I’m a recovering rewriter

I had a friend visit my home recently, someone that wasn’t a “gamer” and had never played a roleplaying game before, to the point I had to teach him how to recognize the polyhedral dice. He saw my Mausritter box and was attracted to it, and asked to play—I obliged.

This is not about how that session went, although it went really well. It’s also not about how inspired people that are not involved in hobby-culture can be , although they definitely are.

We were playing the starter module Honey in the Rafters. It’s designed as a “point crawl”, which is a connected graph of important locations. My friend’s mouse adventurer had managed to gain acceptance into the Sugar Cult dwelling in the human-sized furnace, by masquerading as a potential initiate, and thus had gotten the task from Brother Glacé, the leader, to recover cursed honey from the bees so he could receive his rites.

As he was returning from the cursed beehive to the furnace he had to pass through the rafters, where he left some enchanted sunflower seeds that he had gathered earlier in order to make space in his inventory (Mausritter has an inventory made of 6 pack squares, 2 hand, and 2 body squares). When the mouse got back to the furnace, he wanted to heal one of the cult members that helped him and got injured, and I had one of the cult mice inform him that those sunflower seeds could have healing properties. He declared he wanted to feed them to the injured mouse.

Now, we weren’t in a tense or hectic situation where counting turns mattered. So I just said: “alright, the seeds are here, you actually had carried them here all along”. And I didn’t really think much about this, it’s a thing I do often to speed things along when details don’t matter.

But the player, lacking the habit of “GM word is god”, looked at me with a weird face and said: “No. The seeds are in the rafters—I go back up there and take them.”

He was right. There was no point in my statement, other than a habit to rewrite “for the player’s comfort”. I wasn’t really speeding things along, as his statement took as much as mine. I was just undermining the shared fiction for no reason. And a new player, without bad habits and just willing to listen and reincorporate, noticed immediately.

Anyways, I’m a recovering rewriter. Old habits die hard. Are you as well? I hope this helps you notice that.

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4 responses to “I’m a recovering rewriter”

  1. So, I used to have a much more structuralist view of story in general and genre in particular. When I looked at games through that lens, I would often wonder about rules that seemed like they would have the ability to really pull focus from the main momentum of the game. Even in the absence of a railroaded scenario I was still focused on the idea that our narrative trajectory could still be derailed based on structural expectations. A story has momentum, and you shouldn’t disrupt the momentum. Both physical and mental recovery rules, certain Disadvantages, and time management rules were often areas of concern for me. Hell, when I first looked at Sorcerer the Demon’s Need seemed like a big candidate for momentum disruption.

    So, of course, I had an impulse to steer around those mechanisms. I’d allow NPCs to be pushovers if I thought injury from a fight would be too disruptive at this point in time. I’d downplay phobia triggers from a player’s disadvantage list if I thought processing a (fictional) panic attack would pull too much focus in the current moment. Everything had to keep the arc of play flowing smoothly. The rising action had to rise in a straight line.

    What has helped has been engaging older media. It’s surprising how… messy literature once was. I was shocked to discover how Le Morte d’Arthur is filled with all kinds of lesser-known moments, many of which concern virtually nameless knights who set off on some errand only to be killed in the first conflict they trip across. A book I sometimes recommend to people as an illustrative point is The Recess by Sophia Lee which is just this rolling tale of Events. Stuff just happens one thing after another. Minor villains crop up and disappear within a few chapters. Anything that happens might be a big deal or it might be resolved on the next page.

    So, some of this is about killing your inner studio executive who is trying to keep the budget under control, trim the run time down and make sure the trailer can cater to market expectations.

    • Your comment about the wideness and weirdness of literature outside our latter-day laser focus on tight escalation and a clean climax resonates hard with me. But I suppose further discussion is outside the scope of the site.

  2. This is a good thing to be aware of. I can think of a couple times when I was GMing Worlds Without Number that I told someone “we can just say you had that [piece of equipment] on you.” In this context it was more clearing up confusion over the fiction (none of us, in fact, had previously clearly defined where the equipment was), but still I think it can slide easily into the sort of thing you’re talking about.

    As a non-GM I am sensitive to when GMs do this sort of thing and yeah, I don’t like it. It’s only a peccadillo, but it gets my antenna up regarding whether we at this table are going to be actually honoring the fiction or not.

  3. I recognize this behavior in myself as well. A bad habit picked up in a couple different places I suspect. But this particular presentation brings a sense of recognition and a “oh yeah, I do that.”

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