Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Weekly Review May 20th to May 27th

Overstuffed Dicebag presents an interesting analysis of a semi-obscure game and discovers that mechanics can be deceiving. What characteristics distinguish Ethos from White Wolf's archetypes? It takes a careful reading to notice...

Joshua BishopRoby examines ways to cope with multiple character directions in Full Light, Full Steam, and briefly discusses theatric traditions of unity in the process.

One of the attacks of opportunity writers posts a link to an unusual type of roleplaying game, and says it's the most amazing example of Story he's ever witnessed. What relationship does this game have to the common RPG-theory use of the term 'Story'? At least one commentor denies that the game meets the requirements of 'Story Now' - is this a problem? Is the game properly excluded from the category, or does this mean the category is too narrow?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Editorial: Most Theoryful Game Chef RPG of 2007

We are proud to announce that the most theoryful winner for Game Chef 2007 has been selected.

Most Theoryful RPG of Game Chef 2007:

Schizonauts by Fred Hicks

Runners-up: (in no particular order)

The Book of Threads by Jeff R.

Department Nine by Nick Wedig

ACTS by Nick Grant

A Penny For My Thoughts by Paul Tevis

This was a difficult decision for us, as there were a variety of RPGs contributed that showed depth of thought about role-playing itself and tried to reflect that depth in their designs.

We will post a full literature review on the winner's game, and the winner receives a playtest of a game of his choice. The runners-up will receive shorter literature reviews of their games as well. Literature reviews will showcase the RPG theory elements of the games.

We at RPG Theory Review thank all participants, both of this competition, and of Game Chef in general.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Weekly Review May 13th to May 19th

This week has seen several careful examinations of RPG theory and how it may be applied elsewhere.

Center of Play

Over at I would knife fight a man, Vincent Baker started a thread on the center of the Big Model theory of RPGs. Specifically, he describes the core of roleplaying as the shared consensus of the players of what happens in the game. Also at I would knife fight a man, Ben Lehman started a counter-point thread, focusing more on the social aspects of RPGs as central, and moving away from the specific Big Model perspective.

State of Design

Jonathon Walton discusses what it means for design to be on the "bleeding edge". He suggests that the state of design could be improved by an archiving of new developments and ideas. Relating such a project to this site, he argues that the practice of RPG design should be treated more seriously.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Lesson: Social Context

In the Forge-ite lexicon, 'social context' is how roleplaying as an activity relates to one's social life in general.

In common usage, the term is quite a bit broader than this. The social context of an action or activity is how it relates to and is perceived by a society, culture, or social group. It follows that the social context of roleplaying depends partly on which cultural perspective you adopt. Both the wider society in which you live and the group of people with which you're gaming at any one moment have their own social contexts.

In the everyday experience of play, the social context of one's fellow players is usually the most significant and meaningful. In a wider context, roleplaying is sufficiently obscure that the action has few implications beyond marking the participants as belonging to a subculture.

Attempts to bring roleplaying into the mainstream awareness and creating a deeper general context have constituted much of the independent game design 'scene'.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Weekly Review May 6th to May 12th

This week has seen several theory developments, both in specific aspects of RPGs and in the use of language to discuss them.

Director Immersion

John Kim lists various developments on immersion in RPGs. He goes on to discuss a relationship between stance and immersion. Specifically, he argues that as an immersing player only having authority over your character (actor stance) can break immersion more than having some authority over the things around your character (director stance), as the later can avoid as much meta-game negotiation.

Critical Language

Elliot Wilen brings up a discussion on Story Games about the use of technical language and jargon, especially pertaining RPG theory. He suggests that jargon gets can and has been used as a way to obscure problems or disagreements in theory. He also argues that any valid technical language is also available for critical use, to evaluate and analyze RPGs, not merely design them.

Authority Models

Over at Story Games, John Laviolette has worked out a list of ways in which GM-like authority is distributed among players. He includes negotiation-based and areas of authority, as well as less common variants such as those based on time or table position.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Monthly Review April 2007

This month has generated quite a bit of interesting developments in theory. Fang Langford constrasted the concepts of Shared Imaginary Space and the Big Model, two of the most popular theory models, and suggests that they are in fact fundamentally incompatible. What does it mean for the larger goal of developing theory if the most widely-utilized models exclude each other?

Elliot Wilen questioned the importance of system to the success of RPGs, a 180-degree reversal from the most common game design perspectives. Generally, we attempt to construct mechanical systems to encourage the types of responses that we think are most important to play, based on whatever design theories we're sympathetic to. But what if we've gotten it wrong? Wilen raises excellent questions for which we really need to generate answers.

Lastly, Joshua BishopRoby explored the intriguing concept of a baseline RPG, asking just what the minimum necessary structure to run a game actually is. What's the fundamental template of game design, upon which we add elaborations? Understanding the most basic elements of roleplaying would seem to be helpful in our attempts to comprehend the topic as a whole.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Weekly Review Apr. 29th to May. 5th

This week has been a productive week in terms of theory developments, including even some work on the purposes of RPG theory in general.

Design and Theory

Chris Lehrich put forward an essay on the present state of RPG theory and design, including ideas for better ways for theory to be supported by design, and in so doing drive innovative and explorative design. After introductory comments about the social situations around the Forge, he describes how theory is used in design. Commonly, theory is used to analyze existing games and as an implementation aid. He also describes how design can be used to test theory. He suggests that this is underutilized, and combined with neutral analysis of game texts and play, could be of immense help to RPG theory.

Teaching Mechanics

Troy Costisick discusses different ways in which examples can be used to help teach mechanics. In doing so he presents three classes of example text. Generic examples are just instances of a mechanic or situation, apart from any larger context. Faux-play examples show the flow of the mechanics, but don't impart social or creative structures of play. Actual play examples provide an authentic model of play, from the social to the mechanical.

Experimental Control

Joshua BishopRoby started a discussion over at Story Games about experimental controls for game testing. Specifically he suggests the use of free form, play, with only social constraints, as a possible baseline. Others point out the fluidity of any from of RPGs that could be considered a baseline - due to their minimal or non-existent rules. Which leaves the question of a baseline RPG open.

Drama, Game, and NPCs

Algi has recently translated into English several essays on RPG theory. Included have been a discussion of the dramatic game versus the parlour game in RPGs and a look at classic RPG adventures from the view of folk talk analysis. Between these is the thread of examining the purpose of Non-Player Characters (NPCs), and how they often take on vital dramatic roles more important than their mechanical presence.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Editorial: Exploring and Building

In improving theory there are two important roles we can adopt. On one hand, we can explore new territory. This at least means, expanding the scope of existing theories, if not discovering new theories which apply in those areas. To truly explore requires equal amounts care and skepticism, after all, many frontiers are not beyond the boundaries of what exists, but found beneath what we thought we understood.

But discovering theory isn't enough. In its raw form, theory is difficult to understand and largely useless. It is equally important to build the existing theory and refine it, to make the ideas accessible and to ensure they can be and are used. Building is equally difficult to do well, involving patience, understanding, and dedication.

These two paths work best side by side, building what has been discovered, and exploring based on the inconsistencies revealed by trying to relate those discoveries. It is easy to separate them, but we must resist the urge. If you ignore building, then theory becomes incomprehensible. And if you ignore exploration, theory becomes stagnant, slavishly believed regardless of contradicting evidence.