Role-playing games and spoilers: how to handle them?

Role-playing games and spoilers: how to handle them?

Role-playing games and spoilers

Do you know what spoilers are? Have you ever suffered or suffered in the world of role-playing games? Is it always right to keep the twists and turns of a story hidden? Should we treat our Dungeons & Dragons campaigns as if they were the last series released on Netflix? Or does the role-playing game have different narrative needs?

The specter of spoilers

A specter roams the internet. The specter of spoilers. This word alone manages to evoke images of collective anger and hysteria. Instantly catastrophic and surreal scenes come to mind: brave ascetics who renounce any social network until they have seen all seasons of Game of Thrones, cunning programmers intent on refining filters capable of hiding any post or message containing anticipations or conjectures, angry crowds ready to punish, with torches and pitchforks, those naive who have dared to say in public who is Luke's father or that Rosebud is a sled. But how did we come to this? How did we find ourselves fighting a fratricidal and no-quarter war? The "fault", as well as our long-cultivated neurosis in the silicon valley, is obviously Netflix.

The twist

The emergence of series as a leading narrative format has accustomed us to living the narrative experience as a function of the moment, of the present, of instant gratification, of pleasure given by the shock and subversion of all expectations. We sit patient, watching for ten episodes what, very often, could be told comfortably with a two-hour film, without the need for infinite homeopathic dilutions, waiting for the next big adrenaline moment, waiting for the dopamine shot given by the twist. In this context, of course, we do not want our pleasure to be ruined by some heretic who dares to reveal on Twitter which Stark will die tonight or who our husbando or our waifu of the moment will mate with. Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with twists. It is also not wrong to use dozens and dozens of episodes just to build a single moment of awe. What is wrong, if anything, is to think that this applies to all types of narration and, above all, to any type of medium.

The shape of the stories

if (jQuery ("# ​​crm_srl-th_culturapop_d_mh2_1"). is (": visible")) {console.log ("Edinet ADV adding zone: tag crm_srl -th_culturapop_d_mh2_1 slot id: th_culturapop_d_mh2 "); } Most of the stories, in fact, are solid enough and strong enough to withstand any spoilers. Knowing already what will happen does not destroy our pleasure, on the contrary, very often it strengthens and completes it. Surprise is only one of the factors that make us appreciate the narratives. When we start watching the adventures of a muscular 80s hero who mows down hundreds of villains with his submachine gun, we already know that in the end he will emerge victorious. Yet this does not detract from the vision. On the contrary. We can focus on other things. For example, on the execution, on the choreography, on the staging, on the way in which these poor villains are killed and, when the story allows it, on building an emotional bond with the characters.

Almost no narrative is truly new or original. For example, according to Kurt Vonnegut, stories can only have six forms. For other scholars, some more or some less. That's not the point. The point is that for centuries humanity has told and retolded the same story for tens, hundreds and perhaps thousands of times, with few differences, without ceasing to love it. After all, we all have a comforting film or book that we know by heart, to reread and re-watch whenever we need it. Spoilers are therefore a weapon capable of ruining only certain types of story and it is not correct to raise the twist as the founding value of all film or literary production. In the same way, it is even more dangerous to translate the evil cult of spoilers and surprise at all costs towards contexts of participatory narration, such as role-playing games.

Role-playing games

if (jQuery ("# ​​crm_srl-th_culturapop_d_mh3_1"). is (": visible")) {console.log ("Edinet ADV adding zone: tag crm_srl -th_culturapop_d_mh3_1 slot id: th_culturapop_d_mh3 "); } In tabletop role-playing games, players are not passive spectators of the story prepared for them by their friend or friend who has been given the honors and burdens of being the masters of a campaign. No. The players are an active and integral part of the narrative, as if they were the protagonists of a film. With an important difference: when you sit around a table, armed with dice and cards, there is no script. And here the problems can begin if, in order to safeguard the story, in order not to make any feared spoilers, there has not been enough communication.

Without a plot, in fact, it is very difficult for players to interpret characters who appear to be part of the same narrative. Without first deciding a genre, an atmosphere and possible situations, everyone would run the risk of being lost, of reacting individually and out of tune. This is why I am not speaking only of atmosphere and genre, but also of situations. There are limits to the improvisation skills we can ask of our players and it is right to give everyone time to prepare. Even then at the risk of revealing details about the campaign that will take shape, it is always better to clarify in advance the possible scenes that the characters will go to live. Will they find themselves killing kings? To face delicate situations of everyday life? To save the multiverse from a sprawling horror born of mutant tax bills?

As fun as interpretation and improvisation can be, in fact, they always need a context in which to be built, in order not to become sterile and, at times, solipsistic exercises. After all, life is not completely unpredictable, we have time to adapt to a range of possible scenarios in which we could find ourselves. But even more than life, stories are not unpredictable, always having to follow an internal rhythm and coherence. And, in RPGs we are almost never simulating real life, we almost never throw ourselves into a realist or neorealist effort. We usually try to bring stories and narratives to the table.

Narrative arcs

if (jQuery ("# ​​crm_srl-th_culturapop_d_mh4_1"). is (": visible")) {console.log ("Edinet ADV adding zone: tag crm_srl-th_culturapop_d_mh4_1 slot id: th_culturapop_d_mh4 "); } Zoom We rarely approach a narrative without knowing anything. We watch a movie trailer before entering the cinema and read the back cover of a novel before we start reading it. This gives us context. It gives us poles within which to calibrate our expectations. Obviously, the agreement and communication on the contents and developments of a story are not only the responsibility of the master. The players also have to establish boundaries and pacts between them, for the narrative to develop. The best example of this are the narrative arcs. Not all archetypes are in fact in the spotlight at the same time, nor do they all have to meet the same fate. Those who play the evil lich lord know that he will be defeated in the last episode, while the young squire, secretly the son of a king, will have the responsibility of wielding the magic sword. The wise counselor will have to step aside in the last few episodes and let his protege choose his head, while the honorable guard knows he is the target of choice for the poison dart.

These are all elements on which it is essential to agree before the beginning of an adventure and which, if made clear, do not undermine the fun but, on the contrary, give more opportunities for narrative interaction and interpretation. Obviously all this goes towards a collaborative and not individualistic approach to role play, in which the goal is not "doing what you want" but "creating a good story together".

Playing Stories

But when deciding on roles, narrative arcs and archetypes, where does the player's fun come from? Where do the unexpected and unpredictability that give the role-play charm come from? From interactions, of course. Let's go back to the example of the wise mentor and the squire entrusted to him. The mentor knows very well that it will be up to the squire to make the final decision, capable of saving or destroying the world, but this does not mean that his game is less profound. On the contrary. His game, or rather his character, develops around the relationship with the squire. Will he be able to teach him the difference between good and evil? Will he be able to make him make the right decision? All this, around a table, becomes even more interesting if there are two mentors, each with a different concept of "right choice".

The examples could be endless and it is useless to go further. After all, that preserving the surprise at any cost is not very useful in the role-playing game, that the cult of spoilers has no fertile ground between dice and cards, we could also find out just by analyzing the oldest trick of every master: making random events happen and incomprehensible and then choose as true one of the explanations that the players have given themselves, also making them feel gratified when they believe they have solved the mystery.

LARP and secrets

Rohan: the lords of horses - Photo by Stefano Kewan Lee The above applies to paper RPGs. For larps, in which, very often, initial agreements and control by the masters are impossible, the management of any narrative surprises becomes even more complicated. So complicated that, according to some Nordic traditions, the secrets and the twists should be completely eliminated, in favor of a totally "clear" approach aimed at encouraging interactions between players. Such a solution is certainly extreme and applicable only to very few niche experiences, but it can give an idea of ​​how much the problem is felt.

Without reaching certain excesses, even in Italy we have made several experiments on this topic. To what extent is it possible to first warn players of what will happen and to what extent will this benefit their experience before it becomes a problem? In The Twilight of the Gods, larp for more than a hundred players staged in 2018, we tried a radical approach: all the participants knew from the start that, at the end of the three days of play, their character would be dead. The destination was therefore not the center of the experience, but the journey. How would they get to the end of their life? How would they act in the last hours before the end? Would they deserve a glorious afterlife or an infamous oblivion?

As in all experiments, many things worked well while others turned out to be wrong. But one thing is certain: perhaps for the first time we saw how all the hundred players were living the same story. And perhaps this is precisely the advantage of transparency: the ability to create an experience that is as shared as possible.

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