Friday, November 09, 2012

Wear it on your sleeve

In my welcome back post I asked folks for suggestions for future posts.  I'm going to start today with Ark's question "howsabout sharing something you've learned as a grad student and how it related to gaming?"

My first thought on that point was that people should really wholesale rip off Charles Dickens for locations, characters and plots to fill out their steampunk games.  But that's probably not a new idea.

But here's something I've been thinking about for a while.  When you're an undergrad on the first day of class the professor probably asks you to stand and say your name and what your major is.  As far as I can tell this serves no purpose other than to make the Undecideds feel bad, because it hardly ever comes up again.

In my grad classes though, we're all studying some form of English something or other so we dig deeper.  I introduce myself as being interested in English lit with a focus on literary hoaxes.  Sam tells us he's into how trauma theory can interrogate postcolonial literature.  Other Jeff says he's a creative writing dude really into hybrid texts.  Etc., etc.  Note that I'm also Other Jeff.  That's hilarious in a world where everyone reads Edward Said and/or Jacques Lacan, trust me.

What I dig about this is that we all get a good foothold up front about where we are coming from.  So like the other day in class I called out Sam on his insistence that pre-colonial texts are "authentic" cultural artifacts.  He knows I wasn't trying to harsh his groove, but that I'm the vaguely postmodern dude who insists that Fake Literature Is Real Literature.  We were able to have what I thought was a fruitful conversation and part of it was due to the fact that we both knew the other guy's priorities.

So you can probably see where I am going with this.  One thing I think good ol' Ron Edwards got right back in the day was the simple recognition that different gamers want different stuff and we should clearly articulate these differences.  I don't fully follow his next step, that we need to craft games to exaggerate certain priorities and minimize others.  Rather I think we can mostly all participate in the same sort of game and see what happens when these priorities push and pull each other during play.

Obviously this requires a little self-reflection on our parts.  When we give a table full of new people a line or two describing our interests, what should we say?  For example, "Hi, my name is Jeff and I'm here to get my PC into trouble" may really help the other players when my dude starts acting stupid.


  1. Hey Jeff, thanks for addressing the question. After seeing the other suggestions, I wondered if it was too banal and would get overlooked. Lots of cool ideas thrown about.

    Your answer is wonderful and shall be required reading for the Stars Without Number group. I think they could use some communication, because at least half of them would answer "Hi, my name is Jeff and I'm here to get my PC into trouble." Well, not the Jeff part. :)


    - Ark

  2. Thanks for reminding me why, after earning a degree in English, I promptly abandoned academia to become a programmer. "how trauma theory can interrogate postcolonial literature"??? Are you telling me someone said that with a straight face, not as a parody of academic bafflegab?

    (I took geology courses because I wanted to know more about plate tectonics to help in my worldbuilding. I was, and am, a True Geek.)

    1. Dude don't harsh on Sam. He is wicked awesome.

  3. I consider Charles Dickens's novels to be great resources for Hobbit names.

  4. Archeology got me into historical realism, plundering maps, classics got me reading prayers to greek gods in the stacks i have never seen online or in other books and really change your views on ancient religion. Some GMs with intrigue based sandboxes really entertain me and bring out my best. Boring sessions of random encounters with orcs and goblins again and again or linear adventures bring out total dick in me as a player.

  5. Charles Dickens novels are the ur-source for pretty much all my Goblin names, but frankly I'm just stealing _GURPS: Goblins_ and Chris Pound's Victorian Name Generator.

    I ran a completely improvised two-fisted Steampunk balloon-voyage Search For The Source Of The Congo, found myself interested in how that search really happened, and got a pretty interesting graduate paper out of it that ended up largely being about the very rapid diffusion of modern weaponry through the interior of Africa between Stanley's first and last voyages.

    My long-running Nine Hills Dairy campaign started off as a bunch of stupid riffs on the Cult of the Dead Cow hacking group mashed up with William S. Burroughs and the Beat movement, and ended up being a long rumination on Capitalism, Corporatism, and Collectivism viewed through the lens of the Gygaxian Nine-Alignment system. With a Haunted Amusement Park and the Demi-Plane Of Cheese.

  6. I think I need to put at least the last part on new player handouts.

  7. Dickens plots are full of blackmail, secrets, missing documents, found documents, frauds and cons, dodgy guys who adventurers would work for not realising that they will screw you over even though it's not in their interest and heros who will run multi-year cons on their own wives to teach them about virtue, modesty and the true value of class and money (two or three servants and a house in a respectable part of town should be enough for anybody). There's half a campaign there for anyone.

    Martin Chuzzlewitt's America, though slightly inaccurate, could be a good starting point. "You paid your last gold piece for a land claim and a boat trip to what the agent promised you was a thriving community. Getting there, you find it's a swamp, with the inhabitants starving, ill and besieged by goblins. Fortunately you equipped yourself before arriving. Unfortunately the boat doesn't come back for three months. There are rumours of ruins to the north, goblins to the west and cattle have been going missing to the south..."

  8. Hi! I'm Matt and I like to play crazy dwarves who don't think about the consequences of their actions! Let's fucking roll!

  9. Obviously this requires a little self-reflection on our parts.

    Great advice, but sometimes I wish I knew how to get players to be just a liiittle more self-reflective so they could answer the question!

  10. I sort of want different things out of different games and I am not in to shanghaiing players in to campaigns I know they would not have fun. Also by fun I mean whatever that stuff is that people get out of gaming, stupid good fun or garmonbozia, depends on the game and the crew.

  11. I need to start doing this. Not just in my own games, but in groups I play in period. Just seems like twenty seconds of self disclosure in the beginning would save twenty minutes of wasting valuable game time on arguments.

    "Hey, I'm the Spaz, and I'm here to learn about your world and exploit my findings."

  12. DAWG! Just clicked on your blog and I am so gladd that you're back.
    Keepin it 100!

  13. Hey Jeff, thanks for add this post thats great ..Angry birds online