30 March 2009

Modern Storytelling

I remember once Mike made a comparison between roleplaying and the ancient art of storytelling. He wasn't wrong either. Sure, the details have changed but a lot of what goes on (at least round our way) under the guise of role playing is actually group storytelling. What struck me at the time was that before the widespread adoption of the printing press, before radio, before television, these activities must have gone on. They must have because we still know ancient myths even though they could not be set down and widely distributed (to most people) until some time in the 19th Century.

Storytelling was, if anything, an orally transmitted and propagated cultural phenomenon in its old form. When you could read from a book, or listen to the radio, when you could go to the movies, watch television or play a computer game it looked like the ancient art of storytelling was redundant. It served no purpose. It was just a phase humanity went through before it got a next gen console.

I can't question what Mr. Gygax was thinking about when he invented D&D. It seems pretty obvious on one level. What he has ended up doing is paving the way for storytelling to come back. This is what I love about role playing books. They're not an attempt to replace a group activity involving people interacting. They're a support to that process. All the stories of the World of Darkness are just prologue to the player campaigns.

A weighty heritage for a hobby that has not thus far managed to cast off its geek-laden roots.

It's come to me recently, over and over, that there must have been a real hunger at some level of society for the return of group storytelling because the original roleplaying set up just doesn't seem like a terribly attractive proposition.

RPGs at their inception were games. You could win and you could lose. The roll of the dice was a core component in "beating" the dungeon adventure. Scores were vital. These trappings, the trappings of the competitive pursuit have proven almost impossible for the hobby to cast off so far. There just hasn't been anyone to reshape any part of it into a discrete entertainment experience.

So Justin and I are writing the manual but make no mistake this is something the people we knew were tending towards anyway. There are a few vital ingredients that we have had to bring in from the cold but the core of No Dice is the making available of a group storytelling experience to a culture that neglected and carelessly forgot how to engage in it. Not that I think modern story based role play is much like a storytelling experience of yore but the parts that are the same are vital, community, communication, sharing time as a group.

We were lucky enough at the weekend to have a complete role-play n00b join us for the preview event. I ran a hitherto notorious zombie romp called "Con of the Dead" which relies a little on the participants having some knowledge of SF television. Until now this has never been a problem in the groups I have encountered. Our n00b however, didn't watch any television particularly and so was in danger of missing many of the in-jokes.

The problem of being the Host is that even if people find their minds numb at the end of the day the tendency is to smile and nod and thank you because people realise how much work you must have done and feel that criticising it would be rude. So I asked our n00b how he liked the session and he said all the right things. After the session I asked Sue whether she got the same vibe.

This is the joy of Sue. People will tell her what they think even if it's that they thought my game sucked. Quite the reverse occurred in this case and we may have one more enthusiastic player to join in the fun of the non-Marauders week game. Justin wryly remarked that we'd have to monitor this "Pied Piper" effect closely. We already split off a monthly group to make a weekly one. Now it looks like we may end up splitting off the weekly one to make, er, two weekly groups if we're not careful.

As Justin rightly pointed out the real answer is to get people skilled up to take the No Dice approach out to the world. Then we don't have to keep catering for fresh addicts who want a gaming fix. Not that I mind trying to fill my life with gaming activities and introducing the hobby to new people but there are so many hours in a day, days in a week and so on and so forth.

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