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Author Topic: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!  (Read 35162 times)
pete_darby
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« Reply #45 on: July 09, 2003, 03:31:55 AM »

Okay, I know I'm going to rambling a little here, but try to bear with me...

It's not just RPG's: it's games in general, especially computer games. It seems that interactive narratives necessarily tend to be more simplistic ans sensationalistic than non-interactive ones. Partly it's presentation (in order to allow players to start playing, more complex, textured set ups require more preparation than the player may be inclined to undrgo). Partly it's fear of constraining the player (it's very hard to enforce tragic inevitability in a game... but by no means impossible), railroading if you will. Partly it's that improvising at any level below "turning it up to eleven" is difficult, and even a little scary at times. Good heavens, you could reveal your real self to the guys round the table.

That's been my experience of RPG's, computer games, and even impro acting (especially with newly formed groups).

And before anyone says it, yes, I am saying it's sharks with lasers versus deep human emotion. In my experience, most gamerswill take the sharks any day. Role-playing games tend to the level of melodrama.

Now, since I'm not addressing most gamers today, but only the discerning connoisseur, we can look at ways of either broadening the dramatic range of games, or at least reducing the laser sharks.

IN This RPG net thread there are some excellent ideas for including the tropes of medical dramas in the resolution mechanic of Hero Wars when running healer based campaigns. I'm sure a quick (and enjoyable!) survey of the tropse of legal and police dramas could produce an equally useful list of "plot elements" to throw into the appropriate campaigns, without expert knowledge of legal systems or police procedures. Maybe (probably) some of these bits are in GURPS Cops. My point (if I have one) is that most viewers of Ally McBeal or NYPD Blue don't have expert knowledge of the real world situations they supposedly represent, any more than viewers of ER know about emergency surgery: what they instinctively know about is the rhythms of drama, and what they have been schooled in is the tropes of those genres, through countless other TV series. No Laser sharks required.

TV and movie writers (and I'm talking about the group as a whole) can produce gripping drama without necessarily invoking laser sharks. It took that thread above to alert me to the possibilities of taking their stuff (without killing them) for direct use in an RPG.

And as for the whole "escapism" thing... NYPD Blue, Ally McBeal and ER are escapist fantasies in their own way. If I could run a game, or play in one, where playing a character inside them wasn't just a run of checks against Law or Medical skills, that would rock.

And before anyone gets me wrong, and thinks I'm doing down melodramatic, fantastical gaming... my current project is converting "Escape to Victory" into a Gloranthan Trollball adventure. If that ain't lasers on shark heads, I don't know what is

Pete

"Look out smithers: it's a rogue elephant... WITH A FLICKNIFE!" - Gary Larson
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Pete Darby
Bruce Baugh
Member

Posts: 143


« Reply #46 on: July 09, 2003, 07:23:13 AM »

Quote from: pete_darby
And before anyone says it, yes, I am saying it's sharks with lasers versus deep human emotion.


My experience doesn't bear this out. Some of my best roleplayers...I should take an example.

I've run for Rebecca Borgstrom a few times. You can read Nobilis and see that she is keenly aware of and interested in the whole spectrum of intellectual and emotional engagement. (One can see this even if one doesn't care for Nobilis as a game - the point is that she's got a lot to say about "deep human emotion", and thinks it important.) She is also one of the most astoundingly nitpicky point-crunchers and pursuers of relative advantage I've had in a game since high school munchkin days. She likes high power, and she likes stuff that's exotic in terms of its setting. If one were to just see her at chargen, one might well conclude that one has seen the legendary Lady Munchkin at work. It's just that in play all of those goodies turn to the service of brilliant characterization, with depth and nuance for her individually and with cooperation and support for the other players' efforts.

That's true of other folks who've played in my games over the years as well. A significant fraction of the really hands-down best characterizers and roleplayers are right up there in the ranks of folks yearning for powerful crunchy bits.

Conversely, I've seen too many games where lack of character competence is equated with characterization or depth. This is precisely the same thing as characterization via powers, just glorifying absence rather than presence.

I think that enjoyment of the cerebral laser varies independently of enjoyment of rich and passionate characterization.
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Gamma World Developer, Feyerabend in Residence
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #47 on: July 09, 2003, 07:38:38 AM »

Damnit, somebody beat me too it already. But I'm still going to post this. Remember that scene in that one Bond film where he and his nemisis are psychoanalyzing eash other...

Quote
... one who engages in escapism ironically is wallowing in their own doubts and stresses rather than truely getting away from them. Maybe the laser on the shark's head is an all-too-chilling alegory for their overprotective mother.


The villain responds:

Quote
Oh, come now, Mr. Bond, I could as easily say that all the vodka martinis and women were to silence the voices of all the people that you've killed.


I mean, I could say that those who don't engage in flights of fantasy are an all-too-chilling allegory for overbearing fathers who told you that fantasy was for children.


John, good point about the variety thing. My attempts at snarky levity muddled the issue. There is a very wide range of potential. Bruce brings up some potential problems with some of the range, but that doesn't mean that the games ought not get made (Jack, what I meant was merely that you have to consider your auidence's opinions, and that might include SWLOH in some cases). I totally agree with you John.

Hey, in a little bout of self-promotion, I might proffer my Synthesis system as a generic game that can be used well, I think, to do the more mundane sort of game. That is, it's only unique idea is that of looking at how changes to a character are accepted or rejected by the character, mentally. I think that would lend itself well to the sort of game we're discussing. That said, the examples are all of fantastic things on the assumption that players would want such. But that, as we see here, is not a completely valid assumption. Hmm. Maybe I ought to put in some more mundane examples...

Mike
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pete_darby
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Posts: 537

Will dance with porridge down pants for food.


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« Reply #48 on: July 09, 2003, 07:58:46 AM »

What can I say, our experience has differed. Come to think of it, I've had players take both presence and lack of kewl powerz as signs of emotional depth... and both were wrong, in those instances.

I think my point was that, looking to add drama to a game, most players reach instinctively for laser sharks purely as laser sharks, not tools to better characterisation.

Is it worth trying to make a distinction between consistent, in game, high powered crunchy bits, and gratuitous laser sharks?

And you've got me talking about laser sharks, and I think I need more examples of what people consider to be Laser Sharks for a specific game.

Looking at previous posts, Lace and Steel has been cited for including half-horses and magic in an otherwise fairly standard swashbuckling europe. Would L&S be a decent game without them? Yes. Is it damaged by them? Not in my opinion. Does it make for better (by whatever definition you want) games? I think so, for my style of games. Are they laser sharks then? Not to me, but there you go.

Is adding any fantastic elements to a historical setting laser sharking?

But again, we're veering from the point, which seems to be... Is there an audience for games without Laser Sharks? Like an independent gaming magazine, it's something everyone seems to want, but not enough people want enough to make it viable.

And once you got sharks in your game, it's so damn easy to put lasers on them. Then say to players "Hey! If you don't like the lasers, you can easily ignore them!"

But... there's lasers on the sharks.

Okay, my self appointed task is to seek and enjoy games where the sharks have no lasers, there aren't fairies at the bottom of the government, and if we have six-guns, we don't have zombies.

And long term, come up with a list of dramatic stuff for lawyers and cops like the one for medics... and thence to the full blown games!

Pete

Remembering sadly how he predicted that Sims Online players would be RP'ing Ally McB off their own bats...
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Pete Darby
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #49 on: July 09, 2003, 08:38:20 AM »

Quote
laser sharking
That should become part of the lexicon. :-)

Mike
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #50 on: July 09, 2003, 01:32:08 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
My attempts at snarky levity muddled the issue.

Usually does. I have been seeking therapy myself and can find you a reputaple clinic ;-)
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komradebob2
Registree

Posts: 3


« Reply #51 on: July 09, 2003, 08:41:38 PM »

Theoretically, how lasersharky does something have to be to be lasersharky?

One of my fav games was Gangbusters, an early TSR Prohibition Era RPG.

Since every PC in that game was a non-superpowered human, what might constitute LSharkiness? Gangsters with HMGs? Or would it require going to something outside of the scope of the game's original intent? Say, throwing a Golden Age Superhero type In?

BTW, if you can get your hands on it, GB is worth checking out, even if only for an example of an early attempt at Protagonist oriented adventure structure. I'm not talking about the modules that were made. I'm referring to the criminal class ( yes, it was made that early- it had character classes in a modern setting...). The rule book itself states from step one that criminal characters must make their own breaks- "What do you want to do now?" truly means it for those characters.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #52 on: July 09, 2003, 09:05:35 PM »

Quote from: komradebob2
Theoretically, how lasersharky does something have to be to be lasersharky?

Hrms. Been considering this a bit lately and it appears to be a very subjective judgement. Subjective, but a few examples can be rather well arguemented. e.g. there's Gangbusters, and there's Gangbusters with Cthulhu mythos thrown in and Cappone was a cultist etc.
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pete_darby
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Posts: 537

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« Reply #53 on: July 10, 2003, 01:48:21 AM »

Working examples:

Dust Devils: Wild West
Deadlands: Wild West with Laser Sharks

GURPS WWII: WWII
Godlike: WWII with laser sharks

Gurps Swashbucklers: Swashbucklers
Lace & Steel: Swashbucklers with Laser Sharks
(See also: 7th Sea)

Spycraft: Espionage
Strikeforce Archer: Espionage with Laser Sharks

Jane Austen: Georgian/napoleonic
Flintloque: Georgian/napoleonic with Laser Sharks

Gangbusters: 1920's Gangster
Midway City: 1920's Gangster with Laser Sharks

Of course, with historic / contemporary games, laser sharking's a lot easier to indentify than in Fantasy or SF. But I think that once you've got a definable world, Laser Sharking can be seen (common magic in LotR? The abundance of Jedi in Star Wars games?)

Hmmm: how about this for the Lexicon:

Laser Shark(n.): an additional element in a game setting that takes the game setting beyond it's parent genre. Usually a fantastic element in an otherwise recognisable historical or contemporary genre. Examples include the undead and magic in Dealands: Weird West, Magic and Graeco-fantastic creatures in  Lace and Steel, and cyberpunk technology in Midway City. Most laser sharks can be removed from the game system to provide a playable mundane / historical game.

Laser Sharking (vb): The act of placing Laser Sharks (cf) in a game.

I think the acid test for Laser Sharking is: if we remove the laser sharks, have we still got a recognisable game setting?

Take the zombies out of Dealands, you've still got the western game there. Take the ghosts out of Inspectres... you've got csiscop: the skeptic.
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Pete Darby
Bruce Baugh
Member

Posts: 143


« Reply #54 on: July 10, 2003, 02:26:53 AM »

But in a bunch of those cases you've got a perfectly well-established genre for what you're describing as genre + laser-sharking.

Deadlands is solidly in the macabre Western genre pioneered by folks like Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman, with precedents back at least to "Texarcana" and other works by Jax Jaxson. (I know I spelled his name wrong.) And the proximate trigger as a painting by Brom, who's been doing that kind of thing for a long time.

Godlike simply applies modern reconstructionist approaches to supers to the Golden Age, building most obviously on the deconstructive work of James Robinson and Paul Smith, but on other work as well, in comics and in prose. I don't have Godlike handy, but isn't David Brin's "Thor Meets Captain America" a fairly direct inspiration? The combination of great power and surrounding detail is well-known in the prose and comics literature.

Fantasy swashbuckling goes back to Dunsany and Merritt at least, and you find it all over Vance and Lin Carter and like that. Swashbuckling as an alternative to big guys in heavy armor has featured prominently in the literature of female-authored swords & sorcery since before I was born. This is territory that won't be surprising to any reader of Andre Norton, or early Anne McCaffrey, or early Mercedes Lackey, or for that matter the Stinz stories of Donna Barr. (Barr's work is more distinctive for its different epoch and her gonzo love for and rendering of military matters. "He can't ride a horse, so of course he's in the infantry." But I digress.)

Supernatural spy action...Barbara Hambly's done it with Those Who Hunt The Night and sequel(s) I'm not remembering; Katherine Kurtz and someone or other have the Lammas Night series; und so weiter. There's always been a supernatural element in the pulps, of course, sometimes quite vivid and strong. The ongoing success of Hellboy is a more recent example of something closely related.

I don't think Flintloque is doing anything much different from what L. Sprague de Camp, Fritz Leiber, and H. Beam Piper were doing half a century ago. A bit closer to the present, there's the Janissaries books by Pournelle and then Pournelle and Green, and Leo Frankowski's Conrad Starguard, and Saberhagen's Dread Empire series, and like that. Glen Cook's Black Company books have a lot more grit and a different perspective, and then of course there's Mary Gentle's book Grunts.

Midway City I'm not familiar with, but the pages Google offers for my consideration immediately remind me of the original Trek episode "A Piece of the Action", and the retro-futures of Dark City, Dean Motter's marvelous The Return Of Mister X and Terminal City, Blade Runner, and Alan Rudolph films like Trouble In Mind and Equinox. Fedoras, double-breasted suits, and rayguns go together like biscuits and gravy.

Of the games that I actually know much about on your list, Deadlands is perhaps the most thoroughly inventive, but in every case I know of or can quickly find precedents. So I think that in this case "laser sharking" isn't marking an innovation you disapprove of but a tradition you disapprove of. And that's quite different. This isn't about bolting an intrusion onto a poor helpless genre; this is about precisely the same process of genre fusion and redefinition that gives us the Matter of Britain, the differences between John Ford Westerns and Sergio Leone Westerns, and the Great Vowel Shift. You may prefer to do without some elements, and that's cool - have fun with what you have fun with. But I would object very strongly to a definition that implies greater legitimacy for what is simply less exotic or colorful or whatever.
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Gamma World Developer, Feyerabend in Residence
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pete_darby
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Posts: 537

Will dance with porridge down pants for food.


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« Reply #55 on: July 10, 2003, 02:56:41 AM »

Maybe I didn't make it clear, but I guess I need to, since I've changed my position on this twice a day since the thread started (and thrice on Sundays).

Laser Sharking isn't a bad thing. It's just nice to see games where the sharks don't have lasers.

The other point is, I'm not saying that laser sharked games are a new phenomenon, or even that they're a intrusion onto an otherwise "pure" genre, or that the addition of Laser Sharks to a game world can't make for a wonderful, excellent game in their own right: I tried to choose exapmles in my previous post that higlight the more excellent laser sharked backgrounds.

Laser Sharking is a grand old tradition, but it seems too often it's seen as, not even a necessary design choice, but an expected element of RPG's.

(Crud, could I sound more patronising? I mean, it's like saying "hollywood directors seem to always want grand sweeping soundtracks on everything, can't we have an emotional moment in silence for once?")

(While posting on a Hollywood Directors bulletin board)

(While you're working in Blockbusters)

And really, I'm struggling with a definition of Laser Sharking that doesn't sound "snooty."

My initial push to join the thread was a recent conversation where someone asked for a recommendation for a swashbuckling game, and I immediately said "Lace & Steel." A friend nearby chipped in that it's got "oh, brilliant centaurs, and a great sorcery system..." and the damage had been done, the laser sharks had chased the potential buyer away, despite my protestations that those bits are peripheral to the wonderful systems supporting the genre. Someone's going to prove me wrong in a cold minute, but I can't think of a great swashbuckling game without it's share of laser sharks (GURPS: Swashbucklers was far too tactical for my tastes).

And this problem regularly crops up on RPGnet, where someone asks for a recommend for non-gamers who have an allergic reaction to fantasy and sicence fiction for a good game to get them into the hobby; the most common reply is along the lines of "They like a perfect storm? Get Laser Shark, but take out the rules for lasers."

Bah. I blame Shakespeare. If he hadn't Laser Sharked MacBeth by putting them witches in... and as for that Homer with his "lets give Achilles invulnerability!" What a munchkin...
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Pete Darby
Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #56 on: July 10, 2003, 03:06:10 AM »

Quote from: pete_darby
I think the acid test for Laser Sharking is: if we remove the laser sharks, have we still got a recognisable game setting?

Take the zombies out of Dealands, you've still got the western game there. Take the ghosts out of Inspectres... you've got csiscop: the skeptic.



A better test would be: if I remove the laser shark, would I play this game? Anything can be a game setting.
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
pete_darby
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Posts: 537

Will dance with porridge down pants for food.


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« Reply #57 on: July 10, 2003, 03:21:18 AM »

Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
Quote from: pete_darby
I think the acid test for Laser Sharking is: if we remove the laser sharks, have we still got a recognisable game setting?

Take the zombies out of Dealands, you've still got the western game there. Take the ghosts out of Inspectres... you've got csiscop: the skeptic.



A better test would be: if I remove the laser shark, would I play this game? Anything can be a game setting.


Well, I was trying to eliminate as much personal bias as possible, but one mans laser shark is another mans genre trope, it seems.
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Pete Darby
Ian Charvill
Member

Posts: 377


« Reply #58 on: July 10, 2003, 04:24:42 AM »

Quote from: pete_darby
Bah. I blame Shakespeare. If he hadn't Laser Sharked MacBeth by putting them witches in... and as for that Homer with his "lets give Achilles invulnerability!" What a munchkin...


The thing about Homer and Shakespeare was that they weren't messing about: it was entertain or starve.  They didn't have the luxury of artistic purity.

The public wants laser sharks, the public gets laser sharks.

And Shakespeare gets to be the greatest playwright who ever lived.  And I don't believe there's any coincidence.
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Ian Charvill
Bruce Baugh
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Posts: 143


« Reply #59 on: July 10, 2003, 04:26:14 AM »

I just have the very strong feeling, reinforced but not created by myself helping with some relatively "mundane" games and watching the efforts of friends in this regard, that games sans laser sharks aren't necessarily objects that can exist in the real world. It's like people who start to crusade for the removal of all "special interests" as sources of influence in governance and then find their own causes suffering as a result - they aren't thinking of their particular concerns as "special", even though in terms of structure and function they are. Or like the particular blind spot that affects certain kinds of believers - some televangelists, the ultra-reactionary wing of the Roman Catholic church, dogmatic atheists like Ayn Rand and Richard Dawkins, and so on - who don't see themselves as having a belief or a conviction but simply knowing The Truth.

In my head, there are games which I regard as possessing an organic wholeness and integrity. But when I try to put them into practice, I find that others feel there are arbitrary inclusions and exclusions. And they're right, because I as an individual do not have complete objectivism. Stuff ends up in or out for no particularly strong justification except that it suits my sense of how it should go, and if I start making claims about having the consistency I imagine, others are quite right to call me on it.

It's a lot easier to get some group of folks to agree on what they don't like than to agree on what they do. On the macro level, this is where interest-group theories of politics come from. On the micro level, it gives us the shared desire to do cool games that make stuff within the range of normal human potential exciting and rewarding but not a consensus on how to go about that, nor about how to accommodate stuff outside that range, nor any of the other issues that good design needs to addres. And when someone assays a game of this sort, it hits and bounces because it's ended up being as arbitrary in its ways as the cephalolasers are in theirs.

(I'm assuming for purposes of this post that nobody here actually wants to assert that tedium and routine are superior to exciting action. If so, I laugh at you. I'm proceeding on the view that a bunch of us like drama and action and intrigue and comedy and romance about relatively real people in gaming and would like to make it work. The question for me then becomes, why doesn't this desire translate into cool games nearly so readily as others seem to? So that's my agenda.)
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Writer of Fortune
Gamma World Developer, Feyerabend in Residence
http://bruceb.livejournal.com/
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