The opposite of subtle

This is the second adventure in the “big group” Tunnels & Trolls game, which acquired another player along the way for a total of five in addition to me. For the two additions, this was their first role-playing experience, so certain points and topics about new players apply. Although I don’t have much to add to what Sam says so well in Late night post on new players.

The video includes a lot about preparation and application in play, as well as more thoughts about resolution and actions in long-round combat systems. If you’ve noted the many posts and comments about “situation” lately, then you’ll find many relevant, practical points here. We might also further discuss how religion, as a cultural institution, reared up as a central feature of play, especially my own sense of “well, we can’t avoid it” given what might have been throwaway or secondary content from the first adventure.

I think it’s a fun video even if it’s only me talking at you, and I provide the pictures and notes in the attached PDF to follow along with it. All thoughts and inquiries are welcome.

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3 responses to “The opposite of subtle”

  1. I have been thinking about gods and how they relate to fictional content and what the relationship between characters and “the gods” might be. In particular I had this thought:

    What if all gods were evil? OR at least, distant and indifferent? How does that affect the characters’ view on good and evil? Why would evil gods create, if they did create the humans let alone other fantasy tropes? Is human rights even a thing?

    Of course, how do these questions relate to play in games where we often allow assumptions to fill in the blanks?

    • I’ve been thinking about how to reply and decided that I can’t, or at least, not reply in the “what if, if then” sense. These discussions have been circling nowhere for decades and I’m pretty sure I know why: they’re not really about play. In my vocabulary, they’re about backdrop. Played situation does not touch the backdrop or vice versa.

      When we’re talking about a played situation, in which we know who says what about which things, the only question is whether its resulting content adds up to a good (fun, etc) thing to be playing. If it wasn’t my job to come up with that content (myself or from some book, doesn’t matter) or to apply it in play, then it’s not up for debate from me. If I think it’s odd or discussable, I can do that at some point when we’re talking about play rather than playing. If I were to think that the content is stupid or unplayable, it’s my prerogative to exit from play on that basis.

      I mean, we could discuss the point you raise in a serious fashion, beginning most productively with Arthur Schopenhauer’s point that if a thinking all-powerful all-creating deity (God) were in fact evil, humankind would have no way of knowing this or of distinguishing this deity from a good one. You may agree or disagree, I may develop the point, we may begin all manner of subchapters like the distinctions among Godtime, the Age of Heroes, and Our Mundane Times …

      But this is college coffee-shop conversation. It’s not important for us to arrive at any agreement or conclusion at all, if the priority is simply to play something.

      Let’s consider the game I’ve described in this post. It’s definitely cynical as hell. There are entities called gods, with no definition or cosmology attached, without any description of religious practices or churches. They’ve met one which was split in half, and each half was surrounded by a cult which had clearly built itself, socially speaking, not due to any direction from the respective god-half, and when the halves were re-united, the god demanded worshippers, with no explanations or requirements, and then disappeared to wait for a long time to see what the people have come up with. They’ve discovered a tower which in fact goes up into some kind of god-realm, whose lower half represents an especially nasty caricature of organized insitutional religion, and which strongly implied that the gods, whatever/whoever they are, are totally cut-off from any consideration of humanity and are very likely pissing about up there doing literally nothing. [If anything influenced me here, it would be the brief scene with the gods in Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master.]

      What does this have to do with play? It’s specifically and only enough for me to use this cool tower in a treasure-and-fight scenario. It has no world-building justification or prior story which I could refer to or whip out for any conversation. It has enough thematic and intellectual content to be entertaining to me for purposes of playing it. Whether it “makes sense” to anyone else is no problem or concern of mine, and whether anyone at the table is concerned with it making sense (or with anything to do with acceptability or offense) is not my problem either. I may hope they think it’s fun, but that’s all.

      My goal here is to respect your inquiry, by saying, “By all means, set up some playable situation in which that concept is relevant, to the point that you find it as enjoyable to play (for your own self) as possible, and then we’ll play. If I hate it, well, then I do, but it’s no blood no foul.”

  2. My personal experience, when playing D&D clerics, has been that the backdrop and my approach to playing against it are in constant tension with the game’s (and the group’s) expectation.

    Namely, if I’m a divine agent of an entity real enough to provide me with magical powers, why would I do anything other than advance its goals, and why would IT suffer anything else other than complete devotion to its cause before taking those powers away? But that doesn’t jive well with an adventuring party setup.

    To Sean’s point, in the “how do gods relate to fictional content” issue, my take is that in most gaming fantasy (going back to D&D and every game that took a cue from it in this respect) that treats them as unquestionable real entities with measurable effects on the world, their relationship to the setting isn’t satisfactorily resolved, as churches are modeled after real world cults that have never had this degree of certainty nor this kind of relationship with their deities, and clerics are just a different kind of Wizard.

    How Gods translate into play, for the same reason, I think has also not been satisfactorily resolved, and I believe resolving THAT is a previous step to more elaborate speculations like “what if they were all evil” being productive.

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