Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Reading Music/Reading Text

A metaphor: roleplaying text is like sheet music. Someone who has no training in it whatsoever cannot comprehend what the end product is supposed to be like just from looking at the pages. Over time, as you learn to read it correctly, you can start to figure out what the end product will look like, but until you actually try it out you're not entirely sure. Being around other people that can read it and teach you will help, but if you just rely on their interpretation you'll have a hard time figuring it out yourself. Finally, once you've learned to read it, you can take a piece you've never seen before and know how the end product is going to be before even beginning the process (playing the instrument or actually playing).

Now, RPGs are different in that each game can teach the reader how to read it correctly. And thats a goal that I think is worth striving for.

Without being able to read sheet music myself, and therefore somewhat ignorant of that process, I think you're spot-on, at least in regards to the bulk of published products produced thus far.

RPGs are a really strange duck, when you get down to it. Considering the book as an artifact, it is the blueprint for a social situation that creates the end product (the game/story/experience). The published material is pretty estranged from the experience it is meant to produce. If I can elaborate on your metaphor, RPGs may be more like the sheet music for a symphony, which I understand has little-to-no correlation to what one individual musician actually plays. It needs to be parsed out to individual musicians, and then they need to all follow those directions in concert (which takes practice) in order to actually get music out of the affair.
I can't read sheet music either! And your other comments seem spot on to me.
I CAN read sheet music! :)

And yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Though, I think that RPGs are a little more different in that they all should be considered the equivalent of the "beginner's music lesson book" that goes over the care and handling of your instrument, techniques for it's use, as well as sheet music itself. Supplements and modules? Those can be raw sheet music.

Because each new rpg is a whole new instrument.
Good points, Chris.

Another note - I asked Nate (Paginini @ da Forge) about it, cuz I know he's a musician, and he had this to say:

"It's not a bad analogy. I think you may be doing it a disservice by attaching it to people though. Yes, it's true that there's a whole spectrum of reading skills, starting with note-by-note picking it out, and running all the way up to knowing how a piece will sound just from looking at the score.

But with RPGs, I think this is dependent on the quality of the writing text, rather than the skill of the reader. A well-written RPG book will give even the most noobly RPG novice a clear idea of what the actual-play experience will be like. A poorly writen one say, like BESM) will have a lot of procedures and data that experienced gamers can drift to their own use, but no actual help for a newcomer who wants to actually play."

Which I think makes a lot of sense, as well.

Seems that this metaphor has some traction to it.
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