Tuesday 13 October 2015

Endogenous Inspiration

The AD&D DMG has an ‘Appendix N’, filled with inspirational (and educational) reading, fiction and non-fiction. The D&D5e PHB and DMG are peppered with quotes from fantasy fiction, but the fiction being quoted was D&D fiction, produced to fit – for better or worse – the conceits of the game. Of course, to be fair, there is also a section on ‘inspirational reading’ in 5e too – which includes D&D fiction but isn’t dominated by it – but it occurred to me that as games/game worlds develop they begin to feed on themselves, to the point of generating ‘endogenous inspiration’.

I don’t think that I do that well with games that draw on themselves for inspiration. This occurred to me when I was thinking of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, and was trying to work out what was at the heart of my preference for 1st edition over 2nd edition. I don’t know enough about 3rd to have an opinion other than, “but I’ve got two small kids, and that’s a lot of fiddly bits to lose”. There’s a few mechanical things that I prefer in 1e, and I prefer some of the aesthetics – from incidental artwork to book design - but I realised that while WFRP1e is heavily shaped by influences – from history, fiction and art – from outside Warhammer, WFRP2e is very much more built on ‘other things Warhammer’.

It seems to me that the more games draw on ‘endogenous inspiration’, the harder they can be to ‘get’. Not only is there a larger body of canon material, but canon material references/is based on earlier canon material, rather than real history, legend, or external fiction or art. Games built on endogenous inspiration appear to be wonderfully immersive places, full of consistent(?), well developed ideas, but their fan communities are intimidating, and a desire to run a game ‘right’ can inhibit a GM. I find that a game which wears its external influences more baldly can offer a GM licence to draw on other inspirational material to add to the patchwork and make the game their own.   

And that reminded of Coop’s excellent post on WFRP – Not Syphilitic,Not Knee-Deep in Shit. Aside from agreeing with Coop’s argument that the WFRP1e rulebook offers a generic ‘grim and perilous’ fantasy system capable of doing higher-fantasy gaming that some of the classic WFRP scenarios would imply – I’ve long wanted to run WFRP in Fighting Fantasy’s Titan, for example – a comment from Graeme Davis highlights the stage of ‘coherence’ that the Warhammer setting had reached: “…at this stage [1986], WFRP didn't really know what it was going to be. The Warhammer mythos as a whole was still at the red box second edition stage, with odd and sometimes contradictory snippets of background scattered across the Citadel Compendium and Journal, miniatures ads, and the backs of mini boxes.”

As a final note, this highlights why I am always wary of trying to run games in the ‘real world’. The canon is enormous and all the inspirational material is ‘endogenous’!

1 comment:

  1. Canon is useful when it is nonsensical and contradictory, like history or life. As soon as creators try to bolt things down they crush the incoherent essence of their creation. Witness midochlorians in Star Wars, Matrix sequels, etc. This is also why fan theories are becoming popular - thinking that Joker or the Empire are heroes whilw Batman or the Rebels are the real illians breathes life into story strangled by canon.