Sunday, January 31, 2010

Adventure, Exploration, and Action

I love adventure and exploration fiction.

Which is probably not all that surprising since anyone who plays RPGs are drawn to the much the same kind of escapist fantasy (pulp or otherwise) as that to which I'm drawn.

But can simple exploration work in an RPG?

What got me thinking about this? Well Raggi's most recent post over at LotFP, for one thing. The fact that my wife and I spent several hours watching 17 straight episodes of Lost's most recent season yesterday for a second.

[yes, it should come as no surprise I'm a big fan of this show...I'd seen every episode previously, but it's been so damn long, I figured I'd better "refresh" before the final season started airing on Tuesday. Yeah, I have my own theories regarding the show, including the Jacob conflict (feels pretty obvious to me this is the Old Testament Jacob-Esau showdown and Richard is a Roman Legionnaire or an incarnation of the god Anubis, but hey I'm sure we'll all find out this season, right?]

I'm drawn to this particular genre of "weird adventure" like a moth to a's part of the reason I enjoy Jules Verne and other types of mystery-solving-through-movement.

Now Lost may not be a fantastic example of this due to the prevalence of action/violence, but let's look at Disney's Atlantis: the Lost Empire, a film I absolutely loved. Here, the main character has not a single action/violent bone in his body, and while there IS a fight sequence at the end of the film, it feels very secondary compared to the rest of the movie. At least to me. The fun is not in the action sequences so much as uncovering the weirdness and exploring this subterranean/underwater kingdom.

Of course, Atlantis didn't do very well at the box office, so maybe I'm different from some folks.

I'm not a huge action fan...yes, I did go see Ninja Assassin, but I've seen only a single Steven Seagal film and precious view of the usual trite "action" flicks. Most straight action films bore the shit out of me. But then I love a movie like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Is this because Indiana Jones is a "thinking man's action hero?" No. Is it because the action is so well choreographed by the film makers. Not really...I mean the couple gun fights or fist fights that occur are interesting in context, but there are few close-ups of the action...and much of the time Harry Ford is getting the crap kicked out of him.

I think that besides the compelling story of the film, there is something about this character's exploration of far off lands and ancient mysteries that is downright compelling to watch. Certainly in Lost, I am as much interested in figuring out "what's going on" as in seeing "what's going to happen next." Hell, that's the same thing that is so compelling (to me) about Lovecraft's stories. Precious little action, but they certainly pique the curiosity to "find out more."

This is very different from the post-apocalyptic fiction I've been blogging about the last week or so. In PA, no one really cares about "what's going on" only about "what happens next." After all, the past has this huge demarcation line called The Cataclysm or The Apocalypse, and it's a line no one can really cross...or cares to cross. That grim struggle for survival and community re-building is too all important to worry about. I'm reading Dies the Fire (about halfway through) and no one's too worried what Alien Space Bats are responsible for the Change...just how to deal with it. Same with the dragons in Reign of Fire or who-fired-first in The Day After. I haven't yet seen The Road, but my understanding is no one even bothers to explain what cataclysmic disaster has wrecked the world.

But in non-post-holocaust exploration fiction, what happens next isn't nearly as interesting as what happened before or what's going fact "what happens next" is often a piece of the puzzle being unraveled...some part of the mystery being solved, the secret being revealed. Combat, if it occurs, is generally secondary to everything else, and most often a resolution to an adventure cannot be met through violence alone.

Look at the climactic scenes of any Indiana Jones film...or Mysterious Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Or At the Mountains of Madness. Seldom, if ever, does the story end in a melee between the hero and the antagonist (which is the usual ending of most ANY action film). Characters can have adventures withOUT getting blood on their hands. Certainly I feel that my own travels around the world have been "mini-adventures" and I've never once got into a fight anywhere!

D&D is not set up to be this kind of game, and that's fine with me...I don't see it as doing "exploration adventure" so much. Hollow Earth Expedition on the other hand COULD be this kind of game, but it's a little too action-pulp oriented (in addition to being a bit mechanical-clunk heavy), a little too Doc Savage to be "action-free." Or rather, one could use it in such a way but it's not economically designed for this type of's designed to shoot dinosaurs and beat up nazis.

The original question...can simple exploration-adventure work in an RPG...remains. I think it can, but it's not for everyone. I'm not sure how you can make it a game "worth playing," not because people don't like exploration and unraveling mysteries (they do), but because people like to get this "fix" through different mediums...cinema, literature, real travel and research. Can one make a "game" that embraces this genre and interests people in playing it? it a Traveller game that doesn't take place in space.
; )

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