Can you Story-Gamify a Trad RPG Without Changing the Rules?

I'm currently working on my PhD dissertation about genres and got to thinking about the differences between story games and trad RPGs. Most similar threads deal with changing the rules, but I believe that many of the same patterns can be achieved through advice.

Let's look at one element: who creates the mission. Trad games give that job to the GM, but story games give it to the players.

This change is already happening in The Masquerade (live-action Vampire or World of Darkness). Bigger games of The Masquerade focus on politics. If you want to explore the vampires' social ranking system this type of play is required, but it's unsupported by everything else, including the advice sections.

1. What sort of advice sections would you write to support this type of play?
2. Could you scale it back to tabletop play and what sorts of changes would be required?
3. Are there certain games for which this is easier? ..more difficult?
«1

Comments

  • It's possible to do this to a degree. You rely on two things: one is that the concept of "rules" is actually pretty subjective, while the other is that "story-gamifying" is also a matter of degree. Put those two together and it's definitely possible to change a trad game into more of a story game - it's just a matter of whether you can get far enough in that direction to satisfy yourself.

    If all you want is something similar to say Apocalypse World (a dramatic adventure game with strong literary theming, a weak party concept and lots of player influence in plot and pacing), I personally would expect that I could sell the necessary changes to the procedures and GMing technique as "advice" and not "rules". I myself don't believe in the distinction as being an objective one, but I probably could make it seem like everything we do differently is just a different application of the same rules.

    For example, the following techniques would probably go over as "not rules" for most people:
    * The GM gets to limit and modify character options for their campaign. It is therefore possible to build thematically latent situations and dramatic premises right into the characters essentially same way AW or TSoY do it.
    * You are allowed - and in fact encouraged - to create non-mechanical detail about player characters in most trad rules-frameworks. There might even be space on the character sheet for jotting down notes on the character background. This means that nothing prevents you from giving characters interesting commitments, ideals, motivations, relationships, or other dramatically relevant features.
    * The GM essentially gets to determine and describe what task resolution rolls actually mean outside of combat. Therefore a GM who opts to establish effective and fair conflict-resolving task resolution stakes can - it's not as easy as if it was regulated by rules, but neither is it anywhere near impossible.
    * Trad games that forbid (or even comment on) concepts like scene framing or party splitting are pretty rare. This means that most games do not have rules preventing you from running a protagonist-centered game. Perhaps the GM chooses, in their role as the chairman of play, to distribute spotlight between the characters in some way. For instance, having "scenes" in "turn" would not break any rules in most games.
    * GMs are generally entirely free rules-wise to prep their games however they want. This means that you can do e.g. bang-based prep, or use AW fronts, or whatever else. Just establish a relationship map and drive play with Bangs, and you've pretty much got yourself a hybrid story game.

    I will also note that this sort of "drifting" of the game has its limits - you're not going to get to the deep end of the concept of "story game" without rules changes, I'd expect. Something like Apocalypse World, yes, but probably not something like It Was a Mutual Decision.
  • edited November 2017
    IMHO, Eero just described DayTrippers.

    It may be worth a look, @madunkieg. One game, two books, two sets of rules representing wholly different playstyles. In DT, the "traditional" game (with an "Auteur GM" using the GameMasters Guide) is considered the default stance, but that's not even spoken aloud in the Core Rules, where collaborative narrativist play (i.e. "storygame style") with a "GM Lite" is defined - but *as an optional ruleset*.

    In other words, if you only buy the Core Rules, the games assumes you are either a Player in someone else's "Trad" campaign or a "Lite GM" who plays "storygame style" in a collaborative group. Whereas possession of the second book (the GMG) is a defining trait of the "Trad" GM.

    That said, the mechanics - even in the "Trad" approach - lend themselves to a lot of Player input and even Player "control" of the narrative. Players describe the results of any action for which they roll a positive result, while the GM describes negative results. The GM's rules - both approaches - are focused on controlling tension and arc, rather than "plot" - the "plots" arise from the Players' actions and assertions. Indeed, the DT GM takes a very "object oriented" or "sandbox" stance regarding plot, and concentrates on the "vertical" dimension (arc), while the Players are in control of the "horizontal" dimension (the goals, movements and decisions of the PCs, as well as many random moments of narrative assertion brought on by the Players' successful dice rolls).

    This "hybrid" approach permits the (group) creation of emergent stories which satisfy two of my design goals: (1) each session possesses a relatively traditional narrative arc with a sense of climax and closure, similar to an episode of a TV series, and (2) even the GM may be surprised at where the story ends up, because the unusual GM stance and the narrative contributions of the Players make it difficult (and against the point) to railroad.

    This was all very deliberate: It was an attempt to produce a "hybrid" game that could be played by both of the "camps" which have accrued on either side of a plastic divider in our giant toolbox.

    tl/dr: DayTrippers can be played in two ways, and even the "Trad" way features a lot of Player agency over narrative. In order to do this I presented it as two sets of conjoined rules, one "layering" over the other.

  • edited November 2017
    You may get the same result with rules or advice. Also, you can go freeform if everybody knows what they want and they all want the same thing. Different games for different folks :
    - when you have your crew and you want to try a new "feeling". The game will focus on the mechanisms that will lead you to this feeling.
    - when you reach out to new players that haven't played RPG. The game will focus on : simple rules.
    - when you meet seasoned players that are not on the same page as you. The game will focus on : interacting on a common ground, producing dramatic energy thanks to your different approaches.
    So, there are different "poles" in designing a game and you can't address them all in the same game. Like if your advice section is 2 pages long, I am out. So the game is not only for designing and reading. It is also for playing. When, how long, with whom, at what cost and what for ?

    Now to the 3 points :
    1- If by "this type of play" you mean "To focus on politics in VtM" I would advise to create factions that cleave through the clans and cleave through those factions, and again and again. Then assign a loyalty rating for each character to each factions. And a status rating the other way round. It will have no mechanical effect : that's part of being not in the rules. So loyalty and status will be enforced only by exposure to the injonction of "being loyal". (perdon my english) and "this status means that, so comply".

    2- If by "scale it back to tabletop play" you mean "write a rule you can put in a book for this advice" then the mechanical effect would be something like : you have +X when giving in to your faction loyalty and -X when resisting faction loyalty. Same when your faction interacts with you, but with your status rating. So you know, free will and agency, but on the other hand, commitment, obligations, predictability.

    3 - Obviously I missed your point. You meant "story games" type of play maybe. Well there isn't one.
    "Story first" for me means there is no difference between lifting a spaceship and lifting a lightsaber. You try to simulate stories (movies, cartoons, TV series, D&D adventures, etc.).
    "Trad play" is often trying to simulate an objective world, invoking "realism", modelling the world's physics, history, psychology, and the "reality kicking back" effect (the "impartial" GM), etc.

    Finally the wrap up :
    Genre beings labels, they don't mean much more than : this is it, we are different, we have our own language, we do magic. The intent, the gesture is distinct.

    Shouldn't you work on your PhD rather than posting on RPG forums ?
  • edited November 2017
    DeReel said:

    Shouldn't you work on your PhD rather than posting on RPG forums ?

    Actually, my dissertation is about the different genres defined and described by The Forge and its diaspora. I'm not trying to create a taxonomy for all RPGs, just study a couple of previous attempts.

    Eero's right in observing that rules are just a subtype of advice. But advice is a little different than rules in that rules are intended to be followed no matter what, and advice is meant to be followed only if the participant feels it might be useful. Individual groups may vary in their play, but that play needs to be inspired by something.

    And yes, simulationist games kick back against the participants (not just the GM), but all games do this to some degree, not just simulationist. But GNS is not the same as trad/story game, and you need look no further than Fiasco to find that. Fiasco is a simulationist story game.

    Trad and story games do invoke a certain playstyles. I'm wondering how much of the story games style can be replicated in trad games without changing the rules. AsIf, you came as close as anybody with your answer that some playstyles could be replicated with trad games, while others cannot. The difference between them is something I'll have to think about.

    I like the conversation thus far, but would prefer it return to the original posting. Perhaps reduce it to: what advice section would you add to The Masquerade to focus on political intrigue? And DeReel, a rule that isn't enforced is still a rule. I'm looking for something in the realm of advice.
  • Cool topic for a PhD!

    I don't think there is such thing as story-games or trad games. Unless you mean trad = D&D and story-games is everything else.

    That said way back in the 70's the AD&D Player's Handbook was super clear about who sets the missions.

    pg. 107 under the SUCCESSFUL ADVENTURES section for the players.

    "First get in touch with all those who will be included in the adventure, or if all are not available, at least talk to the better players so that you will be able to set an objective for the adventure. Whether the purpose is so simple as to discover a flight of stairs to the next lowest unexplored level or so difficult as to find and destroy on altar to an alien god, some firm objective should be established and then adhered to as strongly as possible.

    Once the objective has been established, consider how well the party playing will suit the needs which it has engendered. Will the characters have the means of accomplishing the goal? Is it well-balanced, so that i t can cope with typical problems expected in the fulfillment of the objective? Will it be necessary to find mercenary non-player characters or hire men-at-arms in order to give the party the necessary muscle? Is any special equipment needed? When agreement regarding these and any similar questions has been reached, each participant must ready his or her character, but preparations must be made with the welfare of the whole group in mind."

  • In my opinion, Eero nailed the most important issue here: both the idea of "rules" and the idea of "story gaming" are malleable enough that this question might be answered entirely differently depending on who you ask.

    The other wrinkle is that many styles of trad gaming feature a GM who essentially controls the entire procedural flow of the game. For two obvious examples, consider the classic example of the well-established tradition of "We play D&D every week! But we never roll dice and I don't remember where any of our character sheets are," first, and the various discussions we've had recently about the "spicy roll".

    In such games, via Rule Zero, the very System of play is basically however the GM chooses to do things on that particular day.

    If that's what "trad gaming" is to you, then how do you distinguish changing the rules from "the GM trying something different" (i.e. applying advice to her game)?

    And, of course, it also depends a great deal on the rules of the game you are playing. Some games will "fight you" a lot harder than others in this respect, but they can still be roughly equally "trad".
  • madunkieg said:

    I like the conversation thus far, but would prefer it return to the original posting. Perhaps reduce it to: what advice section would you add to The Masquerade to focus on political intrigue?

    Something like this:
    1) Prep a relationship map of the NPCs. Perhaps slot the PCs into the periphery. To make it more specifically vampirey, and to support GMs in doing so, perhaps build in some socioeconomic concerns regarding hunting grounds or herd ownership or Sabbath suppression or whatever.
    2) Make sure the PCs have a range of interests in the fictional setting. Some can be imposed on them by their Clans and such, some come from their personal history and motivations.
    3) Prep Bangs out of the map.
    4) Construe actual play in terms of scenes that play out political initiatives. Player characters are either the initiators, targets or witnesses (when NPCs act on each other) of such scenes. What happens depends on what Bangs you throw, how PCs and NPCs react to events, and what the PCs initiate themselves. Supplement a bit with a time-line to track how long initiatives take to pan out if the group would enjoy a slight bit of added realism on top of tv show intrigue.
    5) Deal with non-focal issues like hunting for blood, angsting and random combats with ninjas with simple rolls, often in between actual dramatic scenes. You want to know when somebody's e.g. low on Blood, because that sets a tenor for a scene and drives the vampire interest in economic resources, but you don't want to spend the entire session of play on that.

    I'll note that the above's specifically a recipe for narrativist political intrigue. A gamist political intrigue version would look somewhat different. Both are, I think, playable and interesting drifts of VtM.
  • madunkieg said:

    I like the conversation thus far, but would prefer it return to the original posting. Perhaps reduce it to: what advice section would you add to The Masquerade to focus on political intrigue?

    1) GM, if you're used to offering missions, don't do that here. Instead, fish for what the player characters' ambitions are. Then provide opportunities for those which put them as cross purposes with each other.
    2) Players, just because the game has rules for all sorts of things, notably fighting, don't let that set your expectations for how your character should pursue their ends. You can make plenty of progress through roleplay! Let the mechanics come up organically. If you get in a fight, great, the rules are there for you! But if you never get in a fight, that's fine too.

    I can come up with more useful instructions too, but in my mind those cross the line from advice to rules.
  • edited November 2017
    OK. Then you can take these rules and use them as advice. Instead of "If you want you can play a game. The rules are "Draw a map etc"" or "If you want you can use this rule : " Draw a map", read "If you want you can draw a map". Tadam ! Advice.
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bxd73wGR6qX2aUJOSmVSQ1NuTUE/view?usp=drivesdk
    For the Masquerade example, you want the ingredients :

    From the "rules" section
    Framing your story
    Composing characters (without traits, types or keys)
    Canceling a proposition (without traits, types or keys)
    Fixing characters and frame (without traits, types or keys)
    Questions anyone ?

    Advice advice are under the techniques section. Go figure...
    Seek consensus
    Bring your spark
    Free quarters (split the party)
    MC Guffin

    from the optional rules section, these are or are not part of trad rpg. Use them if your players usually don't ! Change their reference frame !
    Quick change
    Lies

    Add these :
    Story points : players tell players during the game for what they like to hear
    Plot domino : each player can add yo the plot when they see an opportunity

    In conclusion I think it is possible to "storify" a traditional game with advice. But:
    1- the result won't be "high definition" (like Vampire politics, Lovecraft horror or Tongue in cheek space op). For this you need Rules (and this is what Game does best in my opinion)
    2- you will have a harder time storifying Trad players. Culture of game is different. Story game designs also have to factor in previous game experience.

    Some games do a great job at opening story perspective to trad gamers. Trad (Paranoia, Hurlements jdr) or story (Lady Blackbird for Star Wars rpg players). They need the players to accept changes. They need to do that with all the authority they have (written rulebook, GM). My ! This really looks like a matter of religious ceremony efficacy.

    Please don't correct me on what Trad Story and Game are supposed to mean. They are just words.

  • edited November 2017
    Roleplaying advice = roleplaying rules.

    I wish people would start realizing that. There is no real difference between the Gumshoe "If player has the skill then that player gets the clue" and the advice "Don't roll for finding clues". It's only that Robin D. Laws has disguised the advice into a rule. (He's really good in doing that. Mechanizing GM advice.)

    RPG adventure writing = RPG advice = RPG rules.

    RPG game rules = a game engine. A box of tools to pick from ... just like any advice. "Rulings, not rules", as the OSR movement has already understood. "If you don't like the rule, ignore it", as some trad players say.

    RPG adventures = the "real" game.
  • A possibly useful distinction:

    "You should do X." = Rule, even if set forth in the Advice section.
    "You might want to do X." = Advice, even if set forth in the Rules section.

    Note that such phrasing often won't be verbatim. "You should do X unless you don't feel like it" is basically "You might want to do X."
  • Interesting. While finding the right wording to make a distinction between "rules" and "advice" in a game text may be useful - and even work as a rule-of-thumb - isn't the real difference between rules and advice something more tangible?

    My personal best guess is that the distinction between rules and advice has to do with how they are treated at the social level.

    What is our expectation around this rule/advice/point? Is it something we enforce, at the social level?

    The expectations around a rule are that it will be in effect, unless explicitly stated not to be so. It's something we've publicly agreed to.

    No such expectations exist around a piece of advice.

    For instance, let's say I sign up for a D&D convention. Their website says, "GMs will choose modules which do include any undead creatures for their adventures". If I interpret that as a rule (or the community has, over time), and I'm playing one of these modules when I am ambushed by a skeleton army... I will feel some shock, even I choose to accept the surprise. The contract I expected to be in place has been chosen.

    However, if I have heard, before going, that this is just advice they have added because they had problems with all-undead nightmare adventures at the convention, I would *expect* not to see any undead in the adventures, but I wouldn't feel misled if I ran into a bunch of skeletons.

    This, of course, makes things somewhat complex, since social responses to such things vary from person to person and group to group. (For instance, a certain GM or player might receive carte blanche to break a certain rule simply because they have a reputation for doing so in the past. However, if I've never heard about that, *I* might demand they be called out on that violation, even though the rest of the group is fine with it. Also, I might decide on the spot that the "skeleton surprise" was a fun twist, and accept it happily, instead of treating it as a rules violation.)

  • I disagree with the fact that advice and rules are "basically the same".
    If that is supposed to be true than it only applies in the gaming field of rpg.
    I know no other kind of game in which "advice" and "rules" are considered the same.
    Rob
  • As for turning Vampire into more of a story game, I would lean heavily on GM techniques, much like those described above. There was a good list of "story game" techniques somewhere at one point... maybe even on Wikipedia or the Big Model wiki.

    They include things like:

    * Scene framing (especially aggressive scene framing)
    * Explicit conflict resolution
    * An absence of "pre-plotting", or pre-written story
    * The use of character "flags" (whether explicit or not)
    * The general concept of "democratic" story creation*
    * Techniques like Sorcerer's "Bangs"
    etc...

    I would add that the application of dramatic theory (of any type, really, though most of the Forge discussions on the topic centered around Egri's theories) to the game would be a typical "story game" thing to do. For instance, identifying a moral theme, a premise, and then hammering on it (the famous "how about now?" technique).

    I also like techniques which identify a character's thematic focus and they play on that - for instance, making a character take a stance on a moral issue, and then creating two NPCs who personify the moral extremes of that issue, to see which side the character will take.

    *: I mention "democratic", because there is lots of "story-oriented" advice aimed at GMs in game advice for games like Vampire which puts all of the onus on the GM, and most people would not consider that to be "story gaming" in style, despite the clearly heavy focus on "story". (e.g. Robin's Laws, making sure a dramatic arc with a climax happens at the end of the session or campaign, etc.).

    The "story gaming" tradition as it formed at the Forge was always really big on identifying story creation as a communal and democratic process, in contrast to that.
  • Thank you for all your input (even the wandering parts)!
    akooser said:

    I don't think there is such thing as story-games or trad games. Unless you mean trad = D&D and story-games is everything else.

    You're right. There is no such objective thing as trad or story games, just as there's no such thing as a roleplaying game, for that matter. These are all socially constructed practices, as is most of our culture. Nonetheless, we still call certain practices roleplaying games, and they are usually structured in certain ways, and we call these patterns genres. The differences between genres are as ephemeral as the genres themselves, but they have real effects, in that established communication patterns help us both create and respond to messages.
    rgrassi said:

    I disagree with the fact that advice and rules are "basically the same".
    If that is supposed to be true than it only applies in the gaming field of rpg.
    I know no other kind of game in which "advice" and "rules" are considered the same.
    Rob

    It all depends upon how you look at it. If you're looking at whether there is any way to enforce those instructions, then they're the same, along with rules for board games, war games, card games, etc (thanks Eero and many others). If you're looking at the social aspect, then they're completely different (thanks Paul_T and others). In fact, there are many ways to examine the same thing, and some may even give unusual answers.

    I need to learn to start my topics with only one question. Nonetheless, having three made for a highly enjoyable thread.
  • Both of these ideas are a couple steps away from Vampire, but:

    I was very informed by this series, “Jacquaying the Dungeon” on The Alexandrian when I started working in old-school D&D. It's specifically about modifying content from trad games to add something...well, related to Bangs anyway.

    I also developed a bit of a system, in my old-school game specifically for evaluating deals for NPCs, but I did think a bit about deploying it in a more trad-style XP-story-awards game. Basically, a set of simple rules to derive a value for an objective/task/accomplishment based on it's location (in a dungeon level, controlled by a monster/NPC, etc). So—to have some responsive techniques so you can sit down at a trad table, and have the players boast at the start of the session what their goals are, and then give them the story awards when they accomplish them (or not), within the game's XP framework but without pre-writing.
  • What Paul_T said.
    Another perspective is that of Introducing a new game to players (or is it he other way around ?). That is where I use the distinction between Rules and Advice.

    That is : if a game has complex rules, you don't start explaining all the rules. You explain the basic rules necessary for basic actions, then you give some navigation hints. The rules will come up when the need arises.
    If the game rules are simple, you explain the simple rules and navigation will come up with experience.

    With that in mind I repeat my answer : "yes you theoretically can but it probably won't work with real players".
  • edited November 2017
    madunkieg said:


    Fiasco is a simulationist story game.

    What is your definition of a “Story Game” and what is your definition of “Simulationist?”
    I personally don’t think of Fiasco as a “Simulationist” game, so I’m wondering how you’re defining these terms. Thanks :)
  • I don't know what exactly Graham means by it, but I would also call Fiasco a simulationist story game.

    Hopefully it's clear why it's a story game; "simulationist" is because it seeks to create/emulate a recognizable Coen Brothers film.

    (In the Threefold theory jargon, "Simulationist" referred to using mechanics to "simulate" probabilities and things like game world physics. In the Big Model, the term was broadened to simulating or emulating things like style and genre, as well. For instance, Feng Shui would be a very strongly "Simulationist" or Sim-supporting game, because it seeks to support and recreate Hong Kong kung fu-style films.)
  • edited November 2017
    In other words, the thing you are "simulating" can be a whole genre or another medium.
    I refer to DayTrippers as a "Genre Sim".
    Most PbtA games are likewise Genre Sims.
  • edited November 2017
    Paul_T said:


    (In the Threefold theory jargon, "Simulationist" referred to using mechanics to "simulate" probabilities and things like game world physics. In the Big Model, the term was broadened to simulating or emulating things like style and genre, as well. For instance, Feng Shui would be a very strongly "Simulationist" or Sim-supporting game, because it seeks to support and recreate Hong Kong kung fu-style films.)

    I guess because I was never part of the Forge I will never get used to this; the Threefold way is how I’ve always used it and it makes a lot more sense to me to use it that way—which has actually caused some confusion on these formus before. I really don’t like the broadened definition, it seems to conflate things. I guess I will have to add a caveat to those three ist-terms, like I do to “Story Games,” so people know what I’m talking about. I would still like to know how madunkieg is defining “Story Games.” Thanks, Paul and Tod!

    BTW Tod, I saw your game got reviewed over on En World. Pretty cool :) If anyone wants to check it out, here’s the link:
    http://www.enworld.org/forum/content.php?4645-Adventure-In-Time-And-Space-With-The-Daytrippers-RPG
  • GNS-wise Fiasco is either Simulationist or Narrativist, depending on how you play it; GNS theory does not categorize game texts, except in the sense that we can determine likely, "natural" ways to play a given game, and then determine the creative agenda of that style of play. I don't have that much experience with Fiasco myself, but it seems uncontroversial to me that people could and would play it either way (including the possibility of agenda clash, although the game's so quick and light that it's unlikely to become very dramatic).
  • rgrassi said:

    I disagree with the fact that advice and rules are "basically the same".
    If that is supposed to be true than it only applies in the gaming field of rpg.
    I know no other kind of game in which "advice" and "rules" are considered the same.
    Rob

    Hence, me writing "RPG" everywhere. Other than that; try play cards games with other people than your family or friends. Everyone got house rules. What are house rules? Rules? Advice? Do you have to play with them in order to play the game?
  • edited November 2017
    Anyway, my point being, that if you want to "storyfy" a trad game, you shouldn't look at changing the mechanics, but combining adventure writing with the rules to form a structure of play.

    Like I said, roleplaying game systems aren't games, they are game engines. What differ RPG rules from card and board games is that these other types of tabletop games got a clear structure of play. How to win, and how to take turns in order to win. Story games have, in my opinion, taken a step closer to this because of blurred GM/player roles.

    How does the GM-player interaction occur? How is the scenario and setting built?
  • Rickard said:

    rgrassi said:

    I disagree with the fact that advice and rules are "basically the same".
    If that is supposed to be true than it only applies in the gaming field of rpg.
    I know no other kind of game in which "advice" and "rules" are considered the same.
    Rob

    Hence, me writing "RPG" everywhere. Other than that; try play cards games with other people than your family or friends. Everyone got house rules. What are house rules? Rules? Advice? Do you have to play with them in order to play the game?
    I'd distinguish between rules and advices even if in a "familiar" environment we play in a certain way and even if we break them.
    Rules are mandatory (and there must be a way to enforce them, it may be the social contract, when everybody agrees, so the enforcement is ethical).
    Advices are optional. (And... before someone starts the argument, no, optional rules are not equivalent to advices.)
    Rob
  • How is the optional rule different from advising to consider changing the rules? I'm curious. Seems to me like being optional is precisely the distinction between a rule and advice.

    In general I don't really see much difference between rules and advice, except that advice tends to be prefaced with explicitly advisory language, while rules are provided as-is. The content is the same, so the implicit "take it or leave it" nature of the rule is perhaps the only difference: "advice" graciously accepts that you might not wish to follow it, while "rule" assumes that you will follow it or void all guarantees.

    If one assumes that advice is heeded, and therefore indistinguishable from "mandatory" rules, then it may be the case that it's more useful to distinguish between "procedural systems", "virtue-based systems" and "goal-based systems". Like so:

    Procedural systems are game rules and advices that are formulated as flow-charts: once you recognize that the moment has come to activate this rule, you do so by executing certain steps, making certain choices and performing certain duties in the given way. This is generally what people think of when they think about "rules", but some advice is procedural as well: for example, I advice people to use dice as miniatures while playing The Mountain Witch, to illustrate character positioning, which is clearly procedural advice.

    Virtue-based systems are game rules and advices that are formulated in terms of the right attitudes or motivations to be adopted in conducting certain parts of play. For example, an advice to the GM to "always be fair and impartial in combat resolution" or "always do what's best for the story" is virtue-based because it focuses on the right attitude, but does not provide the actual procedure to follow. People generally construe this sort of thing as "advice", but it seems that when you write it up prominently enough and call it a rule, that flies as well - just look at Apocalypse World or such.

    Goal-based systems are game rules and advices that are formulated in terms of the purpose or goal that a given activity has. For example, a game that tells you to "frame scenes to highlight player character issues" is giving goal-based advice: it doesn't give you the procedure (which would presumably be to gauge character sheets, develop Bangs and then deliver them) or particular virtues to follow, but rather leaves you to achieve the goal in whatever way you find best. This type of system is, again, usually interpreted as advice, but write it vehemently enough and it'll get quoted as a rule where appropriate.

    The advantage in this conceptual framework is that unlike "advice vs. rules" it doesn't depend on how politely a given game system concept is written in the game text. One could alternatively just say that procedural systems are always rules and everything else is advice, but I don't think that this holds up against how people actually read game texts in real life: in reality you decide what's a rule and what's merely advice on the basis of your own expectations and the cultural cues provided by the text.
  • edited November 2017
    @Eero_Tuovinen , you may have game situation in which you have to follow rule 1 (and optionally you have to apply rule 1.1 if the game configuration is met, otherwise you have to follow rule 1.2. That is not an advice, is an optional rule, that is followed according to the game state).
    An advice is always optional.
    You may not follow an advice, and the game is still there.
    If you do not follow a rule then you're playing another game.

    Usually, assuming that you're following the rules, advices are given to improve the game experience.
    Rob

    P.S. After this post (that is de-focusing from the main question of the thread) I'll get silent. :) My answer is that you may have game with rules that support story-telling (in the sense of building a story according to the general meaning given for the term "Story") and games that, instead, support by rules "overlapping of fictional elements without the need to build a Story".
    In that sense, my answer to the original question is: "No, you can't Story-Gamify a Trad RPG Without Changing the Rules." (I'm assuming that 'Trad RPG are games of the second type, i.e. they support by rules the "overlapping of fictional elements without the need to build a Story").
  • Interesting definition of "optional rule". I've usually seen the term used somewhat differently. What you describe would rather be called a "conditional rule", or a procedural branch, as it only comes into play conditionally.

    But yeah, that's just terminological wrangling, and not the actual topic here.
  • edited November 2017

    Interesting definition of "optional rule". I've usually seen the term used somewhat differently. What you describe would rather be called a "conditional rule", or a procedural branch, as it only comes into play conditionally.

    You're right but another example comes to mind. For example, referring, to the "en passant" rule of chess. That is not an "advice". It's a rule. You may choose not to capture the pawn, but if you do, you've to capture in that moment. You can't postpone the capture.
    Does it sound a better example of "optional" rule?

    In this case the advice would be: If you've a strong pawn chain capture en passant and sustain the passed pawn. In other words, the advice is "capture".
    rob

  • At the risk of further muddying the water (c.v. "Rules" vs "Advice" above), I think it might be useful to distinguish "Mechanics" which are (typically, hopefully) optimized subsystems to be used as guided by Rules (or Advice). Though some people tinker with them (and sometimes there are optional Rules for doing so), Mechanics are generally understood to be operated on an "as-is" basis, that is to say, a Mechanic is a Black Box. You put something in, the Mechanic runs, and the result is whatever it outputs.

    If we pursue this conversation far enough, we'll begin to consider whether, when and how narrative is supported mechanically, and whether that has something to do with our definition of the word "storygame".

  • I've been thinking further about "storifying" a trad game in the minimum number of moves, so to speak.

    If I were looking for the simplest possible guidelines used to produce some "story game"-like play out of a trad RPG, I would go with the following.

    1. As Rickard says, adventure design is the "true" game design when it comes to RPGs.

    The first rule is for the GM (and I look forward to you all arguing about whether this is a rule or advice... :P):

    * Everything you prep or invent must come about as a reaction to or development from something a player has authored about their character.


    If you don't have enough information, you must ask the players questions until you do.

    So, for instance, you cannot simply place a tribe of orcs in the forest. Instead, you look at the characters the players have come up with, and you find out who they are afraid of, what they hate, and so forth. One of them is a ranger, and has a "chosen enemy", which is orcs? Great, NOW you can prep an orc tribe in the forest. Ideally, the player tells you little more, as well - work that in, too. Ask questions, if necessary: "What dangers is your town afraid of? Do they have any enemies?" "Why is the forest considered dangerous? Have you heard any rumours?" "Why do you hate orcs so much, and what experience do you have fighting them?"

    Treat everything about each character as a "flag" - it's a permission for you to include something in the game, or a target for you to hit.

    So, that's rule one: everything you come up with must come in some way from the details of a character. If one of the players tells you his character's backstory is that he's fleeing from an arranged marriage, THAT is your plot to develop and pursue.

    To come up with surprises and interesting stuff, pursue unusual combinations of player authored material - you'll surprise them, and they will definitely really care about your "plots" now!

    For instance, you've got a ranger who hates orcs and moved to this town to protect it from such... and another character fleeing from an arranged marriage? Great, the orcs have been hired by or are working with the spouse. They're causing trouble and somehow she is behind it - perhaps she is using them to spoil a competitor's trade empire. Why? Fill in the blanks, and you have a "plot" the characters can't ignore.

    (Note: Implicit in this rule is that you should 'say yes' to most, if not all, player ideas and contributions.)

    2. The second rule/advice is for the whole table (although, in practice, the GM knowing and enforcing it is sufficient):

    * Adopt explicit conflict resolution procedures which take into account overt player-desired outcomes.

    Wherever the game's mechanics are ambiguous in terms of outcome:

    * Find out what the player wishes or hopes will be the outcome of this situation/scene/roll.

    * Make the roll or interaction about that - in other words, attach an explicit chance for that outcome to happen, and then stick to it if that's what the dice say.

    Treat every success or failure is meaningfully changing the status quo and moving the player towards their ultimate goal. For example, if your game has a spell casting procedure, and the player casts a spell in hopes of achieving a certain objective, then, if they cast the spell successfully, give them the objective they were going for.

    The character is trying to charm the pants off the local prince or princess? If the Reaction Roll or Charm check or whatever comes up with a positive outcome, then there you go: the prince is now in love with the PC.

    Implicit in this is the "Let It Ride" ethos from Burning Wheel.

    So: before engaging any procedure which leaves conflict resolution effectively in your hands, find out what the player wishes/hopes will happen, and have that happen on a success. (Implicit: have something different, and probably bad, happen on a failure.)

    Those are my two rules, then:

    1. (GM:) Everything you prep or invent must come about as a reaction to or development from something a player has authored about their character.

    2. (Table:) Adopt explicit conflict resolution procedures which take into account overt player-desired outcomes.
  • Graham, to answer one of your questions from the top post:

    Games which would make this most difficult are games which strictly define the outcomes/effects/results of every procedure. For example, if the game tells the exact outcome of every roll ("A Climbing check allows you to ascend 20ft in good conditions, or 15ft in poor conditions, and takes two turns"), you cannot easily apply my second rule. It's even worse if the outcomes are defined in game terms instead of fictional terms ("A successful roll generates two single-arena shifts for the character and allows you to uncheck two boxes in the 'Special Powers' section of your character sheet").

    As you can imagine, you cannot simply throw in "explicit conflict resolution" into a D&D combat and have the rules survive intact, either.

    You'll have to, then, rely a lot on the first rule, and look for ways to create conflict resolution using the existing rules. For instance, if you know that the player's interest is in reaching the princess in time, contrive to make sure that the challenges in the way are resolvable using those rules. A cliff face of finite height and a finite period of time would do the trick, for instance, allowing a series of Climb checks to act as explicit conflict resolution relative to this particular player goal (so long as you abide by the results either way, as the GM).

    An extreme example was something called "Bring Down the Dungeon", which was a conversation (here?) a long time ago about creating emergent story using D&D. The idea was that dungeon crawling could be used as explicit conflict resolution. Whenever something was at stake, the players could push for it by exploring and "defeating" a dungeon.

    For instance, if you wanted to marry the Princess, you would declare that, and the GM (or table) would contrive some reason why defeating a certain dungeon would lead to that outcome. ("Ok, she loves you, but her father won't give her away to anyone who's not of a noble bloodline. Fortunately, you know there's a tomb nearby which contains a familial crest and ring belonging to a dead noble bloodline...")

    This, in turn, allows you to engage the game's procedures in order to resolve conflicts. If the characters successfully plunder the dungeon/survive the encounter, then the PC marries the Princess. If not, then it's not going to happen (and maybe something else that is NO GOOD happens instead - perhaps there is another suitor ready, a brute of a foreigner everyone hates).
  • Thought about the advice vs optional rules vs rules thing and this popped to my mind: When we play, we use procedures limited by rules. These rules may come from the core rules of the book, chosen among the optional ones or made up by the players based on the advice section in the book. When these rules come alive into the game procedures, we may still distinguish between them influenced by their origin in the sense that core rules will take precedence over the other two when dealing with general matters, and the others when dealing with specific cases. Despite that, all have become rules once we start using them at the table. Does this makes any sense?

    About story-gamifying a trad... sounds more to me like you want to use a trad game but skip engaging too much with the mechanics or do so in the most efficient way to avoid having thse break immersion for players that want to see more of the story side than the crunchy side of the game. It's doable, though it requires for both the players to bring more talkative and fiction-first methods of negotiation and enough knowledge of the system to speed it up and avoid it's unnecessary crunchiness.

  • edited November 2017
    Paul_T said:

    The idea was that dungeon crawling could be used as explicit conflict resolution. Whenever something was at stake, the players could push for it by exploring and "defeating" a dungeon.

    For instance, if you wanted to marry the Princess, you would declare that, and the GM (or table) would contrive some reason why defeating a certain dungeon would lead to that outcome . . .

    This, in turn, allows you to engage the game's procedures in order to resolve conflicts. If the characters successfully plunder the dungeon/survive the encounter, then the PC marries the Princess. If not, then it's not going to happen (and maybe something else that is NO GOOD happens instead - perhaps there is another suitor ready, a brute of a foreigner everyone hates).

    Hmm. That sure as heck isn't Story Now, and we don't need any marriage plots to achieve Story Eventually. I mean, defeating the dungeon is already a story, and it could be a pretty good one with the right editing, and I doubt tacking a wedding onto the end would improve it.

    I'd probably prefer something like, "During character creation, come up with a reason why it's a big deal to your character to beat a dungeon. What are they trying to prove, to others or themselves?" And then the GM should provide a deadly enough dungeon that there will be some hard choices about whether to risk death and continue, or retreat ignominiously. A retreat should shower the PCs in all the badness they were hoping to improve by dungeoneering... but of course they're still alive, and can still pursue ways to prove themselves in the future.

    With or without a wedding, I guess the key ingredient missing from the traditional dungeon crawl is dramatic timing. Combat takes too long. Not every skill check really matters in the arc. "Choose wisely or you might die!" gets repetitive. Perhaps the best solution is for the dungeon to offer different types of threats -- one brain-teaser, one adrenaline bloodbath, one spooky nightmare, etc., so as to see the characters under different stresses.

    Maybe all you need is this piece of "advice":

    Play to find out how this dungeon delve reveals and changes the player characters.

    And, if that's really, truly followed, all other story-making practices will flow from it organically?
  • edited November 2017
    One possible obstacle D&D presents to storygaming is the XP cycle. Enter dungeon > beat dungeon > get more awesome > enter tougher dungeon is not ideal story fodder by itself.

    I think it can be grafted onto a story arc, though. Suppose each dungeon means something uniquely important to the characters' lives. Now each time you advance enough to tackle a tougher dungeon, you also pursue a new character change.

    Brainstorm:
    - Beating the Level 1 dungeon ends your prison sentence.
    - Beating the Level 2 dungeon earns your place in society -- you can now own property etc.
    - Beating the Level 3 dungeon gains you some fame and appreciative NPCs who might become helpers, followers, romantic interests, etc.
    - Beating the Level 4 dungeon gains you a keep. (It's a haunted keep you have to un-curse.)
    - Beating the Level 5 dungeon gains you great wealth.

    These would all be on the map from Day 1, so the characters can have all sorts of ambitions for what they'll do once they're rich. When that day comes, maybe one or all of their stories end. Or maybe they continue on to:

    - Beating the Level 6 dungeon gains you the throne! (It's the catacombs beneath the capital, wherein the king is revealed as a lich and his govt as a cult.)

    So the GM advice here could be:

    When you create a dungeon, come up with a reason why beating it would change the characters' lives.

    (Maybe losses could also be life-changing... fleeing a dungeon leaves you pursued by its unquiet spirits... dying and coming back leaves you scarred or cursed with blood-thirst...)
  • edited November 2017
    Dave,

    You have the right idea in your second post. Except that the people doing that didn't want to pre-plot outcomes, so they would make up the "beating this dungeon [changes your life]" as they went along, not too differently from setting stakes for any other kind of conflict resolution. ("At this point in the story, we care about whether Bruce the Coward can earn the respect of society, and no longer be

    It was definitely a bit contrived, I agree (and certainly your pacing concerns are valid to an almost hilarious degree), but it is an interesting thought experiment nevertheless. For some reason I can't find the AP writeups I read - I thought they were on Story Games, but they aren't coming up on a search. Apparently it was fun!

    People familiar with The Shadow of Yesterday will understand the name, I think:

    In that game, when you're not winning a desired story goal because you're losing a conflict, you can engage an involved mechanical process called "Bringing Down the Pain". You then play through a bunch of die rolls and so forth, until we find out whether you can triumph after all.

    That group of D&D players decided to try the same thing in their D&D game. Naturally, they decided to call it "Bringing Down the Dungeon" (or something similar; perhaps I'm misremembering the title, and that's why I can't find the AP reports!). You engage a lengthy, involved procedure in order to put your in-game and fictional resources on the line, in hopes that it will get your character what s/he wants.

    I believe they also set failure stakes, as you suggest in your final parenthetical. I have no memory of how they handled death, though - whether it was final, or whether it was a temporary defeat with significant drawbacks.

    Were I to use this technique, I'd probably run dungeons with an explicit time limit or some other constraint ("You must find and bring back the amulet in two days, in time for the wedding"), so the characters can't just try again and again. Again, I can't remember how it was done in that particular example. And it might not fit whatever Graham imagines as "story game" play, in any case, so who knows if the specifics are relevant here.

    Doing so with simpler resolution techniques is much easier, of course. Lots of "story-focused" video games do this all the time, for instance: each plot point ends with a "boss battle", the outcome of which determines whether the hero gets the girl or the cool car or manages to cross the sea or whatever other thing.
  • edited November 2017
    DeReel said:



    In conclusion I think it is possible to "storify" a traditional game with advice. But:
    1- the result won't be "high definition" (like Vampire politics, Lovecraft horror or Tongue in cheek space op). For this you need Rules (and this is what Game does best in my opinion)
    2- you will have a harder time storifying Trad players. Culture of game is different. Story game designs also have to factor in previous game experience.

    Some games do a great job at opening story perspective to trad gamers. Trad (Paranoia, Hurlements jdr) or story (Lady Blackbird for Star Wars rpg players). They need the players to accept changes. They need to do that with all the authority they have (written rulebook, GM). My ! This really looks like a matter of religious ceremony efficacy.

    This is one of the most relevant answer to the original question: how to augment a "traditional" game with advice, as opposed to solid rules, to achieve something closer to a "story" game.
    My point of view is that it is essentially impossible: adding advice increases the responsibility of people in a position to follow the advice or not, i.e. it increases GM authority (for the completely incoherent purpose of delegating it) instead of actually limiting and dismantling GM authority and replacing it with true equal participation.
    Only rules can be a foundation for attributing true narrative authority to every player; happy experiences in which the GM is not a jerk and everybody is on the same page and follows a creative agenda that is weakly expressed by the game author as "advice" are a lucky occurrence, not how valid story games games are expected to work.

  • But why would narrative authority matter? Is that how you understand the term "story game", that it has a weak GM and much shared narrative authority?
  • Often, that's my working definition of "story-game", Eero.
  • As good as any definition, I guess. It's not exactly a precise term.
  • edited November 2017
    Oh it's definitely far from a perfect definition. It's more of a mental categorization aid for myself.

    Without wanting to derail the thread too much, my impression is that RPGs start to drift towards some kind of story game as soon as they stop having strong, built-in, in-fiction game goals that can be readily identified as win/loss conditions ( which can also be in terms of play style, functionally).

    That is a whole lot of drifting that needs to occur, before I start seeing the kinds of things I'd identified as certain "story-games" by my personal working definition, however.

    I know we don't use the terms anymore, usually, because it creates definitional debates, but essentially as soon as you start moving away from "gamist" games with strong in-fiction goals that players are actively pursuing, you're striking out towards something else and at least drifting towards story games.
  • But what about "GM's story" type of games, like say Dread and such? Those don't have win/loss conditions, but neither do they feature share narrative authority, right? Seems like they're neither very storygame-like, nor very much like a traditional rpg, then.

    Not that I'm particularly interested in terminology, you understand - I'm more curious about how others see the landscape of the art form, so to speak.
  • I'm not familiar with Dread. If I was forced to say, I'd go with some sort of mid-way evolutionary form or transitional form.

    But then physical evolution is weird, much less evolution in art forms, where various influences are coming into play at random times all over the place.

    It would be just as hard to look at a branching chart of musical styles ( say, forms of Jazz)and their evolution and offshoots and cross-influences.
  • Yeah, that's an interesting question. (And there should probably be a Godwin's Law or Rule 34 for Story Games discussions: inevitably, they must all devolve into a discussion of what the term "story game" means! Ha.)

    For me, personally, it's always been the presence of a heavy GM presence who controls the plot that makes a game feel "traditional", not the specifics of the rule set. (Although "Rule Zero" definitely plays into that!)

    When I think of my times playing with "trad gamers", I remember dense rulebooks and crunching numbers, but also very rules-light experiences where the GM led us through a dramatic story. These seemed to be accepted equally.

    For instance, they always enjoyed my GMing, at either end of that spectrum. It was only when I would bring in games with player-empowering mechanics that they would bristle and declare that "this was fun, but it wasn't roleplaying!"

    So, to me, something like Dread would be closer to the traditional camp, although it distinguishes itself with quirky and innovative mechanics. Quite similar to Puppetland in terms of categorization, perhaps.

  • edited November 2017
    Paul_T said:

    You have the right idea in your second post. Except that the people doing that didn't want to pre-plot outcomes, so they would make up the "beating this dungeon [changes your life]" as they went along, not too differently from setting stakes for any other kind of conflict resolution.

    To me, that's entirely different, because it doesn't utilize the XP system. My proposal, where leveling up is a necessary means toward the characters' ends, feels like story-gamified D&D to me. The thing you describe, where D&D's formal reward system has no real role, is just... well, a story game where you can Bring Down the Dungeon if you want to. I think that's significantly farther from the OP's request.
  • The best definition of “Story Game” I’ve ever read is Ben Robbins, because his definition is precise, technical, objective, and—most importantly—useful. I really think it should be the gold standard. Here is Ben’s definition:

    “Can we isolate a mechanical difference? An acid test that separates story games from adventure games? I think there’s one very quantifiable difference:

    In a story game, a player’s ability to affect what happens in the game is not dependent on their character’s fictional ability to do those things.

    I’d argue that’s the defining trait. The degree to which the rules give you authority that isn’t based on your character’s abilities is the degree to which it is a story game.

    Think about that. In an adventure role-playing game you can only accomplish something because your character can do it. In a story role-playing game you can make something happen because as a player your want it, not just because your character can make it happen.

    In an adventure game like D&D you decide what your character does, but your ability to succeed is a reflection of your character’s traits. If your character is stealthy you can sneak into the necromancer’s tower. If you’re clumsy you probably can’t. It doesn’t matter how much the player wants to sneak into the tower or thinks it would be interesting to sneak into the tower. The likelihood of success is only based on what the character can do in the fictional world.

    In a story game (by my definition) the character isn’t the limit of your power in the game. The rules give the players authority over things that are outside their characters’ control. How, you ask? There are a lot of different ways. Take sneaking into the necromancer’s tower. In some story games players might have the power to frame scenes, letting them simply declare where the next action takes place: “this scene is inside the necromancer’s tower after my character snuck in…” In other story games disagreement might be resolved through conflict resolution: one player might say “I sneak into the tower!” and another player might think that shouldn’t work or should lead to trouble so it becomes a conflict they resolve with the rules (which might involve dice, voting, story points, etc. depending on the system). A player might oppose success because they don’t think it makes sense for the clumsy character to sneak into the tower, or they might be all for it because they think it would be awesome to have a big climactic scene in the tower: that’s up to them. Either way, the character’s fictional abilities are not the deciding factor. It’s the players that decide the result, as moderated by their authority in the rules.”


    http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/460/defining-story-games/
  • Great quotation by Ben Robbins, but it idealizes adventure games: in reality there's often a GM who overrides rules and player intentions, with the "likelihood of success" depending on what the GM wants the character to do or not do.
    Does the player character, after long investigations and planning, attempt to burn down the house where a campaign's worth of interesting and detailed villains are having a secret meeting? It's a pity they happen to use fire resistance and breathing amulets.
    Does the player character attempt to steal from the party and sell a magical artifact that's urgently needed for a quest to save the world because the player sees him as stupidly greedy? Is it a joke, or you don't want to be invited again?
    Maybe rule zero corruption should be classified as a third type of game.
  • Everyone has their own definition, or, in my case (and possibly others), multiple, evolving definitions of story games. I love a good debate over definitions, but what I haven't read is someone attempting to argue from another's point of view. But that's sort of moot, because the OP has been abandoned.

    The OP was about adapting one part of one of my definitions of story games to trad games: supporting and encouraging player-created plots. This question was answered many times and in many different ways. Because of that, I'm going to say:

    Thank you. I'll see you all in the next thread. I'm out.
  • I did this with DnD for a long time.
    My group and I would craft and pre-plan character arcs and structure our games around telling those stories, and while it worked well enough, it was generally just way more work than it was often worth, especially after we got into actual storygames and realized that we didn't have to do all that work to tell the kind of stories we like to in ttrpg, because games like Chuubo's and Nobilis do a lot of that planning and prep work for us, or give us useful tools to do those things.
    Basically, it's more than possible to storygame-ify trad games, but is it a good idea?
    I would personally say no.
  • That's been my experience, as well. I've recently joined a D&D5E game, which is making me reconsider and explore some "trad" stuff I'd otherwise left behind, but, overall, my conclusion is the same is yours.
Sign In or Register to comment.