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Behind the Lines: Artifact Hunters (#35) - The White Wolf LiveJournal Community
Much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Behind the Lines: Artifact Hunters (#35)
I have probably talked before about how opinions tend to be pretty split on things like in-character narration or fiction being treated as part of the actual "supplement" material of a supplement, rather than just flavor. Back in the days of the oWoD, many a book was written largely from an in-character perspective. The idea was that you would get a sense for the personality of whoever is discussing the topic, and that because it was in-character, Storytellers had some room to say "Well, on this point the narrator is wrong." All the information you need, just with a potentially biased or unreliable narrator, you were told, in-character even, that you didn't have to adhere to material if you had a better idea.

The trouble with unreliable narrators, though, is that they're unreliable. It was a controversial approach because people often felt cheated if they found out that, say, the Malkavian who was narrating the book could be lying to you, or just plain wrong. We tried to minimize the "unreliable" aspect here and there — in fact, I consider Dr. Douglas Netchurch, Malkavian though he was, one of the most reliable in-character narrators we ever created. Even so, when we went to the nWoD, we dropped the idea of having the IC narration take up most of a book. We wanted to present absolutely reliable information, even if that information was sometimes stating that certain things were outright mysteries.

But of course, there's still room for that in-character voice. And recently we've been toying with it more, often in the form of "artifact text." For those of you who haven't heard us use the term before, artifact text is a section of text that's presented to be some sort of excerpt or transcription from a document that's assumed to exist in the game world. Usually it's laid out a little differently; in some cases, it could be photocopied and handed to the players as a handout, assuming their characters found the documents in question. You see some of it here and there, but obviously the new Clanbooks are almost entirely artifact text. They represent bundles of information that a vampire could actually find in-game.

Now, the question I was asked recently (on these comments! You too can suggest topics for me to cover!) was whether or not artifact text is harder work for the development or production staff. From a development side, I'd say it's kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, you don't have to correct for potential bias. An OOC bit of description might require fine-tuning because an author is just a bit more biased than you would like to see, but in a text artifact, you only have to correct for bias if it's egregiously misleading, and not obviously so. Artifact text is an example, not quite a rule; it doesn't set policy, so to speak. On the other hand, you want to make it look right. I've talked about authorial tells before, and if an artifact text makes you think "Chuck Wendig is alive and well in the WoD and writing under a pseudonym!", well, maybe it's time to massage out the clearly visible Chuckisms so they don't distract. This is rarely a huge problem, but again, it goes back to the necessity of recognizing and accounting for writer tells.

And to some extent it's easier because it's fiction, in a way. Developing fiction is usually easier than developing rules, or at least lower-stakes; a not particularly inspiring fiction piece is not as critical to fix as a not particularly clear rules system. On the other hand, text artifacts are harder to account for in word count. A book may be the "proper" word count for its page count, only wind up running long because the artifact text takes up so much space per word by compare. That's something a developer should account for.

On the layout side: well, yes, artifact text is distinctly more problematic. It often involves a lot more font-chasing, scanning of textures, all kinds of things. Now our production team is one of the strongest in gaming, if not the strongest, so they're up to the challenge. Still, it can make them cranky, so we generally don't want to pull out lots of artifact text just for the sake of doing it. Of course, that's one of the general rules of development: if you're going to do something unusual, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Artifact text is fun to write. Seriously. But you can't just throw it in just to make the writing task more fun: you have to consider the audience, and whether it's the best thing for getting across the information that they are presumably paying for. 

So far, it seems that our forays into artifact text have been generally well-received. I sort of miss the days when we could expect the kind of numbers on pure artifact books like The Book of Nod or (my personal favorite) Chronicle of the Black Labyrinth. We can't just throw one out for every line these days, but I miss them; I have to admit a certain wrong-headed pleasure in the occasional letter we got from someone who mistook them for "the real thing," asking about the Truth behind the gospel of Caine or the secret language of Malfeas. But we're playing around with it more all the same, and the Clanbooks are certainly a fine piece of work. It can be troublesome work: but is it worth it? Does it work for you? I'm interested, as always, in seeing what you have to say about all this. Striking the balance between the fun of in-character texts and the raw utility of out-of-character text is always a tricky thing, and I'm curious as to where you think your ideal balance is. Let us know. The experiment is ongoing.

53 comments or Leave a comment
eryx_uk From: eryx_uk Date: December 10th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I find that the "notes and printout" style in the new vampire clanbooks is a real slog to read, regardless of how interesting it is. After the first book I stopped reading it and went straight to the mechanical chapter and the back. I prefer the in-character style myself.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 11th, 2008 06:34 am (UTC) (Link)
I too find the clanbooks really hard to read. I didn't even know they had some mechanical stuff at the back of them (I never got that far). But then again, I am more of a mechanics/crunch kind of guy...
xsands From: xsands Date: December 10th, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not necessarily artifact text/unreliable narrators, but the mythology in the Requiem Clanbooks is why I'm buying when they come out and moving them to the top of my WW reading list compared to old books I haven't read all the way through yet. Artifact text/unreliable narrators just happens to be a really good and fun way of presenting that mythology. Difference between telling me the Unholy did something scary and showing me how much she scared someone.

I think the mix of fiction with mechanics appendix works pretty well for the clan books but that ratio would be hard to do in other books. I kind of wish that the first chapter of the covenant books had been done more in that style (so about a 1/3 to 1/4 mix of IC history, OOC how the covenant works, OOC mechanics & factions). A good example of what I liked is the first chapter of the Brood covenant book with it's 3 unreliable creation stories.
From: machineiv Date: December 10th, 2008 06:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hard to do, but not impossible. I know there's a book I'm working on that's artifact-heavy, but could be considered a "traditional supplement." In fact, I think the material is amazing, and I'm eager to see it in print.
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mordicai From: mordicai Date: December 10th, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Man-- there is a toss-away line in one of the books-- Time of Thin Blood-- where Netchurch talks crap about the Sheriff of Cleveland. I actually made that a huge plot point of my game-- the Sheriff (a Gangrel) gets removed from his post on the basis of this High Status shaming, right at the time of the Gangrel "withdrawal". Allowing the anarchs/thinbloods to filter into the city in greater numbers, allowing the Sabbat to hide in their numbers, & that (along with a lot of other factors-- plots) allow the overthrow of the Camarilla.
mordicai From: mordicai Date: December 10th, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I <3 the artifact books-- & I buy them still. I don't buy "artifact scattered" books like the new clanbooks because I don't run a "WoD" game-- or at least not one that resembles what the more "signature" products are selling. Conversely, stuff like Mythologies are my bread & butter; plenty to use or discard as I like it.
the_chimp_pimp From: the_chimp_pimp Date: December 10th, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I *love* the artifact-style books. I wish you guys could feasibly do more of them!!! IC books like the Book of Nod, Silver Record, Rites of the Dragon, and Days of Fire have been HUGE inspirations for both my PCs and myself as an ST. More, please!
filamena From: filamena Date: December 10th, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
From a freelancers side of things, they are a BLAST to write. I mean, writing twenty different mini stories, ideas, and txt messages or the like in 10,000 words is pretty much the most schizophrenic writing I've ever done, but what an exercise!

I run and play, as well, and I feel like even if I won't use the artifacts as is, I can easily do my own with inspiration from the books. I think a sort of scrap book of artifacts for a chronicle or character is something every WoD player or ST should take a shot at,
digitalraven From: digitalraven Date: December 10th, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
See, I don't like writing them as much as writing actual objective stuff simply because they're so schizophrenic—there's no natural flow.

I'll still write them, but they piss me off.
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mordicai From: mordicai Date: December 10th, 2008 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
right on. actually-- I came to the nWoD (as opposed to the oWoD, which i played at length) due to my considering Promethean a Good Book-- as a work of art.
digitalraven From: digitalraven Date: December 10th, 2008 06:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I dread to think what'll happen when people mistake the Horror Recognition Guide for the real thing.
filamena From: filamena Date: December 10th, 2008 06:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Dread? Or want to be there with a video camera for You Tube?
weaver42 From: weaver42 Date: December 10th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wait. I'm not clear on what's happening, here. Am I getting a massage?

Am I character in a book?

Am I being abused for my terrible writing?

Where are my pants?

-- c.
digitalraven From: digitalraven Date: December 10th, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you're in a book, the author's one sick puppy.
From: eskemp Date: December 10th, 2008 10:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's entirely hypothetical.
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das_cyberpunk From: das_cyberpunk Date: December 10th, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
"I have to admit a certain wrong-headed pleasure in the occasional letter we got from someone who mistook them for "the real thing," asking about the Truth behind the gospel of Caine or the secret language of Malfeas."

Ethan, please, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, post us a sample of these letters. The comedic value of such a thing should be added to the collective indentity of the species via the internet.
From: eskemp Date: December 10th, 2008 10:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: twitter stories

That would imply we held onto them. We don't; immortalizing a poor reader's shame is a little cruel.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 10th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

twitter stories

Is the future twitter conversations?

I don't see the value in having this stuff spread across a whole lot of books. The artifacts stuff works better in self contained books like the "Book of Nod."

Is White Wolf moving away from their stance of no meta-plot?
From: eskemp Date: December 10th, 2008 10:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: twitter stories

Why would we? Metaplot is a change to the setting; artifact text is simply a medium to present information. Increasing or decreasing the amount of artifact text just means more or less information about the setting is revealed through that format instead of another. Metaplot is unrelated, and still not something we're interested in revisiting.
kittenmorag From: kittenmorag Date: December 11th, 2008 01:54 am (UTC) (Link)
I loved the old Artifact books. Really, really loved them- to the point of purchasing ones for the lines I didn't even play. The Rites of the Dragon is a lovely book, as well, and I'd love to see something like this in the nWoD- not even for Metaplot purposes, but I can see something like a copy of the Testament of Longinus, or a notation guide on First Tongue words by someone from the Lodge of Scrolls of Lodge of Moderninsts. I think people would really love that.

At least, I know I would.

ronthered From: ronthered Date: December 11th, 2008 02:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Old artifact books: Super loved them. Wish they would return. CotBS was fantastic.

New clan splat books (mini artifacts?) : Nope. Not there. Can't tell you exactly why, perhaps because I feel no connection to the setting, but I just have no interest in any of it. Perhaps, it's because I play in the Camarilla only, and none of that really fits in there. As is, I have not, and do not plan to buy any of them.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 13th, 2008 06:06 am (UTC) (Link)

Author Round Tables

Just reading through the comments on this Behind the Lines, and I think it would be awesome to open up a column on something where the various authors and freelancers could each explain an insight or technique or other on whatever the column's subject may be.

BTW - I have really enjoyed the new Clan books, and think that doing Path books for Mage might help greatly in players grokking the Mage setting better. In all the discussions on RPG.net about Mage, I think that the Mage setting is one of the things holding a lot of people back from playing Mage more.

And I would love to see artifact texts based on the Changeling Courts :D
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 13th, 2008 06:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Author Round Tables

Oh, yeah, not a LiveJournal user...
Jack Carr
aka Mathias Jack @ RPG.net
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