Asymetrical gameplay

My former table of players was full of very different player types. Sometimes, at conventions, I played with people of very distinct styles. I conclude that, short term or long term, a game can look like a potluck and I like that.
Designing for one style is fine. But what about a frozen yogurt game where each player uses a set of light techniques specific to its style ? The planner brings the plans, the actor does the acting, the merchant gets to count copper coins, etc.
What problems will that imply ?
1 I see how some incompatibilities are by nature : character achievement vs flashlight dropping, rules light vs heavy, focus on one theme vs another, what else ?
2 downtime : while a player is doing their thing, do we just watch ?
3 info management cache growth : "we established what character speaks what language but the linguist player is not there and now we have to manage this on top of other things for the benefit of no one."


  • edited December 2018
    1. Do you always watch comedies, or do you want different experiences depending on your mood?

    2. Do the game prime you with an expectation?

    I disagree with Robin D. Laws' thoughts about player types (which I sense you touch in a way), and that the game master have to add a little bit of something to sometimes engage a certain player (style). I would say that's a side effect of having games where you can do whatever (read: play it with different playstyles), and that's one of the reasons why there is 20 minutes of fun in a four hour session.

    But I say this with the presumption that roleplaying games are like board games (or movies); where you choose what to play depends on what you feel like playing at the moment. Which brings me to question campaign plays too, or at least campaign plays that are longer than perhaps 3-5 sessions.
  • edited December 2018
    1 Yes, I like a variety of experiences. But there are some bases a work has to touch to touch me. A movie with 100% photography or 100% humour would leave me a taste of meh.
    2 The game drives my expectations but much less than "let's play (our favorite coherent fiction)".
    That's my tastes, but what problems I will run into making such a game ?
  • Part of it would be like making a game based on phrenology, as there's really no types of players. We all come from different cultures, have different viewpoints about things, different ways to confront different challenges, etc. I started a bit as an Actor, but then I got a bit traumatized by numbers and big rulebooks until 5e. I like story games, but I also like osr. I'm ok going full social when dealing with anything resembling a combat until everyone draws their swords, and even a bit after that.

    My group has different tastes too so it's hard to try and please everyone. And even if I tried, not every session they are in their best form at what they do. They come at my place to relax playing a game so why should I try too hard to please or impress them? I'm here to relax a bit too!

    Now, another part of it could be as simple as including mechanics fit for different approaches, which is actually something many different games do. The basic principles you need is that every mechanic should:

    a) have a chance to fail, even when the character levels up. Previous challenges should be easier to do next time, but the GM can narrate it that way/lower the difficulty/require less rolls against them instead of handling the player more bonuses until they break the game and eliminate uncertainty.

    b) require a trigger inside the fiction. If the player can roleplay until acquiring positional advantage to trigger the mechanic, that would be awesome.

    c) produce an interesting narrative side-effect. Either enrich the description and/or link back to other characteristics and BIFTs of the character.

    Other than that, the idea would be that the mechanics should appeal to each type of player, and then players choose more than one of those mechanics for their character to build themselves a gameplay experience instead of just a character.

    Like, imagine you could have two different spellcasters in a game and give them both different mechanics for magic. One could use Vancian magic with lists and the other would use Ars Magica mechanic for magic. By following the principles above you balance them out and take away most the numbers, yet both players would have a very different experience in terms of gameplay. And so on, you could have two fighters, have one use their moves/postures as if they were vancian magic and the other use a pool of dice, etc.

    You could set different degrees of complexity for each mechanic and let players create the details for them. At least in my book, that would be a nice way to have all those different types of gameplays to appeal to different types of players.
  • edited December 2018
    This is a very good idea : much more thought provoking than same old gods / magic or magic / mundane. I will definitely try that !
    Also maybe, different resources : player creating and directing NPCs (meta) vs character having contacts (setting) vs character managing relations (skill).
    Come to think of it, what am I waiting (and what do I fear) ? I just have to playtest this !
  • This is kind of a fundamental question or problem of RPG design, isn't it?

    Like Rickard, I put little faith in the Robin Lawsian idea of "player types" and trying to please everyone, simply because it seems overly simplistic and, more importantly, because I've never seen applying those ideas to lead to good game design or better gaming.

    I actually think that the problems you are listing in your first post are a pretty good overview.

    In addition to that is the phenomenon of social rewards: for most people, it's really important that the other players are grooving on, enjoying, and supporting their contributions to play.

    In other words, if you have one guy counting coins, another doing character portrayal, and so on, the question becomes: to what end? Are they doing so in a way which supports each other and creates some greater than the sum of its parts, or are they serving as distractions to each other, frustrated because their skills and interests don't support, build on, or add up to a greater whole when put together in the same game?

    It's OK to leverage different skills and approaches so long as we all have the same endgoal in mind, in other words. But just throwing together a random collection of "potluck items" doesn't reliably produce functional or fun games, in my experience.
  • edited December 2018
    Thank you for your help ! I think it can work, not trying to do everything for all people, but opening the system to inputs from different styles.

    For a prototype I'd be satisfied if I manage making a variety of inputs "support, build on, or add up to a greater whole". Thinking in a few dimensions, with a typology, is lazy but it's a good starting point when I have no idea how to get there. I will synthetize and refine after that.

    I see another limit to the project : it runs the risk of adding meaningful choices at the beginning of the game. That's not too good, because so much info can be smuggled at the beginning, a game "driving expectations" as it indeed does ! Illustrations could lift part of that weight, though.
  • I'm going to echo the dislike of a lot of the traditional thinking about player typology.

    On the other hand, I do have a big soft spot for games of any variety that toy with asymmetrical play. The old Avalon Hill boardgame "Magic Realm" is an incredibly complex fantasy adventure game that tries to realize this through the various player-avatar character manifestations; although most of the rules are generally universal, each character tends to play very differently and is geared towards excelling at using a specific subset of the rules compared to the others.

    The sort of OSR-like White Hack is a good example in the RPG-realm. While it only has three core classes, the way they're designed is really meant, I think, to funnel each down a very different approach to how the player interfaces with the game.

    My beloved Meikyuu Kingdom does this to some extent too, with its variety of classes and jobs all focusing on different parts of the game. Some are built around manipulating the item economy, some are dedicated to exploration tasks, some are combat focused, some are geared towards the community-building aspect of the game, etc...

    If you remember in the Princess Play thread where I was talking about the potential advantages of "disconnect," I think a game built around this kind of mechanical menagerie faces pitfalls around the very same issues. For example, you want to make 1) anything valid, and 2) nothing required. Which is arguably a lot easier if the validity comes from personal psychological gratification like in Princess Play, rather than having to be expressed explicitly through mechanics.

    And like others have said, avoiding the "20 minutes of fun" problem is difficult without having to break the game down into a single core activity that can override the differences you're trying to celebrate. I've seen a few attempts at this sort of thing that just turn every character into differently themed fighters; the merchant throws coins at enemies, the negotiator hits them with charisma blasts or whatever.
  • edited December 2018
    Eh eh, definitely not what I want :)
    And yes, I brought this idea from the Princess Play thread. But it seems PP's disconnect and broad compatibility is the exception. I know luggage and coins management, being background tasks, work too, but that's about it.

    I'm going to try and read the games you name, and see if the complexity is avoidable.
    If nothing works, I'll be content with a table of techniques and advice.

    I still got me WarriorMonk's skills and powers variations. Cool !
  • Glad to be helpful! :D
  • edited December 2018
    I have read stuff about the games you mentioned. So : I don't want it too gamey, I don't want assymetry, it's a question of taste. So I'll go more the specialisation route, like in Nine worlds or Amber : adjusting player stats will indicate what zone of the game you want more influence on, without barring any combinations.
    This discussion along with Hot circle work has been very useful to narrow down the precise feel and mechanic I want for the game : great fermentation and coagulation ! Thank you all !
  • AS for asymetry, it has been discussed here.
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