Thursday, February 25, 2010

Watch Your Tone, Young Man

One of the things I’ve been thinking about since the comments in yesterday’s post is how much the tone of writing in a product affects our feelings towards it. A game can have wonderful, intuitive mechanics, but if the writing comes across as holier-than-thou, haughty, dreary, or any one of countless other descriptors, it can leave a potential player/GM cold.

The Advanced D&D GM’s Guide had its critics who didn’t care for its over-the-top, periodically lecturing tone. There’s some folks who can’t imagine anything else.

Palladium’s books are written in the tone of people who are genuinely excited about what they’re presenting. “Look at this! I can’t hardly breathe this is so freakin’ cool!” I love crazy enthusiasm in RPGs—it gets me ready to go. If an author isn’t excited or enthused about their work, why should I be? To others, it comes off as way, way too much.

Some games assume a lofty, pretentious tone, such as The Window. This rarely seems to go over well.

Hackmaster had (and still has) fans divided over wanting a serio-comic tone vs. a more straightforward one.

Some games try too hard to be edgy or to shock. The more extreme and edgy the writing tries to be, the more it reminds me of this. Are you listening, authors of unbecoming White Wolf fiction?

There are those who can’t stand Savage World’s Smilin’ Jack logo, considering its tone a little too faux-badass, faux tough-guy.

Point being, it doesn’t take much in a hobby full of gaming options to turn someone off of a product. And tone seems to be a big way of doing that.


Jayson said...

Way back when I had a sense Gygax was more condescending in the PHB than in the DMG, though that may've been the result of being a less-than totally secure teenager at the time.

Carpe Guitarrem said...

Definitely agree, I think that tone can be very important. Once when I wrote up some rough rules for an Old West RPG, I threw in some kitschy ol' west stylin' language, and got great reactions for it. I always try and be a friendly explainer when I'm approaching rules, although once in a while I just need to take a rest and look at it with fresh eyes.

clash bowley said...

I have no idea what tone I actually achieve, though I strive for precision.


HinterWelt said...

Hah! Clash, I strive to cop a 'tude in my game writing because I write X-TREME GAMES!!!! ;)

clash bowley said...

I can't do that, Bill. When I try it comes out like "Hey, whippersnappers! Twenty-three skidoo and all that jazz!"

I blame the rock dust I inhaled from knapping flints in my youth.


Zachary The First said...

@clash: Precision is good. Less is more when it comes to getting a point across, yeah?

@Bill: Totally. Everyone knows a Bill Corrie product is the literary version of a Mountain Dew commercial.

clash bowley said...

How can anyone compete with X-Treme Games? Excuse me while I contemplate scurricide...


DNAphil said...

One of the things I have come to love in Houses of The Blooded is the very personal tone that John Wick uses in the book.

As I have read the book, you get the feeling that you are not reading some technical manual, but rather that John is sitting in your living room teaching you the game.

I have also encountered this recently in Fiasco, where Jason Morningstar keeps the tone of the book in the genre of the book, cursing at time, and taking a very casual tone with the reader, and it really helps to convey the tone of the book.

For the record, I always thought the original Hackmaster books were a bit over the top, but the Hackmaster Basic book has done much better in lowering the tone a bit, while still conveying the spirit of Hackmaster.

Swordgleam said...

What I'm reading here is that no matter what tone you shoot for, it's going to drive someone away. :P

I usually just go for scholarly with the occasional bit of dry humor. I haven't gotten any complaints yet.

Zachary The First said...

@Phil: I think some people enjoy a familiar tone, definitely.

@Swordgleam: Yep, exactly. Someone’s always going to complain about something. ;)

Graham Bottley said...

I think that the required tone depends on the game. Red box D&D does have a somewhat patronising tone, but reading it as a new 9 year old gamer, it was perfect.
I don't think i have come across many games that i didn't care for, although first edition MERP was a nightmare to read until you got a handle on the system.

clash bowley said...

You can't please all the people all the time.

The Word Verification word for this post was "drooku" - awesome!