A Dim View of Bright

This essay is something I don’t usually do, which is dunk on things I don’t like. I try to frame things in terms of why I do like them or what I want them to become. But I wrote this one as a supplement to my blog on imaginary people. I did so not because this piece is at all timely, but because a good friend skilled in literary criticism, and a former colleague at Paizo, Jason Tondro asked me why I’m on about Bright in that imaginary-people post. And listen, please, if you haven’t seen Bright, don’t bother. The Rotten Tomatoes consensus says, “Bright tries to blend fantasy, hard-hitting cop drama, and social commentary—and ends up falling painfully short of the mark on all three fronts.” That’s generous.
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World Building: Imaginary People

A furor among several old-guard D&D creators prompted me to write this. Hyperbole, logical fallacies, and blinkered and outmoded thinking were on full display. Dismaying was the anti-progress and anti-sensitivity in evidence. So was the clear lack of understanding about modern gaming and games, including D&D as it exists today. Unsophisticated was the understanding of how communication and other shared experiences, such as streaming, affect gaming today.

Worse was a hidebound adherence to an outdated way of thinking about how games depict imaginary people. To these veterans, evil must be absolute so the good might discern and righteously smite it. The point here is not to vilify these guys for their shallow takes. I disagree with them, though. I’ll go into why, starting with the topic of recent discourse.

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World Building: Explain a Game

Writing prompts can help you stretch your world-building and narrative skills, such as character development and story development. My friend, game designer and writer Owen K.C. Stephens regularly seeds such prompts on his Twitter feed. Several products on the market, from the Story Engine to the Writer Emergency Pack, aim at feeding prompts or breaking blocks. Writing as an exercise can be fun and creative, as well as training.

In that vein, Ryan Kaufman, a veteran of story who has worked at LucasArts and Telltale, gave out random prompts on request. These prompts were from a narrative-design exercise he did with his writers at Jam City, where he’s VP of Narrative. This is how it started (click the date to see the thread).

I’m running a narrative design exercise with the Jam City writers where we are randomly assigned a Character Backstory, a Goal, and a Game Genre. Then, we will attempt to explain the resulting game, and how all these things fit together as a ridiculous whole.

— Ryan Kaufman (@M1sterFox) November 19, 2019

If you asked Ryan, you received a random character, goal, and game type. Then you explain that game. I asked for a prompt and got the following. (1)

An unusually tall young woman wants to win the Wimbledon in a hack-and-slash.
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The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1562).

Playing with Exceptional Scores

When it comes to a lot of D&D-derived games (1), ability scores have been a discussion for as long as the capabilities and bonuses they’ve given a character have been only derivative of those scores. Most of this design territory is an example of mechanics being too finicky for what they do but surviving nonetheless. The design at the time was functional and innovative, but that doesn’t render it good, originally or forever. These structures remain within the game largely due to legacy or nostalgia, not because they are still functional, innovative, or even necessary.

Some games moved the marker and, such as True20 did, answered the question, “If you need only a modifier, why isn’t that modifier the score?” Heck, AD&D’s second edition made ability scores more useful, especially in the Skills & Powers book. (2) These fiddly aspects merit such debate and reworking. It’s another aspect I’m interested in seeing jettisoned, and that’s the racial ability score adjustment, whatever a particular game calls it. Put another way, you are an orc, so you raise your Strength and Constitution scores by 2, and you lower your Intelligence by 2.Read More »

World Building: Inclusivity

Kotaku recently published an article on queerness in the D&D game. To be more specific, this article is about the inclusion of queer people and, more specifically, a glimpse into their lives as normal, accepted citizens of imaginary worlds. The fifth edition Player’s Handbook, for the first time in D&D history, makes a bold statement about sexuality and gender. It encourages you to imagine different. Several official D&D adventures depict queer couples or families. Many other games have similar modes of presentation, nodding toward normalcy. All these steps are positive. However, a few failures of imagination exist with regard to depicting this sort of equality in games and other media. (1)Read More »

World Building: Roots

marshubble
Barsoom (2)

I said a while ago that I wanted to talk about world building (maybe worldbuilding or world-building, as you prefer). That I do. Doing so seems likely to take more than a couple entries here. This essay is the beginning, written as much for me to explore what I know as for anyone who cares enough to read it. (1)

Generation of the world or universe, the setting, is important to numerous aspects of creating media, from novels to games. Careful design can’t be undervalued. Assumptions should be avoided, while reasoned relationships should take prominence. Aim to build novelty and interest, but include enough of the familiar to build resonance with the audience.Read More »