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Storytelling Part 4 “Suspension of Disbelief Part 3” Hello again. It seems that in the effort of discussing plausibility I’ve strayed into the subject of how to engage people in the story. It’s a fair comparison because the two subjects definitely go hand in hand. From a RPG perspective you need your players to care about the story (and I will definitely speak volumes on that subject later) however the same goes for other forms of fiction as well. If the characters in your story don’t care and don’t have believable motivations or reasons to press on then you’re going to have an uphill battle getting readers to care as well. People write about what they know and what they’re interested in. The level of plausibility you bring to your work is probably going to be based on your own experiences and the kinds of fiction you’ve enjoyed reading/watching. I’ve seen a lot of people get hung up in “that would be so cool” and never step back to examine what they want to present or look at it from another person’s perspective. Would that actually happen in real life? Does it fit the genre? Is the presentation or setup actually realistic or believable? Are my Players/Readers smarter than this (if you’re writing a book the answer to that question is probably YES!)? Some people (and I’m very guilty of this) put the book down as soon as it breaks my suspension of disbelief. I might give it a few chances but if it isn’t written well I lose interest fast. And that’s the key ingredient, you can get away with ANYTHING if you present it well and think it through. Take the time to understand your characters and the situations in which they are operating. Really think about how that situation is arranged and imagine how you’d react if you encountered that same scenario in real life. How would you react and how would your friends & family react? But also bear in mind that the more out of character something is (such as having Superman become a jerk), the harder you have to work to sell it to the reader and the more creative you have to get with the justification for what you want to do. Plausibility has two key components when selling a reader (or Player) on an idea. One is Genre Savvy and the other is Realism. Genre Savvy is a topic I will go into at length later but for this purpose it is basically a solid understanding of the tropes and conventions of a particular style of fiction. It is the understanding of what is typical done by the masters of the genre “and” what fans have experienced and expect to see. People expect Conan to be mostly naked and killing enemies with a massive sword. They expect monsters, evil wizards epic quests and primitive cultures. In short, it is called Sword & Sorcery for a reason. Dropping an alien spaceship into the mix might be cool but it violates the genre and can pull people out of the story. If you want to tell a story in a particular genre then make sure you understand it or be very clear up front that you intend to break the mold (especially with RPG’s). If you intend to tell a superhero story then you have an obligation to understand the genre and I’m afraid watching a few X-Men films or cartoons won’t cut it. You need to dig into the comics and understand the true source material that your fans/Players will be comparing your work to. If you can do this well then even a genre mash-up can work. Realism (another topic I’ll probably go into later) is basically the action of giving your work a reasonable semblance of real life. People will more readily accept characters that behave as real people would and can more easily become engaged with characters they can personally relate to. This is the brilliance of characters like Spiderman because he’s supposed to be the “Everyman.” Spiderman is you if you had super powers. If your example of fiction is the SciFi movie of the week but your fans/Players are reading Game of Thrones then you might have a problem. It’s also really important to point out that Genre Savvy and Realism need to exist in balance. Hollywood Physics (such as exploding cars) exists for a reason and we have been trained to expect it even though nobody has ever seen this happen in real life (and probably never will). It’s become part of the Action Movie Genre and we accept it because it’s what we expect. However it might not work in a romantic comedy. Stark realism works in Game of Thrones (pun intended) but it doesn’t work with Superheroes though you would still need characters that are just as believable as you’d find in Westeros. The trick is to stick as close as you can to real life and yet still pay respect to the traditions of a genre that people expect. This is probably one of the strengths of film & television because you have an actor who will do this for you automatically but in other forms of fiction (RPG’s, comics, books, etc.) the burden of this is usually on the shoulders of one or two people. To end this one off I’d like to share some more examples of things I did that worked. Continuing the Shadowrun example, I was actually running two different groups of Players in the same game world for a little while. This allowed me to cross over the events of both games where the events of one had an impact on the other. It allowed me to create a more dynamic world that added to the believability of it. In real life there are always things happening around you that don’t directly impact your life (and you may never personally encounter) but they are there and do form the greater world around you. In fiction we tend to focus only on those things that the characters directly experience. Film (and Stage) often needs to be a very efficient medium given the time constraints so things that aren’t essential to the plot tend to get cut. With mediums like Comics, Television or RPG’s you often have more freedom to engage in world building and truly develop a story. The more of the larger world you can tease (without distracting from the main plot) the more believable your world will be and the more easily you can suck your Readers/Players into the story. During the Shadowrun Campaign the first group I had was dealing with a storyline involving a computer virus that gave sentience to software. Simple programs would simply crash due to incompatibility however complex AI would come to life. The problem is that there wasn’t anything that would tell the program to stop evolving and eventually even a massive AI would collapse under its own weight as it either expanded past the limits of the hardware or become so complex that it simply died. In one instance the players infected a Fantasy MMO that was running complex AI characters for the game’s Players to interact with. This resulted in thousands of living beings suddenly springing into existence as well as cause hundreds of potentially deadly malfunctions (for anyone playing) and this caused the System Administrators to shut the game down. In the process of this, one Player (in the video game) was killed and a Paladin who took him out accidentally ended up trapped in his body (in the real world) before the game shut down. How this was possible is a topic for another day but, suffice to say, we now had a video game character living in Seattle of 2075 with no clue how he got there or how to fit into a technologically advanced society. The original group never even knew this happened. This character, known as Sir Willem (and you’ll get the joke with his name if you’ve ever seen Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising), would encounter my second group and become an ongoing plot device to get them into all kinds of adventures. What you have is a very noble hero type who ends up working with a group of criminals who are occasionally willing to do the right thing. Sir Willem actively searches out monsters to slay and people to rescue, which becomes a source of trouble for the party when their job is to keep him hidden and safe (people are hunting him to learn why he exists). I applied plausibility to this character by presenting him with an extremely accurate (almost exaggerated) interpretation of a fish out of water. He always talks in very proper terms, has impeccable manners (by contrast to some party members) and always interprets the world around him in fantasy terms. He refers to a commlink as a “communication talismans” and motorcycles as “metal steeds.” He asks strange questions about things in strange ways that make sense given where he comes from and uses the terminology he is familiar with rather than what people would use in that setting. This is often played to comedic effect but it is also completely believable because the Players know that he’s a video game character and for all his free will he can’t stop being what he is programmed to be. He believes that he’s traveled to an alternate universe and accepts this explanation easily because that’s part of the reality that he believes he comes from. As a testament to the success of this character, it is worth pointing out that the Players have made no attempt to educate him on the internet (known as the Matrix in Shadowrun), video games or where he really comes from nor have they tried to tell him what he really is. The character was presented as an accurate portrayal of what he is supposed to be and is always presented with realistic motivations within the boundaries of what the Players expect. He knows he is inhabiting someone else’s body and understands that the pour soul is probably dead (he is). This body is dexterous enough to meet the needs of a sword fighter but it isn’t very strong. Sir Willem has been working out a lot to build up strength and one of my Players even showed enough interest in this to ask about it without being prompted. His body is loaded with cybernetics (many of which relate to Hacking) and Sir Willem has no idea about that or what to do with any of it if he did. Luke (one of my players) took the liberty of accessing his systems to make sure his preferences were set properly so he isn’t vulnerable to getting hacked. Sir Willem forms a key piece of the scenery for my Players and they love him. He’s part of the fun of the game for them and adds to the believability of the setting. An accurate portrayal (even if it is simply a matter of their own quirky behavior) can make or break a story in the eyes of the person who will experience it. If there is any proof of how well this is working I should point out that if they were to knock Willem out (something they could easily do since he trusts them) they could sell him for at least a couple million to a megacorporation but they aren’t doing that. The reason is because he isn’t being presented as a thing but as a character. My final thoughts on the subject of the Suspension of Disbelief are this. Genre Savvy and Plausability need to be kept in good balance. You need to play to the expectations of the fan while also delivering something that strays close enough to real life to be relatable. If you can accomplish this you can pretty much get away with anything within the context of your setting but if you do it well, the person who is enjoying your story will be engaged enough to keep coming back for more. Woody
Unusual Terms Hi, My name is Woody Arnold. I like to write comics and play RPG's. People tend to write about what they know and so I am writing a Blog about RPG's (specifically how to run them) and how those storytelling techniques apply to other things. With almost 30 years under my belt I think I might have something valuable to say on the subject "but" people who aren't familiar with RPG's may not know what I'm talking about. For the uninitiated you can find an ever expanding glossary of terms below (terms in Bold have definitions elsewhere in the Glossary): aI: Artificial Intelligence; This is a term for extremely complex computer programs that possess the ability to think and reason like people "or" are sufficiently well programmed to make it look like they can. They aren't necessarily considered to be alive though that depends on the genre and setting you are using. Campaign: This would be a series of sessions of a Role Playing game that are played in sequence and form ongoing chapters in a continuing story. I can be anything from two session to five years worth of play (or more if you're really dedicated). Cyberpunk: Named after a Role Playing Game by the same name, the Cyberpunk genre usually takes place in a near future with significant advances in technology including cybernetics (often available to the average citizen), advanced weaponry, virtual reality internet (see Decker below) and oppressive governments or corporations. It is usually presented as a dark future setting though this is not always the case. Psychic powers or magic may be elements of this genre. The Shadowrun RPG and Ghost in the Shell would probably be the two most famous examples of Cyberpunk. Decker: In the Shadowrun RPG a DEcker is a person who uses a Cyberdeck to become a super hacker. A Cyberdeck is a powerful piece of computer hardware that allows for full immersion VIrtual REality and includes powerful programs to assist in the process of hacking. This sort of thing is common in SciFi stories, especially those taking place in the near future. the best example of this process can be found in Ghost in the Shell: Stand along complex. Fantasy: This is the Genre made popular by such novel series as Conan and Lord of the Rings. The first Role Playing Game (Dungeons & Dragons) was exclusively a fantasy game. The Fantasy Genre commonly includes magic (with great variability in how common it is), medieval european tropes (though other cultures are often substituted or included), fantasy races such as Elves & Dwarves, classic monsters such as Orcs & Goblins and fantastic creatures such as Dragons. Castles, epic quests and magic artifacts are frequent tropes of this genre. Genre: This would be simply defined as a particular style of world setting which includes such things as styles of clothing, tech level, the presence of psychic abilities or magic, specific races and other specific things that are usually associated with that genre. Every genre has certain things (sometimes uniqute to that specific setting) that fans have come to expect. GM: Game Master. This is the guy who runs a Role Playing Game. also known as a DM (Dungeon Master), referee and all manner of other clever things. Megacorporation: These would be corporations that are so big and powerful that they can stand toe to toe with national governments. They are truly global conglomerates with holdings in every continent and participate in a wide variety of business ventures (frequently being so diversified that they are also completely self-sufficient). Megacorps are commonly depicted as being completely separate from national government and not bound by their laws even when operating on their soil (corporate land is considered to be sovereign territory). Megacorps are a key part of the shadowrun RPG and are a common element of various sciFi settings. Player: These are the people in a Role Playing Gamer that are actually playing. Usually they only get to control one character at a time. RPG: Role Playing Game; It's a lot like improv acting with rules. A Game Master sets up the scenario and the Players (who have fully fleshed out characters with all kinds of cool special abilities) get to go on an adventure. It's very similar to games like Final FAntasy however the storyline is usually waaaay more free form & flexible. Session: this is a single session of a Role Playing Game, usually running about 4 to 6 hours depending on the group. setting: For Role Playing Games, the term "Setting" refers to a particular game world that the characters exist in. This is a technical term separate from (though similar to) the usual dictionary definition. A Setting in an RPG would usually fall under a specific Genre but have qualities and characteristics that set it apart from other world settings. Differences could include such things as higher or lower levels of technology, the presence of magic (to greater or lesser degrees) and unique countries & histories. Space Opera: This is a sub-category within the SciFi genre that usually focuses on faster than light space travel, encounters with alien races, interstellar wars and space exploration. Good examples of this would be Farscape, Star Trek and Star WArs. Super Heroes: This term is jointly owned by Marvel & DC (or more correctly Disney and Warner Bros now) but is also used to describe the Genre these companies created. The Super hero Genre is usually contemporary and focuses on exceptional individuals with special powers, skills and/or training that set them apart from normal people and allow them to accomplish superhuman feats. Characters in this setting are either Super Heroes, Super Villains or some sort of secret organization (or government) that is involved with or opposed by either group. The Heroes are usually champions of the average citizen while the villains tend to be focused on using their abilities to make money, get revenge on a hero or dominate the world. Epic battles between heroes and villains are common. Space travel and contact with alien races is a common Trope of this Genre. In this Genre the world usually looks the same as the current time period however the average tech level will be a few grades higher and specific people may possess technology that is centuries ahead of the average. The comics published by Marvel & DC are great examples of this Genre as are the films produced by those companies. TPK: Total Party Kill; This is a scenario where all of the characters are wiped out in a single evening without being able to bring in replacement characters. This is frequently the end of the story whether it was planned or not. Trope: websters defines a Trope as "a common or overused theme or device." BAsically a Trope is a common element you will see in a particular Genre and forms part of the flavor of it. Tropes are not necessarily good or bad but are instead just what is usually done and the quality or effectiveness of it depends a lot on who is telling the story and the interest level of the person experiencing it.

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