The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games

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  • The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games

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  • The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games

    JENNIFER GROULING COVER

    McFarland & Company, Inc., PublishersJefferson, North Carolina, and London

  • LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGUING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

    Cover, Jennifer Grouling.The creation of narrative in tabletop role-playing games /

    Jennifer Grouling Cover.p. cm.

    Includes bibliographical references and index.

    ISBN 978-0-7864-4451-9softcover : 50# alkaline paper

    1. Fantasy games. 2. Board games. 3. Role playingSocial aspects. I. Title.GV1202.F35C68 2010793.93'2dc22 2010016058

    British Library cataloguing data are available

    2010 Jennifer Grouling Cover. All rights reserved

    No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

    Cover imagery 200 Shutterstock

    Manufactured in the United States of America

    McFarland & Company, Inc., PublishersBox 611, Jeerson, North Carolina 28640

    www.mcfarlandpub.com

  • To my husband, Scott, for introducing me to D&D

    and to the wonderful worlds he creates.

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  • Contents

    Abbreviations, Terms, and Transcription Symbols ix

    Preface and Acknowledgments 1

    Introduction: Defining the Tabletop Role-Playing Game 5

    1. Early Models of Interactive Narrative 21

    2. Role-Playing Game Genres 38

    3. A Transmedia TaleThe Temple of Elemental Evil 54

    4. The Reconciliation of Narrative and Game 72

    5. Frames of Narrativity in the TRPG 88

    6. Immersion in the TRPG 106

    7. Levels of AuthorshipHow Gamers Interact with Texts and Create Their Own 124

    8. The Culture of TRPG Fans 148

    9. Conclusions, Definitions, Implications, and Limitations 165

    Appendix: The Orc Adventure at Blaze Arrow 179

    Chapter Notes 191

    References 197

    Index 201

    vii

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  • Abbreviations, Terms, and Transcription Symbols

    Gaming Terms

    CRPG: computer role-playing gameD&D: Dungeons and DragonsDM: dungeon master, the term for the gamemaster in D&DDMG: Dungeon Masters GuideGM: gamemaster, the one who runs a TRPG campaignLARP: live action role-playMMORPG: massively multiplayer online role-playing gameNPC: non-player characterRPGA: role-playing game association, an organization for D&D

    playersTRPG: tabletop role-playing gameXP: experience points

    Terms from Possible-World Theory (adapted from Ryan, Possible Worlds, vii)

    APW: An alternative possible world in a different system of reality, a fictionthat is accepted as true when the reader shifts to this world.

    AW: The actual world is our reality.NAW: The narratorial actual world is the world that the narrator presents

    to the narratee.TAW: The textual actual world is the view of the text reference world that

    is presented by the author.

    ix

  • TRW: The textual reference world is the world that the text claims as fac-tual. It is the alternative possible world that the text refers to.

    Transcription Symbols

    [ overlapping utterances(#) length of pause in seconds, noted if 3+: extension of sound or syllable/ rise in intonationCAPS loud and emphasized utterance(laughter) general laughter in the group(laugh) laughter by participant indicated... speaker trails off--- speaker self-corrects

    x Abbreviations, Terms, and Transcription Symbols

  • Preface and Acknowledgments

    It was the fall of 2003, and my first semester of graduate school. Isigned up for a course called Discourse Analysis, thinking it had some-thing to do with Foucault. As it turned out, it was really a methods coursein linguistics, and when my professor David Herman told us weneeded to tape record a conversation, I had the perfect idea: I would recordpart of a session from my Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) group. I signedup to present to the class under the unit called narrative analysis, think-ing my recording would be a perfect fit. I quickly came up against the tra-ditional linguistic definitions of narrativethat it was a story, told aboutan event in the past by a narrator to a narratee. Maybe its not a narra-tive, David Herman said in reference to my D&D transcript. But as I satthere week after week engrossed in the story of Whisper and her compan-ions in the world of Sorpraedor, I knew that at least part of what kept meinterested was the story I was experiencing. And thus, I continued toattempt to reconcile my personal experience with the narrative theory thatdrew my academic attention.

    My course project turned into other course projects, including a sem-inar paper for Carolyn Millers rhetorical criticism class where I first testedout some of my ideas on the rhetoric exigence behind the tabletop role-playing game. These course projects turned into a thesis, under the direc-tion of David Herman, David Rieder, and Mike Carter. I can not thankmy committee enough for their input in this process. It was one the mostrewarding writing experiences, and when David Herman suggested thatmy thesis had the potential for a book, I was floored. After my defense, Iwent out and bought some shiny new dice for my D&D game.

    At times, I wished that, like my sorceress Whisper, I could have sum-

    1

  • moned some magic energies, perhaps a polymorph spell, to magically trans-form the thesis into a book length project. Of course, I found it wasntthat simple. However, with the help of many people, I was able to com-plete what really is a transformation. I added massive amounts of researchto this book project, I completely rewrote nearly everything, and I evenchanged some of my ideas.

    I would first and foremost like to thank my research participants.From those anonymous gamers who completed a survey to my long-timegaming companions, this book is about you and in many ways by you.Even if your names do not appear here, your words and your stories do.I hope I have represented you well.

    Then there were those who accompanied me on my writing journey.Like in D&D, some companions were with me all the way, while otherscame and went. My officemate Dan Lawson was rather like an oracle, whoI consulted multiple times over the course of the book in times of need.We talked about ideas, and he directed me to several key sources.

    Patrick Johnson was the equivalent of the fellow adventurer met in atavern in the D&D world, who says, what is your quest? And when youtell him, responds, Cool. Can I come along? I met Pat in line for lunchat the Writing Program Administrators (WPA) conference in July 2009 asI was finishing this book, and our conversation quickly turned to myresearch and D&D. Pat kindly volunteered to provide additional feedbackon one of my revised chapters.

    There were others who helped me out along the way, from ProfessorBrian Epstein, who fielded my questions about possible-worlds theory tomy many professors at Virginia Tech who were flexible with my Ph.D.work while I was writing and who answered any number of questions onpublishing and book writing. There are my parents, who raised me to bean academic and a writer, and my husband who is the backbone of thisbook. Scott not only got me interested in D&D, but also pushed me tocontinue my academic work on the topic. He has held my hand when Iwas frustrated, and celebrated with me when I was excited, and is the mainreason this book exists. Without the support of these people, I could nothave completed this project.

    Finally, there are those who would be considered members of myadventuring party, had this book been a D&D campaign. Dean Browelland Tim Lockridge are two of the smartest, most talented people I know,and I was extremely fortunate to have their feedback through the entirecourse of writing this book. Dean, who wrote a dissertation on World ofWarcraft, served as my MMORPG police, helping me see beyond D&D

    2 Preface and Acknowledgments

  • to where my book might interact with videogame research. Tim is every-thing one could ask for in a readerhe is the type of guy that finds theloose thread in your writing, pulls on it just hard enough that everythingstarts to fall apart, and then hands you what you need to sew it back upagain. This book is inordinately better because of his feedback.

    However, all of these efforts would be in vain if it werent for youmy reader. Whether you are a gamer, a researcher, or just a curiousonlooker, I invite you to take an active role as you read this book. I havetried here to write a book that will be useful in multiple disciplines, andit is my hope that it will help spur discussion about tabletop role-playingin multiple forums. Whatever your position in relation to this text, I hopethat I have shown here that your voice counts. I have been told multipletimes by multiple people that Im not supposed to write a book yet, thatas a graduate student I dont have a book in me. As the physical artifactin your hand provesI did. Likewise, I believe that you, my reader, hassomething to say, and I, for one, would like to hear it.

    Preface and Acknowledgments 3

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  • Introduction: Defining the Tabletop Role-Playing Game

    You approach the Blaze Arrow outpost. The bastion that guards thefrontier of the city of Gateway is silent except for the distant cry ofgathering carrion birds. You notice that the ground around the out-post has been scarred by the hobnailed feet of dozens of invaders. Thet