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Author Topic: Roleplaying Stories  (Read 2053 times)
weaselheart
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Posts: 19


« on: March 27, 2010, 04:56:43 AM »

Recently I had a lot of questions about play balance in Sorcerer, which led me to do a lot of background reading.
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=29500.0

I write short stories as a hobby. As well as having a good time at the gaming table, I like to use roleplaying texts and theory to help me understand what a "story" is. I think the work done on narrativist roleplay has helped me a lot in this regard.

Part of my reading led me to this:
Quote from: Ron Edwards
To engage in a social, creative activity, three things are absolutely required. Think of music, theater, quilting, whatever you'd like. These principles also apply to competitive games and sports, but that is not to the present point.

1. You have to trust that the procedures work - look, these instruments make different noises, so we can make music; look, this ball is bouncey, so we can toss and dribble it

2. You have to want to do it, now, here, with these people - important! (a) as opposed to other activities, (b) as opposed to "with anybody who'll let me"

3. You have to try it out, to reflect meaningfully on the results, and to try again - if it's worth doing, it's worth learning to do better; failure is not disaster, improvement is a virtue
... which I think is correct. I'm particularly interested in point (3).

I also found, in the preface to the Sorcerer's Soul book:
Quote from: Ron Edwards
     Over time, we will all be able to enjoy one another's stories as well, on the same basis as enjoying a movie, novel or play.

     The goal is to assemble, sustain, and continue to add to a genuine artistic community, proud of what we do and willing to develop it among one another's perceptions. Coherent role-playing should lead to coherent stories emerging, as well as the enjoyment of those stories and the techniques to produce them.

So my question is, has anyone done this?

I don't mean the "actual play" forum, which is very interesting for helping people understand play and a great way of diagnosing problems, but frequently full of metagame information (player names, kickers, bangs, prep work, etc.)

What I mean is, has anyone:

a) Written their play up as a story, and then,
b) used fictional techniques to analyse how good a story it was? Perhaps also,
c) Found out how well it relates to an outside audience.

I.e. seen whether the promise of narrativist play is borne out empirically?
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greyorm
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My name is Raven.


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« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2010, 02:48:29 PM »

I'm very fond of how much Narrativism and GNS has helped me with understanding fiction and writing as well, however:
I.e. seen whether the promise of narrativist play is borne out empirically?
If I'm reading you correctly, this is a mistake. The promise of narrativist play is not to produce written stories (or to produce some kind of thing that can be expressed a short-story, movie, or play). The promise of narrativist play is to produce stories in play at the table as part of a shared creative gaming endeavor.

That is, as much as removing spaces and punctuation unmakes a work of written fiction or removing the actors from a play destroys it as a theatrical creative work, removing the game and social parts of play removes an actual part of the story-thing created, because those things are integral elements of it.

What narrativism produces is momentary shared fiction, hopefully mutually appreciated by the participants; it doesn't really "live" outside the group experiencing and co-creating it. You may be able to retool it into some other type of entertainment, but it does not produce "stories" as they are on the page as a function of play.

"So Joe had Kayon the Almighty give the prince the bird and Fred couldn't stop laughing about it" (or whatever) is as much a part of the story-thing as the character dialogue and actions, as are the Kickers, the Bangs, that one roll everyone held their breath for, and all that metagame stuff, etc.

While like them, Narrativist play is not a movie, novel, or play. It is a jam session. Everyone brings their instrument and plays and adds and riffs and contributes to what you're all making and appreciating. That group is your artistic community, the community being discussed in the quote. The appreciation and shared techniques, the coherency and perceptions and so forth being talked about are for your group. Not for people outside the jam session. Not for all the people in the big world beyond to whom you might someday sell a record (or story, or whatever).

And, yes, we're involved in our own little jam sessions so we're part of this larger community, too, and we occasionally say, "Hey, we did this riff last week when jamming, and it had wings." or "Damn, this one thing we did, it sounded like two cats tied together and used to beat a carpet." And as a bigger group, we can all enjoy that or learn from it or whatever, but we're not going to the jam session to produce the things for the enjoyment or placation of those other groups.

The group in the quote is your group at the table.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2010, 04:13:48 PM »

I wanted to build on what Raven said.  I think one of the biggest divide between "story oriented" gamers has to do with the roll of narrative structure in the procedures of play.  Movies, Plays, Novels and TV Shows all have very particular structures.  They have "beats" in them that most people can identify and certain "types" of stories have very specific and widely recognized beat patterns.  There are certain players who simply aren't happy unless the game matches those beats.  If they can't look back on play and say, "Yup, that looks EXACTLY like a mid-80s action movie" from a structural point of view then the game was a failure.

The Big Model actually identifies that kind of play as a form of Simulationism (Right To Dream) because the play priority of the group is that the result conforms to a pre-agreed upon aesthetic.  They are satisfied because the artifact of play "looks like" the thing they wanted to construct.  Most Narrativist (Story Now) play is wholly unconcerned with structural fidelity to existing media.  What matters is that moment-to-moment the events of play emotionally resonates with the play group for the same reasons that stories do: the situations at hand are compelling in human terms to the audience.

I can tell you right now that if I wrote down any of my Sorcerer & Sword games, not only would they be pretty bad from a narrative structure point of view they don't actually look anything like a Conan or Elric story.  Emotional content wise, yes, they have the aesthetic vibe of those stories.  Structurally?  Nope.  Not once and I don't even try.  But I can tell you that moment-to-moment the fiction is gripping to us at the table because it's all built from stuff we personally connect with and care about.

That's why when playing Sorcerer & Sword constructing a character "like" an existing character and expecting similar outcomes and results is problematic.  The game isn't built for the player to before play decide the shape and structure of his character's narrative.  It only guarantees that his commitment, contribution and gusto will not be meaningless.

Jesse

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weaselheart
Member

Posts: 19


« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2010, 12:34:06 AM »

I don't understand. I thought telling stories and addressing theme was what the whole narrative idea of roleplaying was about. For example:

I'm going to start with a claim that a human being can routinely understand, enjoy, and (with some practice) create stories. I think most postmodernism is arrant garbage, so I'll say that a story is a fictional series of events which present a conflict and a resolution, with the emergent/resulting audience experience of "theme." I also think that stories concern a fairly limited range of possible conflicts, but the angles one might use for presentation, and the interactions among the range, make for quite a stunning array of individual examples or expressions of them.

Again, my claim is that this is a human capacity which is swiftly learned and shaped into a personal characteristic ("what stories I like") as a basic feature of the human experience, used as a constant means of touchpoints during communication, along the whole spectrum of polite conversation to icebreaking all the way to the most intimate or critical of conversations. I am completely unconvinced by the suggestion that what we call a "story" today is a local historical artifact, or that people in past epochs or in different cultures had or have utterly different fundamentals for stories.

My reading of this is that there's something called a story that's cross-cultural and cross-media. To be honest, I don't want to just quote other people's opinion, particularly if I'm not seeing the whole picture. So, let's say this is something I believe - that to some degree, stories are universal and contain similar elements ( protagonist(s), conflict, desire, resolution, etc ).

I can tell you right now that if I wrote down any of my Sorcerer & Sword games ... they don't actually look anything like a Conan or Elric story.
... this I understand. Naturally each story is different from any other. And I can see that you wouldn't want to simulate anyone else's fiction.


I can tell you right now that if I wrote down any of my Sorcerer & Sword games, not only would they be pretty bad from a narrative structure point of view ...
... but this, I don't. Surely a story is a story is a story? Cross cultural boundaries and everything?

That is, as much as removing spaces and punctuation unmakes a work of written fiction or removing the actors from a play destroys it as a theatrical creative work, removing the game and social parts of play removes an actual part of the story-thing created, because those things are integral elements of it.

Let's take a movie example. I agree there's a massive difference between a film with actors and the script, but when Hollywood types want to work out whether to film something, they don't get a bunch of actors together. They read the script, and decide whether it approximates to a story that will attract people. Same with a stageplay. I like watching plays, but I'm happy to read the script for Hamlet.

While like them, Narrativist play is not a movie, novel, or play. It is a jam session. Everyone brings their instrument and plays and adds and riffs and contributes to what you're all making and appreciating. That group is your artistic community, the community being discussed in the quote.

An improv act may look weak when transcripted, but if it doesn't approximate to anything like a story, wouldn't the actors like to work out why, and try to learn from that?

Don't get me wrong - I'm not trying to minimise anyone's fun. If tabletop rpg the narrative way is fun, then great. But isn't the idea to produce workable narrative that addresses theme? Not that it has to be written up as a story, but that if it was, it would be readable?

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2010, 06:00:29 AM »

Please let me get to this in a little while. The current dialogue has located (and entered) every possible minor qualifier, each threatening to become its own quagmire.

The issue and answer are extraordinarily simple. As this is, however, the first week of the new term, I am limited in my time and must call for patience - and no more posting until I get to it, please.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2010, 12:37:50 PM »

Hiya,

My apologies for taking so long to reply. The topic is vastly simpler than either the initial post or the replies have acknowledged and I don't expect it will lead to much discussion once exposed fully to the light. But to achieve this exposure, I have to compose pretty carefully, so the reader's mind does not spin into weird vortices upon encountering a word or phrase inviting it to do so.

1. I do not regard any communicative medium as the single most effective or representative one for stories. Nor do I think one medium validates the other. If the medium permits communication, then a story may be related in it. As I see it, a given story's medium does matter, very greatly, and it may well be that a particular story is best served by a certain medium, although I don't have strong views about that. What I am more certain about is that a given story exists in its medium and cannot be separated from it without becoming an abstract, rather than experiential version of itself. (There may be value in that abstraction, for critical purposes, but not in terms of literally engaging in the story.)

2. To clarify: I don't consider a movie based on a book, for instance, to be "the book" in movie form. I see the two stories as exactly that, two stories. The one being derived from the other (or even, in some cases, an attempt literally to translate from one to the other) is a curiosity of the creative process, and certainly of historical and economic interest, but of no particular interest when talking about them as stories.

3. Stories work or they do not, and this judgment is made upon them individually within whatever medium the story in question is found. To suggest that a story isn't a story strictly because it is delivered in a certain medium, and then becomes a story, or is validated as a story, when its components are presented in another medium, makes no sense.

4. The spoken, gestural, written, and other communicated interactions among people engaged in role-playing are such a medium. In one of my essays, I call it Exploration - not a goal, but a circumstance of interacting with one another. Another term, the Shared Imagined Space, is effectively synonymous. The fact that the authors and audience (and conceivably the actors) are the same people is a unique and exciting feature of the medium. The fact that it is not typically transferred to an external audience is of no importance; that's a historical feature of the medium, and that's all.

Take-home Summary Point I: you are implying, or I'd go so far as to say asserting, that the story created via role-playing did not exist as a story in that moment, at that time, and that it would only "become" a story or be validated as one if it were transferred to the medium of prose. I think this assertion is grossly incorrect.

5. This might be a good time to define my term "story." I'm not a Deconstructionist. I think stories are defined as, and must contain, conflicts among fictional characters with which the audience can relate, that these conflicts must be contextual and may undergo shifts and developments in fictional time, and that climactic confrontations of one sort or another must resolve these conflicts (or indicate their resolution) in the imposed framing-constraints of the story's presentation. I think that when you have these things, you have a story. I think that things that look a little bit like stories but fail to meet these requirements are either other artistic endeavors, with success-criteria of their own, or they are failed stories no matter how quirky or evocative or whatever. *

6. I also think stories, legitimately called that by my criteria, can be successful or unsuccessful by other criteria, mostly to do with structural features but also in terms of thematic coherence.

7. There is no "validation" of a story beyond the points in #5-6. It is or it isn't a story; and if it's a story, it is or isn't any good. I don't think either of those phrases is subject to much wiggle room. But most importantly, transfer of story components (characters, sequence of events, whatever) from medium to medium has nothing to do with validating the story in its first form.

Take-home Summary Point II: you are implying, or I'd go so far as to say asserting, that the fictional material as created and experienced during role-playing is not subject to assessment as to whether it achieves story-status (by my criteria). I think that's bonkers. I think it can be assessed as such quite simply, just as any other story in any medium can be assessed.

8. Not all role-playing is oriented toward story creation. The imagined events might have no particular story criteria at all, serving other creative needs entirely. Or they might meet story criteria, but specifically because those components were composed under a single participant's control, as a framework for everyone else as audience. In that case, you could call the result a story, but you can't say that the role-playing produced the story.

9. When any story is authored, regardless of how it was done or how many people were involved or anything, there is indubitably some kind of transition between the state of its not existing, and the state of its existing. Some role-playing, when conducted by people who want to carry out precisely this activity, and when conducted according to rules which highlight exactly certain components of stories without actually making the story prior to play, does undergo this transition, such that the story is authored, depicted, and enjoyed as such. I call playing with such a priority "Narrativism," or better, "Story Now." I cite Sorcerer as one of the first role-playing games published explicitly for the purposes of doing so, with no attention given to any other priority of play.

Take-home Summary Point III: playing Sorcerer makes stories, not automatically like a sausage-grinder, but in the sense that the tools for meeting that goal are functional. Much like instruments are functional toward the goals of making music, or paint and brushes and easel are functional toward the goals of making paintings. I love playing it and talking about others' playing it, especially in light of being successful in terms of my above #6.

There are some pretty important points to discuss further, especially about how a specific medium literally permits or does not permit certain structures. I think that if one were to take a role-playing session's fictional content and present it in another medium, there'd be a lot of decisions to make about what to include and not to include, what to insert, where to start, what to speed up or slow down, or whatever. I think that it'd be no different from those same decisions when shifting from one medium of any kind to any other kind, though.

Best, Ron

* I presented this viewpoint in Microfiction-Style Roleplaying. I didn't reply to Grant's post at the end because I think his point was invalid (based on a spurious claim about what "most people" allegedly think), and since the Forge isn't about literary debate or ego-butting, left it for readers to decide.
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weaselheart
Member

Posts: 19


« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2010, 12:21:51 PM »

Hi Ron,

and thank you for such a long, well-detailed and carefully thought out reply. I appreciate the time you've put in.

I understand, and agree with all your points. I didn't realise I was implying some points, but that's ok - I'm glad of the clarification. I think it might be because I used the word "story" to mean "prose" - mostly out of habit.

I do have some more questions, but I think they're tangential to the points raised. I hope it's ok if I put them as assertions - I don't want to come across as dogmatic, just as precise and clear as you have been:

Take-home Summary Point I: you are implying, or I'd go so far as to say asserting, that the story created via role-playing did not exist as a story in that moment, at that time, and that it would only "become" a story or be validated as one if it were transferred to the medium of prose. I think this assertion is grossly incorrect.

Agreed. A story can exist in roleplaying, and be considered one in that medium and at that time. Here's my thinking in addition to this:

assertion 1: If something is a story in one medium (eg roleplaying) it can be transferred to another (eg prose), and it will still be a story.

assertion 2: If something is not a story in one medium, and it is faithfully transferred to another, its deficiencies will remain and may become obvious.

assertion 3: Therefore, if you analyse a story in prose, you might be able to say something about its story-qualities in another medium.

Take-home Summary Point II: you are implying, or I'd go so far as to say asserting, that the fictional material as created and experienced during role-playing is not subject to assessment as to whether it achieves story-status (by my criteria). I think that's bonkers. I think it can be assessed as such quite simply, just as any other story in any medium can be assessed.

Agreed:

assertion 4: You don't have to do translate a session to prose to analyse it, but you could.

assertion 5: Doing so might be fun.

Take-home Summary Point III: playing Sorcerer makes stories, not automatically like a sausage-grinder, but in the sense that the tools for meeting that goal are functional. Much like instruments are functional toward the goals of making music, or paint and brushes and easel are functional toward the goals of making paintings. I love playing it and talking about others' playing it, especially in light of being successful in terms of my above #6.

Agreed, and I really liked your comments on the other thread about whether something is or is not a story. I think your analysis is spot on. I guess what I'm saying is that I'd like to read similar stories generated by sorcerer play:

assertion 6: Talking about others playing Sorcerer is already transferring it to another medium. Why not go a bit futher?

assertion 7: Translating to another medium can allow others to share in the fun.

I guess what I'm saying is that there are a few reasons you might want to translate a roleplaying session to prose:

a) It might be interesting.
b) It's good to share something creative
c) It might be informative.
c) It might be fun.

Mainly, though, I'm puzzled. I see a lot of short-story magazines saying the one thing they don't want to receive as a short story is "your AD&D game" (eg: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/submissions/ ). I believe this is because such things usually produce poor stories, not just because they're cliched, but also in the sense you mentioned in the other thread. As far as I can see, Sorcerer gives people the ability to generate powerful, emotion-affecting narratives that address theme - something I've struggled to do as I've tried to learn to write stories.

So my question is: given a story-generating engine, why wouldn't you want to use it to create prose as well?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2010, 03:30:36 PM »

So my question is: given a story-generating engine, why wouldn't you want to use it to create prose as well?

I think that certain roleplaying games are rather successful in creating stories consistently, and good ones at that. Some of my favourite stories have come out of roleplaying.

That being said, the reason for why I don't transcribe stories into high-quality prose (the sort I write in writing prose - actual play reports are a bit different in purpose) is that making up a good story is not that big of a deal; I can do that alone and in full control of the process, it's not like I need a roleplaying game to give me a story to write. I don't know how this is for others, but I strongly suspect that just about anybody who takes writing fiction seriously will be the type who have no trouble creating stories - usually you want to write because you have stories you want to tell. The real barrier to quality is not inventing the story, it's crafting the presentation.

I have considered writing rpg stories, though, but mostly as a literary effect - it might influence the reader's perception in an interesting manner if I transcribed a good session of Zombie Cinema (which produces pretty compact stories that require relatively little in the way of editorializing to put down) with clear margin notes for how and where in the game's system and social interaction the creative impulses seen in the story come from. But the point in doing something like that would be in the novelty value of depicting the creative mechanics behind the story, not that I couldn't invent such a story without the game.

This is a bird's eye view on the matter and I'm sure that there are exceptions, but in general I'd like to suggest that writing fiction is not something you want to do if you don't actually have something to say. It's tough work with its biggest reward being getting your story out there - so if you don't have a story, then you don't need that reward, either.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #8 on: April 08, 2010, 12:38:07 AM »

i]inspire<
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If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.
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