Monday, July 27, 2020

No End In Sight?

What began as a discussion about Japanese Anime classics from our youth on Facebook the other day, turned into an analysis of two very similar though significantly different storytelling styles between myself and my very dear friend, William Corpening, the greatest Gamemaster I've ever had the pleasure of gaming with

Essentially, William noted that it took him some time to truly appreciate the Eastern approach to genre storytelling that, unlike an American Comic Books or TV Series for example, has a definitive beginning, middle, and end. The idea that Superman might have an end to his story wasn't a concept William ever considered. Likewise, he didn't plan on there being any 'grand finales' to his RPG campaigns. They simply went on and on until they didn't. 

While I like to think I share that approach, it simply isn't true more often than not. Will noted that my tales have regularly featured a final chapter and apparently always have, though in many cases this never occurred to me. 

In response to Will's statement about having to get used to the idea of Anime and Manga series coming to an end I posted, "I feel like Eastern storytelling of the kind you see in Anime and Manga, especially of the late 70s and early 80s, always spoke to me and that's why I was so WOWed by it. It was what I didn't know I wanted. It influenced my GMing even when I wasn't GMing anything specifically Anime-themed."

This initiated a most interesting exchange in which we compared our Gamemastering styles, with William's insight into my own both quite different and more insightful than what I have gleaned myself. 

Says Will (quoted from text, only slightly paraphrased):

"Are you familiar with Kishotenketsu? Introduction, development, twist and reconciliation. Your style seems to follow that pattern.

You have an end in mind, as far as I can tell. You begin with the ending in mind. I don't think I can even do that, which is why it always broke my heart to leave one of your games early. I wanna see how it ends!!!

I never really played with the end in mind back then. That's why it never ends."

I found this an odd perception initially, though not entirely wrong when I took a closer look at it. Generally speaking, I don't have an end in mind such as, "This campaign ends with the heroes triumphant over the evil despot" or "There will be a big battle in the final session with the PCs fighting the enemy forces while a third party tries to take advantage of the situation".

I don't do that. I don't know where a campaign will end and I don't want to know ahead of time. That leads to Railroading the players and having the GM's story taking precedent over the PCs actions and decisions. 

That said, more often than not I do have a story idea I want to explore going in. "What would it be like if everyone lived forever and death was an unknown? How do you tell that story? Where is the tension?" or "Imagine a Four Color Comic Book Superhero world set in turn of the century France. Where will that idea go?"

At some point while examining the campaign's meta-concept I do see that there will be an ending. There is a point in [most of] my campaigns where I realize the story and PCs are going somewhere, towards some kind of finale. The initial question that prompts the campaign needs to be answered somehow. I look forward to finding out what that answer is as much as they [the Players and their PCs] do and as Will so accurately points out, that process means my stories/campaigns do come to a distinct end.

As for Will's approach: 

"I never really played with the end in mind back then. That's why the story never ends.

I think we may be convincing ourselves and each other that there is some great difference between us. Our differences are likely infinitesimal. I'm starting to process it that way. I'll go left one day where you might go right the next. And yet, I still say you handle story better than I do. Maybe I might handle [large] ensembles better.

It's like I'm Biggie and you're Tupac. Biggie was a rapper and Tupac was a poet. You're the storyteller and I'm the freestyler."

An interesting analysis and one I think I will visit further sometime soon. I am talking to Will about doing a post where we discuss our approaches - both how they differ and what they share in common - and then putting it up and taking questions. Not sure exactly how this will be formatted yet but it is definitely on my agenda. 

That's all for now...

WAIT! Before I forget, a quick reminder that next month is the 2020 RPGaDay Challenge! Please check back as I tend to post A LOT during that time. 

OK, be safe,

Barking Alien 

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