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Author Topic: The Invisible Rules of Role-Playing  (Read 15345 times)
Montola
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Posts: 36


« on: October 21, 2005, 02:27:11 AM »

Ron and Ben were interested, so here's a quote I posted to my blog, Shards, about the three rules that I use to classify role-playing.

Quote
I'm finalizing my paper proposal for the role-playing book by Bryn Neuenschwander and Ben Aldred. I've earlier said that I'm never going to do this, but now I've grabbed the hot potato right by the balls: I'm trying to define role-playing. I'm going to state aloud the rules of role-playing, which is the thing that is always explained allegorically in the obligatory "this is how you role-play" chapters of role-playing books. Quite different rules compared to the gibberish Gary and Dave put out in their original 1974 white box Dungeons & Dragons: Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures.

Here's what I'm proposing, a bit of gibberish of my own:

1. Role-playing is an interactive process of defining and re-defining the state, properties and contents of an imaginary game world.
2. The power to define the game world is allocated to participants of the game. The participants recognize the existence of this power hierarchy.
3. Player-participants define game world through personified character constructs, conforming to the state, properties and contents of the game world.

All gaming according to the rules above is role-playing. All activities lacking one of those is not.

The plan is to publish the full explanations and rationales to that in the book, but I'll just point out that interaction refers to social interaction, and that this is supposed to include tabletop role-playing, larping, online role-playing, freeform role-playing and so on, but also supposed to exclude single-player activities. Role-playing requires two participants, and one of them has to participate in a player position.

Feel free to mail me or catch me in a bar if you want to beat them until they bleed.

Just to clarify a few points before we get into the ring; 

Rules are here a ludological concept, in The Forge parlance I believe I have here defined tha part of the "system" that is outside the "rules" -- right? The rulesets such as D&D boxed set work under these three, while rulesets such as  the one in Polaris book also address these to some extent.

Interaction is here A:s ability to affect B:s ability of affecting A in a meaningful non-trivial way, and vice versa. Whatever Greg Costikyan says, this time lightbulb is not interactive. Single-players computer RPG:s are not intended to be role-playing games, while MMORPGs are.

Players are separately defined, as ludologically we have to have players in order to have a game. In this definition, game masters, live musicians, nondiegetic waiters and whatnot are "participants" but not "players".

And finally about charitable reading, these rules are an excerpt of a 10.000 word paper. Later on in there I also present additional rules that are supposed to separate tabletop, larp and virtual role-play (MMORPG) from each other, although all them obey these three rules. (If and when the players do role-play).


Oh, I'm very bad at understanding Forgese, so please try to communicate like you were talking to an idiot, please. :-)

 - Markus
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Montola
Member

Posts: 36


« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2005, 02:31:18 AM »

Oh, a clarification.

I'm not talking about role-playing games.

I'm talking about the social process of role-playing which is often -- even usually -- done utilizing one of such role-playing games. I'm wondering here what kind of rules govern that process.

 - Markus
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matthijs
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« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2005, 02:33:50 AM »

Two comments:

A. In your point 2 - can a game text or process define the game world? If I roll on "Character Race" table and get "You're an elf", where does that fit in?

B. You seem to say the world comes first, and characters conform to the world. What of play that springs forth from the character, where the world is secondary, ephemeral and mutable?

Actually, three:

C. I loved "now I've grabbed the hot potato right by the balls".
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Montola
Member

Posts: 36


« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2005, 02:43:28 AM »

Two comments:

A. In your point 2 - can a game text or process define the game world? If I roll on "Character Race" table and get "You're an elf", where does that fit in?

B. You seem to say the world comes first, and characters conform to the world. What of play that springs forth from the character, where the world is secondary, ephemeral and mutable?

That was quick!

A. The author of the role-playing book is one of the participants, even though he's not physically present. Also, the things that are written into the booklet are not a part of the game world before they are brought to the game by the actively participating partners, who construct the imaginary world and add an elf into it.

B. I actually say that it is an iterative (or even recursive) process, where the world is perpetually recreated (or updated) according to it's present state and the player intentions. What the world is in the future is equal to what the world is now + how the world is changed based on that.

If I read you right, ephemerality and mutability can be reached with a proper power structure, where all the participants have a lot of power to redefine the game world (even with power not related to characters).


Best,

 - Markus
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Mark Johnson
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« Reply #4 on: October 21, 2005, 06:59:17 AM »

I actually say that it is an iterative (or even recursive) process, where the world is perpetually recreated (or updated) according to it's present state and the player intentions.

Intentions or actions?  Or is intention defined through actions?
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #5 on: October 21, 2005, 07:59:22 AM »

I believe your definition includes a lot more than role play games. Skirmish war games, miniatures games where players take on the role of commanders, even some board games like Advance Squad Leader where you personally identify with one of your cardbard officers would all fit.

I think what your definition does is cover playing games where participants imagine a world and are able to change it by play.

D+D as it existed in those little white boxes (BTW the first printing were in brown boxes) was really a small step away from miniatures gaming. Players brought in a lot of assumed proceedures of play - that were not actually written in the book. For instance, going around the table and saying what you do - is what happens in war games. Using a referee to ajudicate outcomes was also normal game play. What D+D did that war games didn't was to open up the door to spending more play time exploring non-combat events. That pandora's box has lead us to where we are now.

I started gaming in 76, with a bunch of older guys (wargamers) who were part of the first wave of D+D buyers. They played it in 74-75 and were leaving it behind when I came along because the game was moving away from it's war game roots. I think it was the high level of silliness that D+D allowed that turned them off. In Forge terms they were gamist players.

Which leads me here. "If the definition lumps these guys into role playing when they don't see themselves as doing that then maybe the definition is too broad."

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
Montola
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Posts: 36


« Reply #6 on: October 21, 2005, 08:49:02 AM »

Quote
Intentions or actions?  Or is intention defined through actions?

Actions, in the sense that the redefining the world is constant action in the process.

Quote
I believe your definition includes a lot more than role play games. Skirmish war games, miniatures games where players take on the role of commanders, even some board games like Advance Squad Leader where you personally identify with one of your cardbard officers would all fit.

Indeed: I'm not defining role-playing games, but the activity of role-playing. And that part of Advanced Squad Leader is the role-playing part. The focus is deliberately chosen as a broad one here -- it's chosen pragmatically for the needs of the doctoral thesis I'm working on.

Quote
Which leads me here. "If the definition lumps these guys into role playing when they don't see themselves as doing that then maybe the definition is too broad."

I specifically disagree with this point. I don't consider role-playing a new and original phenomenon that originated from the game of Dave and Gary; rather it's just a new form of earlier practices. Such as many ritualistic practices.

 - Markus
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #7 on: October 21, 2005, 08:58:56 AM »

3. Player-participants define game world through personified character constructs, conforming to the state, properties and contents of the game world.

This is a relatively minor nitpick, but you're assuming that player-characters (or equivalents) are a necessary element of roleplaying?  Your definition here does not assume one PC per player (so Troupe Play is still in), and does not assume that there must be a GM (so GMless play is still in) -- am I reading this right?  I suppose it's not really "roleplaying" if there is no role to play, but there's something about this that strikes me as problematic.
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Mark Johnson
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« Reply #8 on: October 21, 2005, 09:09:48 AM »

Which leads me here. "If the definition lumps these guys into role playing when they don't see themselves as doing that then maybe the definition is too broad."

Since Markus is defining role playing games by actions rather than intentions, does it really matter what they see themselves doing?  

These gamers are engaging in a role-playing game -- by playing a game in such a way that allocates the power to define and redefine the state, properties and contents of an imaginary game world through personified character constructs.  

I suppose the validity your statement hinges on the second line of the second statement "The participants recognize the existence of this power hierarchy."  I would argue that this recognition is irrelevant.

By extension, the Lumpley principle is valid regardless of whether the participants in the game recognize it.
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Mark Johnson
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« Reply #9 on: October 21, 2005, 09:20:46 AM »

This is a relatively minor nitpick, but you're assuming that player-characters (or equivalents) are a necessary element of roleplaying?  Your definition here does not assume one PC per player (so Troupe Play is still in), and does not assume that there must be a GM (so GMless play is still in) -- am I reading this right?  I suppose it's not really "roleplaying" if there is no role to play, but there's something about this that strikes me as problematic.

If you have a game that meets the first two his first two criteria, but not the third, it could be argued that you have a storytelling game.  What happens when one or more players slips into role playing during a storytelling game presents an interesting case study, particularly if it becomes a consistent or reoccurring behavior.  Is this behavior rewarded by the game rules or the non-ludological social system?
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #10 on: October 21, 2005, 10:24:21 AM »

I'm talking about the social process of role-playing

1. Role-playing is an interactive process of defining and re-defining the state, properties and contents of an imaginary game world.
2. The power to define the game world is allocated to participants of the game. The participants recognize the existence of this power hierarchy.
3. Player-participants define game world through personified character constructs, conforming to the state, properties and contents of the game world.


Now if you are going for a very broad definition I still think the definition falls down. The social process of role playing in general goes way beyond the gaming community.

For example:

A little girl playing tea party with her dolls.
Cowboys and Indians "Bang Bang you're dead." "No I'm not."
A person putting themselves in someone elses shoes to see what it feels like (either on their own or when asked to do it by a psychotherapist.)

The social act of role playing isn't always hierarchical, can be individual (to kids those imaginary friends are often more important and influential than real people) and isn't necessarily about a character, let alone a story. Often role playing is a fragment of a piece of life.

Now your definition does work for role play games and wargames as well (since they are just a short jump from D+D) but as the Hadith says "Actions are judged by intentions." I don't think we can accidentally role play.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
Mark Johnson
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Posts: 238


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« Reply #11 on: October 21, 2005, 11:28:55 AM »

Chris,

I should let Markus articulate his thesis since his views may be contradictory to mine, but I did want to address some points.

First, instead of "I'm talking about the social process of role-playing".  I read it as a the "place of social process in role-playing games."

Therefore, a little girl playing tea party with her dolls and a person putting themselves in someone elses shoes to see what it feels like is not a role playing game since it is only one person and does not involve a ludological system.  Cowboys and Indians would not be one unless the players themselves arrived at some way to distribute authority -- either by imparting authority formally and objectively through ludological constructs (rules - "to kill another player you must tag them with a plastic ball) or informally and subjectively through to the players ("Fred is the referee.  What he says goes.").  Both of these are determined through social contract.  But if there is a conflict of opinion and it is consistently functionaly resolved, I don't see how there isn't a hierarchy -- even if the authority is just consensus.

Finally, if actions are reflective of intentions then, through parsimony, there is really no need to discuss intentions.

Thanks,
Mark J.

(BTW Chris, I have long thought that Matrix Games are a brilliant piece of design.  The transparency of the distribution of subjective authority combined with objective, but simple, probabilistic ludological mechanics makes for a very effective game engine.  I think that Markus would be well advised to look at it in actual play since its transparency seems to expose the issues he is interested in directly.)
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #12 on: October 21, 2005, 11:31:53 AM »

I should clarify what I mean about intentionality. I tend to take a very behavioral approach in analyzing behavior since it is hard to measure intention but in this case it seems vital.

Consider a Miniatures game - say a WWI fighter combat game. Look at two players. One is given a plane with Baron Munchausen written on it. The other gets a plane with John Bull written on it. The first player - who we will call Killcrazy - looks at the plane and says "Cool! An Albatross D3." The second player - who we will call Thespian - looks at the plane and says "John Bull, I'm an English aristocrat. I went to Eden and Oxford and I stand for fair play and decency."

They start to play. They follow the rules of the game. From the outside what they are doing is identical. But Thespian fore goes "unfair" shots while Killcrazy takes every shot he gets.

Thespian is role playing. Killcrazy is playing a tactical game.

Given that their behavior looks identical the only thing that separates them are their intentions. We can guess at their intentions only indirectly (by how they play) but that is the only difference between them. If you tell Killcrazy "No you are role playing a dirty Hun." aside from being culturally insensitive, you are wrong. He's playing a tactical game.

Thus "Actions are judged by intentions."

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games

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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
Mark Johnson
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« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2005, 12:21:47 PM »

Ron is going to kill me here, but one an alternate analysis for this as a role playing game is  that regardless of Killcrazy's intentions, actual play has generated a thematic question... "What is the price of fair play and decency?"   The question will probably be answered in this scenario as "death with honor."   None of this has been addressed mechanically and one of the players isn't addressing the concept at all, but the interactions between the players and the system as whole has created a (very limited) role playing game regardless.

Another analysis is that it isn't actually a role playing game because the power to define and redefine the game world is NOT allocated to participants of the game.
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ewilen
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« Reply #14 on: October 21, 2005, 03:03:25 PM »

In the example at hand I would say that as soon as one player identifies the miniature as an airplane flying through an imaginary sky, and not a piece of plastic sitting on a table, he's fulfilled Markus's requirement #1. That is: he's constructing a diegesis and updating it through interaction with another player. As long as the rules are laid out and followed, requirement #2 is fulfilled. Where Killcrazy fails to roleplay, arguably, is that he doesn't appear to have a "personified character construct" as required under #3.

Thespian is roleplaying per #3 (he's got a character in mind), but not because there's a Premise: that's only needed for Narrativist play.

However, there's a different kind of ambiguity if Killcrazy insists that he's playing "a dirty hun" even though "Baron Munchausen" was chosen by a GM, who says that "Baron Munchausen may be a scoundrel, but he's not a pig." If this happens, I don't know if the power hierarchy, which tells us who can say what about the game world, is being recognized or not. I still wouldn't be able to tell, even if Killcrazy had intuitively used the GM's characterization. That's because I don't know what exactly counts as "the power to define the game world".

I sent a PM to Markus basically saying that "power to define" and "game world" are troublingly ambiguous terms. But since his earlier essays focused quite carefully on these issues, I bet he'll be a lot clearer in his final paper. We're back to an argument over the Lumpley Principle and the SIS.
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Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA
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