Monday, January 29, 2007

Weekly Review Jan. 21st to Jan. 27th

This past week has seen new discussions on game design and publishing, as well a few RPG theory developments.

Loosely Defined

Fang Langord attempts to describe roleplaying as a loose category. Rather than strict definitions he breaks more definite categories into core, border, and outside of roleplaying respectively. He then focuses on the question of whether these categories place table top RPGs centrally or closer the border.

Storytelling and RPGs

Jonathon Walton discusses some of the features of storytelling distinct from traditional RPGs. Specifically, he talks about stories, such as faery tales, where the large aspects are constant but smaller details are where the creativity and surprises can happen. He contrasts this with RPGs, where surprise among the large plot points is stressed.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lesson: Illusionism

Illusionism is a set of techniques that many of us have experienced - and if it's done skillfully enough, we likely never realized it.

In RPGs in which one individual is given the privilege and responsibility of managing the functioning of the game's setting and basic workings, it's a common understanding that the game reality will offer scope for adventure, as well as opportunities for the other players to make choices and decisions that decide the direction of the narrative. Keeping the right mix of structure and freedom is a difficult balancing act - so sometimes it's simplest to cheat, and offer the appearance of choice without its substance. After all, what the players don't know won't hurt them. That's Illusionism in a nutshell.

It's important to distinguish between outright fudging, simple prearrangement, and Illusionism. Combat scenarios in which players achieve extraordinarily lucky manuevers are often considered enjoyable, but few appreciate the consequences of letting villians or monsters have such good fortune. If an opponent gets particularly lucky, any storyteller or game master might misrepresent the result of a secretly-decided mechanic, but that's not enough to be Illusionism. Nor is crafting the outline of an adventure ahead of time, or establishing that certain plot elements will happen no matter what. In order to qualify, the players must be presented with a choice or series of choices that when made seems to affect game events, while in actuality the consequences of each option are the same. For example, a band of travelers might have the opportunity to take multiple paths and choose between different destinations. If they'll have a certain encounter no matter what choice they make, this can be considered to be a very basic form of Illusionism; adjusting the details of the encounter to match the specific choices made by the players would be a more sophisticated one.

Other types of storyteller influence or control are frequently seen as paternalistic at best and authoritarian at worst, but Illusionism is notable for the general approval of its use if applied properly. When intermixed with events that the storyteller truly doesn't have control over, Illusionistic techniques can help maintain a necessary structure and prevent the storyteller from being overwhelmed. Trying to improvise complex responses to player choices can be prohibitively difficult; occasional slight-of-hand with the options presented makes it possible to concentrate on improvising the details of events, not entire narrative structures.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Weekly Review Jan. 14th to Jan. 20th

While this week has seen a few promises to return to more active posting and discussions about theory-related communities, only a few developments occurred.

Character Failure

Over at Story Games, is a discussion about character failure and player investment in the outcome of character attempts. One distinction is made about when characters have multiple and success and failure are mixed, making the decisions more meaningful. Another is made about how most RPGs give players to choice to have characters fail, which makes it more difficult for a player to make interesting choices leading to the character's failure.

Genres of Theory

Fang Langford discusses the idea of genres of theory, specifically suggesting that GNS and it's approach to theory is only one such genre. Bradley "Brand" Robins follows this up in a comment with a listing of possible genres of RPG theory.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Editorial: Announcing Literature Reviews

Thanks to the feedback we've received, we've decided to add a new component to RPG Theory Review. Literature reviews will appear periodically, between every month to every three months as a review of scholarly, historical, or other material of particular relevance to RPG theory.

This will open up a venue for reflecting back on RPG theory developments and looking at important work of a scholarly type being conducted in or near RPG theory. We will be opening this type of content to guests with experience in the subject being reviewed.

And as a reminder, we are always interested in guest articles from those involved now or in the past with RPG theory.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Weekly Review Jan. 7th to Jan. 13th

This week has seen several new developments in RPG theory, from whole cloth theory to a new podcast for learning RPG theory.

Derivative Works

John Kim describes one way in which RPGs can become derivative works from other creative medium. Borrowing from the Gregory Maguire's Wicked, he describes the art of taking a setting from one source of fiction and treating as a reality, thus exposing interesting questions, as yet, unexplored. This was a continuation of Kim's general investigation of derivative works from earlier this week.

Game Development Kit

Over at the Forge is a general description of RPGs, nominally as a design foundation. The Game Development Kit (GDK) attempts to describe RPGs in computable terms and extract out the structure of how players manipulate the game.

Let's Talk About Theory

Clyde Rhoer has begun a podcast meant to introduce people to RPG theory. As he puts it, he intends to get things 90% correct, due to the difficulty and volume of topics in RPG theory. The rest he hopes will be fleshed out by listeners and readers.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Monthly Review December 2006

One of the threads in theory developments in December was creativity and decision making. Early on, at Gamecraft there was a discussion about RPGs as a medium. In particular the advantages and disadvantages of the RPG medium largely stem from the creative flexibility of structured imagination and the mixing of creator and audience. This idea returns with a discussion on The Forge about creativity loads among players, as well as, a discussion on Gamecraft on the GM's apparent responsibility to provide high quality creative content contradicting a lack of authority to make those decisions.

Later on, Carl Cravens suggested that decisions must not be so important that they paralyze or so irrelevant that they mean nothing to the players. Lastly, Matt Snyder offered an approach to making situations and characters more compelling, specifically ensuring that no character has full information of the situation. This ensures that decisions are more engaging if only as examples of the way real people make decisions.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Weekly Review Dec. 31st to Jan. 6th

This week has seen some revisiting of ideas from earlier developments, but with some new twists.

Designing System

Guy Shalev discusses different approaches to system design in RPGs. Specifically he delineates between mechanics and advice, suggesting that the former lend themselves to rigorous testing, and should not be made reliant on advice and context to make them work correctly.

RPG Media Revisited

Malcom Sheppard expands on a Story Games thread he initiated on table-top play as a specific medium for RPGs. He suggests that much table-top design does not exploit the medium, so much as treat table-top as an assumed place to play. He describes the distinctiveness of table-top as allowing "fuzzy judgments with complex systems" - namely subjective judgments as parts of a fairly complex system.

Cooperation and Private Creation

John Kim discusses the problems with creative commitment, stemming from the debate about accessible games. Moving away from that specific problem, however, he discusses the use of private and semi-private creative spaces for players, as a means to provide safety while enjoying the creative process.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Yearly Review 2006: Lists - Part Two

Influential Theory Developments:

1) Push and Pull

Highlights: Introduction (Moyra Turkington), In Resolution (Vincent Baker), Moments of Crisis (Bradley "Brand" Robins)

2) Story Blindness

Highlights: Brain Damage (Ron Edwards)

3) Unsafe

Highlights: Design What Matters/Doesn't Matter (Joshua BishopRoby), Flinching (Vincent Baker), Dangerous versus Unsafe (Ben Lehman)

4) Month of Immersion

Highlights: Unfiltered Mental Activity (Thomas Robertson), Visceral Immersion (Fred Wolke), Literary Immersion
(Moyra Turkington)

5) Theory of Setting

Highlights: Setting Matters, Aspects of Setting (all Troy Costisick)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Weekly Review Dec. 24th to Dec. 30th

This has been an especially sparse week, likely due to various holiday concerns. Next week hints at a resurgence due to looking back over the year of theory and design.

Stereotyping Boys

John Kim, deriving from his own experiences as a father and a gamer, suggests that the pejorative treatment of immature play as expected of teen boys who play RPGs is inaccurate and problematic. First, he suggests that immature handling of sexual and violent content is as often an adult behavior as a pubescent one. Second, he suggests we should not encourage those behaviors, even, or perhaps, especially for young males.