LIVE THE EPIC -- that is the motto of Tellings. In book, in mind, and in voice, Tellings breathes to life a world full of myth, fantasy, and magic. The story is spun from many threads twisted by many hands. Each storyteller becomes story-character. Tellings creates an imaginary and eloquent space where the creation of legend is becoming part of the legend. Each voice and each player weaves a part of the telling by playing a part of the telling.
TELLINGS IS STORY. It is about where the drama of action and adventure merge with the spirit of character, where strategy meets spontaneity, where thought meets excitement. Tellings is imagination. It is fantasy. It is the suspension of disbelief and the confidence to believe. It is the desire to work magic, to see miracles, to make history, to fell monsters, to ask questions, and to answer them. Tellings is community. It is the gathering of words, images, and feelings. It is the joining of voice and gesture, contemplation and celebration. In the deepest sense, then, Tellings is play.
TO TELL THE TALE, you must live the tale -- that is the truth of Tellings. To speak the tale is to share the tale -- that is the heart of Tellings.
What is Tellings?
Tellings is a role-playing game cut out of new cloth with new color and new yarn. It is a game that nods respectfully to the long past of rpgs but turns to a new pattern, a revised design of high fantasy gaming. The following sections detail the basics of role-playing and the fundaments of the Tellings system. The first few steps will look familiar to the experienced player, but apprentice and master alike will find something new to learn. Step by step, word by word, the telling will take shape and the game will show and speak itself.
Like any game, an rpg is about action and reaction, about the play-by-play. However, the game field is not a checkerboard or a stadium green, but the fertile landscape of every player’s creativity and vision. All of the action and interaction occurs in the minds of the players around the gaming table.
The Master begins the telling creating setting, building history, leaving clues and hiding clues, weaving intrigue, and playing the friends and foes the characters will meet. The players add to the telling describing their characters, revealing character personality, reacting to the Master’s characters and other players’ characters, and adding to the atmosphere of the adventure. The Tellings adventure begins with a single word and ravels out into hours, days, even years of trial, triumph, entertainment, and even education.
Unlike more traditional games, the role-playing game has no final card, no last move, no fourth-quarter buzzer. The Tellings adventure is always in over-time. There is no simple end or simple victory. Each gaming session, each episode, each plot line adds to the "lives" of the player characters. Regardless of wins and losses, the adventure continues to play out as long as the Master and players have the desire and vision.
An adventure may take several hours to several days of playing time to complete. But playing time does not necessarily represent game time. A week or month of game time may pass in only minutes of actual gaming. Like a book series or sequels of a film, a series of adventures forms a campaign. And like the stars of a series, player characters may live to see many adventures in a long campaign -- players often keep characters for many years before retiring them to a hall of heroes.
Tellings or any role-playing game for that matter is not about determining a winner or loser. The telling is about making stories, about making memories, about building community. The creation of great adventure is what brings true victory -- a victory as unending as gaming itself.
To play Tellings requires a little preparation and a lot of imagination. The materials needed are few: each player should have a copy of the rulebook, copies of the character sheet and combat record sheet, pencils, a pocket calculator, scratch paper or small note pads (‘telepathy pads’) for in-game and out-of-game notes, a handful of ten-sided dice, and graph paper or a hex- or grid-map for laying out combat.
The Game Premise
Tellings is designed for play in a high fantasy setting and to accommodate a medieval fantasy world. The weapons, armor, skills, and abilities have in mind Medieval and early Renaissance Earth inflected and stylized with the sword and sorcery, the myth and monsters of literature and film.
Tellings embraces the spirit and magic of the fantasy genre. From the Crusades to the samurai, from Viking conquest to courtly love, from shamans to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the telling evokes the journey of the hero. From tribal plains to Homer’s Odyssey, from pyramids to Prince Valiant, from Scheherazade to Treasure Island, the telling paints a detailed picture of distant lands and sacred places. From Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to the Mahabarata, from Murnau’s Nosferatu to Macbeth, from Dragonslayer to Conan the Barbarian, the telling brings to life the mystical and mysterious. Tellings come from a long tradition and continues toward a long future.
Remember that good fantasy can be realistic and good fiction contains some truth. Whatever the setting, wherever and whenever the world, the place for Tellings can never wander far from the source of good story. Though inflected with certain personal conventions and philosophies drawn out of years of play-testing, Tellings is designed to be a template system to be overlaid a game world of the players’ choosing or design. The game world of Tellings is as wide and as wild as the players and Master imagine. Chapter Nine provides general considerations for the game world.
The System Premise
Tellings is a game system born out of many years of thought and many more hours of play-testing. The rules, the methods, the mechanics, the descriptions, and the overall feel of the system attempt to address the RPGs of the past, reconsider traditional gaming ideas, and revolutionize the way RPGs are written, read, and played. Tellings is full of promise and makes every effort to polish the ways of gaming that work and propose alternatives for ways that do not work.
The telling of the tale is paramount and the flexibility of the game system only adds to the story. The Tellings system hopes to bravely make changes and depends on the consideration, education, and common sense of the players to smooth and finish the edges of the game.
One of the fundamental lessons in game-making and game-playing illuminated by the creation process is the need to balance realism and playability, between the rules of the game and reasons for the game. The rule of play strives to produce a system that sensibly accounts for the complexities of traveling, building, training, and fighting. However, the rule of play also strives to ground a system in the delicacies of playing, saying, living, and laughing. Role-play over roll-play. Whether the character is swinging a sword or singing a tune, the rule of play reminds players to see the forest for the trees, the game for the mechanics.
Adjunct to the rule of play is the rule of intent. No rule or system can cover every possibility or every contingency. Remember, there is more to an rpg than what is just laid out on paper. The rule of intent reminds the players that splitting hairs and diving through loopholes fails to preserve the spirit of the game. However, the rule of intent does not discourage creative ways of working within the rules nor does it mean the rules are fixed in stone. The Master and the players must embrace the system and decide judiciously and sensibly what to tailor to style and taste.
In the end, players must decide what parts of the system are most important and most vital to their role-playing experience. The responsibility lies in everyone around the gaming table. Tellings begins with a well-conceived, well-meaning system and encourages personal inflections and ‘house rules.’ The system, itself, becomes an extension of the telling -- changing, growing, and sharing with every new player.
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