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Chatting to [livejournal.com profile] mirabehn via email, I was reminded about the freeform roleplaying games I & friends (including, on separate occasions, [livejournal.com profile] hungrypixel and [livejournal.com profile] owlfish) used to run at York. And looking over my archive, I've still got almost all the data for several of them.

They'd still need quite a bit of fine-tuning and updating, but would be playable and indeed expandable.

Brief description: one afternoon/evening, one large room and (preferably) several smaller ones, 20+ people.

I have incomplete archives for one with vampires in, one set at an office Christmas party, one fairytale kingdom (the most complete - though it was done a second time, and I don't have the version used then), one generic fantasy, and one James Bond spoof.

I'm quite taken with the idea of running something based on one of these, or indeed an entirely new one. I'm not about to do it all on my own, though - mostly for logistical reasons, since these things get complicated.

Anyone else interested? Useful things people could bring to the table would mostly be enthusiasm, writing ability, and the availability of large spaces in or at least near London.
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I was, mostly at random, reminded of a previous post I made, a brief snark comment on the death penalty. I should also note at the top here that it quickly turns into rambling about books instead, though.

[Other point I was originally going to make, about why some people support the death penalty so strongly, excised because I can't yet find a way to put it that doesn't turn into a sneer.]

I think I may have it, now, so bear with me, Gentil Reader, while I ramble. or not )
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I'd been wondering whether I could strictly claim to be a roleplayer or not (and, indeed, whether I wanted to, but that's a whole 'nother story).

So I came to the conclusion that it's not to do with standing around drinking tasteless virtual beer, and inventing gossip, and fomenting political incidents, but to do with the way you view the environment.

Multi-User Dimensions are:

i) chunks of interacting code with characteristic behaviours, that can be manipulated for your profit, and inhabited by the avatars or toons of other people who are also trying to do the same.

ii) simulated worlds which are presented through text, in which one interacts with the environment and with real (player) and imaginary (non-player) characters in various ways.

As a long-time roleplayer and fiction reader in real life, it's my instinct to take the text at face value - if it tells me that that is what it is, it's only polite to believe it. It also doesn't matter what the text is presented by - whether it's a server, a real-life GM, a live roleplaying ref & a group of monsters, or a neatly bound series of dead tree slices. It all comes from someone's imagination in the end.

Suspension of disbelief rocks.

The problem is, it's fragile. I don't have a problem with my character killing monsters, or indeed other supposedly-human characters, since I'm used to that in roleplaying games, both tabletop & live-action. But there are non-player characters wandering around that are perfectly ordinary animals - dogs, cats, horses, and wild animals too. The only way I've interacted with them in the past is in real life, and there is no way I can react to them otherwise without major cognitive dissonance, which expresses itself as panic & bewilderment, or without constantly telling myself that this isn't even a game.

(Since, of course, ninety-five percent or so of the games I play are roleplaying games, and one expects to treat the game's environment as if it were real. Where else does the fun come from, if not that? And yes, that's an honest question, I'd love to hear an answer to it.)

The other problem - the other face of this problem - is when the non-player characters break their role and act in ways you wouldn't expect a character to be able to. Every time they remind me that they're chunks of code, and not bound by the same rules I am, a bit of my suspension of disbelief goes SMASH-tinkle-tinkle on the ground.

And there's only so many times you can clap your hands.
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Rambling time... bear with me, please. Or, alternatively, go read something else. The power, Gentle Reader, is entirely in your hands - nobody is forcing you to do anything, in any way.

Apt, I suppose, because force is the subject of this particular meaningless post. I've had a certain amount of experience with social groups ruled by force and ego, having gone through a more than usually rough school, and then spending most of my university years hanging around with roleplayers and SF geeks - you know, the ones who idolize fighting types, massive destruction, the solving of problems with weaponry, and Big Fucking Guns. Mind you, this is a wild generalization, and not all of them were like that.

But I think I'm safe in saying that any social group run on force (either social pressure or physical force, or the threat thereof) ends up with basically four types of people in it: bullies, yes-men, wimps, and benevolent tyrants.

Which is to say, the ones who get off on using force and proving their power and authority, either to good ends or to bad; the ones who want to have a quiet life and get it by agreeing with someone more powerful or charismatic than them; and the ones who don't want to have anything to do with the whole dominance thing, or who know they'll lose whenever it comes down to a contest, but can't or won't get out of it for one reason or another.

One common error they all fall into is in coming to accept that 'how things are' is 'how things ought to be'. There are basically three kinds of people: elected officials, who have a certain amount of power and the responsibility to use it the way their electorate want, or will accept; appointed officials, who have, again, a certain amount of power, and are answerable to the person or group who appointed them; and private citizens, who have whatever power they can scrape together and are answerable only to the written or unwritten rules of the social group they're operating in.

So, if these private citizens feel they have power, they'll use it to enforce their whims, even when - or especially when - they think these whims to be some sort of social or universal rule.
"You don't sit in Big Joe's chair."
"Only complete losers drink Diet Coke."
"No complaining if you aren't One of Us."

They also tend to think in black and white terms, in my experience, and don't understand a couple of basic principles of game theory - for instance, that what they're playing isn't a zero sum game, and that their winning condition doesn't necessarily match up with the other person's.
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Looking at the post below, it occurs to me that some suggestions for something a bit more thoughtful and less... nasty... would help.

A fair number of these are written for children or teenagers, which I'd say was a good thing - train them up right and they'll stay that way, or at least more likely than if you raise them on a diet of Warhammer and David Drake.

  • Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens - anything of hers is worth a read.

  • Likewise Diana Wynne Jones - I'd recommend starting with Archer's Goon or Cart and Cwidder (the first book of the Dalemark Quartet). Oh, or The Dark Lord of Derkholm.

  • No recommendation list would be complete without Neil Gaiman. His Sandman graphic novel series is an absolute instant classic, and American Gods raises some really interesting things about mythology and, well, people. After all, that's what everything comes down to in the end.

  • Pamela Dean's Tam Lin is a modern-day retelling of the Scots legend, taking place in a Minnesota university campus in the late seventies. Besides the fantasy elements, it's a wonderful, complicated story of friendships, insecurity, and the problems of life.

  • Lois McMaster Bujold writes gripping and extremely readable books about people who try to get along in a militaristic world, and to improve things for others as well. Start with Cordelia's Honour (comprising Shards of Honour and Barrayar).

More when I think of some.
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Fantasy books are shaped and formed by violence.

Mind you, this isn't universal - there are always laudable exceptions, gentler stories with their own devoted readers. But the mainstream of fantasy, the ones most prominently on display in the bookshops, and the ones that new fantasy readers often come to first, are the books about wars, warriors, bloodshed either official or informal or both, the slaughter of other people or strange monsters, and the overcoming or at least endurance of other peoples' violence.

Forgive me, Not-So-Gentle Reader, for putting words into your mouth, but you will say to me: Fantasy worlds are violent, rough. That's how things are in places like that. You have to do what you can to survive.

Which is, in the strictest sense of the phrase, begging the question. Who made them that way? Why, Ungentle Reader, you did, and all your kind.

Personally, I blame J.R.R. Tolkien for starting it off, with his split personality and unconscious racism. He hated war, as it was fought in his time - the barbarism, the atrocity, the senseless deaths. But he looked back, in a very Christian manner, to the olden days when real heroes had shining swords and the lakes of blood they waded through didn't matter, because their cause was just, and they were only fighting infidels - none of these messy complications that the World Wars introduced, about impersonal deaths and people like you on the other side too.

The Lord of the Rings is all about the way the glory of war and the extremes of good and evil have passed out of the world, to be replaced by progress and the simple beauty of village life. It's an incredibly sad story. It's also all about violence, and the way it affects ordinary people.

Now, I suppose this is an entirely legitimate topic for discussion, but how did it become so central to the entire genre? It's almost impossible to imagine someone living in a fantasy world who doesn't own or acquire a sword. Most fantasy worlds have a war of some sort, or the threat of war, going on somewhere - if it's not a war, it will be an incursion of monsters, a plague of brigands, and so on.

Partly, I suppose, it's because having a sword makes problems appear so much simpler, and weapons equate not only to power, but to a convenient hand-sized chunk of power that you can just pick up and use.

Tolkien, mind you, wasn't anywhere near alone in his world-view - the same ideas about chivalry appear in the work of ER Eddison (The Worm Ourobouros), Andrew Lang (the Blue Fairy Book &c), CS Lewis (Narnia), and GK Chesterton (no fantasy per se, but The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a perfect exemplar of the idea).

It's interesting how all the swords end up in the hands of upper-class men - even Lucy got a bow, traditionally a yeoman's weapon, and Peter and Edmund were given swords straight off the mark.

I think that it's a very Victorian thing, as well as a Christian one - the current age is unlike any other, they said, and Mankind has never had it so good. All previous ages (and, by analogy, fantastic worlds) were barbaric and violent in comparison.


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