Thursday, February 27, 2014

Which person?

I have been doing a lot of writing on my RPG Heroes By Trade.  At the moment the text is still fairly rough but I have been slowly trying to make it more consistent and complete so that it will be easier for random people to use.  One tricky bit of the writing is figuring out what person to write everything in.  Initially it was quite a mess with some of it written in third person and some in second with little rhyme or reason to the style.  I figured that third person would be a better way to approach it generally but it is tricky because the text refers to so many different things.

For example, sometimes the text is giving direct orders to the reader.  Sometimes it is describing how a particular race always works, sometimes just how a certain member of a certain race works, and other times it describes the effect of a spell on the character in question.  Also the text varies between discussing the player and the character being played.  My impression was that other roleplaying manuals did this very seamlessly and I wanted to emulate that to have my work be as professional as possible in style and to make it easy to understand.  I usually found that either my person usage was inconsistent or that the text seemed a bit stilted when I tried to avoid that problem deliberately.

Today I went through my old RPG manuals for Vampire, DnD, and Warhammer to see how they dealt with this problem and I discovered that they were pretty much completely random and nonsensical.  The text would interchangeably use 'you' to refer to the player or the character and would swap from third to second person with no rhyme or reason.  Often in the middle of a stat block the writing would change styles completely and yet somehow while reading it all back in the day I never noticed this.  I suppose I wasn't terribly discriminating back then but more likely it is just because at the gaming table these things are used without much consistency and the books reflect that contextual usage of the word you.

This discovery was a bit of an eye opener both in that I realized how badly my old books needed editing and also because I now realize that the flow of the text is probably a lot more important than consistently staying in third person.  People can figure out what I mean as long as my writing is easy and fun to read so I should probably focus more on that.  It will be tricky to turn off the part of my brain that is attuned to this now though because that particular style leaps out at me after this little investigation.


  1. Currently doing thesis writing and I alternate between "I" and "we" depending on the project. Yes, it feels odd. I don't know if anyone cares yet, though.

  2. Near the beginning of Apocalypse World RPG, it says something like "when I say 'you' I mean the GM." So it's consistent throughout the book: he says either "you" or else "the player" or "players." The book also has a remarkably direct. laconic and informal voice that's a refreshing change compared to most RPG books.

    I think a book needs a certain amount of consistency, but it can be internal to each section. For example, in spell descriptions, "you" could mean the caster, whereas in the mangerie section, "you" could mean a character faced with that particular beastie.

    One unrelated comment about the HBT playtest document, I see Fate Points mentioned and discussed (in the GM's chapter I think), but I don't see a section introducing and giving the rules for Fate Points. Did I miss it?

  3. @John

    Fate Points are described in the Character Creation document, near the end. It is a very small section at the moment but I intend on writing up a much bigger description and probably giving it its own short chapter. There are a ton of other uses Fate Points could be put to that I haven't had time to document yet and I want to provide thematic guidance too.