Friday, 3 January 2020

I Am The Lore

Good news; of the 200 or so people who both backed the Gawain Kickstarter and filled in the Backer survey, my records say only 22 have yet to order their copy of the book.

If you are one of those 22 people - CHECK YOUR EMAIL.

Bad News - Christmas kicked the shit out of me and has apparently completely destroyed my ability to write coherently, form an argument, or even really form a question.

This is a conversation I had with Scrap some time around Christmas and which she was too cool to make a blog post about, even though most of the cogent points are hers;


"SP - Did you watch adventure time to the end?

PS - no I think I gave up a few years out, maybe when Ward left? Not sure. Felt like quality was dropping and also pirating became more difficult
SP - i down loaded the last 2 seasons to try and finish it and just..couldn't care

SP - not sure what it was

PS - yyyep
SP - like..the random wackiness and escalating world building felt off

they kept building on what I didn't care about

PS - it was Ward leaving, like when that one guy left the Simpsons who didn't seem to do much but after he was gone it slowly, then quickly started to spiral
SP - and adding wacky poor designed characters at the wrong times

PS - Ithink it was James L Brooks who insisted the simpsons be related to as human and all the edgy clever men in their 20s and 30s gave hims shit because he got in the way of their invention and galaxy brains

then he left and all you had was clever men

and so the spiral begins

ideas that impress rooms of clever men
SP - fucks me up seeing the simpsons using smart phones

PS - you need at least one Full Human in the room
SP - maybe it was less Ward being there than having one person being the direction everyone had to work around

like a lodestone

you don't have to always go that direction but it's good to know where it is

PS - magic
SP - without him maybe it just would dive too deeply into extended plots or building on boring characters
like Magic Man and Simon aka Ice King

they were good as wacky dudes

and then a little depth to them

but 10+ episodes building on them and connecting them to the fundamentals of the world


PS - oh no, did they do a deep lore dive?

because that's what stories need
SP - oh yeah so much so

PS - more lore

oh fuck

dum fucking nerd men
SP - i feel like there's lore and there's world building

world building means you have a text that one can get into at any part of it

PS - yes
SP - while lore means you need to be following a time line or narrative to make sense of it

obvious fuzzy borders

because so world building :

" what is that thing , oh it's a wuzzy tree. Munky squirrels eat their screaming nuts. What's a Munky Squirrel? Oh it's .."

while lore:

"why are they fighting? Oh because he turned his sister into a fountain . Why did he do that? Because their dad  gave the ebon throne to him instead of him. What's that ..etc"

Like .. world building invites further questions but more or less can have the questions wait

While lore has its parts feel hollow without further context which requires further context

But also that depends on how its presented

like the first star wars has stuff that became lore but at the time it honestly didn't explaining

sorry didn't need explaining

because it was framed so you had all the essential bits right there

while the prequel star wars often have scenes that require outside context to give a shit about it"



A key thing here seems to be the difference between linear justification or fulfilment and a more global or networked thing where each individual fragment can in a sense stand alone, either in relation to each other or as a seed for an entirely new imagined reality.

I'm imagining the difference here between adventure paths and Josph Manolas exploded pathfinder adventures where the sequence of events has been transformed into geography.

Perhaps that’s a poor analogy.

Maybe more like the difference between learning maths and learning History. As with History, and all of the Humanities to some extent, even if you miss a lesson you can always find a way into a subject, because everything relates to the Human Lifeworld, but with maths, if you miss a lesson, or don't really understand a concept then you are fffffucked, because you will absolutely need a precise and accurate understanding of exactly that concept to progress, so if you were fudging it, or not really getting it, then way down the line you are screwed.



For a man with multiple pseudohistories about imaginary places and events on his shelves, and who's entire career and leisure time in some way revolves around the creation of imaginary worlds, I am surprisingly ambivalent about Lore.

The Word is Death, in many cases.

This causes me to investigate myself; am I the Horseman of my own apocalypse? Not in like a cool edgy way but just in a crap grey way? 

A thing that's come up in Discord conversations is how something that’s a crutch at one point can become fulfilling at another point. Sometimes an obsessional interest is something you need to get you through a bad and lonely time, sometimes the same interest can be like a lead weight, not protecting you but dragging you down and preventing you from interacting with others in a fulfilling way.

That same interest can be a form of connection which helps you reach out to and interact with others.

But it’s the same thing, the same obsession, just cast differently in different roles.

People want depth and they feel like they want answers, but what they end up getting, when they demand these things, is information. And often its dead information.

I'm looking for a world of the imagination where the images or fragment burn like they do in dreams and where it feels like there is a world of possibility. And I do find fragments of it, but not in the overculture, which seems to me like a graveyard of images.

Is this an experience that other people have?

As usual when I pretend to myself that I'm doing analysis, in reality I'm just listing things I don't like, then hopefully trying to understand the difference between what I do like and what I don't.

A few things that stick about Lore

- splatbooks
- 'filling in'
- arguments over uninteresting ephemera
- psuedo-clever conspiratal bad takes
- the tendency of nerd-culture imagined paracosms to annihilate themselves through detail
- the willingness of the market to buy stuff because it has *details*
- "we killed a character"
- "everything will change" (nothing will change)
- "writers room" writing, like when in Battlestar Galactica, characters started referring to the missing Cylons as "the final five" which, as well as being average mystery box stuff extended waay too far seemed also to me like an artefact from the writers room which characters in the drama suddenly started speaking.

But even so;

- The Star Wars expanded universe had a whole book called 'Tales from Jabbas Palace' in which a bunch of comedy and fantasy writers wrote the backstories to each individual alien wierdo in those scenes. And I liked it.
- Even with conspiratal lore bad-takes, I'm often half-interested.
- I'm only half a shade outside that culture, which of course, means I react even more strongly against it.
- Wilrow Hood.

An idea that I had when I was creating the Eldritch Foundry stuff (I know no-one is interested in this = shut up), was to make Lore like islands, a little like Scrap describes above.

The idea was to give people 'intellectual Lego', concepts and tools they could, in fact that they would *have to* put together themselves, and that every world they created would be built from the same original pieces but that each one would be unique and valid within itself.

A kind of multiverse.

And that there would be little absolute history or imperishable central text to which people could appeal to make the products of their imagination valid.

This is a tendency in people of which I despair. The idea that something outside your own experience, that some agency or structure or guru or system can give your imagination validity, to make it 'canon' or 'real'.

I'm exactly as vulnerable to this thinking as everyone else. Which, typically for me, has not restricted me in judging others for it.

We want to be recognised, more than anything. And I think that’s what people are really selling on Kickstarter or Patron or through Parasocial Youtube relationships, more than any particular product and more than any particular ideology, its recognition. The sense that you have been seen. That you are valid.

My idea was that if you created a system that encouraged people to play games with each other, rather than to collect Lore, that was both a strong prompt *to* play, and also was almost incomplete without the action of play. A system where you complete it yourself by playing with others.

I'm pretty sure I haven't actually done that. It would be an intellectual and creative challenge too great for me. Instead I simply went about things in my usual way. But that was the idea at least.

Here endeth the post.


  1. I like the lore/worldbuilding distinction. Maybe it could be roughly summarized as linear/nonlinear or dependent/independent.

    Some musings:

    Glorantha stuff is at its best when it's worldbuilding: a single culture or region can be explored in depth, and while there might be the odd allusion to a different kettle of fish (e.g. the Lunar Empire, Dragonnewts, Trolls) you can usually let it remain mysterious if what you're really talking about is your specific tribe of Orlanthi raiders.

    Talislanta is another old setting that does this pretty well. You see a cool dude in the book and you can figure out what he's all about and how he fits into the local context pretty easily. There might be the odd allusion to other regions or weird types of magic or whatever, but basically you get the context you need by reading one little self-contained nugget.

    Perhaps this distinction is related to the OSR/sandbox idea of restricting early prep and play to the strictly local context? You're level 1, you're in a village, here are the woods, here is the mountain, that's it. Go. We will discuss the Empire of the Dark Lord and the true nature of Spirit Magic when we get there, or never.

    1. That OSR background-through-play-only does seem a really strong theme or trend, though I have no real idea where the culture is at now.

      Its interesting because OSR people often do like lore, or at least, information about the world, but that theme seems to suggest they only like it through play, exploration and direct interaction.

      This feels like a Brendan Survey in Vitro;

      You recieve this information
      - From a book
      - Through conversation
      - From overhearing a goblin in a dungeon

      pls rate each by its acceptability

  2. You should take a look at how Blades In The Dark does lore and world building if you haven't. Sounds like what you're getting at here.

    1. They have a money-off copy of that in my local shop but I have SO MUCH stacked up to read that I get Emotions when I think about buying more books.

      If its storygamy, good chance I might not like it for some complex reason.

    2. Blades in the Dark is Fate, but with enough Procedure tacked on to the means by which you interact that it *almost* doesn't feel like a Fate storygame. It's worth a read just for the way it approaches narrative structure. I don't know if I LIKE what it does, but I found it very interesting.

  3. This may be one of my all-time favorite posts of yours, Patrick. I am, like, 70% bitterly against the cultural fixation with "lore" for pretty much all those reasons and more, but as a Dungeon Master and a fantasy fan, I'm also inevitably drawn to it myself.

    If you've never seen it, this video essay is the best I have ever seen on the subject, and I revisit it quite frequently:

    1. Eh, I'm half way through that right now. Harrison is half right. He's good on dependency and the dangers of worldbuilding, the 'bad' stuff, but he would have nothing to say about Wilro Hood, or about whether Wookipedia is a good thing or a bad one. He takes a negative position and hardens it into dogma.

    2. "the worldbuilding of fiction only greases the wheels of its more insidious cousin, political worlbuilding" - I think this is an essentially stupid and untrue statement

  4. Ravenloft, trying to encompass all kinds of horror tales from mummies to Frankenstein to 'Exorcist' had a structure of domains, with unified idea about Dark Powers and imprisoned lords, even with mechanic to account for different techlevels, but for some reason, this structure didn't work for me, maybe because each domain was so contained and static.

    I think that lore/details might be useful when they either define something in evocative way, or re-contextualize/reconnect something seemingly known before and/or banal in interesting/elegant way. In a way it is like math, when you see equations transform in unexpected way with 'aha!' moments when it finally clicks into answer.

    My experience is that as I experience - and especially when I play - from evocative fragments, I involuntary fill voids, give meanings and connect pieces, sort of as by-product. And after such process it is very difficult to discard what was created and start ablank and anew, so all this built-on becomes details, and if there is lot of it, it unavoidably becomes suffocating after a while. The 'validity' of splatbooks and details might be because they gives some common ground details for people going through the same world/universe, as in a way to synchronize their experience a bit, but just like personal experiences, it also becomes suffocating as it goes.
    (additionally, some people seek the mastery and accumulation over setting information because they might see it as a way of power, the same way rules-lawyering is)
    My rule of thumb is that for each two parts knowledge/information/details there should be no less than (and preferably more) one part of unknown.

    I cannot say much about recognition part. The effect of outside recognition/acknowledgement is both intoxicating, invigorating and depowering if it vanishes after being given, so I view it as a some kind of society-based drug, with induction, high peak and withdraw effects respectively.

    I do care about Eldritch Foundry world(s) you write.

  5. "We want to be recognised, more than anything. And I think that’s what people are really selling on Kickstarter or Patron or through Parasocial Youtube relationships, more than any particular product and more than any particular ideology, its recognition. The sense that you have been seen. That you are valid."

    I haven't put it into words but this is, I guess, the reason I don't back up patreons nor watch rpg youtubers or read game reports: I don't care about other's game world, I only care about mine.

    When I started playing Vampire back in '98 or so, I was the only one who read the book, all my friends only read their clan descriptions and their power description, , but they found the internet and that it contained all these crazy clans which were not on the book and they all wanted to play mafiosos, assassins, and the llike, while the book we had only covered Camarilla. They started reading about the expanded vampire lore and I didn't, I had a lot of work preparing adventures, and in the end we didn't really play vampire: they knew lore, I knew rules; they though vampire society rules were above game rules. It was awful.

    Then I started playing AD&D with a GM who knew everything about Forgotten Realms and expected us to read the lore. I didn't care, I didn't want homework. I only wanted to kill orcs and explores jungles. It didn't work and the group splitted.

    It was not until I found the OSR that I started caring about RPGs again. You don't have to learn lore, you only need to understand what the products is about. You can use Silent Titans in the same campaign that Veins of the Earth if you want to. You don't have to learn how these two are related, that information doesn't exist. You can come up with something if needed, or you can simply drop both things in your world, no explanation.

    1. What do you think happened to all those other people? Are they still out there somewhere playing these lore-heavy games?

    2. Thos I know about stopped roleplaying, actually.

  6. Lore makes me feel like I need to know certain facts in order to enjoy a story. Worldbuilding makes me interested in the story being presented. Patrick I feel like your books do a good job presenting all kinds of 'intellectual lego.' I never feel like any of it is 'canon' or 'real.'

    1. Its interesting because I'm almost maniacally obsessional about avoiding the use of the word 'story' or 'narrative' in my own work, for a bunch of reasons, but at least one of them because of its linear nature and what I perceive as the power issues when you cross it over with Roleplaying gameplay

  7. Er. I like Lore. Just enough, not too much.

    As a GM I wrote a 3 page thing about the world my longstanding campaign was set in. And then players added a little to it over time. Now its 5 pages. That might be too much. I hesitate to give it to new players.

    What I like (and my players do too) is the set of mysteries about the world that are present from the begining and then slowly are revealed as we play. We've had some good moments: "WTF! Saint Ekaterina was actually the Exiled Witch Queen in disguise the whole time?! We should have known something was off, no Saint chainsmokes like that"...or "the party of war is all vampires - so literally dead white men are behind the war machine! we should have known!" I only get that stuff when I plan ahead and lore is part of it... I know it's manipulative. Narrative is manipulative...but w/o some narrative the game just feels like a bunch of random tables.

  8. my example is crap and I still can't think of a better one, but if I was going to make a better one:
    World Building :
    A Thing Exists ; It is interesting in itself and somehow some of that interesting is wider connections are suggested. World building is how you well you evoke these suggestions.
    A Thing exists: it maybe or may not be interesting in of its self , but the primary intended interesting aspect is the connection to other things.