Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Weekly Review February 17th to February 23rd

This week has seen several developments about arriving at play, whether individual games or generally.

Expectations and Permissions

Vincent Baker discusses how a game does more than impart system and mechanics by shaping expectations and giving permissions to the players. Thus an important part of design is to not only make some behaviors in play possible, but to encourage and discourage them according to the design goals of the game. Emily Care Boss expands on this idea, and describes how games can give players permission to act evilly in character, especially to other player characters, even when the underlying game is cooperative.

Personal Rules

Chris Chinn describes the fluidity of rules and system in most RPGs as people play them. He suggests that a common problem with reliable play is that each player is pushing the rules of the game to contain their own personal preferences, leading to the GM seeking to forge a compromise. He argues that this fluidity can be avoided by treating RPGs like other games, accepting the rules rather than bringing personal ones.

Describing Characters

Gordon Olmstead-Dean talks about the theory behind character, specifically Forge Theory, applied to larp. Of note, he discusses the difficulties in large scale coherence of creative agenda, as well as, the difficulties that can arise in an larp context with mechanically defining a character. He stresses, in particular, that a character should have some existence beyond the mechanics of resources and effectiveness, being described by these, rather than defined.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Weekly Review February 10th to February 16th

This week has seen some less traditional developments in RPG theory, applying new ideas and approaches.

In Situ Character Creation

Jeff Tidball relates the design strategy of creating characters as part of play with the way fiction tends to introduce and reveal characters over time. In particular he suggests this design strategy is underused and could provide more effective entry into the game. Among his points he argues that stories place characters higher than plot, so separating the discovery of each during the game impoverishes the plot.

Unsurprising Play

Over at I would knife fight a man is a discussion on "phatic" play, play or parts of play that serve a comforting or social purpose without presenting surprises. Over the course of the discussion there have been a variety of angles and views present, from relating unsurprising play and the creative agenda to questions of how to design and play specifically "phatically".

Authoring and Teaching

Paul Czege at the Forge describes a way to look at creative agenda in terms of learning and teaching. He describes gamism as learning from competitively successful teachers. He describes simulationism as learning from knowledgeable or experienced teachers. And narrativism as learning from each other by authoring together. He suggests problems can arise when teaching and authoring become conflated by some players.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Weekly Review February 3rd to February 9th

This week has seen several re-examinations in RPG theory.

Big Model Tours

The Big Model, developed at the Forge, has been explained and reinterpreted by quite a few people. This week, two more summaries have emerged. First, Emily Care Boss presents a transcript of a conversation where she explains the concepts of the Big Model to Elizabeth. Second, Chris Chinn gives his own try in explaining the scales and features of the Big Model.


Moyra Turkington discusses the clash she feels between many RPGs that have purely mechanical disposal of characters and the impassioned attachment she feels towards her character. She describes how apparently random character loss can frustrate the need for closure in the process of playing and immersing in a character. She suggests, however, that from a story focused perspective this sort of disposability can be a powerful tool.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Weekly Review January 27th to February 2nd

A more active week, this week sees more discussion of ritual, drama, and systems.

Ritual and System

Fang Langford describes the relationship between the game system used to play RPGs, and the rituals of play a group of players assemble as they learn to play together. He suggests that there is an important distinction, which is washed away by describing all of these as just system.

Drama and Webs

Will Hindmarch constructs a method of breaking down distributed stories like those in RPG planning and computer games. He takes the idea of a story web and merges it with a graph of rising and falling drama. The resulting three-dimensional structure, or pyramid as he calls it, may be used to manage pre-plotting to ensure that regardless of the choices made, a strong story structure will remain evident.


Chris Chinn talks about resources as an important component of many RPGs. He breaks down different properties of a resource: expendability, global limits, and dynamics. He then discusses how resources can work together in the economy of a game. He uses the example of 1001 Nights to show how resources can subtly drive play.

Weekly Review January 20th to January 26th

This week has been a slow one for RPG theory. Of note, Mel White, on his podcast Virtual Play presents an anthology of the first thing said to start playing various RPGs. He suggests that short and energetic introductions may work best and that it is possible to compare them with the beginnings of rituals in general.