) sons of Horus who have separate offices over various viscera, so that means they needed a fifth guy for this. "Sorry man, I have my hands full of small intestine and spleen, I can't take this, you gotta call in someone else."

2. There's a "commonfolk" god, seen throughout all these epochs, who is always depicted simply as a nude, unadorned man standing naturalistically - with an extremely realistic erection. Not fetishized, nothing stylized, just a guy with a hard-on. How much you wanna bet there's some huge academic debate out there, over what he "symbolizes?"

3. So, war is basically whizzing around in chariots, showers of arrows, then chariot charges until the footmen of one side or the other break and run - after which the unarmored conscripts run in screaming with cheap axes to hack down the fleeing guys and kill the wounded ... and there's a bounty on penises. Right. You turn in your bag of severed penises for money at the end of the day.

... and this goes on and on! More of it scattered all through the mythology. Six hundred years of domestic peace, a vibrant arts and letters scene, women who own property and have full legal rights, a thriving middle class and one of the most functional long-standing economies in human history ... and then every time you turn around there's another thing about penises. Oh, and the queen god wears a cow uterus on her head. What the hell is up with these people?!

James_Nostack

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #12 on: February 11, 2015, 02:48:33 PM »
Alas, it looks like the only thing I definitively remember about the Osiris/Isis/Horus story was an invention by Plutarch, though it does seem to match the above accounts:

Quote
Plutarch also states that Set steals and dismembers the corpse only after Isis has retrieved it. Isis then finds and buries each piece of her husband's body, with the exception of the penis, which she has to reconstruct with magic, because the original was eaten by fish in the river. According to Plutarch, this is the reason the Egyptians had a taboo against eating fish. In Egyptian accounts, however, the penis of Osiris is found intact, and the only close parallel with this part of Plutarch's story is in "The Tale of Two Brothers", a folk tale from the New Kingdom with similarities to the Osiris myth

That's a spell in Circle of Hands, right Ron?  Magical Penis Reconstruction? 

Erik Weissengruber

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Re: [Chaldea] My freelance gig
« Reply #13 on: February 14, 2015, 04:54:35 PM »

A resource to bring some kind of consistency to inter-cultural comparisons in this fictional world might be the database used for such comparisons in the real world, the Human Relations Area Files: http://hraf.yale.edu/online-databases/ehraf-world-cultures/features-benefits-uses/