An Open Reply to Vincent Baker on Setting and such
When I read your Op Ed piece on Setting
, I reacted as I often do to your writing -- you have valuable thoughts on where to take games in the future, but the analysis of past games is completely off the mark. To be more specific, you have a talent for identifying elements that were missing in past games. Elements that improve the gaming experience. Elements that would make great additions to new games.
I agree that the players should look at setting materials as a tool, not a restriction. The setting should be theirs to play with and modify and expand upon. If I didn't feel this way, I would hardly have written Clay of the Gods
So when you say
What do we roleplayers need? We need the starting point of the creative process instead.
Because what we're doing? It's creative.
I'm totally there.
But when we look at the complete statement
The punchline is: most RPGs' setting material (along with all primary source fiction, like Firefly or The Lord of the Rings) is the end product of a creative process. What do we roleplayers need? We need the starting point of the creative process instead.
Because what we're doing? It's creative.
I find myself in complete disagreement with the connotations of this statement. Ben Lehman's comment got it right: The Lord of the Rings
can be both
the end product of a creative process, and
the starting point of a creative process. There's no reason at all it has to be one or the other. In fact, the more brilliantly creative the setting material is, the more it inspires further creativity. Brilliantly creative setting material can also inspire slavish imitation too. But there's nothing that says it has to be used that way.
Let's use one of my own games to explore this in a little more depth. I recently ran a campaign set in Glen Cook The Black Company
world, set shortly after the conclusion of the first set of books. I set the game in Roses, one of the cities that gets a lot of spotlight time in the books. Despite Roses' prominence in one of the books, there is a great deal that we don't know about Roses. During the course of my game, we collectively built our
Roses, with setting building sessions for the first hour or so of each game session. We built our Roses on top of
Cook's Roses; we filled in a small part of the vast field of details that Cook does not cover in his books. We used Cook's work as a springboard for our own creative work.
Do you disagree with this analysis? I think so, but I can't tell for sure from the other thread.
But where we definitely part ways is when we get to this statement:
But I stand: fetishizing our source material is something we do a lot, something that most rpgs insist that we do, and it's holding us back - holding us back relative to my agenda and the stated purpose of this blog thingy.
I totally disagree.
The first part that I would challenge is the assertion that "fetishizing our source material is something we do a lot." My response to that is "who's we, white man?" In other words, I think individual experiences with this will vary a lot. It's not something I've done or seen done much at all. But then I've rarely played games in "stock" settings; mostly they leave me cold. From Greyhawk and Blackmoor through World of Darkness and out the other side to the settings in Riddle of Steel and The Shadow of Yesterday. Yawnsville, all of it. I know other people who prefer to play in these stock settings -- I just don't play them often, and never have. So I've played a lot of games in homespun worlds, and alternative universes (based on both the real world and fiction). To make a long story short: my experience is different than yours, and the sum total of our two experiences adds up to just anecdotes. People whose personal experience is closer to yours will be inclined to believe your version; people whose personal experience is closer to mine will be inclined not to. If there's any real research on the topic, I'd love to see it. In fact, that would be some pretty valuable market research.
The other part I disagree with is your claim that there's game text in "most rpgs" that "insists" that we do this. In fact, I think that the topic of setting material and how it should be treated isn't something that's even mentioned in 90% of rpgs. Or more. I've never seen anything like "here, take this setting material and treat it as holy writ." Now I'll also admit that "here, take this setting material and have your way with it" shows up pretty damn rarely -- and I totally agree that this kind of text would be useful. But you say that there's "holy writ" text in "most games." I disagree. Fortunately, this really isn't a matter of opinion. Either the text is there, or it isn't. If it's there in "most games", then it should be easy to find several influential games that have it. So I'd like to see some actual game text that supports this claim of yours.