Judgement in roleplaying

edited August 2018 in Story Games
Interested in hearing peoples thoughts on how they feel about other players judging their participation in a game, specifically in a fictitious game where, lets say:

- players take turns narrating scenes
- some form of judgement from other players takes place.

how does the judgement manifest? here are some ways I can think of.
- you get 'points', or applause, or thumbs up/down
- if your game has contests with uncertain outcomes, maybe other players can affect those outcomes in some way, for or against your characters intentions
- other players may modify/take control of the narrative
- other?

what kind of judgement? well, what kinds are there? Here are some I can think of:

- for the delivery of the narrative - description, colour, general engagement
- for the content of the narrative - plot, character development, general appropriateness (is that a word?)
- for the details of the narrative - how well does it match the desired outcomes of other players and/or other PCs intentions?
- other?

Comments

  • Warning: wall of text! TL;DR: Judgement in RPGs can be interesting, but it can so easily be a recipe for disaster.

    Right off the bat, although I'm not forbidding it utterly, this is something with which you have to be very, very careful. The idea of an RPG, especially one with a turn-based scene-narration structure, is to build a story together around a given structure, with everyone throwing their ideas into the mix. These ideas can be as simple as "I think my elf character should attack the goblin" or as complex as "I think the results of the chemical analysis should raise new and stranger questions". Generally, though, the point is that, if someone has authority over what gets to happen, we roll with it. I've played a couple of games with some players where it just wasn't fun anymore because their relationship outside the game allowed one to boss the other around. Essentially, only one of the two ever had authority. Judgement risks stagnating the game, negating player authority, and possibly causing arguments. For example, I once ran a game in a standard grimdark cyberpunk universe where the players got to choose one "superpower". We had a couple of street samurai with badass implants, a couple of hackers with crazy computer skills, and then we had one player who wanted, and I quote, "a northern [north of England] accent that lets me talk to computers". This didn't fit the setting at all, but we went with it and it came out as being extremely interesting and fun.

    That said, in small amounts, judgement can be an intriguing mechanic. I Hit It with My Axe, from Dangerous Games, is a good example of this, I think. Part of the mechanic consists of players going around the circle and trying to top each others' boasts: "I could kill the dragon", "I could kill the dragon wearing no armour", "I could kill the dragon with no armour, even after reaching it by going through the deadly swamp", and so on. Eventually, one player will say something like "That's enough", and the last player to boast has to actually go on the quest. It's quite subtle, but it gives players a chance to quickly stop an idea that they think could go very badly out of control.

    There are also games that center around awarding dice for good narration -- narrate five actions on your turn, get five dice. These are extremely careful to keep from getting bogged down in details, and the dice are awarded by the GM and not other players.

    Finally, the idea of "judging another player" isn't necessary for some of what you suggest. "If your game has contests with uncertain outcomes, maybe other players can affect those outcomes in some way, for or against your characters intentions" is basically the one-sentence summary of every game in which the PCs aren't all working together. "Other players may modify/take control of the narrative" should happen many, many times over the course of a good session of any RPG, at predefined breaks in the action or when the currently speaking player yields authority to someone else. (Doing this through player judgement risks being an absolute disaster. Imagine how you would react if someone said "I'm sorry, I don't think you've been delivering this narrative well enough, so I'm just going to take control of this scene away from you.")

    That's a lot more than I thought I was going to write, and I do apologise if I came across as being nasty. You've got some interesting ideas, but I just think that they need a serious disclaimer. I'm intrigued to hear what other people think about this!
  • I've played a couple of games with some players where it just wasn't fun anymore because their relationship outside the game allowed one to boss the other around. Essentially, only one of the two ever had authority. Judgement risks stagnating the game, negating player authority, and possibly causing arguments.
    I respectfully submit that this has very little to do with Judgement in Games and quite a lot to do with dysfunctional out of game dynamics making their way into the game.
  • The entire idea about creative agenda (what y'all get out of playing that particular game together) is that it has to be reinforced socially, and that means cheering each other when you're "on" and frowning at each other when you're "off." In Right to Dream (sim) play, the judgment (an editing process) is absolutely required to maintain the fidelity of the thing you're all jazzed about. But that editing process occurs in all functional gaming groups.
  • I respectfully submit that this has very little to do with Judgement in Games and quite a lot to do with dysfunctional out of game dynamics making their way into the game.
    If you don't want your house to be destroyed by an earthquake, you can build a sturdy one inside an earthquake zone or a flimsy one outside of it. Both are valid options, though I'd argue that being able to withstand a degree of "dysfunctional out of game dynamics" (however they manifest) is a laudable quality in a game-as-cultural-object (as opposed to game-as-individual-event) regardless of whether or not that situation exists in any given group. It's not necessarily the explicit job of a game designer to address those issues, but that doesn't mean that designing to mitigate it doesn't potentially add value to your game.
  • edited August 2018
    Adam's on the ball here. Creative priorities have to be reinforced socially for the game to function at its best.

    Aside from that, I haven't had any good experiences with games which try to get us to judge "who's the best player" or give awards based on the quality of roleplaying or anything similar.

    On the other hand, give us tools to reinforce elements of fiction or gameplay which we are grooving on, and that's excellent, in my experience.

    "Which player did the best job in the scene?", for instance, is generally not useful or helpful, in my experience. However, "Which NPC would you like to learn more about?", or perhaps even "Which player do we want to play the Red Duke?" are much more interesting and fruitful things to determine.

    Give us tools to support the best gameplay we can get, in other words, not to judge each other. Even though those tools ultimately do come down to judgement in some form, they are best when they are about improving the quality of the *game*, irrespective of the quality of the *participants*.
  • Judgement is just another name for "preference". You cannot really forbid judgement, you can only structure it in various ways to focus it on things that matter, and time it so it comes up at the best time, and construe it in a way that doesn't cause a mental breakdown on some other player's part.

    But ultimately, if you don't have judgement you don't have a game. A player choosing which character class to take is "judging" the classes. If the GM designed the class selection, they're "judging" between the GM's creations. If the GM loves one class the best, the player who dislikes that class is critiquing the GM's earnest effort at contributing to the game. Nothing is safe if players are actually allowed to have preferences.
  • Gaming would be so much easier without the players.
  • I've been through a lot of iterations with this in my supervillain game, from straight-up tossing fanmail in the moment (a la Primetime Adventures) to choosing who to pass your currency on to (a la Penny For My Thoughts) to voting for favorite characters and character components.

    Some players have very opposite preferences on this. Some love playing the "get & give rewards" game, while others hate feeling judged and find it feels like a popularity contest. I have been trying to please both and I just don't think it's possible within the same group at the same time. What I'll probably do is publish with the awards system but include an alternative, completely different system, for groups who hate awards.

    I've found that the most valuable (to me, as the designer) function of judgment/rewards is communicating preferences for contributions to the fiction, and fostering coherence on that score. Accordingly, players need some guidance (make this award about the fiction! let us know what it's for!) but not too much (giving someone a token because you vaguely like what they did but can't say why, and then trying to make up some justification for why which fits an overly-specific framework: that's useless).

    Beyond all that, Steve, you can also use judged awards as currency to regulate participation. Like, if you earn points for participating well, and then receiving points gives you increased ability to participate, you can either have (a) a victory spiral where whoever's talking most just talks more, or (b) a regulating mechanism, where the big talkers have to give their tokens away so that other people get to talk more.
  • Finally, the idea of "judging another player" isn't necessary for some of what you suggest. "If your game has contests with uncertain outcomes, maybe other players can affect those outcomes in some way, for or against your characters intentions" is basically the one-sentence summary of every game in which the PCs aren't all working together. "Other players may modify/take control of the narrative" should happen many, many times over the course of a good session of any RPG, at predefined breaks in the action or when the currently speaking player yields authority to someone else. (Doing this through player judgement risks being an absolute disaster. Imagine how you would react if someone said "I'm sorry, I don't think you've been delivering this narrative well enough, so I'm just going to take control of this scene away from you.")
    ah yes, specifically I am thinking of .. err I dont know the term - meta-mechanics? Out of character mechanics? player mechanics? Whatever its called, they are ways the player can do the above whether their character is involved or not.

    So for the first example -- a game in which other players affect contest outcomes of the spotlight character by voting for their preferred outcome.

    And in the second instance, players 'take over' the narrative literally. A game called Pantheon, for instance, has this mechanic which it calls the 'Narrative Cage Match' system
  • I tried to play around with interpretation and more biblical style judgement (but also player to player judgement like you're talking about) in my 200 word RPG this year. I don't think I fully nailed the 200 word format and so it might not be the most clear but basically the game is about players reaching a consensus about the rules, and introducing new rules, and if they don't follow any of the rules they may be judged unworthy and while they are unworthy they fail at the things they attempt. Might be of some interest.

    https://200wordrpg.github.io/2018/rpg/2018/05/22/RulesasGod.html
  • Subjective judgement like this is something I for a couple of reasons always have felt a little "unreliable" to build a game mechanic on. Examples: The end-of-session voting in Hillfolk was the first thing to go in our hack of it. Apples to Apples & CAH pretty much sucks because of the "play to the judge" factor (and Say Anything is much much worse!). And I hate the Penny for my Thoughts game.

    The thought that always pops up in my head is "Yeah, but... how do we find out who was really the best", like, I somehow don't trust the process of the judging as I would a die roll or a rule application.
  • Some people feel confortable with jumping to conclusions about things while some people prefer to stay impartial as long as possible. Check MBTI for the Judging vs Perceiving preference pairs if you have never heard about this.
  • I think any RPG which is substantially about players entertaining each other could probably benefit from an approach as direct as Apples/CAH/Say Anything's explicit "play to the judge" structure.

    I'm not saying that all RPGs are like this! But some are, and in that case, going through the fiction entirely, and leaving "who likes what" up to the group to either bring it up or not, is risky.

  • The thought that always pops up in my head is "Yeah, but... how do we find out who was really the best", like, I somehow don't trust the process of the judging as I would a die roll or a rule application.
    I am confused. You think that having everyone at the table make a best guess judgement is less reliable than "I rolled a 6 and you rolled a 3" as a method of determining quality?
  • edited August 2018
    Interested in hearing peoples thoughts on how they feel about other players judging their participation in a game, specifically in a fictitious game where, lets say:

    - players take turns narrating scenes
    - some form of judgement from other players takes place.
    First things first, in a normal game, never focus on or try to determine who’s the best player, it’s a horrible idea. And, especially, don’t comment on who are the best players.

    Maybe a mechanic that rewards “the best player/s” would work for the right type of game made for the type of player who’s interested in this type of thing, but it doesn’t seem super productive in my estimation.

    Now to discuss issues that can arise, which do need to be addressed in relation to your question, when it comes to GMless collaborative Story Game.

    The GMless collaborative Story Game design space is the space I’m most familiar in and is the one place in game design I would consider myself qualified to speak on.

    I disagree with some designers in the GMless Collaborative Story Game space who think that other players in the group never have the right to suggest modifications to an acting player’s narrative contributions.

    Here is the best solution I’ve come up with:

    When the active player makes a contribution to the narrative that either...
    1. Significantly disrupts the verisimilitude of the story.
    2. Significantly undermines the tone of the story.
    3. Significantly undermines the coherency of the story.
    ...then another player can say “How about...” and give a suggestion that tries to keep the spirit of the active players contribution in tact, but that remedies the precived issue with the contribution.

    A player can only suggest a narrative modification if they actually have a alternative in mind; they can’t just say, “How about...” and not present an alternative. You also can’t just use the “How about...” mechanic if you don’t like the other player’s narrative contribution; the active player’s contribution must meet one of the three criteria outlined above in order for a modification to be suggested, and players are expected to act in good-will in this regard.

    Anyone in the group can also inteject and discuss the suggested modification and suggest another and then the players can come to a consensus about what the ultimate modification to the narrative should be.

    Finally, the “How about...” rule should be used sparingly and should never be used as a way for one player to monopolize the story.

    P. S.
    Upon rereading your question again, I think I might actually have a sort of “judgment” rule, given the way you loosely define it, in one of the RPGs I’m designing. In the game, which is a GMless collaborative story game, players can earn tokens by building on elements of the story that were introduced by there fellow players.

    So, for example, if another PC created a scene in which they poisoned an NPC and the king is now trying to find the culprit. When it’s my term to create a scene, I could have my player deduce, and tell the king, that the poison was made by a type of flower that is known to grow in only place in the kingdom, and therefore the poisoner may be connected to this place somehow.

    So because my PC reintroduced the poison and other ideas from the previous player’s scene, my PC would earn a token, and there is a narrative mechanic that makes it so the token can be spent to influence the narrative.

    So I think for mechanics similar to those above, “judgement” could be useful, although I’m not sure I would call it judgement. I would just call it a mechanic which is designed to create the effect in the game that you would like it to have. Anyway, I don’t think the typical types of judgement, like how “good” someone is role playing, are likely to add anything good to the RPG experience.
  • edited August 2018
    Airk, it's my experience that humans tend to be pretty awful at actually understanding/explaining why we do things; there's a lot of ideological garbage that can get in the way (for better and for worse, depending on one's objectives). I've seen some criticisms of machine learning and artificial intelligence that claim that this is creating huge walls, because people end up trying to train systems to conform to the ideological justifications for how we act, rather than recreate processes themselves.

    So for example, if someone's play involves an aspect of investigating the systems and processes by which we play, human judgement can be a terribly inscrutable black box that's not particularly helpful for that goal.
  • Airk, it's my experience that humans tend to be pretty awful at actually understanding/explaining why we do things; there's a lot of ideological garbage that can get in the way (for better and for worse, depending on one's objectives). I've seen some criticisms of machine learning and artificial intelligence that claim that this is creating huge walls, because people end up trying to train systems to conform to the ideological justifications for how we act, rather than recreate processes themselves.
    With you so far...

    So for example, if someone's play involves an aspect of investigating the systems and processes by which we play, human judgement can be a terribly inscrutable black box that's not particularly helpful for that goal.
    On the other hand, I don't understand what this means at all.
  • How to put this another way...

    The mechanics we have written down in rulebooks tend to be very straightforward (under ideal circumstances, at any rate): we can read them, easily reproduce them, and hopefully grok something of their intent. The game as presented is a sort of dialogue with its creator, and if we want to be open to what they're trying to convey, letting the game mechanics overwrite our personal interpretations at certain points is how we do that.

    The more of ourselves we put in there, the more we resist giving ourselves over, the more we push back against becoming possessed by the game, the harder it becomes to hear what the game is trying to say. Part of what I think makes games a potentially powerful medium for conveying things, and why play is such an integral part of psychological development, is the fact that we have to understand, internalize, and enact the rules in order to get something out of it.

    That's not to say that all games have a particularly powerful voice, or that this is some sort of universal right way to play or anything: lots of games actually want us to throw ourselves into them rather than the other way around, they're just there to prod us. But if actually listening to the game is something that's important to a player, then it's best to not try to talk over it. The more work the player has to do to separate their own contributions from the game's, the more muddied that message can become. It's not an end-run around the interpretive problems of subjectivity, but I do think it can help lessen its impact.
  • There is a thing I sometimes bring up about the implementations of game mechanics, and that thing is hidden modifications. Like when a game master demands roll after roll to succeed, or give modifications so there is a chance to fail (or succeed). Whenever the game master enforce a game mechanic, it may sometimes be a judgment call. Should we roll for this or should the game master roll with it? Should we ignore the rules or should we make up our own on the spot (hello OSR)?
  • Interested in hearing peoples thoughts on how they feel about other players judging their participation in a game, specifically in a fictitious game where, lets say:

    - players take turns narrating scenes
    - some form of judgement from other players takes place.
    So because my PC reintroduced the poison and other ideas from the previous player’s scene, my PC would earn a token, and there is a narrative mechanic that makes it so the token can be spent to influence the narrative.
    Thats a nice idea, and as far as Im concerned it is a form of judgement because players are choosing which elements of someone elses narrative are worthy of reintroducing. based in how interesting/fitting/easy it is to do so . Its a soft form of judgement



  • edited August 2018
    One judgment mechanic I really like is in the collaborative storytelling game Zombie Cinema where the players that aren't involved in the conflict can give supporting dice to whatever side, if they want to. The reasons why can differ, for example if one outcome will benefit the their own characters, if one storyline would be cooler, or if they are cheering on a character.
  • @Rickard yes, thats elegant

  • The thought that always pops up in my head is "Yeah, but... how do we find out who was really the best", like, I somehow don't trust the process of the judging as I would a die roll or a rule application.
    I am confused. You think that having everyone at the table make a best guess judgement is less reliable than "I rolled a 6 and you rolled a 3" as a method of determining quality?
    It seems you have a correct understanding of my position, yes♥

    So no need for confusion.

    A dice roll = 50% chance of being right

    Human judgment = 99% chance of being biased BS. In my (perhaps very unlucky and unrepresentative-of-reality-at-large) experience
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