Sunday, December 5, 2010

Life imitiates art; and bad art, at that.

In the wake of my (apparently) popular post of an RPG lampooning online game criticism and commentary, I thought I'd prove that I'm immune to irony and post a response I made to an involved, and interesting, but ultimately (as I'll point out) moot discussion about the Traveller trade , economic and technology system, and its relevence (if any) to the real world. 

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The problem you point out is one of those odd issues that seems to be part and parcel of RPG worlds -SF or fantasy; insanely old cultures with absolutely static societies and technology. Why ? Literary bias, I think -simply because most seminal works had them, so does everyone. Relevance to topic ?

Well, this: Traveller is at its heart and intent, emulating a literary school - and one which has all those same issues. Partly because the stories, or at least their inspirations were written before the time of accelerated change, and by people who weren't economists, or, even if they were, were uninterested in that level of detail. It didn't help. So honestly, any overlap with "the real world" is just gravy.

The 800lb gorilla then, is this. There are thousand year societies because Piper, and Asimov, Anderson and Heinlein had them, and no other reason. There are trade systems that are only face valid (if that) in the real world but are there explicitly to create play situations like those of Van Rijn and the Foundation Traders. They create a play structure that emulates that style of fiction. If it doesn't work for you, do what authors like Gibson did, and strike out in a new direction; lots of the dystopian SF is a direct contrast to the golden age stuff, and it's available in RPG form in such SF systems as (hold on) 2300 and its cousins, the cyberpunk genre. I would argue that while they often have similar underpinnings, systems like CT and 2300 produce a very different play experience, simply and precisely because they are emulating different genres.

From my point of view, the level of detailed criticism (in the negative sense) presented above, and its opposition, are about as productive as population demographics based criticism of the lord of the rings; or, actually, criticizing traveller for failing to include Tom Bombadil, or original D&D for failing to address issues of implied FTL in spellcasting. The points are basically valid, but they really don't matter in terms of what is being presented. Grafting cyberpunk and information technology onto the foundation series makes it something very different (as we see with the later books in the series, attempting to explain Foundation society and stories IRL terms. )

I think that this level of "based on the real world" modeling will always fail and has always failed for traveler, is because it was (and, IMO, is) irrelevant at such a detailed level. I'd reject many of the very gritty Trade and cartography systems (including those of later CT and MT) not because they are wrong, but because they don't help.

I think that this level of "based on the real world" modeling will always fail for traveler and is why it still hasn't been resolved after 30 years, far more than just the usual observation that times and econ theory changes with it. It wasn't part of CT simply because it was (and, IMO, is) irrelevant at such a detailed level to what is being produced. The literature does not support that level of examination, so one should not expect the emulation to do so. 

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Next up:  I thought I'd alienate my current readership by posting my rant on thieves in OD&D, or, If You Think That Thieves Were Bad for Old Style D&D then you Don't Understand Old style D&D, and , lucky you, I'm here to tell you why you are wrong and should change your mind."


Jeff Rients said...

Good rant. And please do set me straight on thieves.

James Maliszewski said...

I've been making a similar rant about Traveller for years, so I'm with you all the way.

And let me join Jeff in asking to be set straight on thieves.