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Your Adventure is not a Story and your Story is not An Adventure - Readers are not Players

This blog post is not a response to Matt Colville's video, but you might find it interesting anyway. What this is about, is the dividing line between self-satisfaction and taking your audience into the equation. Some authors and some works do have a broad appeal, but not everyone is going to like every work. As authors we have different styles from one another and our own styles evolve over time, so we may lose one audience and gain another. But for me it starts with recognizing who might read the story and how it will impact them. And this means understanding what medium I am using to entertain them.

A great deal has been made over the years about how to write a good adventure in table-top games. Writers and designers have been working at that craft for decades now. Genre fiction has had an enormous effect on table-top games and depending on who you ask, the reverse is also true. The two mediums feed one another, but they are not the same medium at all. An adventure for a game would be more akin to a choose your own adventure novel, but with less certainty in outcome (though not less page turning).

Yet an adventure is not a story. As Matt Colville mentions, the adventure is a framework. I see it as a framework for decision making and resulting actions. It is a vehicle for playing the game, where all involved agree to let random chance or some other method, decide the outcomes of actions.

Confusion ensues when the adventure is conflated with the story. The story is the relating of that adventure to others who were likely not there. It happens after the session is complete or, in sections if you tell the story of each act after it is played out. My own thinking on this has changed over the years: I do not tell stories with my adventures; rather you tell stories (I hope) about the adventures I run or write.


But is a story we tell an adventure? I know that writing is its own adventure and what comes out the end is a story of some sort. What we write, regardless of tense or past or present in time, is a story about events that may or may not have happened or will happen. When I think about writing an adventure, I have to concern myself with making encounters make sense in terms of the framework of the game more than I worry if they make sense from a narrative point of view. The latter is also important for making adventures that feel more cinematic or story-like, but it is not the central design point. The adventure needs verisimilitude with regard to the system. It has to be in synch with the system, lest there be some chaotic element introduced that destroys suspension of disbelief or other elements of enjoyment.

But a story can break the rules. As long as the rule breaking is consistent or has a good reasoning, the reader will go along with it. A reader and player have a lot in common, but the reader lacks the control over the action that a player possesses. On the other hand the reader is not counting experience, wondering if there are too many or too few monsters to be fought, or hoping that their character gets the killing blow. They may be rooting for one character or another, but they do not get to choose. A reader is a passive participant in the experience. This is important to remember when deciding what information the reader needs.

A good story can certainly inspire adventure. The Lord of the Rings and Moorcock's Eternal Champion books have games and adventures designed with these properties in mind. Adventures written for these games systems do not and can not give the same results that just telling a narrative story would. What comes out of these adventures based on stories may be good stories themselves, but each mode has its own rules and considerations.

When you write about adventurers in a dungeon, you are not making a dungeon crawl. You are relaying the tale of a dungeon crawl. I hope that tale is glorious.


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