'Chess is not an RPG' article

edited October 2014 in Story Games
http://johnwickpresents.com/games/game-designs/chess-is-not-an-rpg-the-illusion-of-game-balance/

Without question much of what is said within the article is factual truth. Objective reality even. Chess is NOT an RPG. No argument. If the piece had maintained that track it would have been incredible to me, but probably much less interesting to most. The reason being it devolves into opinion being forwarded as quasi-fact based on an appeal to authority. That doesn't mean I don't find value in it, even with its subjective points. It just irks the academic in me to see people intersperse opinion with fact and treat it as a single entity.

While most here probably aren't interested in my rebuttal I felt compelled to offer it somewhere, and here seemed as good a place as any (especially because I think many will LOVE the article as is, so I'm spreading a good word for them). What follows will be a multi-part analysis of the article.
Now, this isn’t an article about game design, but rather, an article about being a game master. But, in order to get to that advice, I need to spend a little bit of time talking about game design. Trust me, it matters.
I certainly agree that it matters, but I notice something immediately about this: the author is espousing a more modern/indie story games mindset throughout most of the piece, and yet he categorizes it as an article about/for game masters...something that frequently is at odds with indies and story games. What's more, he'll eventually offer a challenge to game masters to hack/mod games to fit his paradigm...in essence he's calling for a universal Rule 0; which is another thing not usually associated with the tropes he's trawling. These things can be extrapolated to others, but still we're faced with an immediate foil to easy categorizations.

However, i think that's a good thing. Any time something falls immediately into a category I question its validity and/or importance. So I dig deeper to see what this paragraph can say to me that matters, and here it is: Everyone is different. Seems obvious, but I think this article REALLY brings out the importance of this mantra (although it actually fails to understand/accept it). 'Story game' enthusiasts don't have a single preference, meaning there is no single definition. The author highlights many old school games for having ideas generally considered modern/indie. There is no singular 'grognard' period. There simply are no absolutes in generalities. This article emphasizes that even within a single broad demographic you'll find outliers and further sub-categorizations (much like gun-toting Democrats, and homosexual Republicans here in the US).

I cannot overstate how much I believe this to be a great (if unfortunate) thing. The moment 'indie gamers' (or whoever) are really all the same we reach an unassailable division between people, and that's just never as good as open-minded diversity with fluid dynamics.
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Comments

  • edited October 2014
    I almost walked into a mental trap here. I was going to reject his opinion and present my own. I think it's more important to understand his main point and take it into consideration.
    ... but I think you can I can at least agree that if you can successfully play a game without roleplaying, it can’t be a roleplaying game.
    I don't have to agree with it, but I should at least take it into consideration of what he really means. I wished more people did that when I presented controversial perspectives about our hobby. If we can't do that, we wont develop any understanding of our hobby.
  • When I first started designing roleplaying games, they appealed to me because they were kind of like writing a philosophy: “this is how I think the world works.” Games like Call of Cthulhu and Pendragon were great examples of this. The systems were tailored for the setting. And in the world of Riddick and Lieutenant Colonel Alan Caldwell, a tea cup and a thumb can do a whole helluva lot of damage.
    Ok, there's a TON being said here, and it needs careful unwrapping.

    The very first sentence is paradoxical to the remainder of the article. It's an article about how RPGs are all about storytelling, but then he acknowledges that he first started designing not for story, but for mechanics (because a philosophy of 'how the world works' is inherently mechanical). It's unlikely he became interested in something he hated, though he might not have fully understood his interest yet. Instead it's more likely that he DID gain enjoyment and fulfillment from what most would dub a form of simulationism, thereby validating that playstyle.

    However in the next sentence he highlights CoC and Pendragon, which are certainly more like story games. In fact, CoC has pretty poor mechanics/simulationism, and is so far removed from reality that it in no way is 'how the world works'. It's not even plausible if we fiat the existence of Cthulu. So what's up with that? Either the author is unaware of his contradictory dichotomy, I'm utterly misunderstanding something he's saying, or we're operating under such divergent warrants that we cannot discuss the same topics without first gatekeeping definitions and intents.

    Next he hits a really fascinating and important aspect: that of the systems being tailored for the setting. This is so amazingly vital that I hate that it's not talked about more. It formed the basis of many of our own system hacks in fact, beginning with our answer to D&D 3rd/4th.

    Speaking of D&D, while not commonly mentioned early D&D complied with the idea of a system that matched the setting. IMO Greyhawk and 1st/2nd (and to a lesser degree BECMI) are synonymous. From 3rd on nothing Greyhawk ever fit as well due to the system changes. Likewise those earlier editions came out with numerous other settings, but almost never kept to the same system exactly. You can let the setting determine the mechanics, or the system describe the setting...the two have to be unified however, if you want a successful game.

    This has long been my major argument against generic systems (RM, D20, etc). While sometimes the systems are amazing, and often someone makes a good marriage between system and setting, just as often the two are mismatched and create a game-stopping disconnect.

    The last sentence is one of the most important, because I believe it actually works somewhat against the author's thesis. He claims that teacups and thumbs do massive damage in these worlds. He infers that it's because they're story elements, not simulation elements...that the damage and outcome are in fact narrative decisions. I agree and disagree.

    In the movies the teacup and thumb are narrative elements and decisions. In some RPGs such things can be used in the same way, however they are more often limited by the simulation elements in order to maintain the Game part of RPG. This isn't a weakness or failure, but a differing focus (simulation over narration).

    Just like chess is not an RPG, neither is a movie. A movie is not a game at all, it's a form of narrative art. The author goes to a lot of trouble to show how RPGs are in fact a story, but that's simply NOT true (at least, not inherently true). RPGs, since their inception, are inherently games. Now, some may focus on the story to differing degrees, and I myself have frequently compared them to movies with regards to narrative elements. However, I do so while keeping in mind that an RPG and a movie (or any purely narrative exercise) are two different things. One can influence the other, but in the end they're different. More on this when he gets to his definition of RPGs later.

    Having said that we also have to address the idea that the teacup and thumb do 'a helluva lot of damage'. This isn't exactly true, and therefore we can't make a direct game comparison. Damage evokes aggregate, symbolic combat systems...things like hit points. People don't actually have hit points. They have life functions, and vital areas. It's not that objects do more or less damage (although they certainly do), it's that life is EXTREMELY fragile and can be ended with a minimum of force.

    In the military I was trained to kill with any credit card or ID...and even a piece of paper. It's really very simple, and can be taught in a few hours (mastered in just a few weeks even). I've studied martial arts for more than 35 years, and yes, I can kill you with my thumb (if you don't successfully defend at least). However it's not because my thumb, my driver's license, or a piece of paper have high damage output...it's because I understand the mechanics/physics of force, and the fragility of human beings.

    This would seem to support the author's later points...that weapon lists aren't relevant, and that it comes down to story decisions. However, that's not entirely true. Instead it shows that when all other things are equal, it's the character, not the equipment, that determine outcome. The class, and attributes, and die mechanics determine probability of outcomes. The SYSTEM determines what kind of combat happens: aggregate, symbolic, specific injury, etc.

    Equipment DOES matter though. If you have two marksmen of equal skill, and one achieves a torso shot with a .22, while the other does it with a .50, the specific outcomes are going to be different. Now, the game may choose to generalize the outcomes the same (for expediency, narrative focus, etc), but the actual, mechanical, physical facts are different. In other words, they really do have different ranges, speed factors, weights, costs, and deal differing 'damage'. That may or may not matter, depending on your preferences and the game warrants.

    Teacups don't do more damage than a bastard sword...but a critical hit system using specific injuries is more deadly (dependent upon probability determined by system mechanics) than an aggregate, symbolic system using just hit points. In other words, Riddick & Caldwell could have used a save or die spell, or class ability, not a weapon, in a simulation focused game. They weren't necessarily playing a story game to achieve those outcomes.

    What this whole thing really comes down to is narration vs simulation, all within the context of a game (not a story). But more on this later.
  • I almost walked into a mental trap here. I was going to reject his opinion and present my own. I think it's more important to understand his main point and take it into consideration.
    ... but I think you can I can at least agree that if you can successfully play a game without roleplaying, it can’t be a roleplaying game.
    I don't have to agree with it, but I should at least take it into consideration of what he really means. I wished more people did that when I presented controversial perspectives about our hobby. If we can't do that, we wont develop any understanding of our hobby.
    Yep. Like most things it's going to come down to warrants and definitions, and not the actual arguments. Since I'm addressing his piece in the order it appears it'll be just a bit before I get to my feelings on that very aspect that you bring up, but I'm getting there.
  • edited October 2014
    It’s a trick question, of course. It doesn’t matter what weapon you give Riddick, he’s going to kick your ass with it.

    Does the tea cup have a speed factor? How about Sean Connery’s thumb?

    More important question. In fact, perhaps the most important question: how do any of those things–range modifiers, rate of fire, rburst fire, slashing, piercing, etc.–help you tell stories?

    Just a moment ago, I called weapon lists one of the most common features in roleplaying games. These things are not features. They’re bugs. And it’s time to get rid of them.
    Several short things, and one longer, so I combined them.

    As I pointed out before, Riddick kicks your ass because of his level, attributes, and abilities within that type of system. Well, let me clarify that: he'll kick your ass if his level, attributes & abilities are better/higher than yours. The people he was fighting were low level npcs, with average stats. What's more, if we put him in a symbolic combat system he won't kick my characters ass with a teacup, because he's only inflicting 1 or at most 1-2 points of damage (granted, plus str modifiers, and hitting a lot due to good THAC0). However, if I'm reasonably close to his level and using a weapon dealing 1-10 (plus reasonable str bonus) then I may beat him (averaging 5.5+ damage to his 1.5+). At best he'll win only after an extremely long fight.

    Actually yes, the cup and thumb have speed factors. They're talked about in the rules, just requires system mastery. What's more those things really DO have a speed factor. Speed of weapons IS a thing in reality, and therefor in good simulations.

    That brings us to the MAJOR element (and I'll return to this regularly throughout much of the rest of the article). How do they help tell stories, and is it therefore time to get rid of them?

    They help in two ways:

    1. They aid in simulation, which some feel is fundamental/critical to narration and/or the Game part of RPG.

    So this is the real crux of the entire piece. The author doesn't want/like/need simulation in his RPGs (even though those are specifically the aspects that he himself states first attracted him to game design). I hate to go too much into this before we hit his definition line, but we have to talk about the simulation aspect of it.

    How does weapon range help tell a story? How many stories center on a sniper? Lots. What is a sniper? Someone who uses long range, high damage weapons (possibly with a stealth element). How do you tell a story about a sniper without highlighting his use of a long range, high damage weapon? As I wrote this I was watching Quigley Down Under which is a great example.

    RoF? How many story climaxes focus on someone being out of ammo? What about suppressive fire? Who wins between a rancher with a flintlock and a sheriff with a colt peacemaker? The answer may well come down to the higher rate of fire on the peacemaker (might not, depending on range, etc, but still).

    Bursts/Auto? Ask Wil Wheaton about Toy Soldiers.

    S/P/B? Who is more dangerous in a fight, a fighter with a sword, a ranger with a bow, or a cleric with a mace? What if they're facing skeletons, or other creatures with certain weaknesses & strengths? Why wear leather or chain when you can wear plate? Same reasons some people did - cost, weight, mobility, availability, laws, and differing protections against different weapon types.

    In each case the specific simulation elements can encourage teamwork, roleplaying, storymaking, heighten drama, require strategy considerations, and so on. In fact, I would argue that these are the absolute fundamental elements of successful RPGs because without detail, and simulation, narration ceases to be entertaining to me/us. Specifically we require rational immersion to assist in suspension of disbelief, allowing us to put ourselves into the moment and act, not according to narrative considerations, but according to accurate characterizations which then subsequently create interesting narratives.

    If you and I are playing a game and I say 'I use my spring-loaded derringer to shoot you in the gut while we're wrestling', and then you say 'no, instead I draw my navy 1858 from my waistband and shoot you first', and the game IN ANY WAY allows that to happen, the game is over for me. Not because I didn't get my way, but because there is no universe in which that could actually occur. The '58 is too big and cumbersome, and the waistband too unwieldy to draw from compared to my choice. In other words, my speed factor and weapon size dictates the success of the narration, which makes the narrative believable and therefor fun.

    Shadowrun realized this when you look at Reach. Regardless of other factors, when my troll uses a spear on you it'll trump the knife-weilding dwarf most of the time. Not because of damage, but because of the reach. With firearms it's even more pronounced. That derringer from above vs a sharps rifle at 300 yards is foregone. It's the weapon range that determines the narrative, not the other way around.

    2. They provide mechanical distinction and reward for certain types of narrative choices.

    As I hinted at above, mechanical differences can encourage or reinforce narrative choices. A character finds a sharps rifle in an old hideout. They make a plan of attack which maximizes the extreme long range, power, and accuracy of the weapon, while offsetting the weight and slow speed. In doing so they'll deal more damage than the enemy, win, and therefore receive money/xp/karma/whatever.

    This is, in essence, no different than what story gamers clamor for - mechanical awards for roleplaying choices. If you're going to be happy about receiving advantage for accurately portraying your sniper how is that different than a weapon list which allows sniper weapons better numbers that result in winning conflicts and therefore receiving money/xp/etc? In both cases you're encouraged to 'play your character' by receiving mechanical rewards that mesh with those choices.

    While there can be some narrative reward with multiplicity (like everyone using the same weapons and armor) there is, in my experience, greater or more frequent rewards with diversity. In 13th Warrior they're all fighters (ok, maybe some rangers and barbarians, but still). Yet because some use bows, different armors, etc they are a more effective fighting force which leads to certain narrative bonuses. What's more, it's just more interesting to many people to see that diversity. With weapon lists you can match the equipment (and therefore mechanical reward) to your narrative.

    Your cleric is an undead fighter? Use a mace. Your short human is a coward? Play a thief with a fast backstabbing eligible weapon. Your gunfighter is an ex-military sniper? Pick up the Sharps. The variation in the item lists reinforces or encourages/rewards subsequent narrative choices, and provides for differences and drama.
  • So based upon that, it's certainly NOT time to get rid of such things. To explore it further, and more generally, we continue with this:
    Just a moment ago, I called weapon lists one of the most common features in roleplaying games. These things are not features. They’re bugs. And it’s time to get rid of them.

    Why? Because they’re screwing up your game. They’re distracting you from the focus of the game.

    Because the focus of an RPG is to tell stories. Let me explain.
    No. Conditional no, but no.

    As I showed, they're not screwing up MY game (nor the games of tens of millions of others). As alluded to by the author, they weren't even necessarily screwing up his games, at least initially. What they do is create a TYPE of game that not everyone prefers.

    Those that do prefer them don't find the elements distracting, or buggy; in fact, we find them essential. Get rid of them and you end our participation in the games (which is why so many grognards won't touch many modern/indies).

    This has been beat to death before, but it bears directly on this piece.

    In practice the FOCUS of an RPG is whatever that individual believes the focus to be. For the author it is now to tell stories. That's great. Sort of.

    In strict terms, if ALL he does is tell stories he's a writer/storyteller/improver, not a gamer. It ONLY becomes an RPG if ALL elements of that term/hobby are present...that means roleplaying, and gaming (because it's RP & G...not RPSG, SRPG, or anything else defining story elements as inherent). Now, it doesn't require simulation elements...that's a subjective addition as well. However there MUST be more than just story...there has to be roleplaying (which isn't exactly the same as storytelling either) and there has to be rules, and some kind of mechanics.

    So inherent within the name is roleplaying and gaming. However, there's no inherent call to story beyond what is required in the rules and roleplaying. This makes story derivative/subordinate, and NOT the focus. At least if we're using either strict definitions.

    Another option is to base our use of the term RPG on historic evolution. In other words, a thing is what it was when coined/created. By this definition RPGs would certainly contain story elements, but almost certainly simulation elements as well, and still they'd have roleplaying and gamist requirements like before. So even if we choose this method there can't be said to be a primary focus of story.

    Now like I said, in practice we don't usually get so strict. We realize that we're only roleplaying in this game to take part in a story. I myself would place story primary...over roleplaying and over gamist elements. However I also recognize that we still require those elements, along with the story, or it becomes something else. That's why I generally classify many modern/indie story games as party or theater games as opposed to roleplaying games.

    These things are personal and subjective choices. Yet if we move beyond the strict interpretations above, then all such choices have equal validity, and so need to be equally considered. The author utterly fails in this regard by offering only a narrow, biased operating definition.
  • edited October 2014
    Chess is not a roleplaying game. Yes, you can turn it into a roleplaying game, but it was not designed to be a roleplaying game. If you give your King, Queen, Rooks, Knights and even your pawns names and make decisions based on their motivations–instead of the best strategic move possible–you’ve turned chess into a roleplaying game.

    You can successfully play chess without roleplaying. In fact, roleplaying can sabotage the game. Now, the definition of a roleplaying game is fuzzy at best, but I think you can I can at least agree that if you can successfully play a game without roleplaying, it can’t be a roleplaying game.
    This is pretty strong fail. So much so it's almost embarrassing.

    While we could never fit chess into the evolutionary definition of an RPG we could, with the addition of roleplaying, qualify it as a strict literal definition of RPG as we talked about above.

    The second part is more fascinating. While I claimed that to be an RPG you needed either evolutionary features or definitive features (both containing the necessity of roleplaying), I didn't attempt to expand it to talking about player choice after the game is designed.

    While you can play chess without roleplaying you CAN play anything without roleplaying. I can't think of a single RPG that actually REQUIRES roleplaying to be played. Many ENCOURAGE roleplay, or REWARD roleplay. Many make it intrinsic and the obvious focus. However, nothing says that they cannot be played without that element. Success and enjoyment may vary if this element is denied, but that doesn't mean it's required.

    Now we agree that if you don't include roleplaying elements in the game rules it can't be an RPG (which is why chess doesn't qualify without modding the rules), but to claim that the game itself ceases to qualify as what it is based upon subsequent player choice is absurd.
    Video games like World of Warcraft call themselves roleplaying games, but are they? Can you successfully play WoW without roleplaying? In fact, you can. Can roleplaying sabotage your enjoyment of the game? In fact, it can. My friend Jessie tells the story of being kicked off a roleplaying server because he was talking in character. Another friend of mine tells the story of how she was wearing “substandard” armor and equipment because “my character liked it.”
    Yes and no. I've claimed this for decades about computer games, but it's only partially true depending on what we view as RPGs.

    If we use the evolutionary definition then actually such games do qualify. RPGs were designed to allow a person or people to pretend to be some other character in some situation doing something as that character according to a set of rules. It included the idea that people SHOULD roleplay those characters, but honestly many never did. Again, the difference between design and practical implementation.

    Likewise WoW (even though I hate the game btw) allows one or more people to pretend to be someone in some situatino doing something as that character according to a set of rules. Since there is chat, there is the OPTION for roleplay, there are rules, and there are characters doing things. It meets the skeleton definition, if not the intent. Hell, there's even story and simulation elements.

    If we instead use the strict definition then it's even easier to qualify the game as a true RPG. There is the option for roleplaying, and it's certainly a game.

    It's only when we superimpose our personal, subjective requirements that computer RPGs fail to meet the standards we set. For me, there's no physical dice rolling, no DM to interact with regarding story and choices, no physically present other players, and choices are limited to programmed options. For these reasons we don't even do actual RPGs over the internet...it never feels right because it fails to meet some of those requirements.
    Choices such as “How do I level up my fighter?” do not make a game a roleplaying game. In that case, games such as Dungeon and Descent are roleplaying games, and even their designers would probably tell you, these are board games.

    World of Warcraft is a very sophisticated board game. The goal of WoW is not to tell stories but to level up your character.
    While it's true that question doesn't make something a roleplaying game, neither does story, nor the player act of roleplaying...not without meeting the other requirements of either definition, evolution, or subjective preference. What's more, that's NOT all there is to online games unless the person CHOOSES to play that way.

    It's flawed in the same way his 'it's not roleplaying if it's possible to not do it' axiom is flawed. It crosses between design and play choice, and is not actually supported by the available evidence (ie all RPGs can be played without roleplaying). Just because someone CAN play WoW only to powergame to max level that's not the ONLY way to play, and therefore not the definition of the game.

    Also, Descent is a whole different beast. It's closer to a sport as it's skill based like all FPS and most Sim/Strat/RTS games.
  • edited October 2014
    Listen to that answer again. “I get the same experience from WoW I get from D&D.”

    You know why they get the same experience? Because World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragons have the same design goals.
    This is simply not true, if only due to the differences between in-person, game mastered play and experiencing the pre-programmed digital world. I think they're based on some similar warrants and preferences...concerning immersion, simulation, etc. Therefore they are likely to appeal to people with similar tastes.

    However, I LOVE D&D (it's my favorite RPG), and detest WoW (one of my least favorite MMORPGs). Why? Because I actually know what I want in both types of entertainment and don't confuse the two, unlike most people.
    When 4th Edition came out, there was an almost universal negative reaction. Why? Because the designers had given up the ghost. D&D was not a roleplaying game. It was a very sophisticated, intricate and complicated combat simulation board game.
    So, I really want to scream this truth from the mountaintops, but having carefully analyzed the 4th edition phenomenon I no longer can.

    Although, on the surface, this appears to be what the game was designed for I've learned that it's more, and deeper than that. There are several things going on with 4th, and not just the push-button/MMO thing. There's a skewing towards higher (ie more fantastical) fantasy, a skewing towards higher power or at least greater showyness, balancing issues, simplification, etc. All of those things have their adherents within the greater game, though not all have all as a preference.

    The board game comparison is somewhat accurate, but in a narrow way. D&D was originally a miniature war game, and since nearly all early RPGs were designed from the same origin so were they. 4th certainly pushed back towards miniature gaming and away from TotM play. However miniature war games aren't really a board game, and board games usually aren't miniature war games. It's an oversimplification/generalization that really doesn't hold to scrutiny.
    Can you successfully play D&D 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th edition without roleplaying? Yes, you can. Notice I didn’t mention 5th edition. That’s a different kettle of fish that I’ll have to talk about at another time.

    The first four editions of D&D are not roleplaying games. You can successfully play them without roleplaying. Call of Cthulhu, on the other hand, is a game you cannot successfully play without roleplaying. If you try it, you get… well, you actually violate the basic tenant of the game: to make yourself scared through your character’s choices.

    You can play board games such as Rex and Battlestar Galactica and even Settlers of Catan without roleplaying… but roleplaying seems to make them more enjoyable. Talking in character, making (apparent) choices based on character motives… but if you go too far in that direction, you’ll lose. And the goal of those games is to win. Roleplaying, in the end, sabotages the goal of the game.

    But if you try playing games such as Vampire or Pendragon or Our Last Best Hope or World of Dew or Deadlands without roleplaying, you’re missing the entire point of the game. In fact, I can’t even imagine what those games would look like without roleplaying.
    We've already dissolved the 'can play without it' threshold, but I wanted to deal with these few specifics.

    You most certainly can play 5th successfully without any roleplaying. Done it personally. It's NO different than in any other game. You miss parts of the game, and it changes both the feel (ie non-game rewards) and some mechanical aspects (which weren't true in older editions), but you absolutely CAN do it.

    Call of Cthulhu's main difference isn't that 'roleplaying is necessary', it's that the mechanical system mostly sucks so roleplaying is nearly the only thing with working rules. I say this as someone who loves the mythos, and frequently played the game btw. I also disagree that the basic tenant is to 'make yourself scared' because again that's extrapolating a players visceral response to a basic game design element. Not everyone gets 'scared' like that, but they can still enjoy the trope and style. Just because the author 'got scared' doesn't mean that's the reaction of others.

    I can't imagine anyone roleplaying SoC, nor can I see how it would increase enjoyment, but *shrug*. I can also find a way to roleplay those games without sabotaging...I can roleplay a strategy master. Game over, I win. Again, these are just author projections and generalizations.

    As a long time Vampire and Deadlands player/GM I can guarantee that they can be played perfectly fine without roleplaying, and they look essentially the same as with roleplaying, just like any RPG. People have differing levels of investment to the roleplaying aspect, but the game itself remains (which is why you CANNOT use this as a measuring stick).

    I would go so far as to say this: Vampire the TT:RPG is like every other RPG. WoD LARP (ie Mind's Eye Theater) is what the author seems to be portraying the 'real game' as. These are NOT the same gaming experience...not by a long shot. It really seems as if the author is trying to reinvent the RPG moniker as applying only to amateur improv troupes, as opposed to the evolutionary or literal definition of the genre.
  • edited October 2014
    I can't think of a single RPG that actually REQUIRES roleplaying to be played. Many ENCOURAGE roleplay, or REWARD roleplay.
    I think this is what summarize the difference between your and Wick's opinion ... and this is the main flaw with a vast majority of roleplaying games.
  • edited October 2014
    Is a flawed roleplaying game still a roleplaying game, though? I'd say yes. But I don't think John Wick would.
  • edited October 2014
    Is a flawed roleplaying game still a roleplaying game, though? I'd say yes. But I don't think John Wick would.
    Exactly, and even if I don't agree that a roleplaying game must require acting out in character, as Wick do, I can see his point. I will try to broaden it a bit in this post.

    If you want to make people play a game in a certain way, don't rely on them - make it into a requirement. Many roleplaying games have little or no support for character immersion. To benefit from Fiasco or Montsegur 1244, you must invest in the characters. You—the player. The games don't do anything by themselves. They can assist a little bit, but most of the responsibility to benefit from the game comes from you.

    The game designer can however make certain things into requirements. If the game is about exploring dungeons and chop monsters, it's fairly easy to design that into the mechanic. You can't do anything with the game mechanics unless it's about exploring dungeons and chop monsters. It's harder when it comes to more ... vague things like "characterization" or "narrating freely". To be able to accomplish that, the game designer must leave a hole to be filled so, if the participants wont do it, they wont understand what's happening.

    Take Chess. The goal is to take the opponent's king. If we changed that goal to "Tell a story about how the friendship began between two kings", then no movement on the board would make any sense ... unless the players filled in the gap by narrating how each move is adding something to the story.

    This is what I mean when I wrote that a vast majority of roleplaying games are flawed. We went from chopping monsters in dungeons to more vague goals but we still looked at the design solutions for the first game that was about chopping up monsters, and ripped that off ... which in the end did nothing. We only fooled ourselves that it made any change.
  • edited October 2014
    Is a flawed roleplaying game still a roleplaying game, though? I'd say yes. But I don't think John Wick would.
    I think this question is too simplistic, because the answer depends on HOW it is flawed.

    A hypothetical game that is intended to help play out tragedies but in which the rules are constantly getting in the way of such an objective (instead resulting in stories where tragedy is averted or where nothing really bad happens) is flawed, but can still be a roleplaying game by John's definition. (Which I like, by the way, though I think it will prove unpopular.)
  • I can't think of a single RPG that actually REQUIRES roleplaying to be played. Many ENCOURAGE roleplay, or REWARD roleplay.
    I think this is what summarize the difference between your and Wick's opinion ... and this is the main flaw with a vast majority of roleplaying games.
    Exactly; Having read a couple of John's works, I think the gist of it is fairly simple:

    If "you" don't roleplay in, say, Houses of the Blooded... you will have nothing to do. There will be no game. There aren't any other goals.

    I placed "You" in quotes, because I think it's probably possible for HotB, for example, to work with a group of four people who ARE roleplaying and one who is not, and is just sortof swept along by the other four, but if no one at the table is roleplaying, the game simply will not function. This is not true of say, D&D.
  • My main problem with the piece was that his definition is incomplete, I think. It makes no mention of the world, of the physics in which characters operate, and that's the unspoken foundation for the examples in his post. Roleplaying games never take place in a vacuum, and things like weapon lists or "balanced" mechanics are about putting characters within the context of that world.

    In both examples, the characters chose to show off their badassery by hindering themselves. They could never do that if their choice of weapons was meaningless. Riddick vs. a mook doesn't need him to have any weapon other than a teacup, but could Riddick kill Cthulhu with a teacup? Sure, when there's a massive disparity between characters, the details don't matter. But there will come a level where details do matter.

    I think that level varies by game, and good game design is about knowing which details are and aren't important. i.e., which details further the story of that particular game and foster roleplaying. When Wick cuts weapon lists from Call of Cthulhu, it's because having a massive armory doesn't foster roleplaying in a world of existential cosmic horror. When he cuts initiative from Vampire, it's because knowing what order combatants fight in doesn't foster roleplaying in a world of gothic angst and fading humanity.

    So I think he's on to something, but his conclusion ultimately goes awry because he leaves the bit about the world implicit. It doesn't make sense in all games to let a teacup destroy a platoon of enemy soldiers, and it doesn't make sense in all games to have AR-15s, AK-47s, and SMGs treated as distinct weapons.

    (As to whether RPGs require roleplaying, that depends on your definition of roleplaying. I would argue that any game which requires you to meaningfully engage with the fictional world requires roleplaying. For example, Powered by the Apocalypse games, where you can't meaningfully play them if you're not establishing the specifics of the world as you play.)
  • It's an overly-reductionist and cherry-picked polemic that doesn't even adhere to its own logic.
    The guy wanted to have something to say.

  • The problem I have with this article is it only works if story matters to you. Story is going to be the goal of an RPG for some folks. It isn't for everyone. It isn't for all occasions. There are plenty of us who don't mind a bit of story but see the goal as exploration of a world or genre through a character. So in that kind of environment things like weapon damage can matter a lot. There are also plenty of us capable of playing rpgs for different reasons and taking things on a case by case basis. When I am playing Doctor Who, sure I'll happily go with the Riddick argument and let genre convention dictate whether the cup smashes an enemy's skull rather than what some weapon chart says, but if I am playing a game less rooted in that kind of genre logic, with more emphasis on realism, then I will go with the weapon chart. Both can be fun for different reasons. Any gaming philosophy that essentializes RPGs and cuts out one of those approaches, is too narrow in my view, doesn't understand how diverse RPGers really are.
  • edited October 2014
    I can't think of a single RPG that actually REQUIRES roleplaying to be played. Many ENCOURAGE roleplay, or REWARD roleplay.
    I think this is what summarize the difference between your and Wick's opinion ... and this is the main flaw with a vast majority of roleplaying games.
    OK, but then we have this issue:

    Are RPGs all flawed, or is your/his/other interpretation of what RPGs 'should' be incompatible with the reality in place?

    Look at it this way.

    Adam and Eve see a slithering thing. Eve calls it a snake. From this point on, by definition, all slithering things are snakes. Later on suppose Adam sees an asp next to a cobra, and names them so. Now, does the fact (by applied definition) that they are now an asp and a cobra change the fact (by applied definition) that they are both snakes?

    D&D was created. It was called an RPG, and therefore THAT is the definition of RPG, unless we choose to use only the literal existing definitions of the component words (roleplaying & game), which takes us back to my earlier distinctions.

    Just because now people see spawns of RPGs that are different doesn't change the initial definition...it merely creates an additional sub-genre name (like story games being rpgs, but not all rpgs being story games). This means that earlier RPGs are NOT flawed, they're a different game, like an asp is different than a cobra, but both are still snakes.

    Oh, and I still can't think of a single rpg that actually REQUIRES roleplaying. Even if they say they do, they almost never do. So really we have to ask: is nearly EVERY RPG a failure to some degree, or are some merely trying to apply to narrow a definition that was never intended as such?
  • The problem I have with this article is it only works if story matters to you. Story is going to be the goal of an RPG for some folks. It isn't for everyone. It isn't for all occasions.
    I would expand this even further.

    It only matters if story matters to you, and even if story does matter to you it may still not apply. Because that's where I am.

    My D&D games are all about story, but within the tabletop simulation/gamist parameters set by the rules. I also pointed out how detail items like weapon characteristics can contribute to, or directly reward, certain narrative elements.

    It isn't that the article only applies to people who feel a certain way, it's that the article is actually logically flawed on several fundamental levels.

    It's just...wrong.
  • edited October 2014
    I’ve been trying for many years to come up with a satisfactory definition for “roleplaying game” and while I’m not entirely happy with it, this is what I’ve got so far:

    roleplaying game: a game in which the players are rewarded for making choices
    that are consistent with the character’s motivations or further the plot of the story.

    Like I said, I’m not entirely happy with it. It’s a working definition and far from complete, but I think it’s a good working definition.
    I've shown how and why this is wrong, but now I want to offer a different set of specific definitions that match what I've been talking about.

    Literal
    RPG = 'the acting out or performance of a particular role in accordance with the perceived expectations of society with regard to a person's behavior in a particular context.' + 'a form of play or sport played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.'

    Evolutionary
    RPG = A hobby where participants come together to create, and attempt to behave like, fictional characters experiencing things created or described by a referee which follow certain rules representing a potential reality where the outcome is determined by some method of chance. See D&D.

    I find these two definitions (or some variation thereon) are the only ones with any logical support as they use the only two accepted origins of definition. If we want anything else then we're talking not about denotation (ie definitions) but connotations (ie subjective use within a cultural framework)...like reverse engineering something. The problem is that all such endeavors are inherently biased and can create conflicts within a term.

    I also want to talk about his players being 'rewarded'.

    He's wrong.

    What's he's looking for is to see his characters rewarded for narrative choices. The ONLY rewards PLAYERS receive from a game are happiness, satisfaction, or education. Nothing else is possible.

    Games that don't reward characters for narrative choices form the bulk of RPGs, and yet the players of those games ARE rewarded for their narrative choices when they have fun, or are satisfied by their portrayals or stories, or when they learn something in the course of the game.

    Now it's possible for players to receive those rewards without roleplaying if they gain pleasure or satisfaction from other elements (simulation or gamist for instance). That does nothing to negate the design of the game being an RPG.

    Even in games that directly, mechanically reward narrative elements the players themselves don't receive a single additional benefit over the other games. The play is its own reward. It's merely a question of where each players focus lies, and which style of gaming he/she prefers.
  • edited October 2014
    Because if the most important part of your game is balancing the damage, rate-of-fire, range modifiers, damage dice, ablative armor, dodge modifiers and speed factors, you aren’t playing a roleplaying game. You’re playing a board game.

    And you need to stop it. Because all that crap is getting in the way of telling a good story.

    As a GM, your job is to help the players tell the stories of their characters. “Game balance” has nothing at all to do with telling good stories. It’s an archaic hold over from a time when RPGs were little more than just really sophisticated board games. Or, as someone once told me, “An RPG is a strategy game in which you play one hero rather than a unit of heroes.”

    If that’s the case, HeroClix is a roleplaying game. And I think that all of us can agree that HeroClix is not a roleplaying game. Why?

    Because I can play it successfully without roleplaying.

    “Game balance” is important in board games. It means one player does not have an advantage over another.

    In a roleplaying game, game balance does not matter.
    I've now disproved the entirety of this. Not merely refuted it, but utterly disproved it.

    What he says here is ONLY true if you subjectively limit the discussion to match certain warrants which hold no objective truth.

    What's more, there are plenty of board games with varying degrees of game balance (all the way up to nearly none at all), which play beautifully. It CAN be important in board games, but isn't essential in many of them. The same is true of RPGs, however just like with board games some RPGs may benefit from varying degrees of game balance, while in some it won't matter at all.
    The reason roleplaying games are a unique art form is because they are the only literary genre where we walk in the hero’s shoes. We are not following the hero, we are not watching her from afar, we are not being told the story. As Robin Laws now famously said, “A roleplaying game is the only genre where the audience and the author are the same person.”
    They're not. Choose your own adventures for instance.

    What's more this fails to address the player/gm dichotomy (ie do gms create the story and players populate it, as originally intended). It also fails to account for the simulation elements, which act as an immutable author against the gamist elements of chance, which act as a variable author.
  • edited October 2014
    These days, as a GM, as I’m reading through a game or as a game designer, making my own games, whenever I encounter a new mechanic, I ask myself, “How does this help me tell stories?”

    If it doesn’t, I throw it out.

    When I run Vampire, I keep the Humanity rules and throw out the initiative rules.

    When I run Call of Cthulhu, I keep the Sanity rules and throw out the gun chart.

    I don’t want you to think I just get rid of combat mechanics. On the contrary, for Vampire, I usually get rid of that whole Social trait thing entirely. Why? Because this is a roleplaying game, and that means you roleplay. You don’t get to say, “I have a high charisma because I’m not very good at roleplaying.”

    My response to that is, “Then, you should get better at it. And you won’t get any better by just rolling dice. You’ll only get better by roleplaying.”

    If you want to get good at playing chess, you play chess.

    If you want to get good at first-person-shooters, you play first-person-shooters.

    If you want to get good at roleplaying, guess what?, you roleplay.

    And if that’s too much of me to ask, you can go right across the room to the RPGA where they let you make as many charisma rolls as you want because the game they’re playing is not a roleplaying game.

    So, GM’s… I now ask you… I urge you… I beg you… go through your favorite game. Right now. Get it off your shelf, pull it out of your back pack, and open it up. Get yourself a big, fat sharpie. And go through each page and ask yourself this question.

    “How does this rule help me tell stories?”

    If you can’t get an answer in ten seconds or less, get rid of it. Because all it’s doing is getting in your way. It’s another hurdle you have to overcome. It’s another minute of wasted time while you or another player look it up to make sure you got the rule right because that’s what’s important… getting the rules right. Game balance. We must make sure our game is balanced.

    No. You are not playing a board game. You’re playing a roleplaying game.

    Start acting like it.
    This is all essentially the same blind, deaf, dumb death-spiral demanding of what has already been disproved.

    What the author is calling for is NOT RPGs by any working definition, but narration/literature. Even if we deny the evolutionary definition of RPG the literal definition still requires gamist elements, and doesn't include any inherent necessity of story. He's inventing a new definition of a term to match his bias. Nothing more.

    I feel odd making this whole tirade, since I came to this forum specifically because RPGs to me place story so centrally, and because I so fully agree with the title premise of separating other types of games from RPGs. However, I do so always within the framework of RPGs, and not as a literary or theatrical exercise. Niether writing nor improv are an RPG. The author literally violates his own premise as surely as if he'd called chess an RPG.
  • I take exception to the assertion that naming something something means that you have set the definition for that thing, regardless of what words you choose.

    If I create a rubberband-powered ice cream maker and I call it a "Cold Fusion Device" that doesn't mean that forever more, "Cold Fusion Device" means that. Words have meanings even before you apply them to something. Just because D&D called itself a "Roleplaying Game" does not, actually NECESSARILY mean that A) It was and B) That now the words "Roleplaying Game" include D&D.

    Note: I'm not actually sure if I view D&D as a "Roleplaying Game" at this point from an academic standpoint, but I take issue that just because it was the first thing to call itself that, that it automatically IS.
  • I think a definition of RPGs that deliberately excludes D&D from being considered as such, and in fact excludes nearly all things that have been thought of as RPGs for decades, has limited practical value.

    It's snobbish one-true-wayism dressed up as an objective standard and is dishonest rhetoric. It may be a useful definition for making a certain point but there are probably better ways to make that point which are not as self serving, exclusion-based, and silly.
  • BTW, as I understand it, the term roleplaying game meant that you chose to play a specific role, e.g. a fighting-man or a magic-user as opposed to playing an army. This is in accord with the way it's used in computer RPGS as well.

    The use of roleplaying as something about your character's personality, goals, etc as distinct from engaging with the mechanical system is a newer thing. And, I'd argue, a false dichotomy brought on by the clichéd "role playing not roll playing" mantra that was popular a few years ago.
  • edited October 2014
    I take exception to the assertion that naming something something means that you have set the definition for that thing, regardless of what words you choose.

    If I create a rubberband-powered ice cream maker and I call it a "Cold Fusion Device" that doesn't mean that forever more, "Cold Fusion Device" means that. Words have meanings even before you apply them to something. Just because D&D called itself a "Roleplaying Game" does not, actually NECESSARILY mean that A) It was and B) That now the words "Roleplaying Game" include D&D.

    Note: I'm not actually sure if I view D&D as a "Roleplaying Game" at this point from an academic standpoint, but I take issue that just because it was the first thing to call itself that, that it automatically IS.
    Which is why I noted the difference between literal and evolutionary definitions (denotation and connotation), but also why I used the Adam and Eve example. At some point the words didn't exist and were literally created to represent a physical thing. ie someone had to be the first to call a snake a snake. Before that, the word snake itself didn't exist and the moment it was brought into being it existed solely as a definition of the thing it represented. This is the nature of words.

    So while your application of 'cold fusion device' doesn't change an already existing definition of those words, if you called it 'hixlbyata-ry-nialathonalions' then from that moment on THAT word/phrase actually does mean what you created. Otherwise, what you created is 'a rubberband-powered ice cream maker'.

    I would point out that this is the same as suddenly declaring that RPGs mean something other than what they have meant since the first one was created, or alternatively other than the core definitions of the words themselves (which existed prior to the creation of the objects they've come to represent). Either the term 'roleplaying game' existed before any were created, in which case anything using rpg is claiming to be the definition of those words, or the term was coined specifically to refer to the thing that was created, in which case they then are the definition.
  • edited October 2014
    My problem with John Wick is that I have never been able to tell what he thinks rules in RPGs are *for* or what constitutes "design." As far as I can tell (and I've met the man in person) John runs his game on his own charisma. He uses the paraphernalia of RPGs: dice, stats, sheets, tokens, etc as tools of showmanship. They serve as distractions from the social techniques he's using to actually drive the game.

    Jesse
  • When I first started designing roleplaying games, they appealed to me because they were kind of like writing a philosophy: “this is how I think the world works.” Games like Call of Cthulhu and Pendragon were great examples of this. The systems were tailored to the setting. And in the world of Riddick and Lieutenant Colonel Alan Caldwell, a tea cup and a thumb can do a whole helluva lot of damage.
    Here, I think he’s saying “This [system] is how I think the word [of this particular fictional setting] works”, and I interpret you as reading him has “This [system] is how I think the [real] world works.
  • My own preference is that RPGs do not have to emulate other media. I don’t want to pretend that we’re writing a movie or (in the case of DW) pretend that we’re playing D&D.
    The game as it is is enough — I use the metaphor of “entering a world” but I mean “playing a game of pretend”. That’s why I’m (and I know I’m late to the party) falling in ove with order games that explicitly give instructions for how the GM should prepare the game world, like B/X and BECMI both do.
  • I guess things like "X is not an RPG" are still good for some nice clickbait. Good for Mr. Wick, everybody should check out his games.

    On the other hand, I don't understand why he keeps underlining some generic role for the GM while downplaying how we need good game design. Managing spotlight, for example, can be just another thing that the GM has to take care of. Or whoever designs the game can address that, namely through game balance.
  • edited October 2014
    So while your application of 'cold fusion device' doesn't change an already existing definition of those words, if you called it 'hixlbyata-ry-nialathonalions' then from that moment on THAT word/phrase actually does mean what you created. Otherwise, what you created is 'a rubberband-powered ice cream maker'.
    Sure. But that's not what they did. They picked words that had meaning.

    I would point out that this is the same as suddenly declaring that RPGs mean something other than what they have meant since the first one was created, or alternatively other than the core definitions of the words themselves (which existed prior to the creation of the objects they've come to represent). Either the term 'roleplaying game' existed before any were created, in which case anything using rpg is claiming to be the definition of those words, or the term was coined specifically to refer to the thing that was created, in which case they then are the definition.
    I would be shocked if D&D had invented the term 'roleplaying'.

    I don't personally think it's sacrilegious for a definition of "Roleplaying Game" to exclude D&D. It just means we've gained a better understanding of what a "Roleplaying Game" is since 1974. Which I hope we have.
  • I think any definition of rpg that excludes D&D is seriously flawed. I don't play a lot of D&D these days but the vast majority of RPGers play some form of it (including pathfinder in that). So a definition that excludes D&D doesn't seem advanced in its understanding of what the hobby is, it seems like it is ignoring reality. Now the definition shouldn't be limited to D&D, but it certainly has to include it.
  • I can't think of a single RPG that actually REQUIRES roleplaying to be played. Many ENCOURAGE roleplay, or REWARD roleplay.
    I think this is what summarize the difference between your and Wick's opinion ... and this is the main flaw with a vast majority of roleplaying games.
    OK, but then we have this issue:

    Are RPGs all flawed, or is your/his/other interpretation of what RPGs 'should' be incompatible with the reality in place?
    You're missing the thought that is being raise. If no roleplaying games have a requirement for people acting out in character, how can we design these games so they require that?
    Oh, and I still can't think of a single rpg that actually REQUIRES roleplaying. Even if they say they do, they almost never do. So really we have to ask: is nearly EVERY RPG a failure to some degree, or are some merely trying to apply to narrow a definition that was never intended as such?
    Failure in making that into a requirement, yes.

    Failed to be defined as RPGs? I'm not agreeing with his definition of a roleplaying game, because I feel there are tons of ways of enjoying roleplaying games, but I'm at least trying to see his point, and I agree with him from his perspective. Isn't it sad that so many game designers failed to make »acting out in character« a requirement? You can't even come up with a single game yourself that has that.

    My questions is then: how can we achieve that requirement? We can achieve narration in Once Upon a Time. We got elements in the story that we must include, we got goals, but we don't understand what's happening unless someone starts to narrate. That game succeeds in creating a narration by having narration filling a hole that is needed to understand what's going on in the game. I think we can use the same method when it comes to acting out in character. We just need a different way to look at the design of roleplaying games.

    (I basically repeated what I said previously so please understand the point I'm trying to make instead of talking about definitions of roleplaying games. I'm not agreeing with Wick about that.)
  • edited October 2014
    Isn't it sad that so many game designers failed to make »acting out in character« a requirement? You can't even come up with a single game yourself that has that.
    "Pocket Things" requires it explicitly. Because I'm a frikkin genius.

  • edited October 2014
    Isn't it sad that so many game designers failed to make »acting out in character« a requirement? You can't even come up with a single game yourself that has that.
    "Pocket Things" requires it explicitly. Because I'm a frikkin genius.
    Link or it doesn't exist. ;)
  • In trying to require roleplaying, don't forget about the "fruitful void" http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=119 maybe it's cool that it's something that happens outside the system
  • edited October 2014
    It's possible that fruitful void can be used as a third design philosophy, but fruitful void is in my book the same thing as emergence - the result of different components interacting. If fruitful void would to be applied, the story would be the result of playing, rather than having to use story to make the game work. I used "story" in this example because I thought it would be easier to understand than if I said "acting out in character".

    I will leave it to that. [edit] It's possible that you had in mind that "story" is the void and "acting out in character" is one of the components to reach that. That's an interesting thought. It doesn't say anything about how to make it into a requirement though.
  • edited October 2014

    It's snobbish one-true-wayism dressed up as an objective standard and is dishonest rhetoric. It may be a useful definition for making a certain point but there are probably better ways to make that point which are not as self serving, exclusion-based, and silly.
    For sure. There are sound points in that article (e.g. the WoW vs D&D example - there's little point spending effort on badly duplicating things that other game form), but it's written so as to exclude and thus predictably enrage. I suspect Wick wanted this response - publicity for a forthcoming game, perhaps (https://plus.google.com/u/0/115907922325844612269/posts/7CvFhmX9a3F).

    Edit: sorry, hadn't realised that Ricardo Tavares had made my last point already :)
  • You had it right the first time, Rickard -- emergence of acting-in-character (or feeling-in-character) rather than emergence of story. I guess that's why Wick points to Humanity as a relevant mechanic in WoD. It's a mechanic that's not requirinc acting-in-character, but acting-in-character is emergent from the interplay of that mechanic with a monsterfilled society.
  • edited October 2014
    You play a role in hack-and-slash D&D the way a striker plays a role in soccer, not the way Edwin Booth plays a role in Julius Caesar. (In fact, in all roleplaying games, the former is closer to what you do than the latter due to the lack of a script.)
  • When I first started designing roleplaying games, they appealed to me because they were kind of like writing a philosophy: “this is how I think the world works.” Games like Call of Cthulhu and Pendragon were great examples of this. The systems were tailored to the setting. And in the world of Riddick and Lieutenant Colonel Alan Caldwell, a tea cup and a thumb can do a whole helluva lot of damage.
    Here, I think he’s saying “This [system] is how I think the word [of this particular fictional setting] works”, and I interpret you as reading him has “This [system] is how I think the [real] world works.
    I think you may be right, though I'd still argue that it's a form of simulationism. Great observation though.
  • edited October 2014

    My questions is then: how can we achieve that requirement? We can achieve narration in Once Upon a Time. We got elements in the story that we must include, we got goals, but we don't understand what's happening unless someone starts to narrate. That game succeeds in creating a narration by having narration filling a hole that is needed to understand what's going on in the game. I think we can use the same method when it comes to acting out in character. We just need a different way to look at the design of roleplaying games.

    (I basically repeated what I said previously so please understand the point I'm trying to make instead of talking about definitions of roleplaying games. I'm not agreeing with Wick about that.)
    I agree with you on that, and on taking the author's viewpoint to understand it. I understand where he's coming from, I just dislike that he portrays where he's coming from as having any objective validity when it's an inherently subjective preference. I also had issues with many of the points raised because they represent a limited experiential frame which can be pretty easily disproved.

    I guess what I'm getting at is that I LOVE the idea of the article, but think he did a poor job of making his argument.

    As to how we can design differently, I'm not sure on that. In Stupid Heroes we were VERY clear that the point was creating a story about unintended consequences, and that the enjoyment was meant to be in roleplaying responses to the story. However, there's no actual requirement to do that because I can't fathom a way to actually make anyone do anything. Best I've come up with is to give a framework and direction, and then let people do what they will.
  • edited October 2014
    It's an easier problem to solve at the meta level. Don't make it mandatory, but give everyone an easy way to tip each other for awesome performance. Not a "reward from the GM" but a slap on the back from your peers for making them laugh/cry/feel fear/whatever. It may not make actors out of wallflowers but it will keep the actors coming back, and maybe they'll bring more actors.

    The problem comes when you try to inject that value back into the fiction ("experience points for excellent roleplay" or whatever), because in fact the quality of your portrayal is not an in-character concern. It is a metafictional concern. And the payoff for metafictional concerns should itself be metafictional.

    This is what I mean when I say you are playing two games: on one level I'm crimelord Charles "Pecker Chopper" Peck making decisions about his illicit business, but on another level I'm just Tod who is inventing part of a collaborative story, and if you're impressed by me NOT acting like Tod, then it kinda assumes you can tell the difference between me and Pecker Chopper. See? You're already out of the fiction.

    If your game (and your playstyle) admits of meta-concerns such as this, if your game admits you are actually playing two games (one involving reacting as a fictional person and the other involving the artistic portrayal of fictional content), then you're fine. But trying to merge the two into a single mechanic is like building a clockwork orange.

  • Wick has a reputation for being one of those whiny fuckers who writes rules that are simply broken on a basic level and then complaining that "real roleplaying games aren't about the math, maaaaaaaaaan."

    I also have zero sympathy for anyone who says that GM's should have to edit the RPG books they own.
  • That seems uncalled for, or is the language barrier exaggerating the gravity of calling someone a "whiny fucker?"

    I don't like Houses of the Blooded, Wicked Fantasy or Play Dirty, and I haven't gotten unboard with how Dirty Dungeons would get around the Czege Principle yet, but: Wick is human. We all have our piecemeal understanding of various facets of RPG theory. I'm glad he's contributing his.

    In this case (and did you check out his followup article?) I think he says a mix of things that are wrong and things that are so basic that we misunderstand what he's saying.

    In this case, the basic question is: does every rule in the game help accomplish your group's goal of play? He happens to use the overloaded phrase "telling stories" but we see him keeping mechanics such as the Humanity score. To me, that's a sign that he's talking about play, not just GM auteur time.

    In my case, rules like initiative matter. They can be the life and death of a character. Two characters died in our game last thursday for not having the time to run away. But every table is different.

    As for the "teacup damage", the simple weapon rules of 0e where everything does 1d6 has a lot of advantages and it affords going beyond the "standard array of combat actions". There is some fertile ground there.
  • "Simulationism" to me is a catch-all term for "There are other agendas beyond Gamism or Narrativism". In my case, I somemtimes think my biggest responsibility as DM (behind social metagame issues) is to maintain coherence of the fiction - with emphasis on the part of the fiction introduced in the prep (by me or a module writer). Preserving the integrity of the "doll house". The "cake or death" levers. Am I sim?
    On the other hand, I do not wish to emulate a movie or a novel. That's not part of my responsibility as DM. Genre fidelity isn't my job, "dollhouse physics" is. Am I sim?
    The questions are rhetorical. All I wanted to say is that a clear CA of what your goal is at the table is important, and there are many, many interesting CA:s out there, you don't need to twist and turn the GNS to fit a particular one in.
  • "Simulationism" to me is a catch-all term for "There are other agendas beyond Gamism or Narrativism". In my case, I somemtimes think my biggest responsibility as DM (behind social metagame issues) is to maintain coherence of the fiction - with emphasis on the part of the fiction introduced in the prep (by me or a module writer). Preserving the integrity of the "doll house". The "cake or death" levers. Am I sim?
    On the other hand, I do not wish to emulate a movie or a novel. That's not part of my responsibility as DM. Genre fidelity isn't my job, "dollhouse physics" is. Am I sim?
    The questions are rhetorical. All I wanted to say is that a clear CA of what your goal is at the table is important, and there are many, many interesting CA:s out there, you don't need to twist and turn the GNS to fit a particular one in.
    That's really interesting to me because I feel sort of the opposite. For me simulationism is the clearest, narrowest part while gamism and narrativism seem to be catch-alls, each including numerous vague subsets. It's likely because I myself am so firmly simulationist (in several ways, including the ways posed in your questions).

    Of course, there's also probably just as much subjective definition and interpretation going on with GSN as with RPG.
  • Ok, I buy it, it's less that it's a catchall and more that I don't have a clear definition of it.
  • To be clear I don't think I'm right and you're wrong. I have no clue where the truth lies. I'm just interested when people hold conflicting views (which is almost always with me).
  • edited October 2014
    Personally I agree with @phoenix182 on the clarity and centrality of Simulationism. But the conversation does get a little blurrier when we begin speaking of "simulating genre" vs "simulating physics", if only because genre questions have a greater likelihood of overlapping with questions of agency. Questions about physics, on the other hand, can usually be arbitrated in a fairly cut-and-dry manner.

    Of note: There is one view of the GNS model in which a parabola spans the gap from G/S to N/S. In other words, on that view, both G and N are aspects or subsets of S. It's not a particularly popular view, but I like it.

  • The Beeg Horseshoe.

    I'm not really on board, but that's because I don't really understand S yet.

    My big trip right now is neither emulating what would happen in other media, nor breaking out the high school formulas for acceleration, force etc. It's something that happened in a game I played in, that I want to recreate:
    We were exploring a dungeon and came across a mirror covered by cloth. We did not look in the mirror but brought it with us. Way later, after some other adventures, we fought against evil frogs so we uncovered the mirror and to our surprise and delight, the first frog that looked in the mirror disappeared, then the mirror shattered. What made this moment special was that this quality of the mirror was determined the day the module writer placed it in the dungeon. Why does that make the moment feel more meaningful, more of an accomplishment than if the mirror had been improvised and its magical effect then added at yet another improvised moment later? A big part of this is gamism, the challenge of engaging with this super dangerous dungeon. But there's something more… a "tangibility" to the place and the items and enemies in it. I can't put my finger on why I value it more highly than improvised elements. Suggestions?
    It blew my mind after twenty years of weird impro (including weird side quests into goals of "immersion" and "mood") to experience this.
    I think that sort of tangibility doesn't necessarily conflict with any of the three main GNS agendas, but creating and maintaining that tangibility is difficult and a lot of OSR materials give good support for it. Mechanics to be used during prep rather than during play. Since it's both difficult and rewarding, I put most of my effort into it rather than one of the three.

    The other thing I absolutely need mechanics for is danger and challenge to the PCs. It's "social armor" if the dice can kill a PC rather than the DM outright doing so. Risk of loss is more interesting than loss.
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