Terms : World and Story

edited November 2017 in Story Games
The thread about "Storryfying Trad Games" opened many questions. For instance, I learned that the term "simulationnist" had to very different meanings. I would like to clarify things for myself and you can help me in that.

On the abscissa I see : the fictitious World (it exists out there, your character is part and witness of it) ; the Story (everything happens to provoke your emotions and thoughts as a player).

Using these terms I can state things like "Physics simulating crunch is used in the discussion at the table as an analogy of the reality of the World. Try and deny the dice." or "All RPGs are based on simulation. However Narrative genre simulation is nothing like World simulation because narrative genres are about forms, not existence."

Please, try and make these terms unclear, so I won't use them. Then suggest better terms.


  • Well, have you thought about how the game world actually does not exist in all games in the same way? In some games, sure, we can say that it is useful to posit something of the sort, and use the conceit to navigate the complexities of the game. In others a concept like that would only get in the way, because the game simply doesn't work by the rules one would expect of a cohesive game world - relying on a concept that does not apply will only lead to frustration.

    I'll pick a well-known example of the latter sort of game: in Once Upon a Time the game world hangs by the thinnest strand of story logic, as the players are all invested in getting rid of the cards in their hands, and doing that requires them to narrate the story any which way (as long as the other players consider the story comprehensible still, one assumes). At no point do the players discuss the game world as something that might exist outside the immediate story, and at no point is any choice in the game obviated or informed by a joint understanding of the game world. To the contrary, it is within the rules and expected of the players that they'll invent and transform the game world at their whim, in service of getting rid of their cards.

    As an example of how the conceit a "game world" is not useful for understanding Once Upon a time, consider this: it is possible for the game to start by a player talking about a poor stickpicker who goes on an adventure at the behest of a witch, only for a player (the same, or a different one) to reveal a bit later that all of the characters discussed so far have been cats all along - it's a talking, hindleg-walking catstown in here. Where is the game world in a game like that, and how is the concept useful? I would say that it is not.

    And Once Upon a Time isn't exactly alone, there are dozens of roleplaying games where conceptualizing the game in terms of an independently existing game world merely slows a player down and confuses them - both undesired results, of course, which is why such games don't generally suggest the conceit at all. We used to call games that resort to this sort of play "No Myth" in the past, on account of how a game like this abandons the myth of a real world existing behind the GM screen.

    In summation: while there are roleplaying games where it is productive to think and talk about the game world as an isolated concept, it is not an universal feature of the form.

    I hope that was useful in abusing your concept of "game world", or at least confining it a bit. Perhaps we'll do "story" later if this was along the lines you wanted [grin].
  • As far as abuse goes, "Once upon a time is all Story and no World" is a totally valid statement for me. It tends to reinforce the idea that the 2 terms are opposite when they may simply be distinct.
  • It seems to me that you are creating an imaginary dichotomy. In some games (as Eero has very nicely demonstrated) one or the other will exist more or less that the other, or even not at all. I remember a lot of old-fashioned thinking about RPGs drawing this kind of analogy, but I'm glad to have left it behind, as it illuminated little.

    In addition, I have no idea how to apply your criteria to an actual game in question. If, in my story game, the player of the character who rolls dice most often during a session gets more points than the others and wins the game, I have no idea how that relates to Story or World or anything of the sort.

    Generally, I find it much more helpful and practical to think of bits of games as forming our interactions as human beings, and suggesting or constraining what we might say to each other. What you term "World", then, becomes very clear and easy to see as a collection of information and/or constraints we have all acknowledged as valid material to draw upon when making stuff up for our game. That's a real and tangible thing we, as actual human beings, can meaningfully interact with and talk about ("Hey, this stuff about Orcs on Liza's summary sheet is good, even though it's from the other group's game. How about we say it's true in our game, as well? Then we can use to decide how the tribe we're dealing with might choose their leader." "Ok, fine, but only so long as it's not totally democratic - I'm tired of fantasy utopias." "Sure! Bob, can we borrow some of the 'leader selection' traditions you used for trolls in your short story anthology, and base their customs on that?", etc.).
  • As far as abuse goes, "Once upon a time is all Story and no World" is a totally valid statement for me. It tends to reinforce the idea that the 2 terms are opposite when they may simply be distinct.
    Ah, so you're proposing that game content consists of two separate types of matter, Worlds and Stories. A given game can have both or either in any mix, so showing that one of those two terms may be irrelevant to a given game does not particularly counter your theory.

    So I guess one would go about deconstructing that by showing how there are other kinds of important content in games as well, right? This wouldn't necessarily obviate the usefulness of those terms, but it would complicate the picture.

    Another approach would be to undermine the concepts of Story and World by showing how they may not be particularly important, useful, or even coherent, as Paul's gearing up to do. This is more difficult, as it's ultimately up to you what you're interested in - if you say that it is very important for you to recognize and categorize Story content and World content in games, and that this brings you great clarity, I'll believe you.

    But let's look at a third type of content that is very important to many popular roleplaying games. I am, of course, thinking of rules-mechanical game content. Modern D&D is the standard example of this type of game: nobody who's seen a charop board (a discussion community dedicated to figuring out optimal character builds for a D&D campaign in terms of combat effectiveness) can doubt that people deliver great significance from the game's mechanical structure in a way that has nothing to do with either story or the game world.

    This isn't even a rare phenomenon, many games popular both historically and currently dedicate a lot of attention to mechanical subgames - or perhaps I should say side games, as despite what a GM might think, players of these kinds of games often consider the character building game or the combat game to be the center of the game, rather than the story or world-building the GM may be engaged in. Aside form modern D&D, you've got superhero pointbuy games like Champions, military simulation games like Twilight 2000, dollhouse games like Ars Magica and Pendragon... all games that definitely cannot be reduced to a combination of world and story, because the mechanical game is such a big part of the experience.

    How about that, relevant at all?
  • edited November 2017
    Crunch, competition, randomness, even losing sight of common sense, are all aspects of games. World and Story are not proeminent. But do the terms clarify certain statements ?

    Paul_T's theoretical players are clearly setting constraints and they do it the World way : they are trying to objectivize their choices by naturalizing them. For objectivity, they could resort to randomness. The game could provide a way of determining whose idea (or mix of idea) informs the story.

    I still don't see how narrative genres or dramatic rules could be so systematic as to be considered to form a "world". Dramatic rules are more like a bag of tricks than a set of constraints.

    So World describes something that seems precise enough for me, with an extreme form being "mythos". Story ? is just what it reads, good old storytelling, and unrelated to World.
  • It could be argued that Story is a bogus contrivance without being rooted in World. Just in case you were positing any sort of opposition or incompatibility there.
  • But do the terms clarify certain statements ?
    Not yet, to me. You haven't defined these terms in any precise fashion, so I don't, for instance, have any confidence that I could use them in a sentence which would correspond to whatever you're seeing in those terms.

    Perhaps you should start with that? What are these concepts of Story and World, and where do their boundaries lie?

    Also, why is this useful - how do you plan to use these terms? Is it for design? Critique? Some kind of analysis?
    It could be argued that Story is a bogus contrivance without being rooted in World.
    This was my reaction to your earlier statement about a game being all Story and no World. How can a story exist absent World information? Perhaps in some abstract sense (like a computer program doing Object-based programming), but that's not how humans parse stories. It really *matters* to us whether a given character is a puppy or a Nazi general.

  • Going by the most used meanings of the terms I'd have to say that they are but two of the many tools we use to grasp the fiction, since in equal terms we could list there things like "Characters", "Mechanics", "Creative Agenda", etc. Which one sees more use or around which one is more focused the game, depends on the game and the players. It's all relative, as the term "simulationism" is for me now. I've seen it used to make sense of a lethal gameplay style, as being "focused on simulating 'real' danger with heavy consequences".

    Now all friggin' terms are all over the place and can't be said to mean a single thing anymore.
  • @DeReel I want to follow you in your argumentation. Nevertheless, I've some question before going on.
    On the abscissa I see : the fictitious World (it exists out there, your character is part and witness of it)
    Good. Before going on, a simple question:
    From a qualitative point of view, what does moving on the abscissa mean?
    Low values of World mean: [Your answer]
    High values of World mean: [Your answer]
  • edited November 2017
    Hello, at the moment I am in the same place as Warrior Monk.

    But still :
    World in plain terms is ... "predefined constraining setting" ?

    Low values of World : the game gives minimal and loose, sketchy, setting indication, the players agree on a vague co-reference "this is space op" or "this is western, just dark". The world will be what's in the characters and what will come out of the story. The players pave the way and draw the landscape as they go. Even if it's not strictly equivalent, this will tend to make established facts weak and uncommon. Also, light games, and possibly short. This "medieval alternate baseball team" kind of thing.

    High values of world : there is a world encyclopedia. Just choosing where your character stands defines a lot. Ad hoc solutions either need to be isolated in time/space bubbles or carefully grafted. Also, generates lots of "this is (not) realistic" argument, and campaign play (to amortize prep time).

    World building is midway : players have hands on the world, they try to enforce its stability because they cherish their baby, but more by convention than dogma. The characters, if any, will polarize the world as much as the other way around.
  • Recall that, in the Forge's Big Model, the five elements of a game (the elements that players might be interested in exploring to one degree or another) are Setting, Situation, System, Character, and Color, where Setting plus Character was understood to produce Situation, with System as the means of making changes to diegetic "Shared Imagined Space" (SIS), and Color as the fictional details or genre tropes that help flesh out the SIS.

    Arguably, from such a perspective, you don't really need "World" or "Story"--or, better, you have separated conflated World/Story into constituent elements in such a way that they disappear.

    Of course, when you think about why people play, or what they get out of the game, that reintroduces the notions of "Story" and "World." That coincides in Big Model terms with the Creative Agendas of Narrativism (Story Now) focusing on Story, and that of Simulationism (Right to Dream) focusing on World. The challenge-oriented focus of Gamism (Step On Up) is missing, though--and to a certain degree you need Gamism to account for why people might like games like Once Upon a Time, where you seem to be mostly exploring Color in a way that rewards the challenge of manipulating narrative elements. In other words, in addition to Story and World, you've also got Game.
  • I don't know, Bill. For instance, "World", in the case of many published settings, is actually mostly Color. Story Now is sometimes an intense exploration of Character, and so on. I don't think it's that cut and dried.
  • I am not sure that we are disagreeing, Paul. My point was that you can slice up RPG play in a way that doesn't require "Story" and "World" as organizing concepts, but I was willing to concede that they tend to slip back in when one starts thinking about why people play, in which case I wanted the idea of "Game" to come along with them.
  • Gotcha!

    We've had some discussions recently (with 2097, who is actually Sandra) about the virtues of prepping and then sticking to prep. (As ways of giving teeth to player cleverness and creating more of a sense of a "tangible world".)

    For the OP, you might enjoy some of those - they're relevant here.

    Ultimately, though, all such techniques can be applied differently depending on the focus of the game and the group. For instance, in D&D prepping carefully mostly engages with the players by challenging them, and by giving the GM the option of refereeing impartially - it all enables challenging or competitive play.

    However, in, say, The Shadow of Yesterday, world details are spelled out in great deal so they can create and support interesting lines of moral questioning or dilemmas for characters.

    Similarly, in Dogs in the Vineyard, prepping tougher stats for an NPC means that it's going to make the players think harder about the necessity for violence in dealing with them.

    Similar focus on "World", but totally different outcomes and creative interests.

    In case it's not clear, I do not find the Story/World duality to be a useful dichotomy at all (even though it's been a popular one in traditional RPG history).
  • @DeReel , could you now define what "Story" means in your diagram?
    From a qualitative point of view, what does moving on the abscissa mean?
    Low values of Story mean: [Your answer]
    High values of Story mean: [Your answer]
  • Low values of Story : static setting, like riding a tourist mini-train in an antiques museum. All you can do is chit-chat and drink your tea.
    High values of Story : Characters tearing through the tapestry of their world. A reality ? Where ? The main rule is "What do want to happen now ?"
  • So what would you consider a game which has a fluid or nonexistent world/setting background but puts all the characters on a roller coaster o produce a certain type of experience? The players are "riding a tourist mini-train", but background knowledge and world consistency is not part of the structure of play.
  • edited November 2017
    Edit : for clarity

    @Paul_T In your example, the story is framed with what ?

    1 - events (there is a plague, the castle closes its gates, the plague strikes inside the castle after 3 days) ?
    2 - general indications (raise, fall and redemption) ?

    1 : this is Setting preparation / World
    2 : this is Story framing
    1+2 : this is Story framing with examples

    OK, Setting preparation is a practice and Story is an agenda.

    But they are opposite in a way : Setting preparation is problematic for a dynamic story because of sunk costs. Even more so if the GM is left alone with the sunk costs dilemma, which is often the case.
    Also, Setting preparation is not any kind of prep, it's nothing like a dramatic constraint or a narrative frame. They are different by nature and by effects.

    Was this any clearer ? I try to be concise and the matter is abstract.
  • I'm not sure I understand any of that, but if I helped you figure something out, then I'm glad!
  • The Improvising Referee, it's called. Thanks Paul, I learned something there. That I have a very strict definition of what a good RPG is like, and it makes it difficult for me to see other agendas.
  • Glad to be of help.

    I think there are a lot of variations in gaming; one I wouldn't probably enjoy but that definitely exists is "Let's change any of the details as we go along, so long as we get the emotional affect we're going for in a particular moment!" I see a lot of Hollywood films being made this way in recent times, for an example from another medium.
  • edited November 2017
    I made some reading about agendas.
    Now I think all this World thing and 2097 tangibility aims at allowing players to lose control with the re-assurance that things are in control, that things will be there when you wake up. The control is just not in the hands of the players, it's like "externalizing control procedures" (rules, prepped setting, etc).

    Externalizing control was something I didn't see very interesting. I mean : historically we all learn that the rules provide a way of taking into account your fellow players mostly to prevent interpersonal harm, maybe from there the ill-aimed concern about social harm between characters. In gamist game, that's all I need. Game boards are like this : you can play with total strangers. Some controls will allow to check on overall consistency, but each player takes care of himself. Things can go chaotic : it's a game.

    But this goes deeper when you go into drama, immersion, or trance territory : you need some kind of controller (man, machine, group procedure, whatever) you can trust will be here if things go wild. I totally understand the aim : so you can really let go, like "yield control to lose control". Improv is like this : you've got to trust you partners. Maybe the GM-screen is about this : trusting blindly. So this is the part where the system or the other players take care of you, and you go into outer space with your spacesuit and a wrench.
  • An interesting topic!

    I've been thinking about similar ideas recently, in slightly different terms. I noticed that a lot of traditional games use things like Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, etc. So characters are defined by their ability to interact with the world around them--to force their will on it, and to take it in and understand it.

    The game I'm making, "Prompt" is more about what's going on in the characters' heads--the player creates pivotal inciting events in the character's past and basically uses those as stats. So then the characters are defined by who they are in a more real-world sense.

    I called this World vs Character.

    In trad games, the world is more important; while playing, the characters navigate the world and rile against it; when they advance (levelling) they become better able to force themselves onto the world.

    In some (or most?) storytelling games, the character is more important; while playing, the characters are just as--or perhaps more--running against themselves and each other than the world around them; when they advance they change as people due to what they've experienced--again, more like real people in the real world.

    I think we're probably talking about the same kinds of things, from different angles. But it's interesting to compare and contrast ^^
  • I think that's a good insight, and it appears in literature, as well. Some stories focus on what drives characters (to the point of creating an inconsistent setting, to enable that), while others paint a vivid world, which the characters exist only to explore (consider portions of Lord of the Rings, for instance, although I wouldn't extend that criticism to the book as a whole).

    In game design, there are interesting cases. Arguably, any set of game rules makes a statement about this. Games like Apocalypse World and Lady Blackbird, where characters' natures/capabilities are what determines how likely they are succeed, do this one way. I like the idea of a game where character capabilities really don't matter a whole lot (consider original D&D rules, for example, before ability scores granted modifiers to rolls). Other games still, like My Life with Master or Dog Eat Dog might use mechanical scoring to shape the story in a larger sense, without as much focus on particular characters or their surroundings.
  • If the game's story is everything that "happens to provoke your emotions and thoughts as a player" it is a part of the social and psychological plane of roleplaying, not part of the mentioned shared imaginary space which constitutes the game's world (in the sense that it has a fictional existence).

    Any element of Setting, Situation, System, Character, and Color (and personal interaction, random thoughts and events etc.) can be meaningful for a player.
    So while the game "world" is a relatively sound but not very useful concept this idea of game "story" is too vague and subjective to be meaningful, and to decide whether it's the opposite of world or an independent quality of a game. It isn't a quality of a game, it's only in the player's head.

    - That time when my character figured out how to kill two ogres using only a screwdriver and a rope
    - That time when I rolled eight 20s in a row
    - That time when we found our first dragon, and it was as epic as I expected it to be
    - That time when the in-character discussion about loot between players A and B developed into a broken nose and the group established some very strict rules
    - That time when I was uncomfortable because the unhappy marriage of an important character in the adventure strongly resembled my current relationship, but I said nothing
    - That time when everyone misunderstood the rules, we pushed the fight, and almost all PCs died of hit points reassessment
    - That time when I retired my character after ten years.
    Low values of Story : static setting, like riding a tourist mini-train in an antiques museum. All you can do is chit-chat and drink your tea.
    High values of Story : Characters tearing through the tapestry of their world. A reality ? Where ? The main rule is "What do want to happen now ?"
    Even changing the definition of story from the OP one to the more mainstream one of player agency, mediated by character agency, doesn't improve the situation very much: agency is equally relative and subjective, your "tea-drinking" can be my "tearing through the tapestry of the world".
    For example, the same major monster fight in a D&D game can be an accomplishment, a worthwhile thrilling challenge and an opportunity to learn and profit in many ways (experience points, loot, NPC rewards...) for one player, or it can be an insignificant accumulation of "more of the same" (yet another monster to figure out, yet another optimization of combat effectiveness, yet another heap of treasure to split...) for a more jaded player.
  • Thank you tagpile for this finding : I originally use the two terms to describe writing and directing styles. They don't translate very well to game design, but I'll try and drill that hole, not because I want to keep them, but because I want to be able to name the phenomenon.

    "Even if stories are in the players head, some games and techniques are better at handling internal oppositions and others at external opposition. This creates moments in the stories more about the setting resisting (external) or more about the drama (internal)." Is it close to OP ? Is it incoherent ?

    What I like in Prompt and other games is they can handle internal opposition well. In fact, many games focus on external opposition (setting making things difficults) and while they provide good play, they don't help me producing good stories.
  • @lorenzogatti: The OP's definition was a tad difficult to understand, but the wording was technically correct. They said "everything happens to provoke your emotions and thoughts as a player." Meaning nothing happens unless is does provoke the emotions and thoughts of the player (or character).

    It's not about player agency vs character agency; it's more what role does the game rules play in the experience? A World-heavy game would aim to simulate the world and the characters' interactions with it. A Story-heavy game would aim to push the characters' buttons, to mess with their emotions, turn them on each other, etc. So "Story" games aren't about what you do (tea-drinking or tapestry-tearing), but what the characters go through (how they're messed up or changed as people).

    @DeReel: That explanation works for me. Internal struggles vs External struggles makes sense. Games can, of course, do both at the same time... but most pick one over the other.

    I've been getting that vibe from my own game, Prompt--that it's maybe better for writing than regular gameplay. I've done a fair bit of solo playtesting using the rules and writing stories using the results generated, but less success playing with others. Still gonna keep trying, though. ^^

  • @TapGiles (name corrected) : I'll MP that
  • An interesting topic!

    I've been thinking about similar ideas recently, in slightly different terms. I noticed that a lot of traditional games use things like Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, etc. So characters are defined by their ability to interact with the world around them--to force their will on it, and to take it in and understand it.

    The game I'm making, "Prompt" is more about what's going on in the characters' heads--the player creates pivotal inciting events in the character's past and basically uses those as stats. So then the characters are defined by who they are in a more real-world sense.

    I called this World vs Character.

    In trad games, the world is more important; while playing, the characters navigate the world and rile against it; when they advance (levelling) they become better able to force themselves onto the world.

    In some (or most?) storytelling games, the character is more important; while playing, the characters are just as--or perhaps more--running against themselves and each other than the world around them; when they advance they change as people due to what they've experienced--again, more like real people in the real world.

    I think we're probably talking about the same kinds of things, from different angles. But it's interesting to compare and contrast ^^
    Disagree. You are assigning "more like real life" definitions by lumping all gaming styles with mathematical-physical modeling into one monolith. It's inaccurate, so what help is it?

    I live in the real world, and it can be modeled mathematically. That doesn't dictate my emotional journey most days. We can arrive at mathematical probabilities if I attempt something that isn't 100% certain to go my way. And that's it.

    ST and DX etc don't necessarily drive a story, don't mandate what kind of story, don't automatically make PC or game world more important.
  • Ah. Looking back over my comment, I think I spoke unclearly. It's fine that you disagree; that's what makes such discussions interesting to participate in. I just thought I'd try to clarify my thinking, in case there was some miscommunication on my part.

    Starting with the basics, storytelling is something anyone can do without rules. So then if we add rules to storytelling those rules must be obeyed, though we can add anything we like to it beyond that.

    The rules can't be circumvented (or at least, that's the point of playing a game in the first place, though we may house rule things as we go). So in that way, they have a larger hold on the stories we tell. We can dictate what happens in the story at large--interpreting outcomes, creating story elements from scratch, etc.

    Playing the game, however, requires that we interact with the game's systems--its mechanics--to progress. Let's say there's an overly-simple RPG with a single mechanic:

    Poke Mans!!

    When a Pocket Monster appears, take turns taking one action. When either side has no HP left, the battle ends.

    Pocket Monsters have HP, and a number of "moves" they can perform on their turn.

    Pikapoo has 6 HP, and the move "Zap-attack!" that deals 2 damage to the PC.

    The PC has 15 HP, and the move "Attack!" that deals 5 damage to the Pocket Monster they are facing.

    As soon as the PC steps out of their front door, a wild Pikapoo appears and takes their first turn.
    So the PC steps out of their front door. Pikapoo attacks. The player can try all they might to talk with it, to bargain, to soothe it... to talk about old times in the hopes of finding common ground. They can even run away. They can do all the storytelling beyond the rules they like, but the mechanics say Pikapoo will keep attacking. The game doesn't care if you've run away and are theoretically way out of range. It doesn't care about any interaction apart from "Zap-Attack," "Attack", "Zap-Attack" until one of you is dead. Then you can do whatever you like.

    Now, I know this is a strawman argument. A good RPG will be a lot more complex than Poke Mans!! But I'm hoping that it's easier to see where I'm coming from with this example. The rules of a system don't necessarily dictate the story, or the tone, or make attacking and being attacked more important in the story as a whole. The players can add anything they like on top of the rules.

    But they're still playing with the rules. And the rules say the only interaction with a Pocket Monster that makes any headway towards some sort of resolution, is to attack them. And the only way that a Pocket Monster interacts with you at all, is to attack you.

    In that way, there's a theme to the game. Something that's more important to what this game is than everything the players bring to the table. If you are playing this game rather than another game, Pikapoo will attack, and you will be killed by it or you will kill it. For that part of the story, those are the only two outcomes you can hope for.

    Your table can choose to house rule things, or to ignore certain mechanics. You can tell your own stories around that fight. Maybe you hang out in your house, scared of any diminutive monsters that may be lurking outside. Maybe you are forced to kill the monster and it sends you spiralling into depression for the rest of the game. All that stuff is cool. But that stuff isn't interacting with the game's design.

    When I said "the world is more important" in certain games, I was specifically referring to the "game design" itself rather than "anything that can happen at the table." I can see how that could be misleading, though; I apologise.
  • edited December 2017
    I hope that cleared things up on what I meant by my initial comment. But to extend that, I thought I'd look at the actual point I was bungling the first time ;P "World vs Character."

    Let's look at two more strawman RPGs:

    Character Game!!

    Each player distributes 6 points among their two stats for their character. The two stats are Love and Hate. Note down their values along with the character's name. Each player then describes to the group, and notes down, an difference of opinion they have with another character.

    Narrate a situation in which this argument comes up. Whoever gets there first starts an argument about their difference opinion with the other character. Any player may shout out facts at any time, but not add to the reasoning of the argument. While players are making or rebutting a point, the other players may give up to one chip to the player speaking.

    Players take turns thinking of a point, using the facts shouted out by other players if they wish, and then makes a point. The other player may then make a rebuttal. If it was made with love for their side, roll a D6 and add Love. If it was made with hate for the other side, add Hate instead. Add +1 per chip in front of you, -1 per chip in front of your opponent.

    If they got above a 3, they succeed, and make a tally mark for their side (other players may cheer, in the support of the point made). Once 5 tally marks in total have been made, whoever has the most successes wins.
    In this game, you may be in many situations. At a debate tournament, in their living room... they could be aliens floating in space. They could be arguing over who gets the remote, or who should get a spit of land once WW3 is over. There can be relationships between characters that muddy the waters. It could be cordial and calm, or a screaming match. There can be anything whatsoever. But none of that matters to resolving the argument.

    In this game the only way of interacting with the system--and therefore progressing toward the end resolution--is to love or hate one side or the other of an argument. You can tell a story of how strong and dextrous your character is, but it will have no effect on the outcome of the game. But what matters is the amount of love or hate you feel for either side of the argument. It focusses on who the character is on the inside, how strongly they feel about the topic at hand.

    And so when a player plays their character, even if they just roll the dice and don't bother roleplaying, they'll start to embody a person who loves or hates parts of the argument; they have to reason in a certain way to be able to use a certain stat; they will focus on their character and who they are, because of what the mechanics asks them to do.

    World Game!!

    Each player distributes 6 points among their two stats for their character. The two stats are Strength and Dexterity. Note down their values along with the character's name.

    The GM describes a situation. They create an obstacle and give it a difficulty rating, but do not tell the player what it is or indicate how difficult it is. The player may ask targeted questions to the GM, who answers with the minimum amount of information given as possible.

    The player may attempt to do something. The GM decides if it would be hindered by the obstacle. If it wouldn't, they nod and the player continues. If it would, the GM tells them to "Roll Strength" (for physical force) or "Roll Dexterity" (for speed or precision). The player rolls a D6 and adds the called for stat. If they roll above the obstacle's difficulty, it does not hinder their action, and the GM nods for the player to continue. Otherwise, the GM narrates what happens.

    Once the obstacle has been completely overcome narratively, the GM describes the new situation and creates a new obstacle in the same way. Play continues.
    In this game, the character may be going through some stuff. They're late for work. Someone they love has just died. They're trying to figure out if they're just plain rotten to the core, or if they're redeemable. They might be charming, or smart. All that's interesting stuff to explore.

    But the only way of interacting with the system, and of progressing towards resolution, is to interact physically with their environment. All the charm in the world won't help them mechanically overcome the obstacle. Their dog dying won't make it harder or easier mechanically to overcome a snarling Rottweiler.

    If a player ignores the roleplaying and just rolls for actions, all they'll know about their character is that they're stronger than they are dexterous or the other way around.


    Neither of these dictate how much a player roleplays their character, or how detailed the world is. But when playing the actual game--interacting with its mechanics, and progressing towards resolution--the players start to think in a certain way. If the only mechanically useful action you can take is to "Hammer," you can feel free to use said hammer to pick your nose or prise open a can of beans. But only when you actually Hammer something will you interact with the game itself.

    Anyway... sorry for going on about this topic. I'm not trying to force my opinion on people; just trying to figure out how to actually express my ideas in a way that other people can understand. A useful skill for life, I've been told XD
  • I'm not sure that this makes a difference to the point you're trying to make, tap, but when you conflate the "actual game" with a specific resolution mechanic, you might be making a category mistake, unless I'm mistaken.

    In the case of what you're calling the Character Game, the rules are this: (1) establish a situation in which characters could hold conflicting beliefs, (2) create characters that do in fact hold conflicting beliefs, assign them each a Love and a Hate score, give each player a number of chips, and then (3) begin role-playing in the situation. As the situation develops, (4) players may interject "facts" as background information. (5) When a player believes that their character has scored a point in the argument, they decide whether they're arguing from Love or from Hate which they then add to the roll of a d6. They add or subtract the difference between the number of chips they have and the number of chips their opponent has. If another player finds an argumentative player's point particularly compelling, they may give them one of their own chips. If the result of the modified die roll is 3+, the player scores a point. For any pair of antagonists, the best of 5 wins. (Alternately, you may mean once 5 points have been scored in total, the player with the most points wins).

    Thus, the game system isn't just the love/hate mechanic; it's everything that goes into establishing what's true in the fiction for everyone at the table. And notice how much of that isn't focused on character at all. For example, it is not clear whether the interjection of facts must be in-character or not, and they seem only to have game-mechanical weight to the extent that their incorporation into an argumentative player's point-making impresses another player sufficiently as to make them willing to fork over a chip. Similarly, the best-of-five victory point thing is a player-level mechanic rather than a character-level one, or even a fictional one--it's not clear what's at stake in the conflict between any pair of characters. Additionally, who decides whether the character is speaking from Love or from Hate? It makes a difference whether it's the player themself or another player, or the GM.

    So your straw man is making me want to burn him in effigy, since the other parts of the game system look like they're really player-focused, and even the love/hate mechanic only focuses attention on the character to the extent that the decision about which is appropriate is a product of the ongoing role-playing conversation rather than a private decision on the part of the player, who need not think about their character at all in order to choose Love or Hate. They can just pick the bigger number. Now, you mention that the player will need to rationalize or justify that decision, but you might mean only to themself rather than publicly.

    In any case, I'm cool with the notion that "system matters" to the experience of play, but we should be clear about what the system is in any given instance. In this case, the things that make the game about character are really the parts where we create characters and then role-play them.
  • @Bill_White: Hrm. I guess my examples weren't great. XD Maybe something simpler will help me communicate.

    One factor is what thought processes a player has to put into action in order to make use of the mechanics during play. For example, if the actions you can take are "sympathise" or "empathise" that's going to be a lot easier to use in social interactions that physical ones. If the actions are "hit" or "jump," they're harder to use in social interactions.

    Something similar happens in character creation. If each player has to choose "shy" or "outgoing" for their character, it will encourage roleplaying a certain kind of personality during play. If they have to choose between "brawny" or "agile," it will encourage them to use their brawn or agility to interact with the world.

    As for play, let's say there's a super simple system. First define 2 opposite and conflicting beliefs, both with a value of 3. During play, if you act on one belief it gains +1 and the other gains -1. And if you act against a belief, it gains -1 and the other gains +1. Your aim is to get one belief to 6 and the other to zero, and "find peace." And the GM's job is to force you to pick one over the other and keep you in conflict.

    In this case, mechanically it doesn't really matter what's going on in the world; all that matters is how your character deals with it. There can be monsters you have to fight, space marines to kill... there can be diplomatic leaders you have to convince, and locks to pick. But unless those encounters cause the character to question their beliefs and are forced to pick a side in that instance, the mechanics won't be used. The "game" part of the game won't happen, won't progress, unless the character's inner psyche is tested. So that's kinda got to happen.

    I should probably quit while I'm ahead (in my own mind at least), but I'll try this for a so-called "World" game. Pick two specific physical interactions that would be difficult to pull off; these are your character's "signature moves." If you can use those moves because the fictional positioning allows you to (ask the GM), you automatically overcome the obstacle. The GM's job is to create obstacles that are impossible to use those moves on; it's up to the player to describe how they go about things to get in their signature move.

    Here, the only focus of the game is to "punch real good" or "hack the crap out of those servers" or whatever. There can be a rich backstory to the character, or he could be beating himself up over a past mistake... but all that matters is doing the thing. Encounters causing him to question his sanity are all well and good, but they won't be useful for playing the game itself. No mechanics would be used, so the game wouldn't actually progress. So then what you need to do (as a GM) to play this game is to create obstacles that can be physically interacted with. Then the player will spend their time trying to understand how the world works, what their goal is, and how to maneuver things within the world to accomplish it.

    Does that make any more sense, or is it just getting murkier? XD
  • It makes something clear, but what is it ?
  • One seems to be far more about emotion, psychology, and motivation - mental and emotional - while the other is about physical actions.

    In both cases, though, there is a character, external stimuli, a world or context, and then both physical and mental/emotional activity on the part of the character.

    For instance, what if the "Hit/Jump" character decides that he is frustrated after a long day of work and wants to blow off steam, so he puts on some music and starts jumping around and punching the air (perhaps while imagining his boss and coworkers in the air in front of him)?
  • Words used in the game presentation set expectations for the game. They can be interpreted loosely, but they still are part of "what the game is about". Including the question "How does your character feel ?" at various steps of the game makes it very hard for it not to be about character emotions.
  • @Paul_T: I think you got roughly what I was saying. Most games have a world and characters, but the question is, does the game favour the simulation/change/manipulation of one over the other? If more often the characters mechanically manipulate the world (hit/jump), I would call that a "World" game. If more often the world mechanically manipulates the characters (forcing belief vs belief), I would call that a "Character" game. A game can have a smidge of both sides. But a lot of games generally focus on making one side of the equation more interesting and used more often than the other. That's the idea, anyway...

    So my thought is that character stuff can happen in a world game beyond the mechanics. And world stuff can happen in a story game beyond the mechanics. But when talking about design, nothing really matters beyond the mechanics themselves. People can play Rick & Morty using D&D rules. XD

    Regarding your example, that character can do whatever he likes. But it won't have any effect on the "game"--as in, actually using the mechanics and pushing the game onward.
  • @DeReel: Spot on, mate! Exactly where I'm coming from. ^^
  • I still feel that it is a false dichotomy. I can make a game that's about mental/emotional interests that's deeply about the "world" (your relationships with others, how your emotions allow you to accomplish tasks or goals, etc). I can also make a game that's about physical action that's nevertheless about Character (perhaps a game where, like in Prompt to some extent, it's physical actions which effect change upon the Character).

    It's worth thinking about, but, in my opinion, the best games address a combination of the two in a compelling way.
  • @Paul_T: I agree. The best games do both, and even combine them in such a way as to be inseparable. That's kind of how I want Prompt to be. (Though the Character side is more important, as the World side comes from the characters, which inherently binds them together.)

    In a lot of games, the character doesn't change, though. Particularly more traditional "adventure" games. D&D has no mechanics for character change, but it has plenty of stuff for the character's ability to interact with the world to change over time.

    Most of my comments here have been trying to show that mechanics influence play, and the focus of the players. This was with the goal of showing that there is a difference between "World-focussed" and "Character-focussed" mechanics. But I've always known you can have both kinds of mechanics in the same game. And as you say, the best games blend the two into one holistic system. ^^
  • edited December 2017
    You've got to count downtime and complexity. You can build two or more focuses in one mechanism, that is right. But this has limits.

    Maybe its only my limits and you can help me :
    If you want to enforce a coherent Setting this will add ever growing information management for the players. If you want Drama you've got to set it up before it pays off. If you want a coherent Story you've got to build part of it from the end backward. Trying to manage the 3 at the same time ? It becomes very complex.
  • @tapgiles Your strawman examples seem like extreme caricatures of existing games. I didn't follow your logic. Was your goal sardonic parody?

    Different people like different mechanics. Different people use different mechanics differently. People can use D&D 5 to tell stories that are character-centered, world-centered, or anywhere in between. We can debate that assertion if you would like. If we are in agreement about that assertion, then the next point I would make is this: did the creators of D&D 5 have to worry about character/world centeredness, tone, etc when designing the game? I don't think they did, and D&D 5 is used in many different ways.

    Ergo, it might be helpful for some designers to think about directing how their game will be used, and might be anti-helpful for other designers to try to direct how players will play their game.

    Whatever works, works.

    A note about physical stats. This relates to my own personal preferences. No right, no wrong. Just preference.

    I like games that give me tons of latitude about who my PC is, was, and will be. No pinning them down unless I want to (ala GURPS advantages and disadvantages). They can grow and change or maintain the predictable pattern of perceived personality. Because my experience with people in the real world is that sometimes they are predictable, and other times unpredictable. And it's hard to say just how much social currency it takes to turn on a tight axis. I could leave my family tomorrow and be a deadbeat. Or I could give every dollar I've got to a charity tomorrow. I have surprised myself with kindness and cruelty in the past. I think it's part of being human.

    But hard stats about strength or dexterity are meant to model the real world limitations we all have. And I like those. Because I could also decide to become the world's master hacker tomorrow. Or win a marathon. But those decisions won't turn on a tight axis. And my decision alone would not bring them about. It would take a lot of work. It's likely I would not reach my goal.


    If you don't like certain kinds of games, certain play styles, then by all means don't waste your time on them. But please don't set them up as a foil to your preferred games either.
  • I still feel that it is a false dichotomy. I can make a game that's about mental/emotional interests that's deeply about the "world" (your relationships with others, how your emotions allow you to accomplish tasks or goals, etc). I can also make a game that's about physical action that's nevertheless about Character (perhaps a game where, like in Prompt to some extent, it's physical actions which effect change upon the Character).
    I agree with this statement. There might be a lot more axes at play as well. It might help, from a design standpoint, to lay out some axes: personal/world, emotional/external, etc.

    If the axes are a helpful tool, then awesome.

    But as a way to start categorizing games? And with such varied ways that games are played?

    Best to stick to more easily defined game practices when categorizing: GM, no GM, shared GMing responsibilities---pre-existing world, emerging world, co-created world---hard and fast rules, table interpreted rules, group vote---etc etc etc. I personally find these distinctions of huge importance from a design standpoint.

  • @Mongrel_GM: Hey there! ^^

    I'm looking at mechanics only. If there was nothing added to them by the players, what kind of narrative beats would the mechanic alone create? If you have the ability to "Roll Strength" to succeed or fail at some action, what actions could you attempt that would use that mechanic? If you have the ability to "Roll Empathy" to succeed or fail at some action, what actions could you attempt that would use that mechanic?

    This isn't to say there may not be some small overlap between the two. Perhaps you can lift a bus off of a child because you feel for the child. So you roll Empathy. If you succeed in this action, it's in part because you are a more empathetic person. So the mechanical events (trying to lift a bus, using your empathy as fuel to do so, and succeeding) tell an inherent narrative to that moment (you saw a child under a bus and felt for it, you're empathetic person so you moved to act, you succeeded because you were empathetic). In this example, it doesn't matter how strong you were; all that mattered in that moment was how empathetic you were.

    You could be the world's strongest man. You could be an action hero. You could be a weedy teenager who no muscles. You can tell any story you like. The story as a whole can be world-centered or character-centred. But in that moment, it doesn't change the fact that all that mattered was how much you cared about the kid.

    So I would say that mechanic specifically is character-focussed. Maybe it's the wrong term. Maybe personal-focussed is better, maybe emotion-focussed... we can call it anything. All I'm trying to discuss is that individual mechanics have a narrative to them.

    If a game has just this one mechanic--roll Empathy--then that mechanic will be used often while playing the game. And so, whether it's reflected in the overall story or not, there will be moments in which empathy is the only thing that mattered to the success or failure of some attempted action. Even if subconscious, the players will sense this tone--this recurring theme within the game--as they play.

    Most games have more than one mechanic. And each mechanic tells a tiny little narrative arc. If most of the mechanics tell a similar story, then there may be some theme inherent to the system as a whole. Again--this won't dictate the stories you tell using that system. But it will have some influence on what it feels like to play, what the players feel when interacting with the mechanics, etc.

    I'm trying to say a very mild thing, in reality. Though I've had conversations on similar topics in different places online and it seems to be a very hard thing to pull off. I'm not trying to define or categorise. I'm trying to say that the way mechanics work have inherent narratives to them. They may be fleeting and inconsequential to the story as a whole, but there is some effect on the playing of the game.

    In my mind, this is why we design a mechanic in one way instead of another; for the "story" that mechanic tells that is more in keeping with the themes and tone we're going for.
  • @tapgiles I see better where you are coming from. Thx.
  • tapgiles,

    Don't forget that the "stat" you have (some quantifiable measure recorded for the game) and using it for success or failure are just two possible things which come out of traditional game design. There are many others possible - for starters, you're omitting entirely the function of *when or how* we roll.

    For example, it's possible to design a game where your "stat" is Empathy, but you only get to roll it when in you get into a fight - it's tested in violent, physical confrontations.

    That would be an interesting game, right? Perhaps it would be about a killer, and we play to find out whether he develops a conscience or whether he is able to continue killing and turns into a monster, instead.

    But what if that roll also determines the outcome of the fight, or how likely he is to be caught by the Police? Now we've crossed all the wires, and made a rather interesting thing.

    Ultimately, though, even that is limited thinking. Mechanics operate at the player (social) level, and that's where the designer should place her consideration - what are the *players* thinking and saying as they engage these game procedures?

    For instance, what if that Empathy roll isn't a roll at all, but a cue for the *other* players to write down, in secret, their judgement of the character's current emotional state, or morality?

    Now what? Perhaps there's another procedure in your game where you, as the killer, go to confess your sins, and that's where you get to read those judgements, and then you must choose to either a) keep one and adopt it as true, or b) give up on playing that character?

    I'm just brainstorming wildly here, of course; the point is that there are many ways to design and analyze games, and I encourage you to broaden your horizons. Your game in development could use some fresh ideas, I think, and perhaps this will spark some. Looking forward to hearing more about it as it develops! Good luck.
  • @Paul_T: There are infinite varieties of mechanics, and many complex ways of arranging them. They all imply a certain narrative when they are used, however. And that's pretty much the only point I'm making.

    Designers use one mechanic over the other because they decided to. And that decision should be made based on what kind of story they want to encourage--but not limit the players to. I'm not saying the one I use in Prompt for basic action resolution is the absolute best one for the story I want to tell. If they come up with a mechanic that fits their "story" they want their game to hint at, a designer should probably use it.

    I wasn't talking about specific mechanics, but just using the bog standard classic as a quick example--to show how small differences give imply different narratives in the players' heads.
  • Yeah, I think we're really all just blabbering at each other about different terms while we're fundamentally in vigorous agreement here. :)
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