How deep is your roleplaying game?

edited December 2009 in Story Games
I was looking over some very cool stuff for the Games Workshop game, Inquisitor when I started thinking about what makes the bare minimum of a roleplaying game. In the case of Inquisitor, Games Workshop calls it a "narrative wargame" and says a few interesting things in their promo text:
Set in the 41st millennium, Inquisitor is a narrative wargame that allows you to play the part of a bold hero or cruel villain battling in the dark and forgotten shadows of the galaxy. [...] Inquisitor is quite unlike any game you may have played previously. While in Inquisitor players do have objectives to achieve and there can be winners and losers, the main aim of the players is to use the rules and miniatures to create characters and a story on the tabletop. You will not find any army lists or points values in this game, because with Inquisitor it is the task of the players to choose the forces and workout what they are trying to achieve in the game. If you attempt to play Inquisitor from just a competitive standpoint, you will lose much of the enjoyment of the game. With Inquisitor it is possible to make all-conquering heroes who cannot be destroyed and warrior bands which are far superior to anything they might meet. But 'winning' is not the point of Inquisitor.

If you relish the challenge of creating an exciting story, where your characters are never far from deaths jaws then Inquisitor is for you.
Based on this description, I'd say we have ourselves a roleplaying game. One that's fixed to a tabletop and the use of miniatures, but still a roleplaying game. Character? Story? Okay, you have my attention.

Should we choose to accept Inquisitor as a roleplaying game, then the question becomes this: what's the bare minimum a game must offer in terms of story and character formation before we can call it a roleplaying game? Reaching back to Chainmail the first incarnation of what would become D&D, we see nothing of the characteristics we would associate today with roleplay, and yet we still have to call it at least a proto-roleplaying game. Standard 40k wouldn't qualify, but Inquisitor? I think you'd have to say yes.

Thoughts?

Comments

  • Sounds like if you buy yourself a bucket of those little green army men you can do the same thing. Or if you've hung onto your old GI Joe Action figures, or have little lego guys or weeble wobbles or any number of things and use the imagination of your youth, you'll find Inquisitor.
  • But could we call that sort of thing roleplaying? That's the big question.
  • Yes.

    NEXT QUESTION.
  • So is a roleplaying game any game where the player's explicit or implicit goal is to create characters and stories through play?
  • The GW thing is definitely a roleplaying game - after all, it created a new title for the GM. From the rules:

    "Put simply, the Gamesmaster is the player who runs the game. Sometimes the Gamesmaster (or GM for short) has characters to
    control in the game but, more often than not, he will be an additional player, like an impartial referee. As noted above, the GM writes the scenario and helps create the characters the players will be using, and ensures that the game they have created runs smoothly. There are whole sections dedicated to creating characters and devising scenarios later in this book, which will hopefully provide some guidance and ideas for budding GMs. Most importantly, the GM is an adjudicator and umpire. He decides the chances of success and failure of a character's actions, and makes sure that the players keep up with the recordkeeping necessary for the game. Being a GM is more than being an administrator though. The GM may control hidden creatures and forces, and is always aware of what is going on even when
    the other players may not be. He is the narrator in a way, guiding the players through the story that unfolds as they move and fight
    with their characters on the tabletop. Throughout these rules, you will find references to the GM making decisions about various
    rules, alerting the players to different options or hazards and so on. It may seem scary to be the GM at first; it carries a lot of
    responsibility, but it is highly rewarding and this book will provide you with all the help you need to get started."

    To answer your question, Sam, I'm good with calling anything a roleplaying game that someone is excited about calling a roleplaying game.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarTo answer your question, Sam, I'm good with calling anything a roleplaying game that someone is excited about calling a roleplaying game.
    Understandable. But I'm curious to know how bare-bones we can get before we stop calling something a roleplaying game. As FigureFour asks: "[I]s a roleplaying game any game where the players' explicit or implicit goal is to create characters and stories through play?" And is artexercise right when he says just playing with GI Joe would qualify?
  • I think Brett said next question.
  • My point is that a definitional approach is a fool's errand. Let it be subjective.
  • edited December 2009
    Once upon a time, some minis gamers were having a whole lot of fun playing these wargames where they got to use a single little guy ( okay, and maybe a few pals, but not a couple of units or whole army) and having a whole bunch of fun with it. A lot of the games had a fantastical element, because they already owned bunches of ancient and medieval minis, but Tolkien was really big at the time, and so they started adding monsters and stuff too.

    And, because it's a hop skip and jump to start speaking in-character every now and then when you're only playing with a single guy, they did. And lo, this too was fun. So the kept doing it.

    Sadly however, many of their contemporaries thought both fantasy and talking as your little man was, well, dorky, and not at all advanced and mature. Not like pretending to be Rommel or Napolean or something. And shunned were the Little Man Talkers, and they were greatly saddened.

    Oh please, let us back in to the Tribe! the Little Man Talkers cried. But the hearts of their brothers were hardened as unto moulded lead, and the Little Man Talkers were cast out, their brothers saying unto them Call yourselves not of Our Tribe henceforth heretics!!!

    And so the Little man Talkers were greatly saddened, but being greatly fond of their little man talking ways, did spread word of their new method to the UnTribe peoples of the planet. Many of the UnTribe peoplle who liked what they heard were quite young, and had no littlemen.

    And as time passed, the wisdom of the original Little Man Talkers did fade in importance to the UnTribe people who had converted to their ways. And they became known as The People Who Speak Without Littlemen. Yet they did still carry with them the scars from the Casting Out in their hearts.

    And thus did many ages pass. And occasionally, heresy would rear its head amongst The People Who Speak Without Littlemen and one of their tribe would acquire little men and try to use them. And widely were these heretics shunned! You shall not make me pretend to be Rommel or Napolean, for that is the only way that Little Men are used! they would cry. For it is dorky, and not at all advanced or mature! Not like playing an elf, or an emo vampire superhero, or a gay cowboy eating oatmeal!

    Those who would do such things are not of our Tribe, for we are The People Who Speak Without Littlemen, as noted in our people's name.

    And lost to them was their own history, and in ignorance and , err, benightedness they did dwell.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarI'm good with calling anything a roleplaying game that someone is excited about calling a roleplaying game.
    My only real criteria is "Do you play a role?*" Then it's a Role-Playing Game.

    -Andy

    * (if it's not clear, I mean by acting, saying lines, etc in addition to fighting and jumping and taking radiation damage)
  • You can roleplay even if the game is not a roleplaying game (see the army men example above). IMHO, a game turns into an RPG when the narration matters per the rules of the game.
  • Gi Joe's, and little green army men, maybe the naked barbie with the missing arm could be the terrible monster. You're on that side, and I'm over here and we launch these marbles at each others pieces and if they get knocked over then they're dead. You have to make the explosion sound when you blow up someone else's men and scream like your dying when you get hit. Awesome hits can be replayed in slow motion with explosion sounds in slow motion as well accompanied by the splayed out fingertips wriggling dramatically to simulate particle of people and bomb. Oh if if you move your troops then you have to give the command and have reason and your troops have to answer.

    The bookcase is the cliff face and these books over here will be boulders. My men will rappel from the cliff face to get a better shot at your ground troops and invoke karate chop action. "Hi-Ya! Take that soldier man!"

    Oh Yes, all the role-playing without the nuances of mechanics. I leave my disbelief and logic at the door but my fun is more than welcome to come in and enjoy. I can't wait for my boy to get old enough to discover this. I think all participants have to consider it an RPG for the classification. Starting at the back of the Story Game Threads and working forwards looking for hidden gems I discovered that someone's friend places roleplaying level importance on game pieces in non RPGs (Morningstar, I reference your post) http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=813&page=1#Item_47

    Which is to say I will take the stance that both participants are not playing an RPG and the one assigning RPG elements to the game will not classifying as an RPG in that instance either. But if both accept the boardgame structure and make decisions based on a deeper level than is implied in the rules for the sake of the game then it could shift in the direction of being classified as RPG. Hope I phrased that right.
  • edited December 2009
    Incidently, Inquisitor is a sort of strange example, in that it was designed by folks with experience with RPGs for an audience that may well not have been familiar with RPGs (or CRPGs only).

    In general, playing an RPG where minis use is a central part of play has a bunch of other creative constraints than non-minis TTRPGs, the same way LARPs of various kinds have different creative constraints than TTRPGs.

    I also find that miniless TTRPGers tend to be a little unclear about either the creative part or the constraints part of minis use. I also find some pretty striking parallels to the creative constraints of minis use in RPGs with the the creative constraints of LARPs.
  • Posted By: komradebobI also find that miniless TTRPGers tend to be a little unclear about either thecreativepart or theconstraintspart of minis use. I also find some pretty striking parallels to the creative constraints of minis use in RPGs with the the creative constraints of LARPs.
    I'd love to hear more about this in its own thread.
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: Jason MorningstarPosted By: komradebobI also find that miniless TTRPGers tend to be a little unclear about either thecreativepart or theconstraintspart of minis use. I also find some pretty striking parallels to the creative constraints of minis use in RPGs with the the creative constraints of LARPs.
    I'd love to hear more about this in its own thread.

    Okay, back in a flash with a link to the new thread.

    New thread
  • edited December 2009
    Here's another example. When I play Descent: Journeys in the Dark, I'm pretty sure I'm playing a roleplaying game, but not everyone seems to agree with me. What's Descent missing to make it a bona fide roleplaying game?
  • Descent isn't a role-playing game because there's no incentive for (or need for or relevance of) acting. Nor is there any means to do something outside of the four basic actions for a turn. I don't think single characters (or character uniqueness, even) is sufficient to make a role-playing game; otherwise, one could consider Munchkin or Chrononauts RPGs, right?
  • Posted By: Daniel H.Here's another example. When I playDescent: Journeys in the Dark, I'm pretty sure I'm playing a roleplaying game, but not everyone seems to agree with me. What's Descent missing to make it a bona fide roleplaying game?
    I havent' played Descent. Does the fiction have any impact on the game, by constraining or opening up choices or consequences? In other words, does it matter what you or anyone else describes, in actual game mechanic terms?
  • Descent: Nope.

    Everything that matters to gameplay is right there on the board.
  • edited December 2009
    The issue for me is that role-playing and story-telling are subjective qualities.

    A friend of mine is really into story games, and also board games. I happen to also enjoy board games a lot and we play a lot of different games together. However, we frequently come to different conclusions about the quality of (particularly board-) games. I, for example, tend to gravitate towards heavily thematic games like A Game of Thrones and Last Night on Earth. He's more into mathematically sound and highly complex games like Agricola and Brass. While in play, I tend to derive a lot of enjoyment from the events occurring in play as seen through the lens of the game's theme. Games that emphasize this, like the Illuminati! board game (OMG the Servants of Cthulhu just had the CIA destroy the school system with the help of MTV, that's soooo funny), are a great source of enjoyment to me. This enjoyment is all but lost on my friend. However, if the game is well-designed from a balance and complexity level he'll still enjoy it, and it may well be that conversely some aspects of the underlying game design are lost on me.

    One might say, when playing these board games, that I'm "role-playing" or at least "story-telling", while my friend is not (saving his mental energies to crush me with, more likely). Does that make them "role-playing" or "story-" games? See, to me "role-playing" is a very narrow term and therefore misapplied in a great deal of cases, leading from some of my own prototypes all the way to CRPGs, and there is no good definition of a "story-game" that isn't all-encompassing when taken subjectively.

    It's like porn. I know it when I see it.
  • Enjoying a theme =/= roleplaying.

    In the Illuminati example, it's fun and funny that the CIA and the Servants of Cthulhu are working together, but the net impact on the resulting play would have been exactly the same if Card #17 and Card #210 were played together. The color is irrelevant in any mechanical way.
  • Is fantasy baseball a role-playing game?

    Actually, I agree that it's better to just keep it subjective. I was trying to explain DitV to my father once, though, and through that, RPGs in general, and his response was "why would I want to do that?" This question was hard to answer because my answer was so obvious. ("Because it sounds so fun!") I was trying to think of analogues and since he and I have played in the same fantasy baseball league for years (though I've lost a lot of interest, I keep getting roped back in), it occurred to me that we're essentially pretending to be something we're not, i.e., baseball general managers. Of course, our characters have no stats on their own and, while our league usually has a fair amount of trash talk on the discussion board, there is no requirement that the "characters" even communicate at all. Of course, many RPGs let you get away with about the same amount of roleplaying.
  • Christian, the answer is sort of "yes and no." For the Overlord, there is "fiction" (in the form of set pieces that are read aloud) which can affect the basic rules (e.g. make returning to town impossible; instantiate an unkillable foe). But they are more designed to tune the difficulty of the game, not "tell a story." As for the players: not a bit--there's nothing you can act out, say, or propose that (a) will change how the game plays (unless the Overlord just decides to roll with it) or (b) give you more options for how to address a situation. You can Battle (attack twice), Advance (move and attack, in any order, including mixed), Run (double move), or Ready an order (move or attack, then choose Aim, Rest, Guard, or Dodge). There's no "Negotiate" or "Impress" or "Intimidate;" nor is there any mechanics behind saying things, routing enemies when you're mowing them down, etc.

    It's a fun board game which emulates a classic dungeon crawl, with a nice balance of tactics and speed. I can't see it being a "role-playing game" unless that denotes merely "everyone takes on a functional role."
  • An interesting edge case: the Battlestar Galactica board game.

    Okay, so you're accessing the game via a "role" (you play a character from the show, which is loaded up with RPG-equivalent mechanics like skills and exceptions-based gimmicks). There is no GM; the game itself is a cooperative "everyone vs. the mechanics" setup. Everyone is assumed to share the goal of helping humanity survive to the end of the game, except for those people who are secretly playing Cylons. With the Pegasus expansion, there are even Cylons who may have their own private agenda separate from "humans win" or "cylons win."

    Events are generated via game play but the contents of the events are totally irrelevant. Everyone is tossing in their skill cards to affect the outcome: if you're a Cylon, you're secretly trying to sabotage the event and if you're human, you're trying to ensure the event doesn't hurt you. So on the event level of play, it's a board game. The fiction does not matter.

    Here's where BSGtBG IMO is an edge case: In the course of play, a ton of fictional context develops between the players.

    There's all this tension, right? Someone among you is a Cylon. Maybe/probably a couple of you are. If you're playing w/Pegasus, one of the Cylons might actually be trying to help the humans. So there's all this accusation going on, as cases slowly get built against particular players.

    There are a couple titles you can earn as well: President and Admiral. These also impact play amongst the players. In Pegasus, especially, the player holding the Admiral title is responsible for ending the game! But if the Admiral is a Cylon, he'll drag it out too long and make the humans lose (prompting the human players to coordinate their efforts to airlock the Admiral and pass the title down the chain of command...which, depending on which characters are in play, may be to another Cylon).

    My takeaway: Whenever we play BSG around here -- and it is THE go-to board game for my Tue Crue -- i come away with a very similar emotional/psychic payoff as when I play many forms of RPGs. It's not universal! Like...if I'm playing a human and I'm not anything special (ie the President or Admiral), I don't really feel much advocacy for my individual dude. He doesn't have any hopes or dreams beyond my desire to use him to help my side win. My advocacy goes up some if I'm dealt a Cylon card, because now I have to silo against everyone else while carefully reaching out, player by player, to find an ally.

    So IMO BSG is such an interesting edge case. It's totally not an RPG by most measures, because the stuff happening inside the fiction is not relevant to game play. But it sorta-kinda IS an RPing experience because the totally fictitious relationships that emerge via the mechanical pushes/pulls sure feel similar to straight RPGs.
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: Paul BEnjoying a theme =/= roleplaying.

    In the Illuminati example, it's fun and funny that the CIA and the Servants of Cthulhu are working together, but the net impact on the resulting play would have been exactly the same if Card #17 and Card #210 were played together. The color is irrelevant in any mechanical way.
    Precisely. But look at a game like "Last Night on Earth". From a board game PoV it's not particularly interesting - it's full of random dice rolls and card draws, it's reasonably difficult to pick a strategy and play it out, yet it's reasonably easy to predict and adapt to what your opponent will be doing. It has a relatively simple and uninteresting core mechanic, which is livened up by the exception rules attached to each character, items and event cards.

    The fun in this game comes from engaging with the scenarios, imagining the characters and their actions in the scenarios, performing theme-appropriate (and hopefully also tactically sound) moves and watch them play out... in short, much like DnD 4E. And, as in DnD 4E, I've had a great deal of fun with this game as a simulator of cool combat situations. However, with DnD 4E - supposedly a "role-playing game" - I got the distinct impression that narration had no effect on the game's mechanics. It was an intrinsic aspect of the game's flavour and contributed to table enjoyment, but never once did I get the impression that it was the "point" of the game. Neither is it the "point" in LNoE, although if you're into that kind of thing it can greatly contribute to table enjoyment (in fact, the first time we played it - with the basic rules and with a hardcore low-theme eurogame crowd - it was a total flop).

    So, is LNoE a "story game", since one of the major points of the game seems to be for it to play back as a zombie flick? Or is DnD 4E not a "role-playing" or "story" game because narration doesn't interface with game mechanics but is simply colour, as in Illuminati!? You can't have it both ways; or, more correctly, you can, but only subjectively.

    BTW, cross-posted. The Battlestar Galactica board game is another one which, just like Last Night on Earth, is more about doing cool thematic stuff (while trying to win) than merely outsmarting your opponent through clever manipulation of mechanics.
  • Posted By: lachekOr is DnD 4Enota "role-playing" or "story" game because narration doesn't interface with game mechanics but is simply colour, as in Illuminati!?
    I don't think your qualification of narration is, in fact, true for most D&D play. I can recall MANY times where something someone says or does has a "mechanical" impact on play, be it making the enemies stop fighting or flee, involving third parties, or coming up with craxy maneuvers that had to be "fiated" as such-and-such of a bonus to a roll or whatever. Put another way: acting and cleverness could bypass the basic tactics and mechanics, or require an ad hoc extension of them.

    You can't do that in BSG, Decent, Munchkin, or any other board or card games in which you have a individualized or unique character (just to get board games like Abalone or Chess or the table). Sure, you can engage in acting all you want--and it will never have a single bit of bearing on the subsequent in-game events, ever, at all. (Or, in edge cases I mention above, only if the other player[s] decide to roll with it and, basically, ignore the rules of the game, not PLAY WITH THEM, to try to make a plausible result from an action not within the scope of base mechanics--e.g. "talking your way out of a fight in Decent.")
  • I'd have to play Last Night on Earth to get a better idea of what you're getting at. It's on my to-play list!

    I think D&D4 can very easily leave "this is an RPG" territory if you're just using it for arena fights. One assumes the tabletop mini rules get engaged in the context of player decisions regarding in-game fiction though, yes? I suppose if you're just using it as a miniatures wargame , well yeah...then it's a miniatures wargame.

    My BSG example has more to do with the play dynamic that emerges between the players at the table, not specifically engagement with the theme. Although there's a lot of that as well! The fact that you have hidden saboteurs baked into the game's premise really facilitates the "grrr you toaster, I'm gonna airlock you!" play.

    p.
  • Posted By: David ArtmanI don't think your qualification of narration is, in fact, true for most D&D play.
    And I would posit to you that you hold this belief because the game is called a "role-playing game", is called "Dungeons & Dragons", and as such we are drifting the very precise rules of DnD 4E to support the idea that our imagination can somehow affect game mechanics. The "Skills" chapter in the PHB is a prime example - the rules all deal with combat maneuvers which you can pull off using Skills, but I can guarantee that 90% of play groups use them more out of combat in completely arbitrary ways than they use them in a fashion supported by rules.

    To me this is what the Old Skool Renaissance is all about - the glory of old versions of D&D was that the rules were fuzzy or even broken, needing constant interpretations and additions which were typically based on "realism" or player-thrown flags. This, in turn, leads to an game environment that truly supports open-ended play where player narration modifies mechanics, not the other way around.

    Lately I've heard a lot of talk on blogs and podcasts regarding people who frown upon "creative" solutions to game encounters. DnD 4E, rules-as-written, definitely supports that mindset. If there's an encounter, be it a combat, skill challenge, or whatever, then it's worth XP and it requires the dice hitting the table in accordance with certain rules to overcome. I don't mean to imply that is good or bad, just that it's real.
  • Posted By: lachekBTW, cross-posted. The Battlestar Galactica board game is another one which, just like Last Night on Earth, is more about doing cool thematic stuff (whiletrying to win) than merely outsmarting your opponent through clever manipulation of mechanics.
    Holy crap do I disagree with that. However given that you liked Last Night on Earth, I can safely say that our tastes our wildly divergent and let bygones be bygones.
  • edited December 2009
    Posted By: MarhaultHoly crap do I disagree with that. However given that you liked Last Night on Earth, I can safely say that our tastes our wildly divergent and let bygones be bygones.
    You're right! Let me qualify. BSGtBG is, to me (a rabid fan of the new series), more enjoyable with respect to how it lets me experience a compelling BSG-themed story (while trying to win) than merely outsmarting my opponent through clever manipulation of mechanics. This is easy for me to measure, too - all I have to do is compare my experiences between two losing games and determine which I enjoyed more. For example, if I lose a game of Brass (as I did recently), I curse the stupidity of some move or another and though I enjoyed playing the game, I generally feel a bit sullen. But if I lose a game of BSGtBG (or even, say, Illuminati! to remove the coop vs competitive bias) then there are few, if any, negative emotions; I feel pumped and energetic and usually speak endlessly on some cool, thematic move or another.

    However, BSGtBG is also, in my opinion, an extremely well-designed game and I know people who enjoy it immensely despite having no experience with the game's fictional basis. There is no comparison, in this regard, between BSGtBG and LNoE, which I lambasted above for being very uninteresting from a game design PoV.

    So what it comes down to is where your priorities lie. BSGtBG can be enjoyed by both theme-heads and math-heads, in my experience. LNoE can really only be appreciated by zombie fans, and even then mostly from the PoV of what stories it tells.

    So once again, what manner of games are we talking about here? To me LNoE is only a "board game" by virtue of having a board, and I'd even go so far as to say it is more of a "story game" than most "role-playing games" are. BSGtBG is an excellent board game which also happens to fulfill the same criteria, at least to me. I will agree that the types of stories these games tell are more narrowly focused than those told in most TTRPGs, but that doesn't seem to be a disqualifying criteria considering many established story games (Shab-Al Hiri Roach comes to mind, for one obvious example).
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