The Unanswerable Question - Addressing the Red Herring

Nathan H.'s picture

Dear Five Readers,

Has anyone thought about, or came in contact through play, one lie in their not-quite-story that must remain ignored? Have you addressed this before play?
Like, don't try and answer this thing with in-game petitioning, or collaborative prodding.
This is the lie that is holding everything together. The lie that all other lies are tethered to. The crux that motivates.
I think all stories have this.

Why does a duck go into a bar?
Who's letting this duck into a bar?
How did this duck learn to speak?
Why isn't the bartender more in shock?
Why isn't the bartender taking selfies with this talking duck?

There is a central lie, in most stories, or it's not much of a story.

Tod's picture

Fiction writers call this the "Central Conceit."
(If I'm reading you right.)

Neurotrash's picture

...something like, "Why is this RAG-TAG GROUP OF MISFITS who met in a tavern a week ago that contains a CN Thief, a LG Paladin, a NE Priest of Cthulhu, and a Bard whose driving goal is to find his missing lover (who is in the opposite direction) deciding to stay together and explore these ruins? I mean, it made sense when the tavern got attacked by gargoyles and they had to work together to save themselves, but...why are they still together?"

I think this is a problem in a lot of games that don't have a strong session zero and everybody creates their characters on their own. I've played in a lot of games in the past where this was just something everyone had to struggle to find reasons for, or else the campaign ended. I think the solution to that is just communication before play starts.

If you're talking about a setting element that doesn't make sense (in the context of the fictional world - talking ducks make perfect sense if they're part of the setting), I'm not sure I can think of any. I mean, I'm not too familiar with a lot of published settings...

I know that in the past, if I, as a GM, introduced something that didn't make logical sense in the setting, it would be pointed out and I'd get ragged on

BeePeeGee's picture

What happens sometimes is the GM saying on meta-level: "You need to do this/you cannot do this because... plot."

I use real Red Herrings in this sense as intentional misleading clues for detective cases or mysteries to be solved.

Neurotrash's picture

...if the GM comes out and says that, then I guess I'd just call that communicating certain expectations about genre or structure, or whatever. Certainly there are games that benefit from this kind of communication, if this is what we're talking about- "We're playing heroes, so no torturing people or joining with the Necromancer" type of stuff.

...if it's more, "You can't just accuse the butler, even though on a meta-level it's obvious he did it. Your characters have to go through the process of finding clues, etc. first."

I don't think the second one is an invalid play-style, but I'd be a little "meh" about it.

Is this what we're talking about, or am I missing your point?

Nathan H.'s picture

I'm curious how many people here have played role-playing games, with multiple or no GMs?
The slant here seems to be that there's always one guy/gal who has more authority than others.

I'm just curious that in so many of your comments, you brought up a GM.

Tod's picture

Since many of us came here from S-G, I'd expect that most have played a GM-less (or GM-full - AUGH!) game at some point in time. Granted, most posts that mention a GM are probably thinking of a single person, but I find that often, the same advice can be distributed across multiple people who play that role together, or in turns. It's just unspoken.

Nathan H.'s picture

It's just unspoken.

Well, strangely enough, when I see GM, I think of it as one person, because that's how it's been for a couple decades, persisting even now. If GM is gonna also mean GM, I'm gonna have a hard time here.

Tod's picture

I'm not saying "GM == GM."
I'm saying that When someone says 'GM,' they are clearly talking about a game in which at least one person has some sort of advanced, abstracted, authorial, managerial or directorial role relative to the other Players; however, that does not necessarily mean that there's only one such person at the table.

That's qualitatively different than a game that can be described without ever using the word "GM." We talk about those too. You'll just never see the word "GM" in those threads, because, natch.

Tod's picture

It has quickly become clear that you have a problem with pretty much everything I say, in fact not just me, but a lot of the posts here. So I'm not surprised to see you taking issue with the fact that my broadened use of a word doesn't meet your linguistic criteria. But IIRC, this thread is about your "red herring" concept, and whether anyone else has ever thought about it. Some clearly have, and fiction writers even have a word for it - the "central conceit." A "red herring" is actually something other than what you describe in your OP. A red herring is a clue that points to a false trail.