Sunday, April 29, 2007

Weekly Review April 22nd to April 29th

Who's the Protoganist?

John Kim has posted a short essay containing his thoughts on Story Control. If the main characters are supposed to determine the shape of stories, why are GMs the author of game sessions?

Mind and Body

Carl Craven discusses why he doesn't like letting social mechanics control his NPC's actions, and ponders whether there's a fundamental difference between mechanics that represent the physical and mental worlds.

Mainstream and Fringe

Fang Langford's earlier post on bringing RPGs to the First World yielded a bevy of responses; he reflects upon some of them in his latest post. Is trying to bring roleplaying to the mainstream a good idea? If so, what social trends can be used to accomplish this?

What Else Besides Dice?

Socratic Design has a brief review of non-polyhedral resolution mechanics.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Lesson: Agendas

Agendas are a recurring theme among RPG theories. Succinctly they are how and why players make decisions. But in different places agendas can mean different things.

Some uses of agenda delve into the motives of the player or players making the decisions. These are often based on identifying what a particular player or group wants from play, and then extrapolating that to their decisions during play. So, if someone wants to identify with their character, they will tend to choose to act out that character or place that character in situations where that player can learn or invent more about who the character is.

Other uses of agenda focus more on the method of play. In this case, the agenda doesn't represent the motives of the players, even shared ones. Instead it is the observed regularity of the actions of the group. These agendas often speak in the language of reinforcement, where certain decisions reinforce those same decisions due to the system. A good example of this sort of agenda are the creative agendas in the Big Model.

While agendas can discuss many different things. Some agendas focus very narrowly (delving into your character's family or getting the most points), and some are much broader (impressing others or constructing a story). Distinguishing different agendas can be very useful. But as a tool ofRPG theory, it is especially important to distinguish when an agenda is why someone makes decisions versus when it is how someone makes decisions.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Weekly Review Apr. 15th to Apr. 21st

This week has seen several theory developments, often building off of existing more accepted ideas.

GNS for Timmy, Johnny, and Spike

Jono summarizes his view of the Gamism, Narrativism, and Simulationism (GNS) theory. Covering what it means for play, games, and players to interact with these three approaches to RPGs. In addition he mentions a connection between these three categories and the break down of Magic: the Gathering (the collectable card game) players used by its designers. Timmy seeks flash and fun. Johnny seeks a chance to show creativity. And Spike seeks to win the competition which is each game. Jono suggests that these are related to Simulationism, Narrativism, and Gamism respectively.

Story Leverage

Emily Care discusses a common problem for her and others, the difficulty in locating story leverage within a given situation. This is further expanded at I would knife fight a man, including suggesting that (to extend the metaphor) that the leverage remains, but the problem is a lack of fulcrum to move the story where the player wants or expects it to go.

Translating Theories

Also at I would knife fight a man, Ben Lehman relates two different theories of RPGs: Moyra Turkington's theory of sockets, goals, and payoffs and the Big Model. Much of this involves describing how the social and personal elements translate between the two theories.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Editorial: Design Goals

Game design is an entire field, with many different approaches and techniques. But one of the most basic is the design goal. When you go ahead and try to craft a game, you on some level will have a goal in mind. It may be, "I want to make a version of 1st edition AD&D that works" or it could be, "I wonder if players can handle playing in four different realities at once?", or even, "I want to design a game to impress so and so." But on some level you have a direction where you want your design to go.

Many of those design goals aren't just about the game as written, they are about how the game is played. And when it comes time to make design decisions based on those goals, you run into a potential problem. How do you relate the goal with that decision, when the goal is about what happens in play?

The answer to that question is RPG theory, although often informally or even unconsciously. But the fact remains that the only way to predict what will happen from the design decision is a theory of how the game will influence play.

Nearly all that theory is just quietly built from experience of different games, unconsciously formed ideas and opinions, and the occasional piece of advice. But at its heart is theory, and every game designed to produce some kind of play has a theory inside it (sometimes more than one).

One purpose of overtly developing RPG theory is to allow communication of those ideas more clearly, to improve the quality of RPG design over all. For example, if you have a design goal of making your game easy to learn, and so you have the theory "simple mechanics are easy to learn." But communicating what you mean by "simple" isn't as easy as it first appears. RPG theory helps to build languages to communicate your inner theory more accurately.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Weekly Review: April 8 to April 14


John Kim muses upon the utility of incorporating real-life personality traits, interpersonal conflicts, and communications into the experience of gameplay. What should the function of roleplaying to these social issues be, and is it wise to combine reality and fantasy in that manner? Kim also links to several other discussions of interest.

Shared Imagined Space vs. Edwards' Big Model

Fang Landford explains why SIS is incompatible with EBM, a point he believes many have missed. Are object- and player-centered theories of gaming truly distinct? How do both models deal with player immersion? Is his reasoning correct; if so, why hasn't this point been noted before?

Right Kind of People

Elliot Wilen talks about the problems with establishing effective mechanical bases for roleplaying games, and suggests that RPGs function not because of the strength of their systems, but symbolically and socially. By attracting the "right kind of people", who think about and approach the game in similar ways, RPGs may transcend the limitations of mechanics and rules. Do the most effective roleplaying games function because they establish a shared identity among players?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lesson: Color

The term 'color' is used to refer to any described or imagined details of the game world that don't directly affect action or the outcome of resolution methods. A closely-related term is 'flavor', which refers to evocative description that has no mechanical effect.

'Color' probably originates from the real-life term 'local color', which is the name given to the cultural features of a locale that give it its unique identity and "atmosphere" beyond its utilitarian functions.

Although 'colorful' features by definition do not have mechanical consequences, their influence on mood can have a powerful effect on roleplaying choices, and they are often the most important parts of game settings.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Weekly Review Apr. 1st to Apr. 7th

This week has seen several theory developments, continuing threads of culture and gaming.

Race in RPGs

John Kim describes various aspects of RPGs and their relationship with race. From his own experiences to the ways race is handled in RPGs and their settings, he delineates a series of concerns and problems, acting as a short overview of this complicated subject.


Ed Heil discusses the relationship between institutional moral judgements and that of individuals. He suggests, by examination of some historical examples, that the mostinstitutional, and hence impersonal, of judgements ultimately comes down to people choosing to cast some things out. This reflects back in RPGs to the moral decisions of characters, built from both fictional authorities and the structure of the game itself, but ultimately being an individual judgement.


Thor Olavsrud describes the technique of teamwork, discussing how players can work together (including the GM) to enhance play. He uses a sport's team metaphor, relating roleplaying teamwork to giving others on your team to succeed, and thus performing better than you could alone. In this vein, he advises making an effort to facilitate the desires of other players, so that the game is more enjoyable for all.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Monthly Review March 2007

This month has seen several developments in theory, many of which stem from attempts to understand various perspectives, whether of terms, social structures, or even stories. Early on, Fang Langford discussed the use of terms in RPG theory, suggesting that terms could best be understood in the context of comparison of beliefs, especially when the terms are used be people with different perspectives on the topic at hand. Around the same time, J. Thomas Harvianinen talked about the tendency to factionalize the discussion of theory, by only a tendency to reference only other developments of which the writer agrees or at least understands well. He encourages a broader view, suggesting that the rhetorical tools of "according to ..." give more than enough flexibility to present these different perspectives.

Later, Bradley "Brand" Robins examines how the way we view RPGs is heavily influenced by assumption we develop from the types of play we have encountered and have enjoyed. This can be a barrier to understanding play that is unfamiliar or for which we have a negative connotation. Towards the end of the month, Chris Lehrich presented his take on the question of whether RPGs can cause people to develop incorrect understandings of story. He suggests that story is a loose concept, and has a significant variability between cultures and times, implying that RPGs can only train falsely for a specific interpretation of what stories are.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Weekly Review - Mar. 25 to Apr. 1

Brain Damage

Chris Lehrich posts a provocative analysis of a Forge thread discussing Ron Edward's Brain Damage hypothesis. Does Edwards really reject postmodernism? Are his critiques of story really incompatible with that style of literary analysis? Lehrich and commentators examine these and other questions.

Game-Chef Over

The Game-Chef competition officially ended at midnight, Monday morning. See this thread to get a look at some of the entries.

Narrativism Limitations

Carl Cravens at The Raven's Mutterings examines why he dislikes independent Narrative games. Do such games have a tendency to produce binary outcomes? Is not being able to alter outcomes through character interaction with the game a strength or a weakness?


Monkey Do, Monkey See discusses the effect personal historical knowledge has on enjoyment of the HBO series "Deadwood". This anecdotal evidence may be useful in understanding how fictional narrative games are appreciated. Story-oriented games often require that players know the stakes involved, the ultimate outcome of conflicts, and the fate of characters long before the characters themselves know these things. How does this affect the appreciation of the story being created?