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Author Topic: The Handbook Project: Give Us a Hand  (Read 6881 times)
Jonathan Walton
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« on: April 25, 2004, 09:46:30 AM »

Many of you may remember this thread from a month ago, when I proposed a "Player's Guide" that actually explained how to roleplay: i.e. put forth the theories and practices that have developed in the 30+ years that roleplaying has existed in a way that would help new and existing players and designers to understand and utilize them in their own games.  Well, luckily, Chris Lehrich got interested in the project (which was definitely in need of a co-editor) and now it looks like it's actually going to happen.

However, before we begin signing people up to write sections of it (which we'll begin to do over the next couple of months), we really need to nail down the outline and make sure we're going to cover things as thoroughly as we'd like without just wasting space with unnecessary shoe-gazing.  The focus of the book will be on practice and theories that people can immediately implement and see the advantages of, because that's the kind of audience we're aiming this at: people who are going to use this stuff in actual play and design.

I've included our basic outline below.  This is what we need from you right now:

1. What's missing?  This especially refers to the "Techniques" section, which should comprise the bulk of the book.  What nifty things are you doing in your own games or have seen discussed on the Forge or elsewhere that deserves a few pages of explanation?  If someone asked you for neat roleplaying "tricks" or how you achieved certain results in your game, what would you tell them?

2. What is unnecessary or redundant?  Should freeform and improvized systems be combined into one section?  Should we give a basic overview of all kinds of resolution systems (fortune, drama, karma) and then move on?  How can be clean up and consolidate what we have to make it lean and mean?

3. How should we organize this? It's going to be somewhat difficult to figure out what order to arrange the Techniques in.  Some of them don't seem to fit into any sort of natural progression.  Surely an overview of Social Contract should come first but after that...?  Some advice would be most welcome.  We'll definitely be shifting things around once the articles come in and we can see how they might arrange themselves, but having an idea in the beginning is pretty critical.

4. What else?  Now check out the sections on "Issues & Problems" and "Theory."  Is there anything obvious they we've missed.  We tried to nail down all the major points but we might have missed something.  I've been thinking recently that we could probably stand a whole Theory article on "roleplaying as ritual," but that could be the bulk of what "Other Theoretical Directions" might be about, I don't know.

In any case, check out what we've got and help us make it better.

Quote

THE STORY SO FAR:
A Handbook of Contemporary
Roleplaying Theory and Practice


Table of Contents

Authors List

Preface

Introduction

I. Fundamentals/Foundations

What is Roleplaying?
Why Do We Roleplay?
The Development of Roleplaying
Contemporary Roleplaying
Recent Developments, Future Directions
Outreach and Public Relations

II. Techniques

Social Contract
Immersion
Stance
Fortune Mechanics (Dice, Cards, Other)
Karma & Resource Mechanics
Drama Mechanics
Personality Mechanics
Historical Gaming
Narrative Distribution (GM-player, GM-less, other)
Kicks, Bangs, and Player Ownership of Story
Choosing or Building a System
Handouts and Other Paraphernalia
Drift
"Rules-Heavy"
"Rules-Lite"
Freeform Systems
Improvising System
Illusion
No Myth
Scene Framing
Non-Linear Play
Non-Synchronous Play (PBM, PBeM, Wiki)
Live Action
Playing: The Basics
Playing: Other Approaches
Gamemastering: The Basics
Gamemastering: Other Approaches
Being Part of a Group

III. Issues & Problems

Dealing with Other Players
Avoiding Passivity
Other Social Contract Problems
Incoherence
Issues: Religion
Issues: Gender & Sexuality
Issues: Race, Ethnicity, & Culture
Common Misconceptions (i.e. Mike’s Rants)

IV. Theory

What is Roleplaying Theory?
Why Do We Theorize?
The Development of Theory
Threefold Model
GNS and the SECTE(?) Model
Aesthetic Theories
Other Theoretical Directions
Theory in Practice

Bibliography
Websites
Glossary
Index


Thanks so much.
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neelk
Member

Posts: 126


« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2004, 04:08:12 PM »

First, see if you can't pick up a copy of Keith Johnstone's Impro. I got my copy in 1997, and I'm still finding stuff to rip off and apply to playing in it.

Something that's missing from your list is how to use space and physical location effectively. This is probably the part of roleplaying that I am weakest in, and what I've been looking really hard for assistance on. The best trick I know of, doesn't work -- in Exalted, you get a +1 bonus for describing action, and a +2 bonus if it involves the environment. This sounds like it should help, but it doesn't. :-(

Also, here's a list of some tricks I've found useful while roleplaying.

    [*] Things in the game become "real" when the other players "handle" them. The reality-status of game stuff is determined through a process of consensus, so...

    [*] Wear a hat. Games, being social events, have lots of social chat going on. It's sometimes helpful to have some visible cue that you are portraying your character rather than commenting as an observer. If you can manage it, you can do amazing things by simply adjusting your body language when doing character play, but that's harder to do.

    [*] Speak in complete, grammatical sentences, without filler particles like "er" or "um". This is a useful trick for playing characters who are of high status, or unusually intelligent. It's surprisingly hard to do, so you end up speaking only when you have something relevant to say, and hence the other players quickly learn to pay attention to you when you speak.

    [*] Design PCs in pairs (at least!), so that each PC is a foil to another. Two characters are foils to one another when they have strongly contrasting traits. Characters are most powerfully revealed through action, and having characters take contrasting positions highlights their decisions. It's a really good idea to work with the other players so that the group has a foil character for the most important traits of your character. Otherwise you can find that it's hard to focus on the bits of your character that are most interesting to you. Having an NPC foil is not a good substitute for a PC foil, since player characters get dramatically more attention and time lavished to their play than NPCs do.

    [*] Jokes are used to defuse the tension in a situation. You can make horror games more frightening if you and the other players refuse to make jokes. This is brutal, but very effective. A more subtle variation on this technique is to make jokes, but only make them in-character. Then, you have established that your character is trying to defuse the tension, and is hence himself (or herself) tense.
    [/list:u]
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    Neel Krishnaswami
    Ben Lehman
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    « Reply #2 on: April 25, 2004, 11:55:22 PM »

    What do you picture the articles in the "techniques" section looking like?  Are they merely bare-bones descriptions?  Are they discussions of games that they have been used in, and how they work?  Are they arguments in favor or against?

    yrs--
    --Ben
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    clehrich
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    « Reply #3 on: April 26, 2004, 05:32:33 AM »

    Quote from: Ben Lehman
    What do you picture the articles in the "techniques" section looking like?
    We expect that these will be short -- maybe 5 pages or so.  They should be very practical, hands-on sorts of things: how to do X.  We want the authors to present techniques they like and are good at in such a way that readers who haven't tried these things see them as possible options, and readers who have tried them maybe get some new perspectives or ideas.  Although there will necessarily be some discussion of "why this technique is useful," we don't think the authors have to make a strong argument: if readers understand why a given technique can be useful, and see how they could make use of it, they can choose to do so or not based on their own needs.

    The idea is that the articles in sections 1 and 4 will be relatively long -- 10 to 15 pages -- while the articles in the middle will be short.  In addition, sections 1 and 4 will be more theoretical and perhaps abstract while the middle sections will be more practical and concrete.

    We think this will make the book useful to a wide range of audiences.

    -----

    Neel,

    Good point about the use of space and location.  We often think of this as something given, something where you have to work with what you've got.  But InSpectres, for example, has a special Confessional Chair, and simply setting that aside creates an ambience of its own.  Thanks!
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    Chris Lehrich
    Emily Care
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    « Reply #4 on: April 26, 2004, 05:45:30 AM »

    Hey there,

    The techniques do need to flow somehow.  If there is no logical progression that you can find, you might want to put them in alphabetical order.   But, having social contract first makes so much sense--there must be a way.
    Here's my suggestion:

    Quote
    II. Techniques

    Social Contract
    Narrative Distribution (GM-player, GM-less, other)
    Playing: The Basics
    Playing: Other Approaches
    Gamemastering: The Basics
    Gamemastering: Other Approaches
    Being Part of a Group

    Choosing or Building a System
    Drift
    Stance
    Fortune Mechanics (Dice, Cards, Other)
    Karma & Resource Mechanics
    Drama Mechanics
    Personality Mechanics
    Scene Framing
    Kicks, Bangs, and Player Ownership of Story
    Handouts and Other Paraphernalia

    Historical Gaming
    No Myth
    Illusion
    Immersion

    "Rules-Heavy" points of contact/handling time
    "Rules-Lite"
    Freeform Systems
    Improvising System
    Non-Linear Play
    Non-Synchronous Play (PBM, PBeM, Wiki)
    Live Action



    --Emily
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    Black & Green Games
    clehrich
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    « Reply #5 on: April 26, 2004, 05:54:16 AM »

    The goddess speaks.  Thanks, Emily!

    And we could tack in physical location issues in the last block there, with LARPs and so on.

    One important point that you could all help us on, as long as you're reading this: clearly not every article here needs to be written, but some are essential.  Just looking at the Techniques section for starters, focusing on Emily's nicely revised version, what seems to you necessary and what seems to you icing, as in icing on the cake.  I would think that about 25% of these articles are real must-haves, and about 25% would be nice but non-essential, and the remaining 50% are somewhere in between.  Any suggestions on the two poles?

    Looking at Emily's breakdown, I'm inclined to say that the first block are must-haves, and the last block are icing, but that's pretty much off the cuff.
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    Chris Lehrich
    Trevis Martin
    Member

    Posts: 499


    « Reply #6 on: April 26, 2004, 07:00:34 AM »

    For the techniques section.  Perhaps some discussion of Conflict vs. Task resolution (could be incorporated into discussion about Drama, Fortune, Karma) similar perhaps to vincent's musings here
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    neelk
    Member

    Posts: 126


    « Reply #7 on: April 26, 2004, 07:36:41 AM »

    Quote from: clehrich

    Neel,

    Good point about the use of space and location.  We often think of this as something given, something where you have to work with what you've got.  But InSpectres, for example, has a special Confessional Chair, and simply setting that aside creates an ambience of its own.  Thanks!


    I was actually thinking about how to use space more effectively to describe and shape the action in the game, which is something I'm not very good at. But the point about physical space is a good one -- our group meets in the same place every week, and I try to sit at a different spot every time to mix people up and get different interpersonal dynamics (people talk the most with whoever they're closest to). This is nowhere as sophisticated as what you described with Inspectres (which I clearly have to play someday).
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    Neel Krishnaswami
    Emily Care
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    « Reply #8 on: April 26, 2004, 11:22:09 AM »

    You're most welcome, Chris. Glad to be of help.
    Quote from: clehrich
    Looking at Emily's breakdown, I'm inclined to say that the first block are must-haves, and the last block are icing, but that's pretty much off the cuff.

    I see the order going from most fundamental principles, to most esoteric/experimental.  Like a mini-tour of rpg play/design starting with basic concepts, through specific implementation and interaction, on to experimentation.  

    What was meant by Historical Gaming, by the way?

    --Em
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    Black & Green Games
    Jonathan Walton
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    « Reply #9 on: April 26, 2004, 11:36:18 AM »

    Quote from: Emily Care
    What was meant by Historical Gaming, by the way?


    That was my question too.  It definitely seems like a "one of these things is not like the other" topic.  I think that Chris wanted to discuss the difficulties of "accurately" representing other places, times, societies, and cultures in roleplaying, but I'm not 100% sure.  

    Personally, my preference if for the book to not dicuss genre or setting-specific questions, because that has all sorts of unintended implications ("These are the types of roleplaying that are possible..." or "This are the types of roleplaying that our theories are especially applicable to...").

    Great suggestions, by the way, guys.  Emily, your structure is much better than the one I cobbled together.  Neel, Trevis, and Ben, your comments are definitely apt as well.  Keep it coming!  I'll try to post a revised outline in a few more days, at this rate.
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    Emily Care
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    « Reply #10 on: April 28, 2004, 09:04:30 AM »

    Hey there,

    Quote from: Jonathan
    The focus of the book will be on practice and theories that people can immediately implement and see the advantages of, because that's the kind of audience we're aiming this at: people who are going to use this stuff in actual play and design.

    Pragmatic and immediately applicable--sounds dead on. However, I wonder if you might want to tighten the focus of this book specifically to deal with play (and related theory) rather than explicitly with design.  

    Similar topics would be covered for design and play of rpgs, but the specifics would be broken down and presented in very different ways for each.  How you go about designing a game requires very different steps than preparing for play--see the thread about Lessons learned from IGC for good points about what it involves (thinking about desired flow of play, creating examples of play and finding mechanics that bring it into being) that wouldn't make sense to do for play prep.  In some ways, theory here is still catching up with design, while it has dealt well and fully with play.   Effective ways of designing are still being formulated.

    Rather than try to do too much all in one place, I suggest working with issues of play in this book. As it stands, I see this project as an excellent reference for playing role playing games.  Maybe there could be a sister project for design? Design does deserve a tome of its own.

    --Em
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