Friday, December 29, 2006

Yearly Review 2006: Lists - Part One

Five Most Prolific Contributors:

1) Thomas Robertson - Thomas' contributions have included a variety of topics, most notably the structure of RPG mediums.

2) Joshua BishopRoby - Joshua's work tends to focus on stories within RPGs.

3) Moyra Turkington - Moyra has made several specific contributions, including Push and Pull, the sockets perspective of RPGs, and categorizing spectrums of player behavior.

4) Brian Hollenbeck - Brian's main development has been the AGE (Art, Game, Emulation) model of RPGs.

5) John Kim - John has contributed to numerous discussions, with a special focus on inclusiveness in RPGs.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Weekly Review Dec. 17th to Dec. 23rd

This week has seen a few new perspectives on previous developments.


Matt Snyder discusses the importance of hidden information to the functioning of stories. Specifically he describes how, while players may be aware of the full picture, the fitness of a character for a story often depends on what they do not or cannot know. This also suggests that a good situation in game is one where no party has full information.


Carl Cravens discusses the importance of player decisions in the context of RPGs. Specifically, he suggests that decisions can matter too much, as well as mattering too little. In the former, the analysis brought on by fear of failure can grind play to a halt. On the other, the irrelevance of the decisions makes play largely meaningless.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Weekly Review Dec. 10th to Dec. 16th

An odd week in theory discussion, centering more on the forums than blogs.

Who's in Charge Here

Over a series of forum discussions, the topic of authority and responsibility was discussed, focusing especially focusing on the role of the GM. At the Forge there is a discussion about creativity loads and the responsibilities of a GM versus that of players. Part of this also centered on the difficulties that can occur in learning or relearning creativity in play. Over at Story Games is a discussion focusing on people with little experience or desire to take on a GM role. Discourse here covered GMing methods and the advantages of RPGs with more distributed responsibilities. Lastly, at Gamecraft is a discussion about the responsibility versus the authority of a GM, specifically that a GM may lack the authority to truly ensure fun, but that fun remains the accepted responsibility of that position.

Designing the Experience

Over at RPGnet, Jeremiah Henson suggests that he is fed up with his designs clashing with the pre-existing patterns of play in his players. He argues that to effectively design you must take into account and seek to affect those patterns.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Editorial: Feedback 2006

RPG Theory Review has been running for over a year. Soon, we'll be doing a series of posts for our Yearly Review of RPG Theory. In the mean time, I think it is past time to ask readers what they would like to see in the coming year.

What do you like or dislike? Do you want more interaction, lessons, or editorials? Or possibly fewer?

What do you feel would make this a more useful resource to the community of people who want to better understand how we play RPGs, and how to make that play better?

I look forward to ideas, even just confirmations of what we're already doing. After all, this site will only serve you better if you let us know how.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Weekly Review Dec. 3rd to Dec. 9th

This week has seen a handful of largely unrelated theory developments.

Reason to Compete

Guy Shalev discusses the goals behind competition. Specifically, he discounts a pure goal of winning, since many competitive games are still worthwhile without victory. He concludes that the process of competition itself must provide something of value.

Default System

Matt Snyder references the difference between the system existing largely with the people playing or within the game text. The former he describes as more typical with the same social and creative dynamics applying to multiple games. He suggests that the later enables the underlying dynamics of the game to be portable, enabling a more consistent experience.

Examples of Play

Moyra Turkington describes the benefits and problems of examples of play. Specifically she describes how examples of play can impart (intentionally or not) social and cultural elements of the game. In addition, she leaves the caveat that the importance of examples of play depends very much on the individual proclivities of the reader.

RPGs as Media

Over at Gamecraft is a discussion on the RPG as a medium, and its strengths and weaknesses as such. Most of these, good or bad, build on two basic principles: the creative flexibility of structured imagination and the mixing of creator and audience. In addition, some in the thread describe RPGs as much a process or method as a medium.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Monthly Review November 2006

This month has had numerous disparate advances in theory, from describing how we play to how we test theory. The following are a few high points.

System and Culture

At the beginning of the month, Matt Snyder discussed how recent "indie" designs seem to focus on explicit system, going beyond the mechanical to describing things at a social level as well. He contrasts this with more traditional design, which exploits common traditions of social roles and behaviors. A little later, Mike Holmes began a thread at The Forge asking how much system matters. Among the insights from this discussion was that culture has its own influence on play.

Cognition, Passion, and the Other

Moyra Turkington produced a series of essays presenting another way to describe how and why people play, based on two dynamic criteria: cognitive and impassioned and how closely a player relates to the object in the fiction, which may include as disparate elements as character, story, or system.

These are built on several concepts

  • Sockets are the aspects of play on which a player focuses, such as character, story, or social.

  • Payoffs are described as what we want out of the game, varying significantly between players.

  • Goals are described as what you work towards within the game, often but not always aligned with payoffs.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Weekly Review Nov. 26th to Dec. 2nd

A generally quiet blogsphere produced several points of interest, including the following:

Dangerous Play

Yudhishthira's Dice presents an analysis of the concept of "dangerous play", with examples of specific cases where players found a game or its implementation to be dangerous. Powerful emotional associations seem to be key.

Setting, Part II

Socratic Design returns to the concept of Setting in part two of an ongoing series. In this segment, Troy Costisick expands his understanding and listing of Setting Aspects, then defines and explains each Aspect.

Gaming the System

In a curious thread on the Gamecraft forum, Kyle Aaron suggests that negative reviews and criticism are more valuable at increasing game sales than positive reviews and praise.

Seductive Theory

On another Gamecraft thread, TonyLB examines the perils of delving too deeply into RPG theory.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Lesson: Exercise 5 - Details

Take a moment and write down a test for when color details are important or not in play. Also, when are they so important that they no longer act as simply details? When would the following be a color detail and not something more prominent, such as setting or situation? When would they be important or not?

The map of the world

The name of the barkeeper

The breed of a horse

The language commonly spoken

The identity of an ex

The laws of the land

A fight

A kiss

A gun on the mantelpiece

Do your written limits work? Or do you need to go back to an intuition for the different contexts? How much of it depends on earlier context and how much on social background? Are color details a fuzzy definition or can they be made definite? How about their importance in play?