Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Build a 3-legged chair

I've probably said this before in the 5 or so years I have been doing this blog, but working on Old School Magic has compelled me to say it again:

Writing RPGs is not art. It's not artistic. It's often not creative.

It's like making a chair. It's carpentry. Everything artistic about it is superfluous.

When you make a chair, most of it is there because its necessary for it to be there. Sure, you could make a 3-legged chair with no back, but I wouldn't want to sit in it.

Maybe RPG.net could adopt it, which is fine, but I still will refuse to sit there. Give me something really sturdy, with 4 legs, a lot of padding, and a back.


AccidentalFraser said...

It may not surprise you to learn that I disagree. I've always found working on RPGs creative. Granted, there is certainly a level of craft vs. artistry, but the stuff I appreciate the most--as both a writer and a consumer--is the fluff vs. the crunch.

Chuck said...

Sure, there is creative stuff in every RPG book ever written, or any good one anyway.

However, none of those creative bits are actually [i]necessary[/i].

Using Legends of Excalibur as an example: I have a lot of campaign descriptions, concise retellings of the legends, and a lot of flavor in there.

However, even if that fluff is your favorite part, NO ONE (or almost no one) would buy the book without the other stuff- the classes, the bloodlines, the NPC write-ups, magic items and spells.

This is where my chair analogy comes in. You can put all sorts of fancy touches on a chair- velvet cushion, fancy carvings on the legs, expensive wood staining, etc.

But if it doesn't have four legs, a back and a place for your ass, well, no one is going to sit on a velvet cushion in a puddle of varnish.

So yes, there is creativity in every book. But it requires a proper foundation.

Is Architecture creative? Is carpentry? Partially. But as Frank Loyd Wright said, Form Follows Function.

There's a lot of stuff in every RPG book that is not there due to creative spark. In fact a lot of it is scut work.

But it HAS to be there for the rest of the goodness.

And in fact, you can get away with crunch and no fluff, a lot easier than you can get away with fluff and no crunch in my experience.

Chuck said...

I would also say that your answer betrays your leanings.

You've done crunch-heavy books, but I never got the impression you relished the puzzle aspect of putting a book like "In Her Majesty's Service" together.

This is probably why you gravitate more to fiction.

AccidentalFraser said...

There have been more than one forays into systemless releases, including Freeport from Green Ronin. I wonder, though, how successful those have been.

And while system design may be a craft, that is not the only aspect of rpg writing. I would argue that the success of settings such as Forgotten Realms and Eberron (or Midnight for that matter) have more to do with their flavour than their crunch.

Do you think it is Warhammer FRPG's mechanics alone that make it popular? Or is it the atmosphere, the setting and therefore--in part--the flavour.

I think we can agree that writing RPG systems is a craft, but I would argue making RPGs is a blend of craft and art.

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