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tinyaltar
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 20, 2013 9:25 am    Post subject: Terminology Reply with quote
Luke S. Roberts does a remarkable breakdown of terms and their implications in Performing the Great Peace. From an academic p.o.v., it's refreshing to absorb.

However, as I edit and re-edit the rulebook for Vagabonds, I constantly second guess the terms I am using. This is mostly problematic in the setting chapter, where I attempt to give succinct springboard descriptions of the general political and socio-cultural conditions present during the Edo period.

The goal of this chapter is to provide an accessible (yet detailed) gateway into the game world for those not familiar at all with the Edo period or even Japanese history. I began writing it using "modern Japanese terms" (i.e., daimyō, shōgun, Kyōto, bakufu). I recently went through and edited the terms, changing them into "English terms" (i.e., daimyo/lord [I use both], shogun, shogunate). My reasoning was: 1) Accessibility is key, so representing the おお and おう sounds and using Japanese terms in an English book is unnecessary, and 2) While I was using bakufu, I was also using "emperor" instead of tennō; therefore, there was an inconsistency in the terms. When I thought about changing "emperor" to its modern Japanese equivalent, I thought it would be too complicated for initiates to learn so much vocabulary from the get-go. I'm already bombarding them with a lot of other information, and like I said, accessibility is key.

While the primary goal of Vagabonds is to provide entertainment and fun with friends, we definitely have this undertone of wanting to deconstruct current Japan-themed gaming tropes and provide a general education on the time period. I'm not adverse to including a glossary of terms in the back of the book, but I'm still torn on which terminology I should use, and how to go about presenting terms to the reader so that they gradually become familiar with them.

Any advice on this matter? Has anyone else here run into such complications when writing? Is it acceptable, in your opinion, to be inconsistent with term use? Am I thinking way too much about this? Smile

I do plan to edit in a blurb on the use of language in the book, somewhere within the introductory chapter. This will give a short explanation on why I chose the terms I did.

(Note: I actually originally wanted to write the Edo-jidai terms [ryō, kōgi, tenshi, etc.], but I did not pursue that as I thought it would be way too "out there" for those who have only an introductory knowledge of Japanese history.)
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lordameth
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 20, 2013 12:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
As Prof Roberts is my PhD advisor, I certainly expect that I'll have to be very careful with my use of terminology in my own scholarly writing.. and, in fact, I'm glad to wrestle with these things, and to feel like I'm producing something more cutting-edge, more of a step forward, by building upon his arguments about terminology, and continuing in my tiny way to help shift the scholarship, going forward, into one in which the most commonly/standardly used terms are not the same old ones which Roberts and others have pointed out are problematic.

(In fact, I'm considering using Okinawan spellings for many of the terms in my work - e.g. Uchinaa, Naafaa, Yamatu, instead of Okinawa, Naha, Yamato - but, we'll see. I don't want to make things too unrecognizable or difficult.)

But, that said, for a popular audience, and especially in a game, I think it's more than okay to use a combination of English terms (e.g. lord, domain, emperor) and "standard" Japanese terms (e.g. daimyo, han, bakufu, shogun). Your game world, as I understand it, is already trying to break the myths of the honorable glorious samurai, and to instead show a grittier, meaner, more "real", side of the Edo period, which I think is fantastic. So, to still use terms people are familiar with, is really no problem at all, I think. And, to mix and match, is also just fine. Scholars are inconsistent in their terms all the time, if only for diversity, to keep the language from being too boring or too dense; for example, I might alternate between talking about ryô and talking about "gold coins."

If you wanted to include an extra appendix or afterword or something briefly describing the issue of terminology, and suggesting that players interested in taking it to another level can use words like dairi, kubô, ryôchi, I think that could be great too. But, again, I don't think there's anything wrong with sticking with the standard terms we're all familiar with.
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narukagami
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 20, 2013 5:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I've dabbled a little bit in feudal Japanese RPG adventure/fan supplement writing myself (just for fun), and while I'm certainly no professional, it's an issue do I run into quite frequently.
As a general rule of thumb I say "gratuitous Japanese adds nothing." If the reader needs to keep running to Google or flipping to a glossary every other paragraph then you're not communicating clearly or effectively, and detracting from their reading experience. But on the other side of that if it's never once mentioned that a spear is called a "yari" then what is the point of playing a Japanese based game?

I usually give similar advice with running a game, with the caveat that you should only use as much as your players know/are willing to learn. People tend to believe that using gratuitous terminology will enhance the immersion of the game. Well, in my experience it doesn't, and tends to do the exact opposite, instead destroying the immersion and pace of the game. If you tell your players the village is 3 ri away, and they don't know what a ri is, they're just going to look puzzled and either interrupt the game to ask you what the hell that even means, or crack up the laptops and smartphone and look it up themselves, and now the whole game might get shot to shit as the next thing you know someone is reminded about how they wanted to show that funny video they found on youtube to everyone... The immersion is shattered, the game comes to a screeching halt. If you just gave the equivalent Kilometers/Miles, then you could just keep up the flow as everyone should instantly recognize how far that is.

On the other side of that, including Japanese terms can be very fun and useful if you define them immediately, alongside their appearance. Instead of just saying "tennō" or "Emperor," you could say "tennō (emperor)." Do it a couple of times until you think the reader would get used to it, then once it's clear that tennō and emperor are the same thing, you don't need to define the term in further appearances that chapter. And I say "that chapter" because people don't tend to read RPG books from cover to cover in one go (I know I don't), different chapters usually have different info, so people will jump around.

Mainly keep in mind RPG writing is different from academic writing, as you've got a much broader target audience. Historians can get away with a lot more terminology as they can safely assume their readers have heard these terms before and know what they are, an RPG writer shouldn't make that assumption, even if their game is likely to be picked up mainly by a certain niche market. If you do make that assumption, then yes, your niche market might not care, but you've also just frustrated and alienated everyone outside of that small group who could have been potential customers/new fans of the genre. Actually that's a good piece of advice right there, "write as if you're introducing the genre to someone for the first time."

As for mixing the use of terms, I think it matters between what is written "in character" and "out of character." Using Japanese terms with the fluff text or sections written from the world's standpoint is ok (keep in mind the defining thing), but stuff written as just straight out of character rules, advice, or just generally a player/GM (our) standpoint could and probably should use equivalent English (or whatever the target reader's language is) terms.

I'm high on cold meds, so I hope this made sense.
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tinyaltar
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 20, 2013 6:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
lordameth wrote:
But, that said, for a popular audience, and especially in a game, I think it's more than okay to use a combination of English terms (e.g. lord, domain, emperor) and "standard" Japanese terms (e.g. daimyo, han, bakufu, shogun). Your game world, as I understand it, is already trying to break the myths of the honorable glorious samurai, and to instead show a grittier, meaner, more "real", side of the Edo period, which I think is fantastic. So, to still use terms people are familiar with, is really no problem at all, I think. And, to mix and match, is also just fine. Scholars are inconsistent in their terms all the time, if only for diversity, to keep the language from being too boring or too dense; for example, I might alternate between talking about ryô and talking about "gold coins."


Your opinions/insights are quite valuable, lordameth. Thank you kindly for your continued support. Your final note in this paragraph about the diversity of language is, I think, important in all forms of writing.

lordameth wrote:
If you wanted to include an extra appendix or afterword or something briefly describing the issue of terminology, and suggesting that players interested in taking it to another level can use words like dairi, kubô, ryôchi, I think that could be great too.


I think this solution is a good compromise, and it'll certainly make Maiko happy. If we did things her way, there would be a language learning CD that comes with the rulebook. Laughing If I don't end up putting a terminology appendix in the published rulebook, I think putting it online somewhere as a list might work.

As a side note: Your attitude towards cutting-edge scholarship + terminology is spot-on. I enjoyed your professor's book, and it's great to hear that he is implanting that seed in his students.

narukagami wrote:
People tend to believe that using gratuitous terminology will enhance the immersion of the game. Well, in my experience it doesn't, and tends to do the exact opposite, instead destroying the immersion and pace of the game. ...

Mainly keep in mind RPG writing is different from academic writing, as you've got a much broader target audience. ...

"write as if you're introducing the genre to someone for the first time." ...

I'm high on cold meds, so I hope this made sense.


It definitely makes sense, and we seem to share similar views on this subject. Thanks for your input! The first three lines I quoted there are the ones that stuck out to me the most because they neatly sum up what I've been trying to do since day one: make this subject matter accessible to roleplayers generally.

And really, the only problems I've had regarding terminology are with the setting chapter. Otherwise, I am keeping all game terms, mechanics, etc. in English. A gratuitous use of Japanese terms was never on my plate. Rather, what is important to me is the thoughtful use of the few Japanese terms I do pepper the text with.

Given what I've heard so far in this thread, it seems I am on the right track. Thanks again to you both for taking the time to respond... and for putting my anxieties to rest. For now.

- Nick
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 22, 2013 11:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Interesting timing seeing your question since I'm in the process of drafting a blog post on the topic. Not sure if it will see the light of day or not, so I'll weigh in here.

Generally speaking, I think the macrons on transliterations of Japanese words are more important for academic texts and for language students who are transitioning from romaji to hiragana & katakana. Since macrons aren't a part of standard English, they seem to me more of a distraction in the end and not worth including. The only exception that comes to mind that really works in my opinion is Steven Heighton's Flightpaths of the Emperor. Since it is a literary work, the macrons seemed to match the sophistication of the text itself and felt appropriate.

So while I generally favour dropping the macron in my own writing, I could envision a situation where you drop them from your rulebook chapters, but include them in reconstructed texts that exist within the game world (if that doesn't seem clear, I'm thinking of the parts of RPG books and modules that always seem to be written in italics) because it might lend a period feel.

In the end, there's no right answer, so don't sweat it. Once you settle on a style--as long as you're consistent--people will accept it.
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tinyaltar
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 23, 2013 4:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Shisendo wrote:
So while I generally favour dropping the macron in my own writing, I could envision a situation where you drop them from your rulebook chapters, but include them in reconstructed texts that exist within the game world (if that doesn't seem clear, I'm thinking of the parts of RPG books and modules that always seem to be written in italics) because it might lend a period feel.


This is a wonderful idea, and one that will most-likely be implemented. Thank you for your input and time, Shisendo. By the way, I spent some of my evening reading through parts of your blog. The Samurai Poet is now on my list.
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 24, 2013 5:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Glad I was able to be of some help. These apparently small creative decisions can sometimes cause the most time-consuming decision making. I literally reformatted the entire text of TSP 3 times (once with macrons, once with "u" for every う, and once in dictionary English) before ultimately deciding. If I had your good sense to discuss it on a forum like this first, it would have been a far less painful process.
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