Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

I realize that I have developed an entirely new (to me) method for evaluating the books I read, particularly those with fantasy leanings, although certainly not exclusively. It’s a means of thinking about stories not in terms of whether or not they are good or bad, but in terms of categories that don’t necessarily suggest qualitative values.

My new approach: Would the story make a good RPG?

For the uninitiated, RPG stands for “role-playing game,” and not of the naughty bedroom variety. (I know you went there with it.) But yes, I play RPGs,* and while they involve sitting around a big table with lots of munchables and bags of dice (my bag’s a pretty blue velvety one), they don’t fit all the stereotypes attached to them by those who think RPGs are played in basements by nose-breathers.**

But that’s not the point. I’ve decided that there are two kinds of stories: those that would have been great RPGs, and those that would not.

The best RPG-type stories involve a central core of characters who are each involved in a majority of the action, preferably while together. The characters must bring some unique skills to bear in helpful situations, and ideally, each one must make at least one character-defining decision and/or action. (A lot of stories actually spawn RPGs because they would be so perfect to game out. See: George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and – yes, it’s television, but still – the Buffy series.)

And the non-RPG-type stories? They might involve fewer characters, or focus on one individual. That person might go through all the things that would make for a great RPG, if it weren’t for the fact that a one-person RPG just doesn’t work. Or they just aren’t fitting to the concept of an RPG. Seriously, who would want to play A Separate Peace: The Game?

The Name of the Wind is fun to read, and even though I clearly don’t know what’s to come in the subsequent books, I have to admit to being seized by the story. It’s a good book. But it would be a terrible RPG.

And my admittedly circuitous point here is that there exists no one mold for what makes a good story. Some of the best stories I’ve encountered in the last year and a half have come from my group of Scoobies,*** which is without a doubt why my brain now uses this method of evaluation. And most of the fantasy-type stories I’ve read or watched or role-played in that time have fit the RPG mold.

This one doesn’t fit. And yet, it’s still good. That notion doesn’t surprise me one tiny bit, but hey, it made me take notice.

*And yes, I am a HUGE NERD.
**Actually, we play on the top floor.
***A reduction of “Scooby Gang,” from the popular series of television shows featuring Scooby-Doo; in this case, my fellow RPGers.

Oh, and by the way: Friends should always warn friends that the book being lent is the only published installment in an unfinished trilogy before their friends start to read it. Because now I want to finish the story, and I’m stuck waiting. You know who you are.


  1. I know we talked about this a bit already, but I think you're right. It's not something I'd thought of before, but it's definitely something that'll be hanging around in the back of my head the next time I read a fantasy book.

    And how do you think I feel man????? hahaha

  2. Well, you've brushed me off a couple of times about it, presumably because it represents fifty-eight thousand tons of reading in paperback, but if you want fiction that passes the RPG test with flying colors, you've just gotta read The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie.

  3. To be honest, I don't remember brushing you off. I hope I did so in the politest possible way.

    But yeah, pass them my way! Or at least the first one. I know I'd get to it before long.