Scholarly/industry jargon

edited May 17 in Story Games
Hi, all! I'm usually a pretty quiet lurker around here, but lately I've been brewing a sort of series of questions in my head as I thumb through rulebooks and forums. It seems that there is a sizeable contingent who hold that the Forge-centric theory, and by extension the jargon used, is dated. Some have even used the word "debunked" to describe the essays there.

To that end, I see a lot of jargon being used in the threads here, the /r/RPGdesign subreddit, and elsewhere that I don't immediately understand, and I was wondering where is a good place for me to find theoretical breakdowns of RPGs. As I'm not actively involved with the tabletop gaming industry to the extent a lot of you are, I'm missing out on the creation and dissemination of the terms and concepts being used. I can make sense of a lot of them through context, but sometimes I come across a word that I can't parse.

Are these terms being created here, by the authors of the games themselves, or by scholars in essays I can access somewhere? I'd love to do a deeper dive into the theory, especially more recent theory.

Thanks for reading!

Logan

Comments

  • A lot of the stuff though is being created here; like "uh, I'm gonna describe this… uh… thing… that I've observed [or observed the lack of], and I'm gonna call it… frobnication." followed by 200 posts about the merits and flaws of frobnication and how to best achieve or avoid it.
  • edited May 17
    Thanks for the links. I just wish I had better forum-combing skills. Trying to find a definition or origin of a term can be so difficult when there are 200 posts about frobnication in 30 separate threads.

    As to my other question, could you tell me the general temperature of this forum on the Forge and its theories? Are they still held in high regard, or is there something new and shiny to replace GNS/GDS/whatever?
  • GNS is outdated and irrelevant these days, but there isn't really a replacement yet. RPG theory hasn't really been terribly organized since the Forge...
  • edited May 17
  • Could you link that, Sandra? All I've been able to find from RISS in the past is your Rails/Skill/Impro/Sandbox thing. Is there more, or is that it?
  • GNS is outdated and irrelevant these days, but there isn't really a replacement yet. RPG theory hasn't really been terribly organized since the Forge...

    That's what I've sort of found to be true, but I've had a difficult time finding out just what about GNS is the hang-up. Is it because it is limited in that it assumes there are only three types of gameplay? Is it because it describes how players interface with a game top-down rather than how the game is designed bottom-up?
  • Realistically it's just that games aren't made the same way that they were back then. Most stuff these days is made for a mix of those types, or for different types altogether. There's a lot of games nowadays that just don't fit into the model at all, you know?
  • What got me thinking was tinkering with Ironsworn recently, and looking into other single-player RPGs. I haven't really seen anything that deals with those. I run solo (well, I guess they're more like duet) campaigns for my wife, and Ironsworn allows for a single player to play without the GM, and that messes with a lot of the theories of play I've seen.
  • Could you link that, Sandra? All I’ve been able to find from RISS in the past is your Rails/Skill/Impro/Sandbox thing. Is there more, or is that it?

    That’s it! Especially had Chuubo’s in mind when thinking of a collab take on the “gnusto” corner.

    That’s what I’ve sort of found to be true, but I’ve had a difficult time finding out just what about GNS is the hang-up. Is it because it is limited in that it assumes there are only three types of gameplay? Is it because it describes how players interface with a game top-down rather than how the game is designed bottom-up?

    The orig intent I had in mind with RISS was to take the old Threefold definition of Sim which is (and I’d guess @jhkim would agree) very different from the “exploration” style Sim of the GNS / Big Model, place that in one corner.

    Add gamism, which both the Threefold and the GNS treat about equally well (there’s been lots of new developments in that corner w/, for example, 4e) and put that in another corner.

    The main thing I wanted to do though was to split up the “create a story at the table” from “play out a pre-created story”; two very common and very different play styles and put them in separate corners. It’s like there was this super common playstyle (playing through adventure paths) that the GNS didn’t even acknowledge.

    I also tried to find specific ways the corners could play along nicely or come in conflict.

    As always, once you’ve made a fork of something, it takes a life of its own and my understanding of the four corners has kept on evolving, sometimes drastically & itcompatibly, since the GNS days.

  • The main thing I wanted to do though was to split up the “create a story at the table” from “play out a pre-created story”; two very common and very different play styles and put them in separate corners. It’s like there was this super common playstyle (playing through adventure paths) that the GNS didn’t even acknowledge.
    Wow, yeah, that's a really good point. So many games now are collaboratively created narratives, which is amazing from my perspective as a Creative Writing/Reader Response Theory lover.
  • I figured you had Chuubo's in mind when thinking of that! :)
  • Yeah and forum roleplaying; I wasn't participating myself but I was reading a bunch of stuff that people had done that was pretty awesome♥
  • Most stuff these days is made for a mix of those types, or for different types altogether. There's a lot of games nowadays that just don't fit into the model at all, you know?

    Genres are for marketers; taxonomies are for academics. Give artists a boundary and they'll cross it. :-)

  • Genres are for marketers; taxonomies are for academics. Give artists a boundary and they'll cross it. :-)
    What about academic artists? :neutral:
  • Right; that's my day job rn working for an artist researcher
  • @2097, that RISS thing is brilliant. Except I’m pretty sure “Impronitfol” is already the name of an acne medication (sold as “Zitster”) that was withdrawn after several users went into seizures where they chanted “yes, and” endlessly. So you might want to find another name.
  • So the two biggest theorists of the Forge were Ron Edwards and Vincent Baker. Edwards created GNS (now called The Big Model). A lot of the jargon you’ll see comes from the Forge and there is a glossary that explains it.

    http://indie-rpgs.com/_articles/glossary.html

    Pretty much the rest of the jargon you’ll see comes from Vincent Baker’s site. 2097 links to it in their first post.

    I think everybody you’ll ask will have a different opinion on GNS. Baker said it’s out lived it’s usefulness, Edwards disagrees. The best, current, presentation of GNS (imo) is a pdf called the porcudialogues. It’s available if you’re a patreon on Edwards site (you might need to e-mail him for it).
  • edited May 17
    To me it's clearer to state, as you began to with " looking into other single-player RPGs. " what playstyle, niche or corner you want to explore, and start from there, with a project in mind (which could be simply, improve play by understanding what it is you do). Chances are that experts will tell you about their vision of this particular corner.
    You'll soon have enough propulsion and autonomy to cross some territorial boundaries - always for your personal project - and gather a "polarized" vision of the wider field, which I think is more important than a tentative "objective" formalization. Well, at least that's what happened for me.
    @Rickard helped me into a section of his big library, but I don't know if he tried solo RPGs. @zircher may know more about solo games (based on this quote "I consider Sophia Brandt's DieHeart.net a great resource for solo gaming")
    TL;DR action and reflexion go together, what do you want the words for ?
  • 2097 links to it in their first post.

    Hahah no I am not two-thousand ninety seven different people ♥
    Just "in her first post" is fine. Don't worry, I'm not royalty either. (Yet)

  • edited May 17
    I have a few more specific comments on this topic:

    1. While we've had a number of people in this thread speak out against The Big Model in terms of relevance and use, that's not true for everyone. I haven't seen The Big Model superceded yet by a better one, and often think in terms of its format when that would help a discussion move along or help me work through a design or play problem.

    Many people still use those ideas, whether explicitly or implicitly.

    However, some of the theory was either controversial or became linked, in people's minds, to controversy and online debates. For this reason, many people intentionally avoid speaking or writing in Big Model terms online, except when in discussion with someone who they know is well-versed in that theoretical language.

    So, I now see a lot of people still thinking in those terms, but preferring to express themselves in plain language. I see this as a good thing! The ideas can survive, spreading beyond the confines of a limited vocabulary only an "inner circle" can understand.

    2. Vincent Baker's disavowal of The Big Model, by the way, is more subtle and nuanced than many people think (much along the same lines as I just described!). He's "moved on" to using more personal, specific language, but he doesn't think that Forge ideas (including GNS) are incorrect... just obsolete. Here's a quote from him on this topic:

    Given any instance of play, you can sort it into G, N, or S. You can learn to do it yourself. I did it a lot. It's easy(ish), reliable, and satisfying.

    I don't reject GNS because it fails. There aren't any "blurred lines at the edges." There isn't CA-mixing or an unknown fourth agenda or any such counterexample. Nobody's ever brought forward any instance of play that disproves GNS in any way.

    My friends who are still into GNS are still into it because it works. It used to work, and nothing's changed about roleplaying or about it. Of course it still works.
    [...]

    GNS never failed, never will.

    Nobody's ever brought forward an instance of play or a rpg that has contradicted GNS. The people who've thought they have, really honestly haven't.

    That's why it was convincing.

    [...]

    We honestly can sort every instance of play cleanly into one of them, just as the Big Model asserts. We honestly can sort every non-poor rpg design cleanly into one of them. Trying to mix them in play honestly does reliably mess up people's enjoyment, you can watch it happen every time.

    I've never seen or heard anything that makes me think otherwise.

    It's ALSO limited and misleading, from my view. But it's not wrong, just obsolete (a word I have always chosen carefully).

    [...]

    Oh, and Narrativism is additionally the spec and rallying cry of an rpg design movement. As a creative agenda, it's obsolete, but as a design spec and rallying cry, it remains fully current and fruitful.

    3. Story Games has its own take on that, with posts like "Story Games is not the Forge", which used to be stickied to the top of the forum. Basically, our aim is to be inclusive. Because so many people here at S-G were former Forge members (no longer true, by the way, but it was the case 10-15 years ago), there was a lot of jargon being thrown around.

    One of the goals of this community is to keep discussion inclusive and welcoming. That means defining the terms you use, if you can't stick to plain language, and for people to feel that:

    * If you don't know or understand something, you can simply ask, and

    * That, when you do, you'll get a good answer (instead of, say, condescension or being shut out of the conversation).

    4. There really isn't any "industry jargon" that everyone agrees on. Not here, not elsewhere. Sure, each small RPG community might have some language they tend to throw around, but none of it is universally understood, from what I can see. Usage varies, always.

    There are some terms that go way back (like, say, "sandbox") and are used widely around, but even those can really vary in definition from place to place, and from genre to genre (they get used in computer/video games, too, for instance, and there they are bound to mean something different, as it's a different medium).

    5. So, why do we see all kinds of weird terminology? Well, shorthand words for ideas we don't want to define every single time make communication more efficient. Some people are really fond of coming up with words for things, and when they get into repeated conversations with each other here on Story Games, those words start getting used with some regularity.

    That's OK, so long as people aren't afraid to ask, and we all remember to get back to plain language when we need to (especially when someone new joins the discussion). Just like in normal life.

    tl;dr?

    There's no consistent "lexicon". Even two people using the same term don't always means the same thing .Don't be afraid to ask when you don't understand something. When you write, try to explain your terms, and answer sincerely and generously when someone seems confused.

    If you want to learn more about theory, I think your best bet is to start new conversations about it! Go ahead and ask questions. :)
  • In artistic movements at their peak, theory and creation often move together -- I was just at an exhibit of Impressionist art and the docent talked about how the pointillist style of painting (pictures made up of lots of small colored dots, what we would call "pixelated" now) was inspired in part by new theories of how the eye sees color.

    That was one of the exciting things about kibitzing at the Forge, back in the day, seeing serious thinkers and designers kick around ideas and come up with new and exciting stuff. Then there's inevitably a phase after the peak, when the fever of creation starts to subside and people start trying to tidy up and regularize the theories. I think that this was why the Forge was turned into an archive -- it had served its purpose.

    I don't agree with Vince Baker that G/N/S is necessarily "obsolete" -- but if it gets revitalized, it will be because somebody who lives, breathes, and sleeps game design has revisited the subject and taken a whole new exciting twist on things.
  • Thanks everyone for the great responses, and @Paul_T in particular for going into such detail about the GNS debate. Definitely lots of food for thought.
  • Made a new thread about one of the more current "frobnication" terms: diegesis
  • I had to look up "frobnication", but that's a killer explanation of diegesis. Thanks! A tricky word indeed; not commonly used in gaming discussions, but really handy when it is.
  • edited May 18
    Paul :bawling: as usual the answer is there if you just ↑↑scroll up↑↑

    Added a similar one for predicate
  • This site is making me feel a lot like I'm playing Ben Grimm.
  • What's Ben Grimm?

    Also, @ChumofChance, welcome, and I want to add a few things. First off, I agree with Vincent that talking G/N/S is not often that useful for various reasons, but that the Big Model is fundamentally an accurate description of how RPGs work. Vincent's own Dice-and-Clouds explanation is accurate and incredibly useful as well.

    Speaking strictly for myself, in early G/N/S days, circa 2005 through maybe 2009, there were definitely times in my own play when I was able to diagnose a seeming social issue at the table by recognizing a Creative Agenda clash and dealing with it that way. It was and is an actual, concrete, relatable tool.

    I think what's happened is largely an instance of thesis --> antithesis --> synthesis. Ron's original G/N/S thinking, and the designs from the early Forge (not just Ron's games, but also things like Polaris, The Pool, My Life With Master, Dogs in the Vineyard, and so on), were absolutely antithetical to the main currents of design in the 90's. The early Forge movement correctly pointed out how the TTRPG industry had fallen into some really bad traps and habits:

    -Too much focus on the GM as storyteller
    -No real respect for mechanics design as an artform
    -The assumption that the default state of play would be an ongoing campaign

    Etc.

    Now, at the same time as this was happening (early 2000s), the mainstream RPG industry (mainly WotC, but others as well), was also going through some changes. They were at least attempting to make their mechanics design more meaningful. 3rd Edition D&D and its many spinoffs in the "d20 glut" were basically bad designs, but they were at least an attempt at coherent design, unlike 2E D&D and Vampire and most other games that were popular in the 90's.

    By the time of about five years ago, you started to see designs that blended the insights of the Forge, the trad gaming world's own reformation, and sometimes even the OSR (very much a "third way" between the two poles of story gaming and trad gaming, and usually pretty respect around here, at least in terms of aesthetics if not politics*). A great example, I think, is the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG (FFGSW henceforth).

    FFGSW is an incredibly slickly-produced line of game products. Amazing full-color art, big hardbound books, supplement treadmill, the works. And yet, if you actually read the system, it's a total dirty-hippy narration-sharing story-game. Or at least, that's the most natural interpretation of how the dice mechanic works. I like it a lot, though it's not perfect: the GMing sections don't actually seem to understand how great the game's actual rules are, and could easily have been written in 1995. There are rules for ways the characters' personal motivations impact play, but they're a bit oddly implemented, and it's not clear how you're supposed to use them for mixed groups (there are actually three "core games": Scoundrels, Rebels, and Jedi, with three different personal motivation rules).

    Still, FFGSW is a great way, in my experience, to show off the very popular SW universe to people who want to roleplay in it. More importantly, though, it's a design that really brings together both Forgite ideas and 90's trad ideas and early 2000's "trad reformation" ones (uh oh I think I just coined a term; off to make a new thread).

    Matt

    *That's a whole can of worms, but basically there are some prominent OSR designers who are Very Bad People.
  • The ever-lovin,' blue-eyed Thing, who often gets on Reed Richards for his love of ten-dollar words.
  • @Deliverator, wow, thank you for your great response. I think you answered my worries perfectly.

    I'm a huge fan of FFG's narrative dice system, and have been playing their Star Wars system ever since they released it. You're right, they have really great design both in the presentation of information (really beautiful books) and in the game engine itself. Encouraging story creation rather than just comparing numbers to a table really livens up the gameplay experience in my opinion. It's also super wonderful for people who haven't played TTRPGs before. I introduced several friends to roleplaying with FFGSW.
  • I played the Warhammer game that preceded the FFGSW games and we found that for it to work, we had to switch from "describe execution, then roll" to "describe intent, roll, then describe execution"; has that been your experience as well? And I'm kinda relieved to be back in a game that doesn't work like that
  • edited May 19
    2097 said:

    I played the Warhammer game that preceded the FFGSW games and we found that for it to work, we had to switch from "describe execution, then roll" to "describe intent, roll, then describe execution"; has that been your experience as well? And I'm kinda relieved to be back in a game that doesn't work like that

    At least for my groups, yes, you say "I want to shoot the stormtrooper," then you roll your ranged skill, and then you interpret the successes/failures and advantage/threats. So maybe you do shoot the stormtrooper, but the shot ricochets and hits a chain holding up some cargo, which falls onto the battlefield to give his buddies cover from your allies' next shots. I don't find it unpleasant at all, as it gets the players invested in creating this movie-like experience. I'm not sure how you could describe the execution/outcome of your roll before you roll. Maybe that's how it was phrased in FFG's WH40k books, but I don't remember it like that for Star Wars.
  • edited May 19
    Yeah it's def more author stance promoting
  • The way we did it was that whoever was making the roll would interpret the outcome of the roll. It's pretty egalitarian. The GM didn't really use fiat to dictate the execution, but maybe that is a quirk of my playgroups rather than an inbuilt aspect of FFG's system.
  • Yeah, the players are co-authoring the movie is what I'm saying
  • Just another example of me not understanding jargon!
  • That's ok♥
    I edited my post to include a link
  • Yes, FFGSW does require players who are comfortable switching between 1st and 3rd person; that may be one of its limitations for many folks.
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