20 Jun

Worldbuilding 101: Writing Unequal Societies

Worldbuilding: Writing Unequal Societies

Worldbuilding: Writing Unequal SocietiesWhere are the chamberpot-technician? The dragon-brushers? The stepping stools-carriers? Nowhere, that’s why.

Fact is, that most works of fiction, whether SF, Fantasy, Horror, you name it, operate from the basic assumptions of an equal society. And that means that we’re missing whole segments of world building, encounters and stories that are never told because they can’t be conceived of.

But way, you say, here’s the poor pig herder who became prince. There’s the general that grew up in the slums. Aladdin – the diamond in the rough.

Nope, still operating from basic assumptions of equality. Let’s take a look. Read More

07 Aug

Coherent and Divergent Characters

A Character must have her own story quote

A Character must have her own story quoteImagine unboxing your latest Fantasy Extravaganza. It’s got it all: 17-sided dice, Authentic Glod Coated Doubloons(tm), Faux-leather game map. And your choice of character: barbarian warrior, scantily clad female elven mage, halfling thief.

Yay! Pass the d17 and let the immersion commence.

Archetypes provide your players with instant packets of information. If you’ve got a pointy-eared archer then your players won’t raise any eyebrows if she starts talking to trees.

Unfortunately archetypes have a major drawback: in order to become archetypes they need to be widely integrated into the genre’s cultural baggage. Archetypes are boring. They’re old, stale, yesterday’s news. They’re accepted tropes seen a thousand times before.

So why do we keep using them? Read More

20 Oct

Characterization in non-narrative games

Pathfinder Card Game: Valeros the fighter

Characterization
: the act of describing the character or qualities of someone or something
: the way a writer makes a person in a story, book, play, movie, or television show seem like a real person

– Merriam-Webster dictionary

Pathfinder Card Game: Valeros the fighterCharacterization is a writing term (well, a narrative creation term). Characterization is what sets fictional people apart from each other. Sherlock Holmes is tall and eccentric, Dr. Watson is short and down to earth. Brer Rabbit is fast, Brer Turtle is slow. Zombies like brains, Superman doesn’t like kryptonite.

Characterization, together with plotting and world building, is a central aspect of narrative fiction and narrative non-fiction. It exists in games and the stronger the narrative aspect of a game the more characterization it generally has. Pathfinder the RPG has more characterization than Pathfinder the board game which has more characterization than Mr. Jack the board game which has more characterization than No Thanks!. But what happens if a game has no narrative structure?

Here’s the interesting thing: you can still use characterization in non-narrative games, but it must then work on game mechanics rather than theme. Read More