• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

[Epiphany?] Procedural vs. content-oriented games

downer

Fairy Tale King
Validated User
This thread gave me an epiphany. At least I think it did. It goes as follows:

Normally, when we talk about the current crop of indie darlings, we talk of story-games. That's obviously a product of their genesis in the Forge play-style debates of the early 2000s, where labels such as "narrativism" and "story now" were thrown about to indicate what people wanted and trad games didn't do. But that is highly controversial for a variety of reasons and, I believe, unduly off-putting for players to whom story doesn't matter much as a category. Now, the games that were eventually written in the wake of the debates, games like Fiasco and Apocalypse World have, I think, a more solid distinction. I'll let Captain Jack Sparrow explain:
And to elaborate: trad games are content-oriented, their rules are focused on what the game needs. A high fantasy game needs spells and monsters and swords and castles, so you get rules for casting spells, slaying monsters with swords and for building castles.
Modern indie games are procedural, their rules are focused on what the game is. A roleplaying game is a playful conversation about a negotiated fiction, so you get rules about who holds rights to which part of the fiction, when to take turns in the conversation, what you can say and not say and when and how to use the dice mechanics.

Perhaps more concisely, using two popular specimens as an example: D&D has rules for character creation, combat, magic, monsters and dungeons - Dungeon World has rules for playing Dungeon World.

I think this explains why so many classic roleplaying games are so messy. I just read the MegaTraveller rules for an upcoming campaign. There's some neat ideas in there, but they'emere so damn badly explained and ordered, you can tell that the authors didn't have the faintest clue of what actual play was supposed to look like and were just throwing in stuff that was needed. Or take the good old AD&D DMG. Just an unsorted, unfocused and unprioritized throw-it-in of stuff they felt the GM might be using in the game, peppered with odd bits of advice that just don't actually tell you how to run the game. Compare that to the PbtA games, with their discussions of style and theme and their GM and player move lists. Or take Fiasco, which has about an A4 page worth of dice mechanics, but a rulebook full of "how to do this".

Finally, this helps me explain the discomfort of many long-time players with these games. They have, in interaction with traditional rulesets, developed their own procedure. Their own rules for how to play a roleplaying game. They've figured it out the hard way, and now don't appreciate being told what to actually do at the table. A content-oriented ruleset will make no such statements, leaving them to run any of those according to their personal procedure. I guess I just got lucky that the procedure I came up with by myself is a good match for the procedures contained in most of the procedural games.
 

jsnead

Social Justice Dragon
Validated User
This makes a lot of sense. I have no use for procedural games for precisely this reason. For both are more common diced freeform play and our play using actual (almost always rules medium to medium-light) rule systems, I and the people I game with developed our procedures close to 20 years ago (and longer ago than that for some aspects) and most of us see little reason to change methods that work well for pretty much any rule system we are willing to play (and in fact these procedures also work well for more rules-heavy games, but we mostly can't be bothered with such systems anymore).

In part, that's one of my strongest objections to procedural games - learning a new rule system (assuming it's not too complex, and is at least competently designed) isn't all that much work in most cases - Ubiquity, CineUni, various less complex BRP forks, MongTrav, AmberDRPG, and cWOD 1e can all be picked up with relative ease, and used to play a variety of fun campaigns. However, learning new procedures is both difficult, and also something that would actively get in the way of how we like to game.

I also find it both disappointing and puzzling that I know of no procedural games that work with the simulationist/immersive style of gaming that we prefer. If I encountered such a game, I'd be strongly tempted to try it. Unfortunately, all the procedural games I know of are either actively antithetical to this style of play (via unavoidable in-play metagaming and personality mechanics) or, at best, seem at best mildly at odds with this play style. Do you have any idea why this might be? I know both Ron Edwards and Clinton Nixon held this playstyle in rather extreme contempt, but "indie" games have moved away from some of their ideas over time, and yet this playstyle seems to still be completely ignored (unless there are some new games I'm entirely unfamiliar with).
 

Levi

Slayer Of Spambots.
Staff member
Moderator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I feel like this is a reframing of "book is coherent / incoherent" from the Forge.

Also, a better framing. So yeah.
 

jsnead

Social Justice Dragon
Validated User
I feel like this is a reframing of "book is coherent / incoherent" from the Forge.

Also, a better framing. So yeah.
Agreed - in addition to being actually informative (which coherent / incoherent never was for me), it's also value neutral - I'm a big fan of terminology that doesn't inherently denigrate my preferred playstyle or type of game.
 

1of3

Registered User
Validated User
I concur with the analysis. As Levi said, the idea has been around some. From the names you picked, I would have guessed the "procedural" would be the "traditional" thing. You get procdures for combat and magic and stuff. And "content" would the "forgey" thing. So that might confuse other people as well. I have used partial and holististic in the past, but I'm not sure those are clearer.
 

jsnead

Social Justice Dragon
Validated User
I concur with the analysis. As Levi said, the idea has been around some. From the names you picked, I would have guessed the "procedural" would be the "traditional" thing. You get procedures for combat and magic and stuff. And "content" would the "forgey" thing. So that might confuse other people as well. I have used partial and holististic in the past, but I'm not sure those are clearer.
partial and holististic still contain an implied value judgment, although notably less than coherent vs incoherent.
 

yalborap

Well, that’s just Prime.
Validated User
<snip>

I also find it both disappointing and puzzling that I know of no procedural games that work with the simulationist/immersive style of gaming that we prefer. If I encountered such a game, I'd be strongly tempted to try it. Unfortunately, all the procedural games I know of are either actively antithetical to this style of play (via unavoidable in-play metagaming and personality mechanics) or, at best, seem at best mildly at odds with this play style. Do you have any idea why this might be? I know both Ron Edwards and Clinton Nixon held this playstyle in rather extreme contempt, but "indie" games have moved away from some of their ideas over time, and yet this playstyle seems to still be completely ignored (unless there are some new games I'm entirely unfamiliar with).
I suspect, moreso than any contempt, that your first part answers your second part. The people who want to do the physics-simulation form and the deep-immersion form are most comfortable with rules about content/physics, and the folks making the procedure games are trying to fill a perceived gap. The space of someone who wants procedure-rules, around creating the feel and play-form of a rules-about-physics type game engine, is a very tight needle to thread...and for results that are likely going to only be a bit better, mostly in the explaining, than the games they’re riffing on.
 

Soylent Green

Polar Blues
Validated User
I see what you're getting at. I think I'd used bucket of Lego vs Airfix kit analogy, where the latter comes with the promise that if you follow the instructions precisely, to the word, you will get a model that looks like what is on the cover, the former is just a bunch of red bricks to play with as you like, with no grown-ups supervision to tell you what to do with it. And yes, I know Lego these days comes in complex, themed kits.. it's just an analogy.

I think there is definitely a difference is design philosophy. I'm not sure I'd apply it's just a traditional - Forge-inspired split.

Also, as a term "Procedural" is something I normally hear in relation to old school games, specifically dungeon and hex crawls. The GM is presented with a method to design the adventure (draw a map, stock the rooms...), play is divided in exploration, combat, recovery phases with additional downtime/between adventures steps to level up and buy and sell stuff. Compare this to a Star Wars or DC Heroes adventure in which you may have a villain and a fiendish plot, but the GM has a lot to figure out how to structure it, usually just with some very generic advice about three act structure. But then it's pointed out often that Old School and Forge-inspired games have a lot in common.
 

manwhat

Thoroughly mediocre GM.
RPGnet Member
Validated User
And yes, I know Lego these days comes in complex, themed kits.. it's just an analogy.
The first Lego kits with instructions ('town plans') were released in 1955.

But really, I think modularity is a partially separate axis. Even if a game is particular modular with bits and pieces that can be added or subtracted, I expect it to be at least provided with a "default configuration" that works just as well as any 'bespoke' game.
 

Soylent Green

Polar Blues
Validated User
The first Lego kits with instructions ('town plans') were released in 1955.

But really, I think modularity is a partially separate axis. Even if a game is particular modular with bits and pieces that can be added or subtracted, I expect it to be at least provided with a "default configuration" that works just as well as any 'bespoke' game.
I didn't mean it in terms of modularity. I'm just saying that providing rules for revolvers, quick draw, riding a lassos may give you basics to play a western, doesn't make the game feel like a John Ford western, a Sergio Leone western or even Mel Brooks western.
 
Top Bottom