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Wednesday 8 July 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Run What You Know, Know What You Write

Shit, I shouldn't have to be telling people this kind of crap. It should be obvious to anyone with two brain-cells... this is why most of the best writers don't come out of University English departments, methinks: anyone who needs to be TOLD how to write well is, by definition, going to be stuck jammed right in at "Mediocre".

Those with half a brain will realize that the "advice" is self-evident and run.

In any case, with gaming its the same: I've seen many a campaign falter because the GM was unable to accurately convey the atmosphere, emulate the setting he was trying to emulate. Why? Because he bit off more than he could fucking chew. He couldn't hack it, because he didn't know enough about what he was trying to create.

What this means is that if you are running a published setting or following a genre; you'd damn well better know that genre. Not necessarily know every little detail about it, but KNOW in that wonderful straight-from-the-upper-tripe intuitive sense, how to convey the feeling of the place, the time.

I haven't read all the "apocryphal" Star Wars material; but I know how to make Star Wars feel like Star Wars. On the other hand, I don't feel at all confident that I'd be able to make Shadowrun feel like Shadowrun. So naturally, I do not run it.

The whole thing gets even trickier when you're playing in a historical setting. If you plan to do this, in a serious way (be it history or pseudo-history) you'd damn well better know a great deal about the time and place you're running. You'd better know the little details about culture, about times and places, that make the difference between a game seeming unidimensional or a game feeling like a truly vivid recreation.

This all applies to DMing a game; but it applies in spades to WRITING the damn things. Why is it that people who don't know what the fuck they're talking about think that they can just wing it and fool anyone? Are they idiots? They must be, to think that I'm enough of an idiot to not see that they're talking out of their ass. Its like the criminals that think they can fool the cops.

Yea, you could argue that these guys are just writing setting material "inspired by" history, or that the setting doesn't require total accuracy to be interesting; just like a lot of movies take liberties with historical events or other cultures... but that shit doesn't really cut it for me in the movies either. What these game designers, or those movie producers just don't seem to pick up on is that the accurate account of how things were is almost always going to be more interesting and more profound then the cool idea your marketing dude just thought up.

As for fiction, while making a slavish technical reproduction of canon is pretty well bound to become cumbersome, so is taking something in name only and completely reinventing it, essentially just using the name as a publicity hook. The movies took a long time to figure out the right formula in this as far as Superhero films were concerned (remember when they used to absolutely SUCK?): that the key is to capture the FEELING of the license and be faithful to that, while making the story what it has to be to fit the realities of cinema.
Its the same in RPGs: emulating a setting needs you to be faithful to the feeling of that setting; and mold the reality of that feeling around your gaming group.

Mainly, what I'm saying today is "don't bite off more than you can chew", and "don't think your bullshitting about shit you don't know fools anyone".


(Originally posted June 21, 2006)

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