Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trollbabe: Breaking apart the narrative

I had been hearing about Trollbabe by Ron Edwards for years, how it was an important and influential game and had a big impact on RPG design. But no one ever told me how or why. The theme, which can honestly be described as female Conans with horns, didn't interest me that much. It just sounded like playing Dungeons & Dragons with only one race and class.

Then, years after I actually picked up the game, I open up the PDF and started taking a look. And then, it all started making sense.

This is Trollbabe's claim to fame and why it is genuine important: it was one of the first games that really said that the game master shouldn't plan anything out and that the adventures should be created on the fly with the collaboration of the players. Trollbabe breaks apart who takes care of what in the story telling and reassigns it. It was one of the first games that formally took apart who was telling what part of the story.

This isn't an entirely new idea. I remember, back in the 80s, seeing charts for rooms and wandering monsters so that a dungeon master could make up a dungeon as they went along. But no one involved had any creative input at all. Doing something like that isn't a collaboration, it's running a computer program, only without a computer. And, to be perfectly fair, there are games before Trollbabe that used on the spot improvisation creation collaboration. Baron Munchausen came out four years earlier, for instance.

However, Trollbabe does not just tell you to do it, does not just give you a process to do it, it actively discusses how to do it. Trollbabe didn't just help break new ground, Trollbabe is a treatise on how to do it.

It is a denser read than I expected. But that is to its favor. Ron Edwards goes to great lengths to make sure you understand the process of collaborating on the spot to create an adventure, including the pitfalls.

Over the last few years, I have read a lot of RPGs and written a number of book reports on them. There have been some that have moved me or fascinated me more than Trollbabe. However, Trollbabe has given me more to consider about the nuts and bolts of RPGs, particularly narrative driven ones.

As Edwards himself points out, a lot of the meta ideas in Trollbabe aren't exactly new. (I'm going to spend some time looking over all the games he references) BUT it codified and explored them. Trollbabe casts a long shadow.

There are games that I'm interested in trying because I think they would be meaningful, like the Grey Ranks. Others, I'd like to try because I think they'd be fun, like Shooting the Moon. Trollbabe, I'd like to try just to see what would happen.

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