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Author Topic: rpg theory  (Read 2802 times)
xechnao
Member

Posts: 108


« on: February 17, 2009, 05:59:50 AM »

Hi!

I have not posted over here for a long time -not that my posts were anything relatively important really- but I felt revisiting the "particular" wisdom of this place, a wisdom about analyzing the particulars of roleplaying games and sharing theory regarding their nature. 

Intrigued by the event of the new edition of d&d I have been posting at the Enworld forums. Intrigued mostly by any potential shifts in the market of our hobby and the hobby itself. Nevertheless I made a post over there about some personal thoughts regarding roleplaying and I would like to share them over here as well so that I can check your feedback and see if such a point of view has been already examined over here and if you have any helpful insights to give.

I will copy paste the original post and a couple of generated replies by the discussion that has followed.

me:
"title: "tabletop rpgs-are they really games? or rather a "fun" interactive experience"

A game, traditionally, is an endeavor of unknown conclusion but of known possible outcomes. This means that any game has a clear goal. In their most simple implementation you can either achieve the goal or fail. Win or lose. This definition about games is even valid for team based games where each member has to achieve on what goals its team role dictates. And it seems that a game and a race in theory are the same thing. Where they differ is the fact that in a race it is more clear the progress of the endeavor and its most probable outcome while been undertaken.

But what about tabletop rpgs? Can we say that they have clear game goals? Their nature is one of a team and each member assumes a role but does this role have the clear goals as in a team based game?

If so why the need of adventure? Because no reflection of the need of exploration and discovery in one's team role may very well create incompatibility problematics here. So the question since it seems rather more appropriate if clear game goals are established to be done with adventuring.

In case you are not convinced about potential incompatibility problems think of how team adventuring works in principle. It is clear that one needs a way to play with an ever evolving dynamic ground that offers the needed dimension for such an endeavor of exploration to be played. Such a way is the simulationism that many tabletop roleplaying games offer. And it becomes clear that any gaming goals one's team role has, they will influence or weight on the dimension of exploration because even in this dimension the gameplay is team based. So follow one's clear team role or try to reflect on ways to explore and make new discoveries?

I tend to choose the second answer of the last question. I believe traditional rpgs are more interactive experiences than traditional games. So the question in the title. What do you think?"

poster1: He does not agree with the above definition of "game" as the traditional one. He asks for further elaboration and points out that context of discussion is important.

me: "Consider the "traditionally" characterization a mistake and lets not confuse the term with what the word entertainment is generally about but rather try to be more specific on some context as you say. Lets place our context on what a tabletop rpg is about -how it is supposed to work in contrast with other activities officially acclaimed as games. From olympic games to video games to board games to scientific roleplaying games (and make it clear that while films and toys entertain for example they are not considered games).
I would also like to see your insight on the incompatibility thesis among game serving "gamism" and simulationism (adventuring) serving "gamism". I use the term "gamism" since I can not say if we finally agree or disagree to consider it appropriate for our context."

poster1: He makes a point about the marketing functionality of the word and thinks it was firstly used for this reason by D&D. The three word phrase "role-playing-game" is pretty powerful from a marketing point of view for the product.

poster1 further expanding by poster2: Poster1 says that besides simulationism,  narrativism is necessary to provide the "adventuring" process I am talking about. Then he talks about the necessary mechanical limits of roleplaying games in contrast to our imagination and thus the limited scope or focus of each roleplaying game. Poster2 directly replies to the question posed in the original message: I am quoting him here (hope that's ok with him -if it is not I will come back and edit):
"In a traditional RPG, you have a field, basically the time and place the world is set in and some parameters concerning what you are going to game about. Then you proceed through the game, with two overall goals in mind: decision, and narration. Decision means the player makes a decision about the desired outcome. Narration means resolving a challenge or question and then describing it in story terms.

Thus, "role-playing game" is exactly what it sounds like, it is a game in which you play a role. The meta-goal is an exciting experience that mimics our responses to real life. The process is immersion." 

me:
"I can accept "decision" as a valid goal. A "decision" is something we understand as the input in cases where such input is a matter of how we value their outcome. If the way we value the outcome is indifferent to such input then there is no "decision". So our goal is to create a solid ground where we can value its outcomes based on our input to it. But such a solid ground can be nothing else but socializing on some common ground, be it our neighborhood or our roleplaying game. So, our roleplaying game mechanically must be nothing else but some common ground in perpetuity. You spoke about a field of a "world" so this can very well be it, I guess.

What about "narration"? How can we understand "narration" as a goal? Do we need to establish a set of guidelines or rules so we can value "narration"? Right now I am thinking about these contests where you have judges valuing performance by various parameters such as technique, synthesis and overall form. But are roleplaying games something such as this? I think not. So how do we understand "narration" as a goal? Well, we can try to see this in the most simple way possible. One either manages to narrate or he does not. Going even further this could be: one either expresses himself or he does not. But isn't this a necessary and integral condition so that the "decision" game analyzed in the previous paragraph takes place? If so we could eventually say that narration is just a tool that reflects decision. At this point can we say that narration is an actual goal of the game? I would not say so.

In the end, the only important mechanical thing seems to be the creation of an understandable and acceptable common world with no end in sight other than our meaningful input. This means that we need to be able to value such input -or, that such input can be valued- by the known value of things in our real life. This means that we need to be able to reflect the various possibilities of inputs with the value of things in our real life. Hence the fundamental importance of simulationism I was talking about."




The discussion has gone so far (till now). The thread is found here:
http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/250706-tabletop-rpgs-they-really-games-rather-fun-interactive-experience.html

I would like to see your thoughts.     
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CKNIGHT
Member

Posts: 11


« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2009, 08:49:45 AM »

Interesting subject,

You could compare it to

What is dance?

Is the robot a dance?
What about line dancing?

When dancers compete is it a game?
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xechnao
Member

Posts: 108


« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2009, 09:05:53 AM »

When dancers compete is it a game?

First of all you will need to establish clear rules for the competition. Now if one's dancing influences his competitor's dancing I could call it a game. If not, I would rather call it a race.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2009, 09:15:04 AM »

Guys! This topic may not continue in its current form.

1. First Thoughts is about ideas for game design, and sometimes some introductory material.

2. The Forge does not exist in order to reinforce or extend discussions being held elsewhere. They belong where they started.

3. All discussions of how role-playing works or what it is must be held in the Actual Play forum and conform to its specific requirements.

To folks who've replied, when someone posts in a way which isn't obeying the forum topics, do not reply to them. It's your job as well as mine to preserved this site's focus and structure.

Xechnao, I will permit this discussion to continue only if you post regarding an actual play experience which raises your points. It may do so in any way. If you do that, then I will move this thread into the Actual Play forum. Otherwise, it must stop here.

No one else may post until Xechnao replies.

Best, Ron
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mjbauer
Member

Posts: 115


« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2009, 09:57:57 AM »

First of all you will need to establish clear rules for the competition. Now if one's dancing influences his competitor's dancing I could call it a game. If not, I would rather call it a race.

The first one to finish the dance wins?
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mjbauer = Micah J Bauer
xechnao
Member

Posts: 108


« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2009, 10:56:25 AM »

Understood and pardon me for not having grasped the forum's requirements. The topic presented here is an attempt to bring together some observations so to seek to explain the reasons of some confusion I have perceived on the matter of immersion among players.

When there are clear objectives players will seek to fulfill them but they easily grow tired of this type of challenges. What seems to work better, from my experience, is a game that allows or rather runs on player interactions on a basis of their in-game personal relationships. Of course everyone must be able to make meaningful and powerful decisions in-game for this to have any effect. And here is where the rules are important.

A problem that I encounter with 4ed D&D for example is that its rules do not provide anything of this sort. The game's rules detail combat action but they offer little about any balances regarding the risks one takes and his expectations. It ends to be just an exercise to master the game's combat tactics and as soon as this happens lack of interest seems to prevail. I feel the same way about the various iterations of the D20 system where the goal seems to be to gain XP by killing monsters. I like action but I guess I do not like mindless repetitive action because in the end it does not feel action any more. AD&D 2e seemed to fare better in this account although there was some fatigue in implementation. Also Cadwallon has fared a lot better because of well defined systematic (inherent to the system's design) backgrounds and responsibilities the PCs come with -although there was still fatigue but because of the mechanics. But I wanted to make a point here and I think I am getting lost.My point is that I think tabletop games may benefit more from seeking game design elements found in "the sims" rather than WoW. What may happen in "the sims" IMO works better as a basis for building and enjoying storytelling in a collective way. But I do not know how I can precisely describe this from actual play. If you do understand this perhaps you could try to analyze it with examples of your playing sessions and perhaps this could help research this problematic and its solutions even further?  
        
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Vulpinoid
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Posts: 936

Kitsune Trickster


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« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2009, 02:46:18 PM »

I certainly agree that if Pen-and-Paper RPG had adopted elements of a computer RPG form, it would have been far more interesting to follow "The Sims" rather than "WoW".

I think the WoW model marginalizes the roleplaying community further by reinforcing certain stereotypes, while the Sims model would have opened it up a bit more.

But then again, most of the game designers around here are trying to add something interesting and dynamic to the games they are producing...pushing the envelope in one direction or another to see what flies and what crashes.

A few games already incorporate the types of elements that you see in "The Sims".

1) Skills improving with use and specific skill-oriented research (reading books, performing tasks, etc.)
2) Improving job status through acquiring a pattern of required traits
3) Playing with a character's morale levels based on the events that happen around them (bad thing happens, morale goes down; good thing happens, morale goes up)
4) Gaining power/money/status in the game for performing actions that are specifically tied to these concepts

Most of the amateur mods I've seen for "The Sims" have been simply cosmetic changes, and maybe a couple of new items or building types. The official expansion packs have added new game concepts to expand the immersive experience of the game, I'd love to see someone write up a fantasy simulation for one of the games in the series, throwing in things like racial bonuses to certain things, extra degrees of friendliness to allied races, instant enmities with opposing races....but still focusing on the development of a character within that world, rather than focusing on a grand quest or world-shattering adventure.

This kind of project isn't typically the kind of thing that gets explored here on the Forge, that form of game design requires a fairly different skill set to the one fostered here.

V

P.S. From the Forge perspective, would "The Sims" be better off called "The Nars", since it doesn't give you a pre-defined storyline and encourages players to develop their own narrative within the world that has been presented?
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A.K.A. Michael Wenman
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2009, 05:22:25 PM »

mjbauer, you posted to this thread against my moderation. I do understand that you posted in good faith as part of the discussion, without intention of causing problems. I'm not scolding your intentions and you're not being put down.

However, posting against moderation does cause a problem. The sole reasons that the Forge is what it is are (a) my social-intellectual rules and (b) everyone's willingness to respect and reinforce them themselves. It's really important that when I say "Don't post," it means "don't post," not "post if you really feel like it" or "post if you happened not to read this one." Only in this atmosphere can an on-line discussion be this good for so long. Please help me and everyone else keep it that way.

And everyone, mjbauer, everybody, please continue the discussion. No need to dwell on moderation. We have actual play material to work with, so the points being made are now grounded.

xechnao, one issue I have with your ideas in this thread is that one person's repetition is another's welcome "next step." It depends vastly upon the goals of play - if you and I share the goals, and the feedback via the system and our interactions together lead to a new step (scene, event, issue, location, whatever) that lets us "do it again!" with the new materials in hand that resulted from the last step ... then it's fun!

But if we don't share the goals then your next step (a new iteration in Sims-mode play) means it's just more fooling around as far as I'm concerned until I get to put my tactics and drive into play in a stress situation. And in turn, if in such a situation, you're saying, "shoot, another stupid fight" and not even caring about how well I do in it this time ... well, here we are, not having fun playing together.

So my current take on what you're saying is that it's great and fine ... but it's also predicated on the people playing sharing the agenda for our creativity (-ies, together).

Best, Ron
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xechnao
Member

Posts: 108


« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2009, 11:48:56 PM »

3) Playing with a character's morale levels based on the events that happen around them (bad thing happens, morale goes down; good thing happens, morale goes up)

This sounds interesting. Any actual examples? I would also like to see something around the premise of the real life strategic objectives, from the more casual ones like securing one's safety to the more "permanent" ones like the love bonds one seeks in his life.     


V

P.S. From the Forge perspective, would "The Sims" be better off called "The Nars", since it doesn't give you a pre-defined storyline and encourages players to develop their own narrative within the world that has been presented?


I understand what you are saying and I think that yes, it could very well be so if this is reflected by a choice of options that lie in the rules. Keywords or background choices or something like that.
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xechnao
Member

Posts: 108


« Reply #9 on: February 18, 2009, 12:04:17 AM »

xechnao, one issue I have with your ideas in this thread is that one person's repetition is another's welcome "next step." It depends vastly upon the goals of play - if you and I share the goals, and the feedback via the system and our interactions together lead to a new step (scene, event, issue, location, whatever) that lets us "do it again!" with the new materials in hand that resulted from the last step ... then it's fun!

But if we don't share the goals then your next step (a new iteration in Sims-mode play) means it's just more fooling around as far as I'm concerned until I get to put my tactics and drive into play in a stress situation. And in turn, if in such a situation, you're saying, "shoot, another stupid fight" and not even caring about how well I do in it this time ... well, here we are, not having fun playing together.

But wouldn't it be more fun if we were trying to solve this conflict of interest in-game? Lets assume that your character is some dare-devil and my character is someone more cautious and for some implications well explained and covered by the rules we are bound to act together. Each one will try to influence the course of action towards his way, but whatever the course everyone has to be involved -due to prohibiting consequences- and the dynamics of their relations is still a thing to consider regarding the further course of action or even the whole story.
At least have some rules framework that allows this sort of thing. I think it could allow gameplay of sharing goal characters as easily as gameplay of situations where goals conflict.   
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mcv
Member

Posts: 34

Martijn Vos


« Reply #10 on: February 18, 2009, 03:28:41 AM »

A few games already incorporate the types of elements that you see in "The Sims".

1) Skills improving with use and specific skill-oriented research (reading books, performing tasks, etc.)
2) Improving job status through acquiring a pattern of required traits
3) Playing with a character's morale levels based on the events that happen around them (bad thing happens, morale goes down; good thing happens, morale goes up)
4) Gaining power/money/status in the game for performing actions that are specifically tied to these concepts
A few? A lot of old fashioned RPGs have elements like these.

Quote

P.S. From the Forge perspective, would "The Sims" be better off called "The Nars", since it doesn't give you a pre-defined storyline and encourages players to develop their own narrative within the world that has been presented?

Why would lack of a pre-defined storyline make it Nar? Blindly following a storyline and facing the chalenges it offers seems to me to be the heart of Gamism. Many Simulationist games are more about throwing characters into an open-ended world and having them find their own place in that world without a guiding pre-defined storyline, and from what I know of it (which is very little, I admit), The Sims seems to fit that kind of simulationism quite well.

Unless of course The Sims is all about conflict between different goals and beliefs, making hard choices between those, and growing through those choices. Then it should have been called The Nars. (But I don't think it'd sell that well with that name.)
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
mcv
Member

Posts: 34

Martijn Vos


« Reply #11 on: February 18, 2009, 03:29:32 AM »

A problem that I encounter with 4ed D&D for example is that its rules do not provide anything of this sort. The game's rules detail combat action but they offer little about any balances regarding the risks one takes and his expectations. It ends to be just an exercise to master the game's combat tactics and as soon as this happens lack of interest seems to prevail.
A lack of interest prevails in you, but not in other players with different interests. D&D4 is, in my opinion, limited experience with D&D and still limited knowledge of GNS theory, a very Gamist RPG. It's all about overcoming challenges, and those tend to be combat oriented. Some people like that a lot (witness the popularity of D&D compared to more Simulationist RPGs), whereas you don't.

And neither do I, in fact. D&D has never been my kind of game. Too restrictive, too much focused on combat, too limited in what kind of character I can play, too limited in my choices. Too limited in my combat options, even. It's too much about game mechanics themselves, and not so much about a realistic simulation of how that combat would have happened if it had been real. I'm a simulationist, and you're probably too.

To me, D&D4 feels like a tactical wargame. A skirmish game. A very fun skirmish game, with lots of funky abilities you can use to defeat your opponents, lots of new abilities you can gain as you progress, and lots of support for the DM to create new balanced skirmishes. But as soon as I try to see it as more than that, as an actual RPG, I get disappointed.

Quote
I feel the same way about the various iterations of the D20 system where the goal seems to be to gain XP by killing monsters.
That's exactly what D&D has always been about in all its iterations. You can use it in a different way ofcourse, but that's more demanding of the DM, and less supported by the system. AD&D2 and arguably D&D3 have tried to move more towards simulationism, but never left their gamist roots, and never really got far enough towards simulationism, IMO. But of course the right group can make it work. In D&D4, that group will have to work a lot harder at it.

Quote
My point is that I think tabletop games may benefit more from seeking game design elements found in "the sims" rather than WoW.
Of course you'd think that. You're a simulationist, and WoW is definitely not a simulationist game. The Sims probably is (although I haven't played it). Eve Online would probably be more up your alley too.

Quote
What may happen in "the sims" IMO works better as a basis for building and enjoying storytelling in a collective way. But I do not know how I can precisely describe this from actual play.

In what way does The Sims support storytelling? Do you have an example of something that happened in a Sims game that demonstrates this?
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
xechnao
Member

Posts: 108


« Reply #12 on: February 18, 2009, 04:29:06 AM »

throwing characters into an open-ended world and having them find their own place in that world without a guiding pre-defined storyline,

conflict between different goals and beliefs, making hard choices between those, and growing through those choices.

Is there a difference among the two? Or are they the two faces of the same coin?
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mcv
Member

Posts: 34

Martijn Vos


« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2009, 05:30:46 AM »

throwing characters into an open-ended world and having them find their own place in that world without a guiding pre-defined storyline,

conflict between different goals and beliefs, making hard choices between those, and growing through those choices.

Is there a difference among the two? Or are they the two faces of the same coin?

They are quite different. Simply exploring an open world freely doesn't in any way imply moral conflict or difficult choices. Nor vice versa. They can go together, but they don't need to, and often don't.
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
Patrice
Member

Posts: 133


« Reply #14 on: February 18, 2009, 05:40:24 AM »

It all lays about the way you set the Characters' agenda actually. One very common way to deal with Character's agenda is experience. Experience (and sometimes possessions) define how you win the game. Yes, win. I think the discussion would fare a lot better if we openly discard the common idea that "there's no winner nor losers in a RPG". If you play a skirmish game, whether D&D or Cadwallon (more on Cadwallon later in this post) or any other, it's just silly to push your minis or counters or whatever and play without win system. In Gamist systems such as these, there has to be a goal external to the Situations of play, almost a metagame goal to provide you a meter, a scale for your Stepping on Up.

There's two main reasons underlying this : First because this gives you a real reason to keep the fights going and allows you to socialize about it at a metagame level, second because it sets a limit to the game, it defines its end. I think the main reason why D&D4 fails at it is because the experience system, which is more or less the same as former versions of D&D is too fluffy and doesn't provide a goal in itself. Okay I level and then ? It does a poor job in giving the Characters an agenda. D&D4 keeps fostering the myth of a Sim play just like all D&D games do and is stuck with that. Cadwallon had a few interesting experiments regarding Chararacters' agenda but it's drowned in a mechanism set that doesn't support it. It's like most of Cadwallon content, it's a patchwork. And a heartbreaker too and it's unplayable without home corrections. Everybody designed his own bit and everything didn't match when we sew it together. It's a game that wanted too much with too many constraints to allow it.

In my recent experiments I've been designing a Character-based experience system. It's an interesting twist as it uses mechanisms found in Nar games such as The Shadow of Yesterday (Keys) but I use this at a metagame level. Did you push the action towards stealth and did you succeed at it ? Okay, if  you're the rogue type you get to level, too bad for the warrior. Something like that. You win if you bend the story your way or at least play it your way if the story if provided beforehand (while using mechanisms found in Nar games, I'm not aiming at Story Now the least). If you have a goal, individual or collective, you have a purpose for playing the game and in order to provide this, you have to allow a metagame mechanic.
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