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Author Topic: Content Creation for the Discontented  (Read 6181 times)
J B Bell
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Posts: 267


« on: November 24, 2005, 11:30:49 AM »

Quote from: contracycle
(From Shaping Gamer Culture . . .):
The appropriate response to the "demand for content" which you recognise is to produce content, not to fail to do so.  This is precisely why I find many of the Forge designs uninteresting; they have effectively just palmed the production of content off onto me, but that is exactly the thing I am most willing to pay for, and exactly the same problem that existed previously.  The fact that existing supplement model is not very useful does not imply that the production of content should be abandoned en bloc; what should be happening is a search for a way to produce such content that does not ehibit the problems we already know and loathe.

This sparks my curiosity about what different content creation might look like. The "problems we already know and loathe" seem to include de-protagonization (all the "big stuff" is done by in-game NPCs), entry barriers (needing to know All That Stuff to be able to participate), and loss of creative input in terms of world-building by the GM and the play group as a whole.

Wikis can allow lots of authorial input by a community, but as they grow, you get the same entry barrier problems as with professional supplements--the imaginal territory gets used up.

MMORPGs, of course, just let things overlap. You and I can be on the same quest at the same time, but the key in the drain-hole for the Lightning Sword quest I see is different from yours; I can't steal yours. Is there any way to incorporate this non-interfering overlap in written publishing for tabletop games? I wonder.

Did you have anything particular in mind, contracycle? I do think you're right that the demand for content is not going anywhere.

--JB
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"Have mechanics that focus on what the game is about. Then gloss the rest." --Mike Holmes
Mark Woodhouse
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« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2005, 11:49:53 AM »

I think Towns for DitV point one way. People are adapting, stealing, and hacking each others' Towns all over the place. Since all they are is Situation, they don't have the deprotagonizing effect of traditional third-party content. I suspect that there's a real model here for the creation, trading, and customizing of various individual pieces, whether they are Situations like DitV towns or simply components - new Clik-n-Loks for Capes, new Fates for Mountain Witch, One-Sheets for Sorcerer...
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2005, 12:59:07 PM »

I think the key lies in what Gareth (contracycle) means by 'content', and how he expects that content to be used in a specific game.  Care to elaborate, Gareth?
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2005, 07:41:31 PM »

MMORPGs, of course, just let things overlap. You and I can be on the same quest at the same time, but the key in the drain-hole for the Lightning Sword quest I see is different from yours; I can't steal yours. Is there any way to incorporate this non-interfering overlap in written publishing for tabletop games?
Sure there is. I'm sure there are a lot of them.

I run Multiverser, and particularly with conventions I run the same worlds for many different people, sometimes in the same weekend. There could be the danger of players knowing what is going to happen because they've seen this before. However, Multiverser includes a mechanic known as the general effects roll, and it's used to determine what happens when you don't have a basis for knowing what happens. The typical example is the character in the midst of a crowd of "people" completely unknown to him, who fires a gun into the air to get everyone's attention. Task resolution mechanics can easily determine whether the gun fires; but how do you determine what happens? The general effects roll takes what the player hopes and measures it against the roll to see how far it goes in the direction he wants versus how far it is from what he wants. Perhaps on a good roll the people all turn and look at him, fully attentive. On a "too good" roll they fall on their face doing homage to him. On a neutral roll, they stare at the sky and hold out their hands as if feeling for rain. On a bad roll, they start running away, and on a terrible roll they attack him.

Simple mechanic, really, but it has many applications. In one scenario, the player character is on a primitive (pre-gunpowder but post-medieval) world when aliens (yes, from outer space) attempt to conquer it. Of course, it's typical in these kinds of stories that the aliens have some weakness--water, or salt, or Don Ho records--which the humans can use against them if they can find it. Certainly I could put that weakness in the text, and let the player hunt around for what it might be. Instead, I used the General Effects roll, so that whenever the player tries something against the aliens the effects of which are not known, the GE roll tells us whether this has a serious detrimental effect, a mild detrimental effect, no effect at all, or even a beneficial effect on the aliens. Once it's been tried, it becomes a known, so it could very well be that Don Ho records cause alien heads to explode, or it could be that mustard renders them unconscious. Further, because the "magic bullet" was determined by a combination of player choices and die rolls, it's going to be different every time.

With variations, this idea of using dice to fill in details of the scenario in response to player expectations can create the kinds of things you want. When Mary looked in the Cave of Wonders, the lamp was not there, because the lamp she needs is in the Castle Behind the Wind; but when Bob looked in the Cave of Wonders, he found the lamp, because the dice said that this was the right place to look.

--M. J. Young
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contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #4 on: November 25, 2005, 06:48:47 AM »

Well there are a number of forms in which useful content could be produced, I think.

Images - images are powerful.  I have previously argued that if everyone views the same image, then effectively that can enter the SIS directly purely through the act of observation.  Thus I would be prepared to pay for a book that was nothing but images, intended to be used as a prop in play.  Such a product would take advantage of developing a visual style or motif that would unify all its images aesthetically.  I love photorealistic maps; they're not even hard to produce with tools like Terragen.  Similarly, buildings and architecture - I'd be quite happy with a book of pictures of a major city, for example, showing notable things like large scale temples and churches, battlements and citadels, the main gate, the main market square.... or, the inside of spaceship, what the bridge looks like, what the crew compartments look like, what a gunnery station looks like (Jovian Chronicles has a couple of these, and some comments on shipboard life).  Also of course, images of people, whether they be characters or NPC's.  Images without names or states, just intended to be used as images.  They would I think serve to prompt character ideas, and can of course be used directly as props, so you can say "you meet him".  Show not tell.  More clarity, more convergence of what players acutally imagine, richer detail, more colour, deeper sense of "being there".  This would also serve to reinforce in-game fashions and clothing styles, because the images would be deliberately generated to be in line with the world.  And of course beasties - the Alien just plain looks terrifyingly hideous, I'd rather have a chunk of that then have to make do with a crappy amateur line drawings.

World materials - I regard most RPG worlds to date to be pretty sucky, as mentioned elsewhere recently.  They seldom have any depth to them; they seldom feel like a place, but rather more like a stage, empty until the PC's walk on.  The mentalities of the people who live in them are almost never discussed.  With some reservations I would point to Glorantha's "What My Father Told Me" essays as being probably the most advanced form of psychological exposition I have yet seen.  But despite the frequent use of of European Feudalism, there is as far as I know no discussion of frex the catholic church, and movements like the Peace of God, that were very significant in reality (honourable mention to Ars Magic though).  Thus its no surprise that Feudal worlds feel flat and characterless, because they only possess the colour of feudalism and none of the structures or ideology.  Probably the most developed discussion of ideology in a game world appears in Fates Worse Than Death.  What all this amounts to is an absence of meaningful setting detail; it is setting as seen on TV, purely abstracted backdrop, but the problem is that especially for sim play, which seeks to Explore, there is nothing much to actually explore, no meat on the bone.  99% of settings appear to be predicated on the assumption that teen cool is the only cool, and that there is no adult interest.  I think theres a contrast here with the comics world - when adults became big comic readers, some comics became more and more adult oriented, sometimes addressing serious issues - that does not seem to have occurred in RPG, IMO.  There is a much bigger difference between "Watchmen" and "Spiderman" and "Cerebus" than there is between Forgotten Realms, Exalted and Eberron.  So, I want worlds that are suitable for adult explorative interests rather than trapping me in a world of magic swords +1.  I'm quite sure the only reason that the historical reenactor and RPG player buying publics don't overlap more than they do is because the historical types are turned off by the cheesy shark-jumping teen chic, so I think this might even expand the range of potential customers of such products.

--

Those two forms of content could be produced right now without any innovations.  Producing plot content may require a bit of theory, but I think things are looking promising.  We've recently had a proposal I'm very keen on for semi-modular dynamic background, in which events are causally but not determinstically linked.  I think this is the way to go, and further, I think that the production of such works as we know them under therm "metaplot" has been hampered by a misundersting of what they should be there to do.  The classic failures of the metaplot are mandating outcomes to events that will be resolved in game action, and making the players secondary characters in someone elses story.  I think that both of these arise from the conviction that the purpose of the metaplot is to "tell a story"; and because Story has certain requirements, like premise, and is necessarily comprised of the interactions between people, all of these things have to be governed directly by the writer to ensure the story comes out.  Worse, sometimes elements of the plot are concealed even from the GM so they can be a "twist" at some later date.  But if we see the product instead as one intended to facilitate play, to provide experience, then the need to directly and deterministically govern those elements disapears.  Because the metaplots created to date can be so specific as to depend on a particular conversational exchange between two NPC's, they have necessarily deprotagonised the players, who are no longer really relevant to the outcome of the events, but observers of them.  The concealing of future events has disempowered GM's who are left dangling off someone elses hook.  If instead the product laid out the various pressures, interest groups and significant personages, the kinds of options available to them, and some discussions of what effects might arise from a given cause - including notional secrets - then you have a document which serves to assist the GM in presenting and guiding play without controlling it from afar.  And this is properly a topic a topic of game design, because such a product would in fact be a metaGAME in the proper sense, and one intended to be played, and which I think may well be ratehr like town creation in DiTV.

So some of the forms of content I am thinking of, likes images etc, can be construed as props; and the other is that I think the "metaplot" is salvageable if it is redesigned from the ground up with a fresh eye to its intended purpose.
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komradebob
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Posts: 462


« Reply #5 on: November 25, 2005, 09:08:48 AM »

Quote
Images - images are powerful.  I have previously argued that if everyone views the same image, then effectively that can enter the SIS directly purely through the act of observation.(remainser snipped)

Everway attempted to do something similar. Someone here suggested checking it out after I'd been positing using miniatures to achieve a similar effect to what you are talking about. If you haven't picked it up to examine, I'll recommend it to you. It regularly sells on E-bay for less that its shipping cost.

In general, I agree. Imagery can be extremely powerful. It would be interesting to see what would happen if someone started with a body of artwork, then built a game around that art.

I think I've metioned before that I've pondered the impact of the seperation between artist and writer on the development of rpgs, and suspect that this has been a huge evolutionary pressure in design style as well as acceptance of rpgs by the general public.

On metaplot:
Had historical rpgs been more popular, I think we could reasonably assume that we would have developed a better method of incorporating metaplot into rpg design by this point. As a general mental excersise, taking a timeperiod that you are familiar with and considering how you would deal with that in a game would be a start.

The vast majority of games created until now have dealt with fantasy or sf settings and tend towards emulating those where the pcs have a vast amount of potential to impact world events. What if this simply was not the case? The general alternative seems to be that the game is set up in such a way that the pcs can have only local impact and only in a limited timefame, or the game exists in a "parallel space" such as an imaginary city ( Lakefront City: Gangbusters, Metropolis, Gotham).

On world building, generally:
A game where conflicting ideologies and world views was the pre-eminent focus of the design could be interesting in itself. Certainly, oWoD implied this as a source of conflict, but again, it seems as if the mechanics monkeys and the setting/situation monkeys were working largely seperately. It does imply a certain shift of focus in dscribing that world in source material, from the physical to the social aspects of a setting. On the upside, many players and GMs seem to prefer to build at least some of the physical stuff themselves ( Geography, NPCs, etc) so that might be best anyway. This is moving off into that weird hinterland where narr and sim priorities overlap in the GNS part of the Big Model, however.
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Josh Roby
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« Reply #6 on: November 25, 2005, 11:04:28 AM »

Images - Gareth, have you tried using any of the number of "The Art of..." books?  They're released for comics, movies, and sometimes just a single artist who has a very signature style.  This seems like it would fulfill a good portion of what you're after there.  By no means am I trying to discount your desire (more on that later) but as a point of total pragmatism, that might be useful to you, and I'd like to hear if you get any mileage out of it.  National Geographic coffeetable books might also fit the bill.  On the more abstract level, I'll tell you that production costs is one of the reasons you don't see this kind of book in gaming.  A page of art is more expensive than a page of text, and the paper and print quality matters more with art, so you can "get away" with lower-quality printing for mostly-text materials.  Ideally, such a book would be full color on glossy paper, but I can see a greyscale version on buff, it'd just be less impressive.  In any case, combine the higher production cost with the smaller audience pool, and I dunno how profitable it'd be.

Worldbuilding - The best worlds I've ever played in in terms of depth of character and society have been worlds that make reference to things outside of them.  You seem to be looking for an all-in-one-place sort of detailed world, but I got years of enjoyment out of Tribe 8 and Changeling, not necessarily from the material presented in the book, but the connections I made between that material and outside stuff.  Feudalism is a hugely complex social system predicated on a mountain of cultural assumptions, and while I'll agree with you that all of that is not really represented in RPG books, I've never had any trouble introducing those elements in settings with feudal systems.  (Speaking of feudalism and settings, GURPS Banestorm just came out and should have exactly that sort of cultural detail -- used to be GURPS Fantasy, but it's been facelifted for 4e).
You speculate that the lack of anything but 'teen cool' (which is a great term) may be one of the reasons why adults don't get into the hobby and you may be right, however, the format which you seem to be espousing (and correct me if I'm wrong) is a sort of depersonalized overview of a fictional world, and I'll tell you right now that the lack of a sympathetic point of view character will drive away those adult readers just as handily.  Generally speaking, people don't get a kick out of demographic data and cultural profiles -- otherwise the CIA world fact book would be one of the most popular sites on the internet.  If you can solve that issue -- presenting that in-depth cultural meat (which sounds great) with a point of view for the reader to sympathize with (and not falling into the trap that Castle Falkenstein did), you'll have a winning product.

(If you have any interest in India, I'd also recommend Suriyama to you, which is written by a real live culture studies guy obsessed with indian culture.  He's also Brand Robins.  I've probably mispelled the title, and Brand can correct me.)

Event Trees and Whatnot -- Sounds like you want a book that presents not just the starting circumstances but also presents, in some fashion, a plot or outline of events to occur?  I really don't know about this, man.  You talk about extra theory needed to pull this off, and I'm eager to see it, but not holding my breath.  The simple fact is that a history or a story is iterative, with later events based on prior events, and you can't plan out the later events without establishing the prior events.  At best, I can see this type of gamebook affording the players a sort of envelope in which they have some relative freedom of action, but by no means absolute freedoms.  This might even be enjoyable.  But if I can be pedantic for a moment, I think it's telling that I asked you how you wanted this content to apply to a specific game, and you didn't -- because nobody knows what this would look like yet.

I'm all for more juicy details in setting material, text and image, I'd love to see more adult themes and complexities presented.  There are some difficulties in presenting this stuff, though: not insurmountable difficulties, but what you are asking for is a pretty significant shift in format and in marketing.  That said, that's what the folks around here do all the time.
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pells
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Posts: 192


« Reply #7 on: November 25, 2005, 12:38:30 PM »

I've said it before, I've been working on a story to sell and I might give you some insight about what I'm doing on the purpose of this thread. And yes, I came up with a narration theory based on events (I don't know if you refer to it Gareth, I'd say I hope).

- illustrations : I think they are very powerful. For myself, I plan to have illustrated all my events (around 400 for the moment) and all my characters, locations, races, main objects (around 100). I know, that's a lot. The idea is that when playing, if your players encounter a character, you can always show them, but also when they participate in events. I think that's a major axe in my project. Of course, illustrations are costly. For my part, to have them drawn, not to have them printed, as I don't plan on selling papers. Also, I work with my artist in a very particular way. When writing characters, I don't describe physical on purpose, it's up to the imagination of the illustrators, giving them the freedom to add their visions of the characters or places. So, somehow, writing and illustrating are quite separated.

- world building : as I see it, I don't find any interest in designing a world out of the story. To say this character is just or fair means something, but seeing him acting with justice and fairness is better. About demographic data and cultural informations, I will give some, but a short way, as to add quick reference, and not see my readers drown in it. Also, selling stories, as a continuous campaign gives a edge in marketing as you can clearly have have your customers loyal to your product, seeing them buy stories on a regular basic. That is, if they like your product. You buy rules one time, not stories.

- metaplot : I write using events in a calendar, using a multi plot adventure. Honestly, what's the difference between saying "chapter X : your character are being attack by orcs" (what is mostly seen) and describing an event occuring somewhere for a specific time, describing protagonists being attacked by orcs. For one thing, I think it's more fun to read, and less directive. I think offering freedom to players is done by offering them choices in the plots. Maybe they prefer this storyline to another, so that's the story the DM build with them. But as time pass by in the calendar, maybe they will change their first idea and choose that first story they thougth they didn't like. But why ? Because it has evolved without them, and the outcome that occured seems more interesting. Also, I see events somehow as a 'bang reservoir'. Your players arrives in a city in a given week, you dispose of, let's say 4 bangs, 4 events occuring during the week, when you need them. As the first one occured, your players decide to leave the city by the morrow. In the evening, you use another bang, so your player will have more choices. Anyway, players always influence the world, or so I hope. The main advantage of modular writing is that you can say 'they influence this and that specific events (which has impact on those specific events)'. I think it has advantage over 'some part of page 24, 25 and 30'. The idea is to help the management of the story.
As I see it, events would be very vague (short, giving only the required information), so DMs and players alike would have the freedom to add details as they want. To build the world together.
Finally, the advantage of using a calendar seems clear to me. In a regular stories (that said, it's also true in computer so called 'RPG games), if your players meet a wizard in an inn, looking for adventurers, they can always no, because they know they can always come back and he will still be there, wainting for them. Quite different if they understand that some NPCs will take the job instead of them.

- Work needed and theme : I'm writing for an adult audience, with adult concerns. But let's face it, as I see it, it takes a lot of time. For me, it's writing a novel. But somehow, very different, as my main work is giving ideas, not long description, not details over pages and pages. I have some readers who are not gamers and the same question comes over and over. "Why don't you write a book ?" Because I'm a gamer, because I want to have content to work around with friends, because I prefer building a world, a scenario instead of amount of details. Because I want to write something that is meant to be told.

Hope I had been of some help.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #8 on: November 25, 2005, 01:28:44 PM »

I've said it before, I've been working on a story to sell and I might give you some insight about what I'm doing on the purpose of this thread. ... Hope I had been of some help.

What will help even better, pells, is an Actual Play report.  I'm really looking forward to hearing how the product actually plays.
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Caldis
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Posts: 359


« Reply #9 on: November 27, 2005, 09:19:18 AM »



The metaplot idea has merit, a sort of illusionists handbook if you will, and art and world materials are nice but really hasnt all of this been tried?

Hasn't gurps put out a fairly detailed source book on almost everything?  Isn't every Vampire splatbook filled with more world detail?  Skyrealms of Jorune had lavish artwork as did the Dark Sun world for D&D and Call of Cthulu had great art books. 

In all these cases I dont think the extra detail has really added to the play experience, at least it hasnt in mine.  Nice pictures and world details can fire your imagination but they dont help in creating interesting events based on those elements.
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #10 on: November 27, 2005, 02:02:44 PM »

This sparks my curiosity about what different content creation might look like. The "problems we already know and loathe" seem to include de-protagonization (all the "big stuff" is done by in-game NPCs), entry barriers (needing to know All That Stuff to be able to participate), and loss of creative input in terms of world-building by the GM and the play group as a whole.

....

MMORPGs, of course, just let things overlap. You and I can be on the same quest at the same time, but the key in the drain-hole for the Lightning Sword quest I see is different from yours; I can't steal yours. Is there any way to incorporate this non-interfering overlap in written publishing for tabletop games? I wonder.
My opinion here, JB, is that you are interpreting the MMO trick as "non-interfering overlap", but I find it useful to think of it as canned content; you and I are playing in different games, and there's no expected crossover. What the MMO is doing is pre-loading the world with content that you'll eventually encounter if you look around.

I wonder if you were leading in a different direction for this thread... how can we instruct and empower players to create content effectively, without making it a burden?
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Steve Marsh (Ethesis)
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« Reply #11 on: November 27, 2005, 03:20:59 PM »



The metaplot idea has merit, a sort of illusionists handbook if you will, and art and world materials are nice but really hasnt all of this been tried?

Hasn't gurps put out a fairly detailed source book on almost everything?  Isn't every Vampire splatbook filled with more world detail?  Skyrealms of Jorune had lavish artwork as did the Dark Sun world for D&D and Call of Cthulu had great art books. 

In all these cases I dont think the extra detail has really added to the play experience, at least it hasnt in mine.  Nice pictures and world details can fire your imagination but they dont help in creating interesting events based on those elements.

The Call of Cthulhu art books are a delight just to own.

When I was playing with the BRP rules, and spinning around, it was fun to build scenarios.  Properly framed, scenario building is world building.

See http://adrr.com/hero/norns/index.htm and http://adrr.com/hero/scenarios/ for an example of what I liked to do.  That eventually led to other things spinning off, but was fun.

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Steve Marsh (Ethesis)
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« Reply #12 on: November 27, 2005, 04:04:14 PM »

I've said it before, I've been working on a story to sell and I might give you some insight about what I'm doing on the purpose of this thread. ... Hope I had been of some help.

What will help even better, pells, is an Actual Play report.  I'm really looking forward to hearing how the product actually plays.

I find that as important as the "content."

What I want is not "what do the characters do" but "how do they do it."  That is what play reports and play examples do.

The Eo Nomine rules set that up well, regardless of what you think of the play experience, you know what it is.

I see a lot of game concepts that say the characters do something, but the rules and settings don't make that easy or natural.

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contracycle
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« Reply #13 on: November 28, 2005, 07:46:54 AM »

Everway attempted to do something similar. Someone here suggested checking it out after I'd been positing using miniatures to achieve a similar effect to what you are talking about. If you haven't picked it up to examine, I'll recommend it to you. It regularly sells on E-bay for less that its shipping cost.

Yes I have Everway, and it is pretty good.  But unfortunately, the high level of Wierdness in the world leaks over into the art, making them highly specific.  That's an interesting property of the "picture tells a thousand words" effect, and why I think that art needs to be specifically commissioned for a game world.  That said, a lot of exiting CCG art might be viable for certain purposes.

Quote
Had historical rpgs been more popular, I think we could reasonably assume that we would have developed a better method of incorporating metaplot into rpg design by this point. As a general mental excersise, taking a timeperiod that you are familiar with and considering how you would deal with that in a game would be a start.

Roughly, yes.  I mean, Livy's annals for example are organised by year, so it would be realtively simple work through the sequence in order picking relevant events.  But I have already considered this at some length, and their remain problems - simply having a copy of Livy to hand does not cut it.  The "plot" still needs to be teased out of the narrative and linkages between highlight events constructed.  A way to integrate characters with the events is also required; a way to extract say a thread of the action, and for this to be intertwined with other threads.  It would be pointless doing the 2nd Punic War without doing specific events loike Lake Trasimene; so I think you would extract these key set-pieces and formulate linkages between them.

Quote
A game where conflicting ideologies and world views was the pre-eminent focus of the design could be interesting in itself.

I'm not sure I would want to go that far so soon.  But for example, and sticking with the Roman scenario, there is at present an HBO/BBC production called Rome on at the moment, covering Caesar's seizure of power.  I was discussing this with some friends and was explaining that Caesar raised two legions with hois own money on his way to gaul, somewhat earlier.  That is, the idea of the role of the wealthy Roman citizen is quite distinct from our modern ideology.  So just for the sake of interest, it would be interesting to encounter a setting in which these ideas are expressed and visible so they may be Explored.  This where the GUPRS worldbooks mentioned below tend to fail: their overview is too modern, too much like the history text book that observes from the outside, rather than a work that can be taken for the observations of an insider.

Joshua BR wrote:
Quote
Images - Gareth, have you tried using any of the number of "The Art of..." books?  They're released for comics, movies, and sometimes just a single artist who has a very signature style.  This seems like it would fulfill a good portion of what you're after there.  By no means am I trying to discount your desire (more on that later) but as a point of total pragmatism, that might be useful to you, and I'd like to hear if you get any mileage out of it.  National Geographic coffeetable books might also fit the bill.  On the more abstract level, I'll tell you that production costs is one of the reasons you don't see this kind of book in gaming.  A page of art is more expensive than a page of text, and the paper and print quality matters more with art, so you can "get away" with lower-quality printing for mostly-text materials.  Ideally, such a book would be full color on glossy paper, but I can see a greyscale version on buff, it'd just be less impressive.  In any case, combine the higher production cost with the smaller audience pool, and I dunno how profitable it'd be.

Those sorts of thiings are very much my inspiration.  As a kid I had a book called Space Patrol (unrelated to the 50's TV series), which I don't hink was anything other than what you describe - the format was a page of text providing commentary on a facing page with a piece of SF novel cover art.  The art was from multiple sources and in different styles, but the texts would then attribute facts, or meaning, to the images by asserting that a given picture was an image of the battle of such and such.  The result was a remarkably coherent, deadpan delivery done in the style of a primer on the space patrol for would-be cadets, a recruiting brochure if you will: and as such it would also have served perfectly well as a player prop.

Now thew first thing is, then, that the market for such things is probably much wider than the RPG community - good art is good art, and there is already precedent for selling products that comprise art almost entirely.  I wouldn't be surprised to find that the trade in Boris Vallejo art alone eclipsed RPG sales, not that I know.  But I frequently see the art of books you mention, and they are very nearly the kind of thing I'm thinking of.  And it is this facility for cross-over that I think obviates the problem of the high unit price of art-heavy products: I think that if these things were to be found on the same shelves in the comic stores and book stores as the Vallejo materials, absolute volume of sales would be rather higher than in the RPG market alone.

The downside to existing books is that they aree seldom thematically coherent.  The case of novel cover art shows this - there is no reason to expect two pieces to be similar in styule or content.  But if an author contracted an artist to produce mutliple covers for a series, and they had a discussion about, say, the necessary engineering of starships and why they have to have sticky-out-bits, then you get the kind of consistency I am thinking of.  Now, the existing art books are not consistent and so I cannot buy one and get more than a couple of images to apply to any given RPG setting I might choose to play.

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Worldbuilding - The best worlds I've ever played in in terms of depth of character and society have been worlds that make reference to things outside of them.  You seem to be looking for an all-in-one-place sort of detailed world, but I got years of enjoyment out of Tribe 8 and Changeling, not necessarily from the material presented in the book, but the connections I made between that material and outside stuff.  Feudalism is a hugely complex social system predicated on a mountain of cultural assumptions, and while I'll agree with you that all of that is not really represented in RPG books, I've never had any trouble introducing those elements in settings with feudal systems

It's certianly do-able, introducing those elements, but I have had some issues over whether or not we have actually agreed to them, if what we instead agreed to play was "this game".  Please note, I'm certainly non claiming that ALL games should be made this way, only that it would be nice if some games were like this.  And in addition, I don't want to do as much research as this would require - my argument is precisely that we have universities full of mediaevilists and yet make no efforts to tap this expertise.  This brings all the virtues of the external authority seen in other RPG contexts, such as consistency and a court of ultimate appeal.

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You speculate that the lack of anything but 'teen cool' (which is a great term) may be one of the reasons why adults don't get into the hobby and you may be right, however, the format which you seem to be espousing (and correct me if I'm wrong) is a sort of depersonalized overview of a fictional world, and I'll tell you right now that the lack of a sympathetic point of view character will drive away those adult readers just as handily.  Generally speaking, people don't get a kick out of demographic data and cultural profiles -- otherwise the CIA world fact book would be one of the most popular sites on the internet.  If you can solve that issue -- presenting that in-depth cultural meat (which sounds great) with a point of view for the reader to sympathize with (and not falling into the trap that Castle Falkenstein did), you'll have a winning product.

Well, as somneone who argues politics on the net the CIA worldbook gets looked up frequently in certain circles.  But rather, I am thinking of real cultural representation rather than this sort of demographic data.  For example, I know there is a book I skimmed recently but couldn't afford on the Anglo-Saxon hall; this covers the regular residents, such as the noble family and their retainers and servants, and the kinds of rituals and so forth that would be performed at guest-feasts and similar events; so for example the lady of the hall greets all visitors with a cup, and also serves as her husbands mouthpiece for certain provocative statements, because she fills a para-religious role as the hostess and is thus more-or-less immune from political sanction, while the lord is not.  Thats the kind of information you get from proper sources, which speaks directly into the content of play, and would appeal directly to the historically curious adult, the roleplayer, and the historical re-enactor.  Simply going through the motions, knowing that this is roughly real, has a frisson and an attraction all its own. 

By contrast RPG's have already done quite a bit of demographics, Harn famnously providing numbers with which to calculate the population density and farming intensity of a region.  But despite the fact that this information has already been predigested into quanitites that are fairly easy to handle, this information is as you say virtually useless for determining what to describe, what is happening, in any given time or place.  And the absence of information about how people actually live and interact leads to the introduction of anomalies, such as the overly cash-based economies of RPG worlds, I think.  Thus, some of the best RPG sourcebooks I know of are illustrated kids books aimed at exploring "life in a castle" or similar, showing the kinds of clothes people wore and the foods they ate - these usually provide more information about daily life than an RPG text.

Pells wrote:
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I've said it before, I've been working on a story to sell and I might give you some insight about what I'm doing on the purpose of this thread. And yes, I came up with a narration theory based on events (I don't know if you refer to it Gareth, I'd say I hope).

Yes indeed.  I think your coneception is a very similar idea, although I'd be wary of calling your plot-point triggers "bangs".  But anyway, yes this is the kind of thing I mean - I wrote a post some time ago about building plots on the basis of a sequence of thematic lines that progress from one incident to another.  THen onbly addition I would add is that you might want to do a scene for no other purpose than to exhibit some element of the setting, such as the role of the noble lady in the saxon hall I mentioned above.  This would be rather like a movies establishing shot - we see a single incident that is representative of something the character does a lot, something that expresses their social role.  This allows players to "walk thru" the social demands on the character and thereby gain the experience of that characters life.
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