Do you want to hear the Writer/Desiger’s voice?

That’s the question I’m wrestling with now. Well, wrestling is too strong a word… but I’ve noticed a couple of specific trends and I wonder if they mean anything, if they reflect the game in any way, or if it is just a product of the way these books are created…

I mean, read an old DMG written by Gygax and it is filled with his voice. The voice of the writer — “this is how the game is meant to be played, this is what you should do” — is everywhere. And I don’t mean to demean this, I really enjoy this writing style.

Reading Amber Diceless RPG and Houses of the Blooded you get the same perception. Wujcik and Wick are talking right to their audience, writing about how they game feels, what they were hoping to accomplish, why it “works” the way it does.

It’s a very different experience from reading the Pathfinder Core book or any of the 4E materials. Honestly, it’s even different from the way 2nd Ed. was written. It’s a different approach that puts the game in front of the developers. I realize that Wizards has outlets for letting the designers write about the game — the website, etc. — but that isn’t really the same. I won’t have that website twenty years from now when I go back and flip through a 4E book the way I flip through my 1E DMG, you know?

I’ve seen books in between these points. Some books now have little “look inside” style sidebars that explain something or give the designer a voice but it is limited in scope to a specific instance.

I think I’m fighting myself on the way I want to write. I sit down to write and I try to write like a “Manual” or Instruction set when I’d prefer to write a more personal gaming book. They’re the ones I love most.

What’s the thought? Do you want a set of instructions or a game that invites you into the designers mind and offers their insights along with handing the game over to you?

Thanks for reading.

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9 responses

  1. I love books with a clear authorial voice, when I like the voice. When the voice is one that I disagree with I want the neutral tone.

    Greg Stolze’s Reign is written very much in his voice – not so much the mechanics, but when you get to the DM’s advice section the book sings. Enough that I reread it for fun because it makes me chuckle and laugh.

    Dresden Files similar has a lot of voice, but it is a subtler sort of voice thanks to the multiple authors/editors working on the piece – it comes through in the side bars, in the examples of how the writers think – it is interesting, one of the players in my game is struggling because she doesn’t think like the authors do so the book is frustrating for her to read.

    Oddly enough I can’t think of any books with voice that I disliked, probably because I’ve overwritten that space in my mind with other stuff.

  2. I like to hear the voice. Someone who offers insights with the game. I think its what makes a game book stand out if done well.

  3. I personally dislike manuals that read like textbooks and prefer those that read more like novels. So I say let the voice come through. Especially in endeavors like game making where the creation is yours it’s important for the audience to hear your voice in the text.

  4. Looking back on things now, I realize the first core book I read from cover to cover without effort, or preparation-style planning/scheduling, was the 2nd Edition of Vampire: the Masquerade. There were game books I had read all the way through before reading V:tM, and there were several that I valued more (for differing reasons), but there was something about the atmosphere that had been forced into every pore of the pages that made me want to consume that rule book whole. When the core book can represent itself to a great extent almost as an in-game artifact, I find my enjoyment of reading it and learning from it soars.

    By comparison, I have every edition of CoC, but vastly prefer the 4th and 6th Editions for all the little touches which help make the book better represent what is being expressed than the other editions.

    I would say that while these books have distinct conversational tones (distinct from each other, and distinctive in general approach) they do not in any way represent a conversational tone such as you would expect from sitting down with the designer to learn how to play. They do, however, read like a concise explanation one might be given verbally from a mentor, and I think that style is very easy to digest.

    It’s the combination of direct communication (without defending or over-explaining), with the evocation of the setting via the book itself which I look for in a game now. A good example, of this being done “in this day and age” is All for One: Regime Diabolique.

  5. I dig books with a voice because it makes it more intimate and you can see where the author(s) are coming from.

    I loved reading Dresden Files RPG because of that reason. Textbooks are bland and boring. Give me insight, even if it is just side notes. I like amusing anecdotes about how deadly a spell is and etc.

  6. Well, I know it’s a small sample, but I guess that answers that question…

    I suppose, for myself, I agree with Runeslinger about the Vampire books (though my encounter was first ed Vampire and the mechanics for 1e were a little weak in places — but the atmosphere was pretty spectacular). I feel that way about Castle Falkenstein, that’s the one I remember really getting to me. I’m not sure that’s exactly what I’m getting at though…

    (I think) I mean books where the author/designer is really speaking directly to the audience saying, “This is what this is all about!” Read through the player sections of Houses of the Blooded, the Amber DRPG book, or something like them… that’s what I’m really getting at. But I’ll still take it. Personally, I love hearing the voice too. I think it makes a different kind of game and I’m going to work on shedding my inhibitions in using that voice.

    PS. My favorite GM supplement of all time was the Mage Storytellers book from first edition of Mage the Awakening. I’ve worn out my copy I read it so many times. It’s my favorite WoD book too.

  7. This may sound a bit like an aside, but I also personally like video game manuals that are written in more of a storytelling voice with a “this is the way the developers intended the game to be experienced and enjoyed” as opposed to those just teaching you the mechanics of how to play.

    Games are games, be they RPGs or not. For me the best games lend to the atmosphere and expectation by speaking in a voice that tells the players how not just to play, but what was the motivation behind the rules as penned.

  8. No, not an aside at all. I appreciate the input.

    I’m discovering that most of what my instincts and personal likes tell me is better than listening to the editor voice that says, “don’t talk to your audience that way.”

    Thanks for comments on this. It helps.

  9. I say if you’re really concerned about letting your voice come through too much in a heavy-handed “THIS is how you play the game!” style, I know I’d be willing to look over a paragraph and tell you my exact opinion.

    I presume you’d have other takers as well.

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