Creator Reminiscences

December 20th, 2006        6pm FST

Everyone on Furcadia could listen in to Talzhemir's reminiscing about history and roleplaying. Silver Sponsors got to attend the event live, and in person, through the portal in the Vinca.

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The Reminiscence log

Talzhemir: Good evening, and welcome to my talk. I was too ill to make the "History of Furc" talk earlier so I decided to weave a little tiny bit of history into this talk.
Talzhemir: In case you didn't know, I'm one of Furcadia's first two Creators (Felorin being the other). We were soon joined by Emerald Flame and Sanctimonious, who have done HUGE things for Furcadia. And for that, they were also awarded the Creator badge.
Talzhemir: In the beginning... there was no public Internet. There were dial-up modems and phones. A system that could connect to 8 other phones at once was just unbelievable. (I'm talking around 1992 here.)
Talzhemir: People did have email addresses and email. One of the main networks was called WWivNET, World War Four Net. You'd put your phone with its spirally umbilicus on the receiver cradle of a box called a modem, which was attached to your home computer. If someone else was logged in, you were outta luck. Time was rationed; you typically got half an hour. So you composed your email offline, etc.
Talzhemir: Now, that would get your message to a local dial-up phone number called a "Node". Then, every night at midnight, Node modems would stop allowing access from the users.
Talzhemir: The Node computers were programmed to talk to each other from midnight to 1 am. They zapped compressed bundles of email. Eventually, messages worked their way up to a gateway to The Internet itself. And there, international-level messages could even get passed. Messages to Japan, to India.
Talzhemir: What exactly WAS 'The Internet'? Part of it was underground fiber-optic lines. They could handle far more data-traffic than regular phone lines. Who did these 'trunks' belong to? They belonged to many different nations and private groups. Some of the biggest and most critical belonged to ARPAnet...
Talzhemir: (Don't worry, this IS about roleplaying; I'm giving a sense of what this all "came out of". Bear with me, please.) (smiley)
Talzhemir: ARPA was the Advance Research Projects Agency. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the satellite Sputnik. ARPA is a pretty vague name because it was, in a way, the government of the U.S. saying, "We're not sure what we should even DO, but.. DO SOMETHING!" Back then, Americans were TERRIFIED that the Russians were going to invade.
Talzhemir: At first they said, "We've got to make the biggest computers. Because then we can have bigger missiles than Russia." They did a lot of other projects, military projects. The military got communications hooked up from Alaska to Hawaii to New York to Florida, with a layover for lunch in Denver. This newfangled stuff needed new people, so more and more they worked with college professors and their brightest students. Bear in mind that all people were allowed was, essentially, "email."
Talzhemir: Now people on military bases, and at colleges, sometimes have a lotta time on their hands. They're done with their duties but they aren't permitted to leave. So they started writing letters to each other for fun. It was run through an encryptor of one sort or another for security. So who would know if you weren't sending satellite research notes or a mathematical formula for satellite trajectories or a new formula for a satellite launching rocket, right?
Talzhemir: What they wrote to each other was something not too unfamiliar. It involved a lot of descriptions of what they'd really rather be doing besides sitting in a dorm or a quonset hut (see da pictures)
Talzhemir: There was searing gazes, heaving bosoms, hands moving over other bodyparts, and, depending on their tastes, it could get much raunchier than that, of course. It was the world's first netsex, naturally.
Talzhemir: In general, I'm told, it was most often about ordinary to heroic-but-essentially-ordinary people doing things that weren't impossible in the real world. Most erotic novels in Adult Bookstores today seem frozen close to that time period-- the transition from the fifties to the sixties, televisions "going color" like Pleasantville.
Talzhemir: Right from the start, alot of the social interaction was driven by this boy-meets-girl kind of stuff.
Talzhemir: Oh, but that's not where it starts. Before there was telephone, there was the Telegraph. Let's go back to around the 1850's. Wires connected cities, and there'd be maybe one telegraph machine set up in your town if it was big enough. There had to be a person on-duty at any given time of the day to receive or send messages.
Talzhemir: We've got telegraph operators with too much time on their hands. There's vintage examples of what they wrote. Oh, they wrote very spicy things to each other. They were flirting and more in morse code, and nobody else would be listening in.
Talzhemir: I suspect this is where this kind of thing began, because its precursor is semaphore. That's where you stand on a hill waving flags to represent letters. That's got all the privacy of shouting your affection from a hilltop. Semaphore networks spanned whole countries. Oh, and you had to use both arms. They got a lot of arm exercise in those days.
Talzhemir: Skip forwards in time again, please, back to the 1960's. In literature, this is when a lot of our fantasy novel come out. Lord of the Rings was an early bloomer, coming out during World War 2 in the 1940's. The Narnia series is also from that time. But in the 1960's, you've got Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Poul Andersen, Andre Norton, Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, Frank Herbert, Michael Moorcock-- and the list goes on and on... KaBOOM!
Talzhemir: The thing I want to point out, that distinguishes these books from other genres, is not that they're 'strange' and 'exotic'. You got the occasional robot in Roy Rogers serials, and boys raised by wolves (Kipling). And strange powers had been around in all sorts of mythical tales. What sets them apart is that their authors set out to portray whole worlds.
Talzhemir: This in turn made amateurs want to be a part of those worlds. In the middle to late 1960's we got "Fanzines". Alot of them were APA-zines ("Amateur Press Associations"). This is how it worked: You wrote a story, and photocopied it ten times, and mailed them in an envelope to the editor. The editor got stories from other writers. He'd make up booklets with one copy of each, collated, and send them back out to those who had contributed.
Talzhemir: Another interesting thing happened. The APA writers would, with permission, borrow each others' characters for guest appearances in their own tales. Sometimes those characters would bring their new friend home to star in the other writer's stuff. The amateur writers discovered that new storylines would spring up, taking *their* characters into situations they hadn't personally imagined!
Talzhemir: Okay okay, so... what does this have to do with RP, or Furcadia? --I'll get there, hold your Venusian horses! I promise this is going somewhere. [[ Break for 5 minutes! ]]
Talzhemir: The sixties- Star Trek takes advantage of color television by making Spock green and then does the first time a black woman kisses a white man on television. Gene Roddenberry is the genius behind this. The cast and crew always referred to him as the Great Bird of the Universe.
Talzhemir: On Star Trek, every episode might be written by a different writer, but Gene would pound on them, demanding rewrites until they agreed with previous stuff and with his vision of the Star Trek world. His assistant was Dorothy Fontana, listed in the credits as the guardian of 'Continuity'.
Talzhemir: There'd been Continuity people before, in Hollywood. Their job was stuff like, oh, make sure that if Clint Eastwood walked in from the outside wearing a hat (filmed in Italy), then he'd darn well have a hat on when he walked onto the matching interior bar set (in California).
Talzhemir: Star Trek, though, had people taking notes on 'tricorders', 'Jeffries Tubes', 'Orionese traders', what happens when the 'Vulcan' goes into 'Pon Farr', and what color is 'Plomik Soup'. Gene Roddenberry was very strict about that stuff.
Talzhemir: It made the fans crazy with pleasure.
Talzhemir: It wasn't just because they knew "secret" or "obscure" stuff that outsiders didn't know, either.
Talzhemir: I suppose you're all old enough to know about Pon Farr... The Vulcan race that the Star Trek writers created prized their self-control and reason above all things. Showing emotion was taboo, distasteful. This was the Vulcan "hook".
Talzhemir: One of the fans' favorite stories is about when Mr. Spock sort of "goes into season". Instead of being genteel and calm, he's temporarily aggressive and close to rutting. It happens to 'em every seven years. It's their dirty little secret, the Time of Pon Farr.
Talzhemir: If you knew Pon Farr happens every seven years, you get a gold star and your choice of cane, wheelchair or walker. (*ducks* just kidding!) That part is the geek trivia side of Star Trek.
Talzhemir: If you're playing a Vulcan at the Star Trek Convention, it's more than just information. You can act it out- and the outcome isn't a foregone conclusion. In the Pon Farr episode, Spock ends up in a duel with Kirk. So Pon Farr duels at Star Trek conventions, taking place in the Vulcan hotel room, with those playing other races not permitted were sometimes decided by dice rolls done by those playing their "seconds".
Talzhemir: You've just witnessed 'character development'. Character development is generally one of four things. It's the reinforcement of a hook, the breaking/changing of it, the adding of a new hook, or the removal of an old one. Hook: Spock is logical Added Hook: Spock goes crazy every seven years and he might die if he doesn't fight or get a date.
Talzhemir: The repeated showing/use of a hook (Gilligan is stupid; House is rude; Sherlock Holmes is brilliant; Mumble tap-dances) is pleasurable to the viewers because it's comforting to see the familiar. Not just that, but they start to anticipate things and when the audience prediction comes true, they feel smart.
Talzhemir: Three of the four forms of character development can risk interfering with that enjoyment. That's why characters often stay the same throughout a series. When Tarzan becomes Lord Greystoke, and he's going to dinner parties instead of talking to elephants and great apes, there's a chance of losing at least a part of the audience.
Talzhemir: How many of you saw the last Superman movie, and HATED that Lois got married to some other guy? (You can spin in place if you didn't like that, please.)
Talzhemir: thanks. (Somewhere out there someone's not listening to =event, and wondering why some of his companions are doing the Dervish thing. hehehe...)
Talzhemir: Now, it's not a hard line between the two, but there's something about those old homemade APA magazines that's more like roleplaying than traditional fiction. Similarly, what the fans did at Star Trek Conventions was more like roleplaying than writing.
Talzhemir: Character's relationships are hooks, too. Spiderman has his Aunt May to care about. James Bond is directed by M, assisted by Q, and flirted with by Miss Moneypenny. Han Solo is in love with Princess Leia.
Talzhemir: In roleplaying on Furcadia, relationships are partially subject to the whim of another player. In most RP, although it's inappropriate to authentic medieval behavior, most players play as if divorces were normal. There's plenty of characters here who have been married a dozen times.
Talzhemir: Fantasy worlds constructed by writers often include rules for relationships that don't exist in the real world. When you bring that into a game, it can stabilize the RP by putting in a plot assumption that the relationship is permanent. Or the author's creation can do just the opposite....
Talzhemir: Anne McCaffrey's Pern has a rule: Dragonriders do NOT marry. For some players, this is paradise. It's a setting where commitment is inappropriate to the setting. Frank Herbert's Dune has a similar situation with the 'Bene Gesserit', an order of psychic women who are attempting to breed a super-psychic by seducing various people. Fun maybe, but in actual play it's often very destabilizing.
Talzhemir: Now please consider Pokemon from that angle. Suppose someone's playing Pikachu and someone's playing his owner Ash. It's against the setting for Ash to abandon his pet, and it's generally out of character for a pet to run away. That particular setting lends a kind of relationship stability. And where else in Furcadia do we see this clear assignment of roles and an assumption that at least one of the participants doesn't run away?
Talzhemir: How about the slaver Dreams? They're found in the adult area, FurN, and I don't encourage or condone underage people going there. But lucky you, you're still awake when we get to a discussion of master/mistress + slave RP. I'm not going to go into the sexual angle anyways; I'm interested in the longterm implications for the storyline, the setting.
Talzhemir: I had gotten up to the late 60's, with fans exploiting science fiction and fantasy authors' whole worlds and their intrinsic gimmicks. 1975 or so, a couple of men playing with lead miniatures and dice are recreating Napoleon's various historical battles.
Talzhemir: Some miniatures battle enthusiasts like to fancy they are the generals. But there's also a funny custom that miniatures gamers sometimes like to do, and that is, to secretly mark one of little 25mm guys under his base, and think to himself, "That's *me*, that one right there."
Talzhemir: It just so happened that rules for magic tend to take up a bit more time, and the fantasy battles rules Gary Gygax wrote turned out to work better with smaller numbers of figures. From the custom of having what they called 'heroes' (who might or might not have statistical advantages over other pieces) and from the writing of rules by Gary Gygax, came a different kind of game: Dungeons & Dragons.
Talzhemir: Currently, on Furcadia, you can if you so choose (and if Dream owners permit) type roll XdY where X is the number of dice rolled and Y is the number of sides they have. That gives us one number because it adds them all up. In some tabletop games, it matters what the individual dice say, and for that you can type ROLL XdY. If you like, go ahead and do a couple of those if you're in a place where they won't mind.
Talzhemir: In the old miniatures gaming, there weren't stats on individual figures. The rules had to be written so that bookkeeping was minimized; a little soldier lived through the attack or he didn't. When there were fewer figures, the games could end up being too short. So Gary Gygax and his friends invented the Hit Point, a resource that could be worn away and make battles last longer. Nearly ever RPG out there follows this paradigm, too.
Talzhemir: I put it to you, though, that in a way, much of Furcadia's RP, because it doesn't have character sheets, is sort of stuck in 1975.
Talzhemir: Not everybody likes combat, though. So what good are dice if you don't want to use them for fighting...? One feature that's been lost in the transition from paper games to modern MMORPG's like Warcraft is random generation tables.
Talzhemir: Okay, we're gonna have another 5 min. break! When we come back, I'll introduce you to an example of a set of random tables.
Talzhemir: So let's make a slave background here. Just for the heck of it. My tables start out with info about... Dear old mom. Those of you next to me can witness that I'm using actual die rolls tonight. woohoo! Mother's age at time of birth is d10+3d6.
Talzhemir: I roll d10 & get 4; I roll 3d6 & get 10; this slave's mother was only 14 at the time of the slave's arrival. You math mavens will notice that tends to be young. Historically, slaves could be treated like livestock, and they were encouraged to make as many babies as possible.
Talzhemir: A character whose mom was captured later in life might be very different from one whose mom was born a slave. Two tables in, and destiny has varied wildly already.
Talzhemir: For that reason, I dubbed this set of tables the Destiny Machine. If it amuses you, you can follow along:
Talzhemir: (I kept this document fairly "rated PG" in wording but some of the concepts verge into "R for mature themes", which, in some senses, 'slavery' already is.)
Talzhemir: 3d10 for Mom's occupation... it's an 18... That's 'servant-girl (tavern, inn, rich household)' on Table 3.
Talzhemir: These things sound dull but in actual practice, they feed into RPing very well. A Freeborn girl has a kid when she's 14; she's a serving wench or maid or something. Table 3 has other "mundane" things, like weaver, or peasant farmer. But it also has some possibilities you might not have considered: a nun, a retter (they rot the flax for fiber, hooray), a woodseller. The reading of the table helps educate a player as to what tends to exist and if you like you can have something like this that *doesn't* use dice; let a player choose.
Talzhemir: An 8: Dad was also Freeborn. He fathered this character when he was 32 He died 3 years after that point. He was, in fact, the Tanner. Yikes; he was more than twice mother's age!
Talzhemir: Random Generation tables are a bit like Tarot Cards or some other fortune-telling device; sometimes they seem to tell a story.
Talzhemir: The next tables go into how the parents died, because this often tells alot about how their child ended up in shackles.
Talzhemir: These tables do tend to drape tragedy on a prospective alt. (22) Mother was beaten to death. (smiley) (18) Father's cause of death is as yet unknown to the character- they never found out. The slave character might not know they died when the character was 3.
Talzhemir: These tables can be constructed to occasionally offer the player choices. For example, there might have been an opportunity to run away a bandit gang. The outcome of this choice is random; the character might become a bandit him or herself... or might simply end up a slave to the bandits... or the character could be recaptured again and end up with (Scarred Back) feature as a souvenir of their vacation.
Talzhemir: (with a bandit gang)
Talzhemir: Some players don't care what background their slave might have. Others care quite a bit. It can vary alot.
Talzhemir: For some reason, many roleplayers feel something is more valid if it came from a die roll. By valid, I mean, 'defined for others as well as yourself'. whether random or chosen or roleplayed-out organically, Validity is the mightiest power a Dream Owner will ever wield. Dreams are the granters of validity.
Talzhemir: Here's a typical example of what I mean: Say you've created a character named Baroness (or Baron) Savage. You granted your character status but didn't give anything up to do so. Now you walk into a tavern. In real medieval times, a noble was always addressed by their title-- on pain of death. They took status very seriously back then...
Talzhemir: If the players in that Dream don't happen to know how oppressive the real-life medieval environment was, they can't give a sense of drama and believability.
Talzhemir: Then again, maybe the owners of Dream don't WANT the RP to be authentically stuffy-- or bloody-- or sexist-- or racist-- as the historical. RP from a book generally answers questions like this clearly. Here on Furcadia, we often run in "homebrew" worlds and it's a big handicap. There aren't many furry books. RedWall is one of the few.
Talzhemir: Dreams with well-developed web-pages thus can have a significant advantage over those that don't. Another thing that can make the difference between popularity and obscurity is location-- and probably not in the way you might expect...
Talzhemir: There are Dream spots that seem to be better because they're on well-travelled routes. If that spot is highly desired-- and it's in a crowd of similarly desirable locations-- there's likely to be times when that Dream spot is taken. So the times that the Dream is on its expected location are limited by chance.
Talzhemir: A better location is one with slightly less competition so that if a spot is taken, you can put your Dream up close-by and still be found by your regulars. Some locations in Furcadia are "cursed" this way despite being higher traffic.
Talzhemir: Spontaneous RP takes a sort of "critical mass". Therefore, Dreams with a lot of furres... will tend to get more furres. If this is mainly all furres do, it's very likely that Furcadia's popular RP places are going to tend to be a short list.
Talzhemir: But remembering what I said about 'validity', character sheets can grant things to characters in that Dream.... things furres never knew they could have in RP? Want to be the boss of an NPC gang? Want to be a child of Faerie? Want to be the owner of a swamp lair? Dreams can restrict these features to characters who officially register them. And the price they pay... is not possessing all the other features a character could just be given in casual RP.
Talzhemir: Character sheets make RPing "stunning beauty" actually work. Instead of everyone being stunningly beautiful at a whim, only a few characters would have it. Other players become more willing to grant the character their IC due, because it's a bargain with the Dream's entire population.
Talzhemir: As Lewis Carroll wrote, "I'll believe in you if you'll believe in me."
Talzhemir: (one more break! then a short bit to wrap this up.)
Talzhemir: (smiley) I began this talking about the telegraph and the earliest Internet to show that roleplaying seems to be a very natural thing for many furres.
Talzhemir: Furres? Not quite-- they were very rarely furry. Even in the 1800's, they would write love letters under false names and describe themselves as other than what they were- beautiful/handsome but still generally as normal humans. Telegraph operators mentioned that just like today, there were cases of entanglements because someone pretended to be the other gender.
Talzhemir: They were writing cooperative fiction-- but in morse code and encrypted Cold War era missives. Romance has been a key interest right from the start and the first important ingredient was privacy of information over long distances.
Talzhemir: Unlike roleplaying as we know it, though, they tended to limit character hooks the way traditional media still does, while modern RP is far more flexible.
Talzhemir: They did what we do today, with text-- almost. They generally didn't get what we know as Continuity until the late 1960's. The worlds created by science fiction and fantasy writers added many new possible hooks, often strongly linked to the background information.
Talzhemir: This parallels the division in Furcadia between "Persona RP" and the emergency of Continuity-protecting "Strict RP"
Talzhemir: These developments have been largely unnoticed, and account for many games attempting to give players a 'book' or 'movie' experience with a 'book/movie' type character. Roleplaying as we know it is very different and computer games still have far to go.
Talzhemir: I could despair that our RP is, in some ways, so primitive. We aren't even in the 1970's yet! But I prefer to look at the bright side: The best is yet to come. So what's coming, is tools for Dream owners and owners of alts, database type tools that do for roleplaying what Dragonspeak did for Dream handling.
Talzhemir: Unlike a typical web site or email, resources for doing database things seem to be fairly rare. Here's an example of one:
Talzhemir: I'm currently involved in creating an RPG for use on Furcadia, a character sheet/dice style RPG. The combat mechanics will be the same system used in the game Quicksilver, which has just come out. [advertising! advertising alert!]
Talzhemir: I posted a few details of the game here: You'll also see a 'DEMO' .PDF on the RPGnow site; it's not a usable version of the game, it's excerpts from some of the most crucial parts, though.) That book contains alot of art and when we go into making Furre! I may be looking for submissions, but that's at least eight months down the line. If there's more info, you'll be sure to see it if you follow our forums. (smiley)
Talzhemir: In case you didn't see it, there's an RP-related survey about things like posting time and posting length. It's worth seeing just to know what your fellow furres tend to prefer.
Talzhemir: And one more thing... I've got a little contest going, regarding that last post. So, enough words from me; I'll go regenerate some lung tissue. I wish you the most amazing stories, fascinating encounters, dramatic quandaries, and unforeseen yet constructive consequences in your RP here and elsewhere! Thanks for listening, and, goodnight!



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