Monday, September 5, 2016

When Perspective Matters

 Do you know why Dilbert is funny?  Because Scott Adams lived the corporate life for many years and is therefore better suited to make jokes for those of us who live that corporate life.

Jimmy Buffett - He was impressive, young and aggressive, saving the world on his own.

See, most of us don’t see trying to saving the world (in this sense) as being impressive or aggressive, but instead just really annoying.  Maybe some of you are too young and know only school life and maybe college, but those of us out in “the real world”, and I don’t mean that stupid MTV show, have a different attitude towards life.  Some of this shows itself when Hollywood tries to depict rural folks or generally anything outside of New York or LA.  Why can’t they show some of these things?  Because they don’t get it.  Maybe an example that can hit home:  you’ve probably seen it in how gamers are depicted in movies and on TV.  Why is it so far off?  Because they have no idea what you’re like.

Why am I bringing this up in a gaming blog?  Because traveling minstrels don’t understand politics or small town life.  So how do they tell good stories?  Well, they might not.  Not that the stories aren’t interesting, but they are probably not told accurately.  A minstrel wandering the countryside has such a deep chasm between what he knows and thinks and the powerful rulers he tells stories about.  How does this come out?  Maybe the minstrel adds a love interest, because that’s what he thinks about night and day.  Maybe the lord dreams of the simple life, because the minstrel thinks his way of living is best (and stuffy old castles are cold and gloomy, nothing like the hearth of a tavern).  This is the point - You’ve heard of castles being depicted as cold and drafty places, but taverns are warm and inviting.  What, the lords of those castles can’t afford to have huge fire going in the hearths?  That’s silly.  A lord’s suite in his castle would be a very comfortable place, probably with bear skin rugs, tapestries to keep some of the cold against the walls, curtains on the bed to hold the heat in there, a roaring fire, upholstered chairs.  Come on!  He’s the lord of the castle.  The peasants could be starving, but he’s going to be living well.

What I’m really pushing for here is for GMs and world builders to consider perspective.  It is an incredibly important part of role playing, or any story telling.  The way the minstrel describes the lord of the castle will be different than how the castle servant describes him or how the neighboring lord describes him.  They all have dramatically different perspectives. 

This goes back to one of the things I’ve touched on before - Everybody thinks they are basically the good guy.  If the quest giver asks you to go and kill a dragon because he is killing cattle in a region, the dragon killers feel they are protecting the countryside.  But did the rancher move there in hopes of luring the dragon out (in order to find his treasure)?  Is the cattle ranch the first step in the humans pushing the dragons back from a territory they have held for centuries?  The humans could be the invaders, and the dragon(s) the defenders.

One particularly memorable mission I ran years ago sent the party out to rescue a hostage being held.  No one bothered to ask about the culture of that place or anything of the sort.  It was standard in that region to hold hostages for particularly big business deals.  Hostages were kept in dormitories and often taught basic school classes.  So when the hired killers went rampaging through the house looking for the little girl being held hostage, they encountered about 12 kids being held in much nicer rooms than the adventurers slept in.  They had invaded a country estate and slaughtered the few hired guards so that some merchant could safely renege on a contract he had signed with the estate’s owner.  Who was the bad guy here?  That depends on your perspective.

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