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Toy Quality (Take 2)

Started by LordSmerf, January 27, 2005, 01:13:12 PM

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Ben Lehman proposed that we discuss Toy Quality, which he defines as "Any part of the game that is enjoyable when divorced from the SIS" [paraphrase].

I quickly derailed the conversation, and then we spent a while flailing around trying to come up with some definitions.  C. Edwards, Vaxalon, and I spent about an hour or so hashing some of this out, so I decided to kick up a new thread to get a fresh start.

The problem we first ran into was that Toy Quality, as Ben had defined it, was far too broad to really discuss.  We have broken it up into three major categories: Aesthetics, Props, and Mechanics.

Aesthetics is pure aesthetic appreciation.  This includes pretty pictures, nice layout, the attractive qualities of the platonic solids, whatever.  For example, I love my copy of The Burning Wheel.  Not just for the mechanics and stuff, but because I find it to be a very attractive book.

Props are physical objects that are manipulated.  A lot of Props also have Aesthetic value.  Those figurines are pretty and there's something about moving them around that is fun.  The real key for the Toy Quality aspect of Props is that they are played with.  If it's just sitting around looking pretty then it's about the Aesthetics, but once you start manipulating it it's about the Prop-ness (or something).

Mechanics, as Toy Quality applies to the term, is about the manipulation of complex systems.  "Complex" in this case meaning "having interconnected parts".  Basically Mechanical Toy Quality is about the enjoyment of manipulating a system iteratively.  The system feeds back into itself such that choices impact your future choices.  Mechanical Toy Quality can include Character Creation, detailed Combat Systems, really any sort of system in which the mechanics impact each other directly without SIS input.  Again, I point at The Burning Wheel for their combat mechanics, but you could also point at The Riddle of Steel or d20.

One of the important distinctions that came out of our discussions was that Toy Quality itself is relative.  If you don't like chess then chess holds little or no Toy Quality for you.  Quantifying Toy Quality is like trying to quantify fun, a game is only "fun" in context of the players.

That said, games can be designed to maximize Potential Toy Quality.  If you have non-complex mechanics then there is not potential for Toy Quality in the mechanics.  The purpose of this thread is to discuss specific ways to design Potential Toy Quality into RPGs.

I think that we have a pretty good grasp of the Aesthetic.  Art, layout, and all that is something that we have done, perhaps without calling it Toy Qulity, but we have a prett solid understanding of it.  

Props are a much less discussed topic, so: What Props have good Toy Quality?  How can those Props be integrated into RPGs?  What use can Props be put to within the SIS (not Toy Quality)?

Mechanics are what I find most fascinating about all this personally.  It's also the thing I'm having the hardest time analyzing.  I can point to a system that does have mechanical Toy Quality for me, and for others (which indicates a high level of Potential Toy Quality), but I am unable to precisely point out what gives something Toy Quality.  I believe that Mechanical Toy Quality is what non-RP games are aiming for since they don't have an SIS.

It's possible that I've misrepresented one of the other parties in this discussion.  This was my final understanding, but there may be some point that they wish to highlight or contest.  Also, if anyone wishes a log of the conversation in order to see how we got to where we did, feel free to PM me.

Current projects: Caper, Trust and Betrayal, The Suburban Crucible