Monday, January 21, 2008

Weekly Review January 13th to January 19th

This week has seen several developments in RPG theory.

Integral Model

Over at I would knife fight a man, Karl Maxwell Higly has begun to talk about an alternate model for RPG theory. Attempting to combine insights from motivation-based theory and the Big Model, his Integral Model combines the two axes of internal/external and individual/collective with a hierarchy inspired by the scopes of the Big Model. He describes cyclic dynamics passing through each dimension of this model, forming patterns which lead to higher level layers and subsequently more patterns.

In the Support of Story

Rich Warren describes a way to look at tactical play and consistent fiction as part of the production of stories in RPGs. He argues that both of these behaviors can actively aid the process of making a story, provided they do not become overwhelming.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Editorial: Why Theorize?

I work on RPG theories because I play RPGs. In order to do so, one must devise an understanding of what playing a RPG consists of. And personally I'm uncomfortable sitting on my first attempt and assuming I'm right. So I constantly revise and reexamine how and why I play. That is the basis of theory. Lot's of people say theory must be based on a foundation of play. This is inaccurate. You can theorize without play, but you can't play without crafting theory.

But that doesn't explain why I theorize about other people's play... That's because I'm very interested in design. I want to communicate ideas and methods. I want to produce dynamics in games which will surprise, amuse, and enrich the players. To do that I must understand how RPGs work - both the practice and the potential of them.

But that doesn't explain why I discuss theory and involve myself in communal developments, or why I spend so much time helping other people develop and communicate their theories... That's because I'm convinced that actually understanding RPGs is difficult. It's easy to make a bunch of assumptions and discover a few surprising things, but it's harder to examine those assumptions and face the real possibility that some or even all of them are blocking you from a better understanding.

But that doesn't explain why I feel RPG theory is worth doing even when it is very difficult... That's because I'm convinced that RPGs provide a deep glimpse of social constructed phenomena. Any good, solid theory of RPGs must extend beyond it's borders, and RPGs sit very close to activities that are much more critical to our world. Working on those directly is hazardous because their very importance lends them biases and restrictions. Thus RPG theory presents a real opportunity to effect change. But that takes time, not the months of design, or the years of publication, but on the scale of decades. Personally I think its worth it.

*Excerpt from a post of mine from I would knife fight a man.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Weekly Review January 6th to January 12th

This week has seen several developments in RPG theory, questioning and restating existing ideas.

Big Model Holarchy

Over at I would knife fight a man, Max has started a thread about a conceptual restucturing of the Big Model's scopes. He presents this as a holarchy, a hierarchy where higher levels are composed of lower ones. In this vein he sets the layers, from lowest to highest as social contract (fundamental), ephemera, techniques (evolution), exploration, and creative agenda (aesthetics).

Insignificance and Story

Jonathon Walton talks about the origin of the novel, and how the novel distinguishes itself from the epic and tragic literature preceding it. He suggests that novels deal with people more directly by referencing the insignificant, and that RPGs, especially immersion, may benefit from considering the importance of insignificance over the event to event importance of a story.

System and Rules

As part of his on-going design manual, Nathan Paoletta discusses system and rules as theory terms and as means to aid in design. He particularly stresses the importance of system for the designer, namely System Matters, and the considerable difference between rules and system.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Weekly Review December 30th to January 5th

This week's theory developments have focused on social investment.

Buying In

Chris Chinn talks about player buy in, the moment to moment activity where players support one player's contribution to the game. He suggests that with the exception of GMs giving bonuses this sort of buy in is not mechanically supported in most RPGs. He describes how some new games use player driven rewards as a means to give everyone a way to support each other's ideas.

Social Mandate

Over at the Forge is a discussion about the minimal social assumptions needed for a particular RPG to function, sometimes called the social mandate. One item debated in that thread is whether the social mandate is a set of assumptions missing from the game text or whether it is a requisite for all RPGs.

Role of Creative Agenda

Also over at the Forge, Ron Edwards wrote a post describing the role of creative agenda in play. Particularly he describes how creative agenda acts as a "reverberation" which flows down from social concerns into the moments of play and back up to social recognition of the fun. He suggests that one error in looking at play comes from our tendency to only notice the return path as we play, the results rather than the whole process leading to them.

Weekly Review December 23rd to December 29th

Character death, player expectations and using theory all feature in this weeks theory developments.

Theory in Use

Rich Warren discusses the various uses of the word theory and how RPG theory is treated. He suggests that RPG theories tend to be more speculative than factual, and argues that this is because they rarely produce testable hypotheses. He indicates that the main use of theory at present is as a language for talking about games.

Decisions and Death

Chris Chinn continues his investigation of character death in RPGs by examining the decisions leading up to the events in game. He suggests that the treatment and player behavior around character death derives from the decisions the player can make about the events leading to it. In particular, instant lethality makes it difficult to make meaningful decisions about character survival.

Differing Expectations

Mel White discusses problematic play in his podcast, presenting a few examples of play where differing player expectations lead to rough spots during play. He presents this in the context of the Big Model creative agendas and the clash that occurs when players have different ones.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Weekly Review December 16th to December 22nd

This week has seen several GM related theory developments.

Dice and Planning

Graham Walmsley describes one utility of dice and other randomizers in playing RPGs, that they limit the scope which can be planned by those involved. This helps to encourage a more responsive, adaptive attitude which works better for improvisational play.

GM as Game Designer

Will Hindmarch describes how non-computer RPGs provide a special opportunity for the GM in particular, namely the role of extrapolation of the system itself. Thus the GM can behave as a game designer in addition to more common referee tasks. He then discusses how some designs can aid this opportunity.

Yin and Yang of the GM

Ben Robins suggests that GMing tends towards two extremes. On one hand, the GM is proactive, directing events and moving the players and their characters. On the other the GM is reactive moving the world and events in response to the players' decisions. He stresses the importance of balancing these two roles in the practice of being a GM.