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Critical Hits

Boredom, Self-Inflicted and Otherwise

by Dave Smith
Sep 20,2004

 

Boredom, Self-Inflicted and Otherwise

I got a response the same day I sent out my first query letter to a literary agent, trying to interest them in representing Critical Hits. It was, unsurprisingly, negative and formulaic. I imagine that the agent has the "thanks but no thanks" form letter scripted into his email client, ready to pounce upon anyone that drops him a line during periods when the agent is fed up with getting pitches from hack after hack. I can't blame him, although I did get a kick out of one particular line:

"You should know that my decision reflects my present work-load, and the type and amount of material which I'm presently representing. It does not reflect on your material..."

Which is good to know, considering I sent him exactly zero pages of Critical Hits. If he'd said "the quality of your work does not meet our current needs" or something along those lines, I'd be pissed off and pretty suspicious of the guy's ethics. As it stands, though, I'm not at all dejected about the agent's refusal, as it was expected, and I've got to give him credit for shutting me down in such a timely fashion. Nobody else has bothered to write back yet, which means it's time to start pestering literary middlemen again: a thoroughly boring process indeed.

Boredom is, as the Situationist International once said, counter-revolutionary. The SI was concerned not only with political but everyday revolution- one and the same, more or less, but I'm not here to discuss ultraleftist theory and praxis; I'm simply ripping off an excellent phrase for my own shabby use, which is to talk about the horror of boredom.

I don't get bored easily, having been able from an early age to amuse myself with relative ease. However, I do hold a job, I do pay bills, and I do have to fill my car with gas, which means I am exposed to boring things all the time. I'd have to say that work is the most boring thing, since getting gas and paying bills takes approximately fifteen minutes out of each month, but again I digress. The fact of the matter is that boredom, even seen from afar and/or through a writer's eyes- which should be able to view boredom as something worth writing about, but alas, mine can't- is a pestilence of the soul. The only thing that may be worse is creating something boring, which is what I did a couple weeks ago when I put together my character for a friend's Call of Cthulhu game.

On paper, the character sounded ideal. This was a Cthulhu by Gaslight game set in Victorian England, which I know a fair amount about, and therefore was able to create a character that fit in nicely. Retired Royal Navy Lieutenant Arthur Reynolds had all the trappings of a stolid English sailor, down to tobacco addiction and unswerving dedication to the Crown, topped off with a dead wife for a bit of melancholy. He sounded like a decent second-tier character in a historical novel, or maybe a vaguely memorable footnote in a history book ("The only shell that struck HMS Sultan failed to injure anyone but..."), which was fine, because I wanted to play an average man; however, my own ambition, or lack thereof, bit me in the ass.

Once the game got rolling- there was one player other than myself, which was great, and the Keeper- I quickly found out that Lt. Reynolds was about as effective an investigator as I am a teetotaler. Pretty much lacking the skills essential to a viable Call of Cthulhu character, as well as a personality, my character was exposed as a waste of time and paper. I spent most of the game chiming in with half-witticisms and following the lead of my fellow player, who was playing a police inspector with powers of investigation superior to mine- and, despite his lower pistol skills, a better shot than Lt. Reynolds.

My pitiful, pitiful character survived the game, and will trudge stoically and nigh-silently through the next one, or however many it takes until the opportunity to make a new one arrives. He survived in my mind, too, as terrible, horrifying proof that I, like so many others on the planet, can generate utter boredom. Knowing that I can, and much less have, squeeze(d) out an appallingly uninteresting abortion of a mind-baby, disturbed me to no end, because I was afraid that my fiction may include such stiflingly dull characters. Thankfully, it didn't take long to realize that while the characters in Critical Hits may not be participants in the most exciting tale ever told- much like other role-players I know, who may have had the occasional brush with adventure, but generally have had pleasantly sedate lives, much like yours truly- they are far superior to the wretched Lt. Reynolds. Not only is the cast of Critical Hits a fairly well-fleshed out bunch, mainly because they are grounded in a reality much more familiar to me than Victorian England, but I am not trying to push them into situations that are not informed by their own experiences: there's a big difference between putting a stoic ex-officer into the maw of the Mythos and dropping militant role-playing nerds into the chaos of a convention gone horribly wrong.

Characters in fiction, excepting times when they escape from the author's grasp and end up doing things on their own, are subject to a more regimented existence than role-playing characters, who have to contend with the whims of dice rolls and game masters. This is where I managed to dissolve the problem of boredom regarding my CoC character. The characters of Critical Hits would be eaten alive if turned into PCs, but on the other hand, Lt. Reynolds would fare much better in the pages of literature than in the world of Call of Cthulhu. A story or novel involving him would allow a more realistic range of actions and expressions on his part, but using him in a game has clearly shown that he's not cut out for such treatment: in-game, characters like him are boring. I have absolved myself of creating boring characters, because the one time (well, as far as I can tell) I've done so, the character was only boring because he was used in the wrong context. The same goes for literary characters used in role-playing environments. Imagine actually using a character like Drizzt Do'Urden, to use a handy example, in one of your games. I bet the results would be poor at best.

And that's the crux of this rambling little monologue, I reckon: boredom is a matter of context. In my own life, I rarely get bored, because I can put things in perspective, thanks to a personal philosophy of principled idleness. In fiction and gaming, however, it's different, because the boundaries are different, and crossing them can produce some spectacularly stultifying results. I really hope that I never try to create characters that don't belong in the medium I create them in, because if I do, I'm screwed. Literary agents worldwide will turn me away, and I'll be doomed as a writer. That said, I'm aware of this potential problem, and I'll try to avoid it from here on, because, as I've already said, boredom is counter-revolutionary, and writing is often a personal revolution.

There you have it, dear readers: a bumbling commentary on boredom, writing, and gaming. You've gotten exactly what you expected from me, so I'm going to say adios and, as always, respectfully request that you purchase a copy of Axis Mundi Sum. Until next month...

Dave Smith
http://www.axismundisum.com
dave at axismundisum dot com

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