What are the Differences Between Contemporary RPGs and Adventure RPGs (i.e. "Traditional" RPGs)

These days we call RPGs from the '80s and '90s (and RPGs that continue to be designed like the RPGs from this time) Adventure Games. How are Adventure Games different from Contemporary Indie RPGs (such as PbtA games and others), if we exclude the more (story-gamey?) Story Games? When I say Story Games I'm using Ben Robbins definition. What makes Contemporary Indie RPGs different from Adventure Games specifically? Of course, there are many different Contemporary Indie Games, but can we quantify general trends and describe them?

Comments

  • I have to say that while you may call traditional rpgs adventure games, many other people have a more specific and technical definition for that particular term: an adventure game is a game with an adventuring party, a GM and a GM-provided adventure as the dominant structuring element of play. It's a somewhat important term for rpg historiography, as at one time "adventure games" that were not roleplaying games, such as Talisman or Heroquest, were major elements in the hobby game market.

    I started writing a detailed explanation about how I use this terminology, how others use the terminology, and how the answer depends on the definition of the terms, but then I realized that you have particular definitions in mind:

    Story game, according to Ben's post, is a roleplaying game where the players can affect play via means other than the capabilities of their characters. Adventure game is the opposite of that to him, it seems to me, but I understand that you just mean traditional RPGS by the term rather than Ben's analytical definition.

    If that's really your operating definition for what the concept "story game" means (I can't say I'd be too fond of that, myself), then the answer is pretty simple: the only difference is that traditionally rpgs have featured only relatively minor ways for the non-GM players to influence events outside their player character. This is the difference by definition.

    Note that it's not a black and white thing; few rpgs are completely devoid of "narrative control" features. For example, in many games that one would consider traditional, the GM has to ask permission from a player before doing certain things to their character. In Champions, one of the fundamental cornerstones of the tradition, players have explicit control over e.g. how the NPC supporting cast of their superhero PC is treated in the game, via labeling them as various types of resources and flaws for their character. For example, a NPC that is not labeled as a dependent (a type of flaw indicating that the superhero can be hooked into adventures by threatening that character) for your character is not a legitimate target for a kidnapping plot. Seems to me that Champions is both a traditional RPG and a story game.

    Admittedly the answer to your question that I come up with is quite tautological: the difference between RPGs that have narrative control and those that do not is that the former has narrative control, while the latter kind does not. Some games have a little bit, so up to you to decide which box they fall into.
  • I have not often heard that use of "adventure game", although it makes some sense to me (with Eero's caveat). There are also many GMed/non-story-game games which don't feature mechanics to influence events other than by the means of the character (e.g. LARPs, Braunsteins, fighting games, etc).

    To answer your larger question, though, I'd have to understand what you mean by Contemporary RPGs. There's a major gamut from D&D5E to Apocalypse World to Microscope or Nordic LARP... and they all have different traditions and design features. What do you mean by 'Contemporary RPGs'? Are they, as Eero suggests, merely anything which doesn't fit the definition of "not a story game" (according to Ben)?
  • edited January 2017

    Story game, according to Ben's post, is a roleplaying game where the players can affect play via means other than the capabilities of their characters. Adventure game is the opposite of that to him, it seems to me, but I understand that you just mean traditional RPGS by the term rather than Ben's analytical definition.
    Right, so by Adventure Game I mean exactly what Ben means. A role-playing game in which you control just your character and advocate for them via their capabilities, like the games in the 80s and 90s, or like D&D 5E or games that still use that model (to me this is the same as a traditional RPG). When I say contemporary games I'm talking about games that have been innovative the last decade or two, so indie RPGs would probably be a better way to put it. I'm asking what's the difference between adventure games and indie games? In a lot of indie games they've added mechanics that lead players contribute to the story in ways other than just controlling their character; for example, in ways, to some degree like a Story Game; which as you say, is on the opposite side of the spectrum. So what I'm asking is, are there other innovations in indie games other than bringing in these story game elements, and what specifically these innovations are? This is the problem when people use terms differently; I'm using the terms how Ben defines them. I should've said contemporary indie games instead of just contemporary games...hopefully this makes sense :)

  • Oh, so you're basically asking "what innovations have there been in RPGs since the 90's?" :)
  • edited January 2017
    Oh, so you're basically asking "what innovations have there been in RPGs since the 90's?" :)
    Yes, pretty much, other than giving more control of the story (outside of their characters) to the players, which I think has probably been the biggest innovation. And leaving out Story Games generally in this discussion.

  • Well, this is a query that is so broad as to be almost impossible to answer (which is why I think you're not getting a lot of replies).

    I think you could do worse for a start than to browse through this list, looking through each "Game of the Year" (runners-up, descriptions, and reviews) and "Most Innovative" award for each year:

    Indie RPG Awards

    That would be a good start!
  • Well, this is a query that is so broad as to be almost impossible to answer (which is why I think you're not getting a lot of replies).

    I think you could do worse for a start than to browse through this list, looking through each "Game of the Year" (runners-up, descriptions, and reviews) and "Most Innovative" award for each year:

    Indie RPG Awards

    That would be a good start!
    Yes, it is very broad, and probably not an easy question without having a lot of knowledge and exposure to a lot of games :)
    This is a great place to start looking, Paul. Much appreciated :)
  • The reason your exception - except for "giving more creative input to players" - is a difficult query, incidentally, is because most designers working under the "indie/story game" paradigm consider "creative input" to be the primary act of roleplaying. That makes it quite challenging to consider innovations which *do not* involve that role.

    For instance, I think overt conflict resolution was one of the first major innovations in games coming out of the Forge (and other theorists and designers at that time). However, overt conflict resolution arguably does give more weight to the creative input of players (at least, compared to task resolution, as it is traditionally handled in RPG practice and texts). Does that mean it should be excluded from this discussion? I have no idea.
  • edited January 2017
    If that's really your operating definition for what the concept "story game" means (I can't say I'd be too fond of that, myself)...
    After thinking about it, I agree Eero. I kind of personally define a Story Game like this:
    a RPG is Story Game to the extent that the players have direct input collectively into what the story is about.
    Of course, there's a bit more to my definition; it might go something like this:
    A RPG is a Story Game to the degree to which the players tell a story together collaboratively, with no one having too much more control or authority than another; as opposed to, having the main goal be playing from the perspective of a single character, typically advocating for this character, and affecting the story mostly from the actions and speech of this character (i.e. "my character says this..."; my character does this...".
    That's pretty much how I see it. Of course, definition of these terms is slippery, and most of us use them in a way that is useful to us...it would be nice if we had shared definitions, so that there would be less misunderstanding…but, of course, everyone has disparate opinions and are attached their own definitions... I would be very happy to discuss your definitions and see how you see the terms and the way you use them and they are useful to you...I'm still learning and refining them for myself :) The reason I find both terms useful (Indie RPGs and Story Games), is that, I use them to describe two different types of games, that my group trades off on playing every other week. Also, based on asking for peoples favorite RPG's and Story Games on this site, and the games that they listed, it seems this is the way most story gamers loosely defined the terms. Anyway, I really would be interested in seeing how you see the terms. We may have discussed this elsewhere; I think you said you looked at it from the Forge perspective, although I don't think it was very detailed if we did discuss it. If so I wouldn't mind reading it again to refresh my memory, so if you have a sec to link it, or expound on it, I'd appreciate it :) OK, I'll stop rambling :) thanks :-)
  • edited January 2017
    The reason your exception - except for "giving more creative input to players" - is a difficult query, incidentally, is because most designers working under the "indie/story game" paradigm consider "creative input" to be the primary act of roleplaying. That makes it quite challenging to consider innovations which *do not* involve that role.
    By creative input, I mean only adding to the Story not from a characters perspective, but participating in creating the story whole cloth, which had traditionally been the GM's roll almost exclusively. And as you say, this is the main difference between Indie RPG and "traditional" RPGs. Basically, the reason I asked the question is because other innovations are more difficult to tease out. Hopefully I'm understanding what you mean above and my response makes sense :)
    For instance, I think overt conflict resolution was one of the first major innovations in games coming out of the Forge (and other theorists and designers at that time). However, overt conflict resolution arguably does give more weight to the creative input of players (at least, compared to task resolution, as it is traditionally handled in RPG practice and texts). Does that mean it should be excluded from this discussion? I have no idea.
    If an innovation gives a bit more weight to the creative input of players that's fine, so far as it is qualitatively different from just giving more control of the story in the whole cloth kind of way. I actually don't know exactly what is meant by "overt conflict resolution;" i'm not sure if it's just a term I'm not familiar with, or I'm just having problems understanding it. I actually wasn't part of the Forge, and have only gotten into indie gaming in the last six months or so. If you could define "overt conflict resolution" or describe it a bit more, I'd appreciate it :)
  • edited January 2017
    Jeff, I actually disagree with the notion that in traditional RPGs players other than the GM only contribute to the fiction through the characters they portray. Historically, there's always been shared world-building in RPGs as well as moment-to-moment contributions of all sorts, by all players, not all of them fitting within the narrow "play your character" box... It's just that these things weren't acknowledged at a systemic level. Whether they were acknowledged as a social level or were an invisible, immediately-edited-away-despite-listenened-to part of the conversation varied with local play cultures. Acknowledging these contributions at a systemic level was one of the big paradigm shifts in RPG design...
    This is number 1 reason I'm not in love with your RPG/Story Game divide, BTW: I believe such a distinction to be mostly illusory. :D
  • I think the main change that happened in RPG design is a shift from realism-modeling to game-play-modeling. You start seeing things like the "Trust" mechanic in Mountain Witch, or the way Dogs in the Vineyard models "just talking" vs. "violence with guns."

    I'm not saying games didn't ever do this stuff prior. They did. But a lot of the early wave of Forge games grabbed onto this stuff and hammered it home.

    Also, a rash of games that focused on delivering Narrativist experiences. Again, there were already games that did this, but the Forge delivered a bunch more.

    The other thing that the Forge did was solidify some things that were rather hand-wavy up to that point: ideas like IIEE, stance, creative agenda, and so on.
  • To follow up on Adam's last post ( and with the same caveat that there were always games doing this next bit), mainstream games have veered away from hard-core gamism to soft-core gamism over time.

    They've also seemingly veered more away from realism-modelling to more genre emulation rules.
  • In fact, this shift from seeing games' rules as "the physics of the game world" to seeing them as "procedures a group uses to direct their conversation" is the largest change/innovation we've seen, I'd argue.

    This shift in thinking has been responsible for enormous changes and developments in game design, from the small-scale to the large-scale. (e.g. If you think of a game's rules as "the physics of the game world", you could never write a game like Microscope or Fall of Magic.)
  • edited January 2017
    Burning Wheel.

    Tons of stuff there that is neither "make story apart from character play" nor typical of the adventure game play which preceded it:

    Necessary conditions for rolling and re-rolling. How you earn and spend XP. How your character finds useful people. How many of which types of skills you can employ at a given time. Interaction matrices of scripted moves. Action economy in Burning Empires.

    Maybe it's basically an adventure game, but if so, it's still packed with innovations.
  • Jeff,

    I keep meaning to get back to this, but running out of time.

    The whole "conflict resolution vs. task resolution" debate was a major point of discussion roughly 15 years ago, and led to some really different ways of designing games. Here's a short version:

    Depending on how you look at it, task resolution and conflict resolution are either an unnecessary separation between two things which are occasionally indistinguishable and meld one into the other, or two fundamentally separate processes which are completely different at root. Like I said, tons of debate has been had on this topic over the years.

    The old-fashioned view of RPG mechanics (I'll refer to this as "dice" from now on) is that we engage them to see how well a character carries out a certain task in the imagined space. If my character is swinging a sword, the "dice" determine how well she executes that sword swing. Then we all imagine it appropriately. Typically, some combination of rules and GM judgement then tells us what the effects are.

    This is, roughly, task resolution. As you can see, it gives us a fictional constraint ("the character has swung her sword very poorly/with utmost skill") but otherwise tells us little about what happens next. When combined with other rules - like hit points and damage, for instance - we can get some reliable information from these "dice" (e.g. "your enemy is now dead", "the door is now open", etc), but otherwise it's just helping us describe what a given character's actions look like in our imagination.

    Looking at dice as enabling "conflict resolution", however, is quite different. The idea here is that we establish a conflict of interests (usually in the fictional space), with two parties in opposition, who have different intentions and different desires. The dice then tell us which party predominates and overcomes their opposition. Once the opposition is overcome, this party achieves their intent. (Some people liked referring to conflict resolution as intent resolution, as they felt this was clearer.)

    When I say "overt" conflict resolution, I mean that all of the above is clearly expressed as part of play. The most obvious form of this appears in any game with "conflict stakes". For instance, you might say, "If I win the roll, I get away with the diamonds. If you win the roll, I give in and agree to join the Empire." We have clearly identified what's at stake and what the dice mean. There's little room for disagreement after the dice have been rolled.

    One easy way to turn task resolution into conflict resolution is to say, "Hey, why are you doing that? What do you hope to achieve?", and then have a success manifest that result. A lot of people who play "traditional RPGs" do this, but many also do not. This is an example of the two concepts overlapping.

    Quite notably, you'll see that task resolution does not lend itself well to other situations. For example, what if I, Paul, disagree with you, Jeff, about the game we're playing? A "Rope Use" check isn't going to help us. We need other tools. Conflict resolution, however, can be used to settle disagreements between players, factions, immaterial forces, and other questions, which means that suddenly designers could use their existing mechanics to create new ways of relating to each other at the table. This opens up the scope of game design dramatically.

    For example, My Life with Master really popularized another innovation: the formal ENDGAME. Most RPGs did not have a formal endgame; however, in My Life with Master, the outcomes of character actions and scene outcomes all contribute to funneling the game towards one of several predetermined endings. Hopefully, it's easy to see how this kind of design can't really come into being without the idea of conflict resolution.

    So, here are three basic innovations you can look at (the third, I believe, doesn't require explanation for you):

    1. Conflict Resolution
    2. Formal Endgame
    3. Scene Framing

    (Hopefully I don't have to mention that conflict resolution isn't strictly an *improvement* on task resolution. They're just different tools. For example, task resolution may better for a game where you want to emphasize uncertainty, discovery, and a sense of "virtual reality". Its drawbacks, in that setting, contribute to the game rather than detracting from it.

    There are also interesting hybrid models. For example, in Apocalypse World, the process of task resolution - the "dice" are linked to discrete character actions - is combined with explicit outcomes [in the lists to choose from] to create conflict resolution in many instances. In The Pool, the dice could be engaged as a form of task resolution [the game text isn't entirely clear on what the dice actually 'mean'], but the Monologue of Victory allows the player to always turn any successful roll into conflict resolution via their narration.)
  • And then we decided we couldn't (always?) tell the difference between conflict resolution and task resolution, or define the difference. Hilarity ensued.
  • Indeed!

    More things to add, off the top of my head:

    * Ritual phrases (e.g. Polaris, Archipelago)
    * Explicit Agenda, Principles, or similar ideas (debatable)
    * Collaborative/Democratic World-Building (e.g. in My Life with Master, you are instructed to create the Master together, leading to greater buy-in from the players)
    * Tools to reduce the social footprint of gaming (e.g. prep-free gaming)
    * Structured Scenario/Adventure Design (e.g. Dogs in the Vineyard Towns; even though you might say that some earlier games - notably early editions of D&D - have this as well)
  • Since I am arguably playing adventure games now, I don't think the differences are so stark as might be suggested. I think there is a bit more wisdom about what is worth dedicating rules to and what isn't (don't see many polearm hit-modifiers these days), but many individual features that might be viewed as innovations seem to be community specific and never really spread to the larger body of RPGs.

    One recurring fashion I am glad exists today--albeit that exists in a few different forms--is the notion of "selective randomization". That is, the idea that in a system that routinely uses random resolution, there are times that the system eschews randomization when the designer is aware that doing so would not be the best for the flow of the game. Frex:

    - In D&D 3e/D20, "taking 10" and "taking 20" when there is no consequence for failure and the PC has unlimited time to perform the task,
    - In Gumshoe, investigative abilities don't require rolls (or expenditure of resources) if the GM/designer recognizes that the ability would allow the game to progress.
    - In Burning Empires/Wheel, "say yes or roll the dice" hopes to only resort to randomization if the contest or conflict is interesting. (Less charitably, I see the rule as the designer fuming at bad GMing, but the upside is still there.)
  • Say Yes or Roll the Dice is absolutely Luke fuming at bad GMing, largely his own. This is not a bad thing, IMO.
  • "Selective randomization" is an excellent point.

    "Say Yes or Roll the Dice" or "Let it Ride" are good principles (for their respective games) in that they effectively promote a "conflict resolution" approach at appropriate points in play.

    Related to this is the idea that "when we roll the dice/engage the mechanics, something meaningful happens". Games are getting better and better at doing that.

  • Some more interesting techniques or devices which jump out at me as significant or influential:

    * World-building/development through open-ended questions and/or leading questions. (Lady Blackbird, Apocalypse World, "the Mountain Witch Trick")

    * Explicit single-session games (often with a procedure for playing with no prep - e.g. Fiasco) [Earlier in RPG history, games overwhelmingly assumed you'd be playing for an indefinite period of time, or, alternatively, purchasing a pre-written scenario - although these would also tend to be written with more than one session of play in mind.]

    * "Rich" resolution, or nuanced outcomes. More and more games are including mechanics which do not simply offer "succeed/fail" as the possible outcomes, but various means of creating "mixed" outcomes, partial success, and so on. I'd say Vincent Baker has been responsible for a lot of innovation in this area, and Apocalypse World has made it particularly popular outside "indie" circles.

    * Generally, a willingness to adopt a variety of tools into roleplaying design, from freeform techniques to boardgame-style design, has become more and more visible since the inception of the "indie" movement. Games aren't assumed to feature dice, stats, skills, a full-page character sheet, and an adventure created or bought by the GM anymore.

    * Attempts at "pick up and play" games, or designs which can be played "right away". (Most older games assumed the presence of a GM who knew the rules and would explain them to the other players.) [I think we still have a long way to go here, however.]
  • Quite a lot of the design innovations Paul (and others) has been listing is also in Otherkind (Vincent Baker). This thread prompted me to re-read it. It's an amazing 11&1/2 pages. If you've never read it, it's worth looking at. I don't know every game out there (not even close, really), but it does seem like a benchmark indie roleplaying game (rather than story game). Or maybe it's something different. Based on your two definitions, Jeff, it is a kind of hybrid: as, I see it, you're definitely playing a character and advocating from that position, but you have a huge amount of possible narrative control/creative input that extends well beyond character actions and speech and into the setting/world and narrative direction.
  • @David_Berg, you've played Otherkind, with me—it's the resolution system used by Sign in Stranger, where you roll a bunch of dice and then assign them to different boxes.
  • I know what it is, it's the basis for a bunch of stuff Paul_T's done too, I was just curious to see this "amazing 11&1/2 pages".
  • I know the Otherkind rules are floating around on the internets, but they're hard to find, so we'll have to wait for someone with a link!
  • I know the Otherkind rules are floating around on the internets, but they're hard to find, so we'll have to wait for someone with a link!
    Are we talking about this?:
    http://storygames.pbworks.com/f/otherkind.pdf
  • That's the one! A very interesting game, with a lot of typical Baker trademarks (like the motif which deals with the costs and consequences of violence). I've never played it, although I've used some variation of the dice mechanic in various ways in many of mine designs (and most recently in my Eowyn game, in a mutated form).
  • I'll add some other things which I saw entering gamer "technology" over the last 15 years:

    * The idea of explicit play agendas. (Very useful in some gaming environments.)

    * The use of dramatic Premise for game design and play technique. (This is a shorthand for identifying dramatic questions which are then addressed by play; it's been used in a lot of game designs, but also in various bits of play advice and tools for addressing topics in adventure writing, character design, GM decisions, and so forth.)

    * The notion of character "Flags", and using those to inform play and GM decisions. (Some very powerful tools and technology have emerged from this!)

    * As somewhat of an example of that thinking, we have new game designs which merge character concerns, pre-set by the game, with player input. A perfect and famous example is Apocalypse World's "playbooks". They are at once character creation, character role "pregens", and yet also serve to define the fictional world, the nature of action that takes place within it, and what kind of concerns the players will be dealing with in play.

    In other words, the idea that the presence of a character or character type informs what the game will be *about*, as opposed to a more traditional view of play where there is a "party of adventurers", an "adventure plot", and some way to get the former to engage in the latter (railroading, plot hooks, game rewards, etc).

    * The idea of games engaging individual character storylines, as opposed to a group acting in concert, became more visible or more popular, with games dealing with individual storylines, many-players-one-character-play, players in opposition to one another, and so forth.
  • edited February 2017
    Jeff, I actually disagree with the notion that in traditional RPGs players other than the GM only contribute to the fiction through the characters they portray. Historically, there's always been shared world-building in RPGs as well as moment-to-moment contributions of all sorts, by all players, not all of them fitting within the narrow "play your character" box... It's just that these things weren't acknowledged at a systemic level. Whether they were acknowledged as a social level or were an invisible, immediately-edited-away-despite-listenened-to part of the conversation varied with local play cultures. Acknowledging these contributions at a systemic level was one of the big paradigm shifts in RPG design...
    This is number 1 reason I'm not in love with your RPG/Story Game divide, BTW: I believe such a distinction to be mostly illusory. :D
    Sure, how much input a player has regarding in-game, non-character focused, story/world-building is highly dependent upon your local play culture...and there may be instances where players contribute more to the story than just from their character's actions and perspective...but to say the distinction is mostly illusory is just something I can't agree with. To me there is a big difference between the two types of games (i.e. SG/RPG (using my definitions))...yes, these differences exist on a continuum and there are a lot of games with mixed elements...yes, there are a lot of games and elements of games that these terms don't describe (for example, GMfull)...but collaborative games in which all players coauthor what happens in all aspects of the story full-cloth (like Fiasco and Follow) are very different from single GM Adventure RPGs (like D&D) where the GM is largely responsible for the story and the players mostly contribute from the perspective of their characters...maybe the players, as you say, contribute more than that to a greater or lesser extent, but there are real, fundamental differences IMO...I can go into why I think so, if you are interested in talking more about the subject :) this is definitely not to say one type of game is better than another or that they're both not role-playing games just there different ...and I may very well be completely misunderstanding what you're actually saying and missed the point completely :)
  • I think, historically, there were a lot of games on the one end of a sort of spectrum, and the Forge came along and a bunch of people invented a lot of games on the other end of that spectrum. Sure, there were always games that used some of the techniques the Forge clarified (very little was invented at the Forge; more stuff was, I think, discovered, distilled, clarified, and isolated).

    Somewhere along the way--probably because Forge people frequented Story Games--the term "story game" started to mean "Forge game" even though I'm pretty sure it was originally used to mean "all those games, even D&D, even Dogs in the Vineyard," to avoid a lot of the "what is an RPG?" arguments.

    After 2005, you started seeing a lot of games that sat in the middle more. Indie folks, now mollified with games that solved particular problems they had with gaming in general, went back and revisited the old classics. When the OSR picked up, a bunch of Forge types revisited old D&D texts and played a lot of OSR stuff. Mike Mearls dabbled in Forge stuff and he got the peanut butter in the chocolate, too, and you saw some of that in D&D 4E and his own projects before that.

    Now the "traditional" vs. "indie" vs. "story game" divide isn't so clean and it really doesn't matter much anymore. The differences now tend to be more political than technical.
  • Now the "traditional" vs. "indie" vs. "story game" divide isn't so clean and it really doesn't matter much anymore. The differences now tend to be more political than technical.
    Do you think the terms meanings are not so clean anymore, or do you think the differences between games like D&D5E (GM & PCs) and a game like Fiasco, or Follow, (collaborative storytelling) are not technically different? Or do you mean something else that I'm not understanding? Thanks, Adam :)

  • I think D&D 5e and Fiasco are very different. However, when you start looking at Burning Wheel or 13th Age, the distinction is less clear and you realize that it's just a pile of design and play techniques, and some are labeled "indie" and some are labeled "trad" and the labeling was probably bullshit all along.

    I also think that there were people playing D&D in 1980 a fair bit like you'd play a Fiasco game today, but they were rare.
  • edited February 2017
    I think D&D 5e and Fiasco are very different. However, when you start looking at Burning Wheel or 13th Age, the distinction is less clear and you realize that it's just a pile of design and play techniques, and some are labeled "indie" and some are labeled "trad" and the labeling was probably bullshit all along.

    I also think that there were people playing D&D in 1980 a fair bit like you'd play a Fiasco game today, but they were rare.
    Right, I agree with you... Rafu, if I understand him correctly, (and I might not) is saying that games I define as Story Games (games like Fiasco) and games that I define as RPGs (games like D&D 5E) are not very different when played, or that their differences are largely illusionary, which I disagree with. So we're talking about a very specific definition of my terms and the games those discribe. I think that collaborative storytelling games are different from GM/PC dynamic games...although they are both role-playing games of course, and both awesome :-)

  • edited February 2017
    No, no... I just meant it's a continuum all over the spectrum and that there aren't any discrete categories, apart from looking at single games. That's something we agree about more that I'd thought, apparently. :D

    I also believe that it's impossible to play a tabletop role-playing game completely and exclusively from the perspective of one character without ever injecting any "ooc" content at all (maybe in larp, but even that's debatable IMO), so that while older game texts may make it look like that was the case that's more a case of a big chunk of the actual procedures of play being missing from the texts and only taught by word-of-mouth. Which isn't to say most D&D players from the 1970s played it like Fiasco - that isn't what I believe. I'm just saying that one extreme of the spectrum is effectively unattainable - and maybe not at all that desirable, despite claims of the contrary in Internet discussions which are more talk-driven than fact-driven. I don't know about the other extreme - probably attainable but mostly underwhelming, perhaps?

    Edited to add: so I think I'm probably in complete agreement with @Adam_Dray... maybe?
  • No, no... I just meant it's a continuum all over the spectrum and that there aren't any discrete categories, apart from looking at single games. That's something we agree about more that I'd thought, apparently. :D

    I also believe that it's impossible to play a tabletop role-playing game completely and exclusively from the perspective of one character without ever injecting any "ooc" content at all (maybe in larp, but even that's debatable IMO), so that while older game texts may make it look like that was the case that's more a case of a big chunk of the actual procedures of play being missing from the texts and only taught by word-of-mouth. Which isn't to say most D&D players from the 1970s played it like Fiasco - that isn't what I believe. I'm just saying that one extreme of the spectrum is effectively unattainable - and maybe not at all that desirable, despite claims of the contrary in Internet discussions which are more talk-driven than fact-driven. I don't know about the other extreme - probably attainable but mostly underwhelming, perhaps?

    Edited to add: so I think I'm probably in complete agreement with @Adam_Dray... maybe?
    Oh okay, I definitely agree with all that :)
  • Yes, I think the argument against the "Story game/RPG" divide is not that it is totally absurd (many games fall clearly into one camp or another), but, rather, that there is a spectrum which is impossible to "split down the middle".

    Like Rafu, I think it's totally impossible to play a game exclusively from the perspective of your character, although many people (and game texts) give it a really good try. @David_Berg's game Delve has an interesting self-aware take on it, but even in a game which is that hardcore about it, and even aside from any kind of unspoken practices, even Delve has rules like the Pacing Dial, which are clearly "metagame". Where then, would this game fit?

    My guess - and I could be totally wrong here, if so, I apologize in advance - is that Jeff has been playing all these wildly "story game" designs lately, like Fiasco, Follow, Archipelago, and so forth. They are so clearly removed from a GMed trad RPG that they seem like a completely different beast. However, someone who spent more time playing in the "middle area" of this spectrum would naturally find the separation much harder to understand.

    Where does The Pool go? Primetime Adventures? PbtA games? Polaris? Etc.

    This is why I always use the term "story game" in the original spirit it was intended: as an umbrella term for games of the imagination, as a way to explain that you like both D&D and Fiasco.

    I can say this, though:

    It seems to me that the "other" end of spectrum is a very real thing. Jeff, you've played my game Musette. I consider that a "pure" storytelling game. You could try to throw some roleplaying into it if you were really determined, but the game isn't designed for that at all. You tell a story as you play - you never "embody" a character or make decisions from their perspective. You're always thinking of the bigger picture and narrating actions and outcomes.

    Is there any reason to believe that the "other end" of the spectrum (pure storytelling) is similarly ambiguous?

    (I also agree with Rafu that other mediums could create "pure" roleplaying, like LARPs or some other kind of medium which removes a lot of the requirements of the imagination, and you can play relying purely on your own senses. Hard to imagine that in a tabletop game, however - I certainly haven't ever seen it, despite how hard many older RPG texts like to claim that it's the case.)



  • edited February 2017
    Yes, I think the argument against the "Story game/RPG" divide is not that it is totally absurd (many games fall clearly into one camp or another), but, rather, that there is a spectrum which is impossible to "split down the middle".

    Like Rafu, I think it's totally impossible to play a game exclusively from the perspective of your character, although many people (and game texts) give it a really good try. @David_Berg's game Delve has an interesting self-aware take on it, but even in a game which is that hardcore about it, and even aside from any kind of unspoken practices, even Delve has rules like the Pacing Dial, which are clearly "metagame". Where then, would this game fit?

    My guess - and I could be totally wrong here, if so, I apologize in advance - is that Jeff has been playing all these wildly "story game" designs lately, like Fiasco, Follow, Archipelago, and so forth. They are so clearly removed from a GMed trad RPG that they seem like a completely different beast. However, someone who spent more time playing in the "middle area" of this spectrum would naturally find the separation much harder to understand.

    Where does The Pool go? Primetime Adventures? PbtA games? Polaris? Etc.

    This is why I always use the term "story game" in the original spirit it was intended: as an umbrella term for games of the imagination, as a way to explain that you like both D&D and Fiasco.

    I can say this, though:

    It seems to me that the "other" end of spectrum is a very real thing. Jeff, you've played my game Musette. I consider that a "pure" storytelling game. You could try to throw some roleplaying into it if you were really determined, but the game isn't designed for that at all. You tell a story as you play - you never "embody" a character or make decisions from their perspective. You're always thinking of the bigger picture and narrating actions and outcomes.

    Is there any reason to believe that the "other end" of the spectrum (pure storytelling) is similarly ambiguous?

    (I also agree with Rafu that other mediums could create "pure" roleplaying, like LARPs or some other kind of medium which removes a lot of the requirements of the imagination, and you can play relying purely on your own senses. Hard to imagine that in a tabletop game, however - I certainly haven't ever seen it, despite how hard many older RPG texts like to claim that it's the case.)



    Very, very interesting post. Believe it or not, I agree with almost all the things you and Rafu are talking about (maybe everything, if I'm misunderstanding one point). I think that we were just speaking passed each other. Anyway I want to respond to all the stuff but I have to go to work; I will get back to you tonight. Thanks :-)
  • Fascinating, Jeff! Looking forward to hearing more from you.
  • edited February 2017
    I would say that "play exclusively from character POV!" is what the immersionist wants from character play, and is the thing they focus on, and sometimes they're not interested in talking about other parts of play lest such discussion create a perceived dent in "play exclusively from character POV!"

    But there are other parts of play, and other parts of the play experience, and most immersionists can handle some version of those just fine.
  • edited February 2017
    Yes, I think the argument against the "Story game/RPG" divide is not that it is totally absurd (many games fall clearly into one camp or another), but, rather, that there is a spectrum which is impossible to "split down the middle".
    Yes, I definitely agree with you and Rafu completely regarding this; I didn't mean to give the impression that I thought there was a clear divide. I think it is a spectrum, some games closer to one side, some games close to the other. The separate terms are simply used for convenience.

    Like Rafu, I think it's totally impossible to play a game exclusively from the perspective of your character, although many people (and game texts) give it a really good try. @David_Berg's game Delve has an interesting self-aware take on it, but even in a game which is that hardcore about it, and even aside from any kind of unspoken practices, even Delve has rules like the Pacing Dial, which are clearly "metagame". Where then, would this game fit?
    Agreed, my only point was that RPGs tend to be more character focused and from a character perspective; whereas, Story Games tend to be more story focused.

    My guess - and I could be totally wrong here, if so, I apologize in advance - is that Jeff has been playing all these wildly "story game" designs lately, like Fiasco, Follow, Archipelago, and so forth. They are so clearly removed from a GMed trad RPG that they seem like a completely different beast. However, someone who spent more time playing in the "middle area" of this spectrum would naturally find the separation much harder to understand.
    Where does The Pool go? Primetime Adventures? PbtA games? Polaris? Etc.
    I agree, there are tons of games that are in the middle. Also, there are tons of games that fit neither description and can't be described as even on the spectrum. Again, the terms are only used for convenience and I'm basically just looking at games that are toward one pole or another and more less fit the terminology.

    This is why I always use the term "story game" in the original spirit it was intended: as an umbrella term for games of the imagination, as a way to explain that you like both D&D and Fiasco.
    I get this, but the reason I use the Story Game term the way I do is because it is a catchy term, and an easy way to distinguish the different type of games for my group-- being that they play an Indie RPG one week and a Story Game the next week. I could call my group "Indie RPGs and Collaborative Storytelling Games," but it's not as concise and doesn't have the same ring; of course, maybe something like 'collaborative storytelling games' would be a better term to use on Story-Games.com ... what term would you use for Fiasco and Follow type games, if you thought a term would be useful for you?

    I can say this, though:

    It seems to me that the "other" end of spectrum is a very real thing. Jeff, you've played my game Musette. I consider that a "pure" storytelling game. You could try to throw some roleplaying into it if you were really determined, but the game isn't designed for that at all. You tell a story as you play - you never "embody" a character or make decisions from their perspective. You're always thinking of the bigger picture and narrating actions and outcomes.
    This is the most intriguing paragraph to me. Are you saying that a Story Game can be totally pure in this sense; in other words, be completely on one side of the spectrum. Or are you saying, that it is better for Story Games not to have one embody a character and make decisions from their perspective? Or are you saying something else?

    Is there any reason to believe that the "other end" of the spectrum (pure storytelling) is similarly ambiguous?
    Are you saying that whereas a RPG can never be wholly about playing only as a character, a Story Game on the other hand could be wholly about storytelling.


    I really think all of us basically agree but we're just not understanding that from our communications for some reason.
  • In terms of terminology, I personally like to call them all "story games".

    Some story games are RPGs. Some are storytelling games. Some are neither.

    Instead of labels, I just talk about specific games. "This one is a fairly traditional roleplaying game, with a GM. When you play, you stay in-character most of the time." "This is one is a highly collaborative game, very freeform, and GMless." "This is a very crunchy competitive game, where everyone takes turns playing characters and GMing for others." And so on. I've never really needed to create categories and then slot games into them.
  • It's not any more possible to play a LARP purely from character POV than it is to play a tabletop. Even in something with no mechanics, like a Jeepform, you're still stopping to frame scenes and the like.
  • Matt,

    Even hypothetically speaking? I mean, we have "360 LARPs", and "full immersion LARPs" and such. (I'm still pondering the question, myself.) What about a hypothetical "virtual reality" simulation?
  • I'd need to read precise descriptions of those games to be sure, but I am... let us say highly skeptical.
  • Nothing is 100% in the real world, so I'd technically agree with that.

    However, there are games with much more in-character POV than others. For example, many larps don't have scene framing - the players just stay in-character and in-scene for the entire event. (Some games utilize the "cage" device for this - such as a larp where everyone is locked inside a particular room.)

    I was in a spontaneous freeform larp at my first Knutepunkt where we collectively created characters who were children in a scout expedition, and we played out a game that was just them walking and talking and playing in the snow. It was done as an example of collective creating and organizing, so it isn't the norm - but it was still fun.
  • Also, I question the use of "narrative control". Some posters tend to break things up into control through in-character action (associated with "traditional"), and control through out-of-character mechanics (associated with "story games" or "indie games").

    However, I have to say - that my freeform, GMless, mechanicless collectively-organized larp at Knutepunkt was very very far from a traditional RPG, while also having the least out-of-character control.

    A tabletop game I particularly like is Hellcats & Hockeysticks, which is traditional in the sense of mechanics through in-character action, but non-traditional in terms of situation.
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