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Month: May 2003

Master of their fate

There’s a hefty little thread over on the Forge about ad lib GMing. (Well, it starts out as a thread about player fulfillment and winds up as a big discussion about “No Myth” roleplaying, but you know, it’s still rock and roll to me. Ad lib GMing, with player acceptance. OK.)

The early advice from Le Joueur is very solid and can be turned to slightly less extreme ends. My experience is that many players need the possibility of failure in a way that his Complication theory doesn’t really address. To put it differently: ends must be mutable in play. And… hm. Ah.

OK, so this comes back to one of my personal roleplaying theories, which can be summarized thus: “Roleplaying is the intersection of storytelling and prophecy.” By this, I mean that randomness is a necessary and important element of roleplaying. While there will certainly always be people who enjoy non-random roleplay (including myself), I think that non-random roleplay satisfies somewhat different needs than more traditional roleplay. (Similarly, pure diced roleplay — certain D&D campaigns come to mind — also satisfy different needs.)

This is a distinction I draw not to criticize Amber or Nobilis or Theatrix, but rather to express the opinion that one shouldn’t apply theories of roleplay to all three aspects of roleplay. Generally, intellectual roleplayers don’t try to extend their theories to cover the wargamish nature of hack-and-slash D&D; I think they should also recognize the important distinctions and differences between non-random games and random games.

The perceptual experience of a story which is completely in the hands of the people creating it is essentially different than the perceptual experience of a story which contains random elements. We know this instinctually — it’s the reason why improv comedy troupes take topics from the (random) audience, and it’s the reason why the Flying Karamazov Brothers take objects from the audience to juggle. Because of that difference, theory that applies to one may simply not apply to the other.

OK. So, back to the Forge posting. I read Le Joueur’s advice on Complications as non-obstacles as removing the randomness — removing the oracle — from plot twists. There must be something at stake, because nobody consults the oracle when nothing is at stake. When “failure” becomes a measure of difficulty and/or complication rather than true failure, the stakes are lowered. I am not sure how one maintains high stakes in this model. Character emotional pain is one way to do this, but it requires a level of immersive play which cannot be assumed to be desirable by all one’s players.

Thoughts to chew on. Don’t let them get in the way of reading the excellent GMing advice Le Joueur and others provide.

Little girl

Coolest random name generator ever. It uses the US Census as the data source, and you can tune the commonality of the names. Set the obscurity factor to 1, and you get names like Jesse Hagler and Hannah Walcott. Set it to 99, and you get names like Palmer Glimp and Harland Arrindel. The big bonus utility factor is that each name links to a Google search for that name, so you can find out if it’s already been used in a way that would screw up your story.

Vast wasteland

The SF Chronicle has an interesting article, which claims the most watched station in post-war Iraq is Iranian national television. The New York Times backs this up. I’m a wee bit skeptical, considering how long Iran and Iraq were at war, but even if I discount the reports by 50% it’s still more reason to think that the Shia, Iran-influenced majority will be fairly hostile to American influence.

I was listening to NPR the other night and some guy called in to bitch about the ingratitude of the Iraqis. He’d paid thousands of dollars in taxes to help free ‘em and they weren’t properly grateful. All I can say is that the ingratitude was predicted — but I guess since it was the left predicting it, he figured it was just more meaningless fiskable noise.