• 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

Thanaeon

Mostly simulationist
Validated User
It's been a while since I read the Forge stuff, so I'm not sure what "coherence" means in their loaded jargon. I wouldn't say that content-oriented rules need to be incoherent in the normal sense of that word. They can easily drift off into rambling incoherence, since there is no actual pattern for the author to follow, no ultimate way of checking if a given rule is where it needs to be.
Basically, coherent in Forge jargon means that the game has rules for what it's thematically about, and nothing else. Consider a game like My Life With Master: it's a game about henchmen of an evil villain who find love, and this love may or may not give them strength to overthrow their slavemaster. This story is the only one it is designed to tell and trying to do anything else with it requires the group to actively fight the system. By contrast, any sort of traditional sandbox game is "incoherent" because it allows the group to pick and choose what to do with it and the game doesn't try to actively constrain the options of the participants towards a pre-determined theme and mode of play.

I do note that the story games of today are not as hyper-specialised as Forge games tended to be, but they do still have a much more guided style of play - consider how Apocalypse Engine games has a set selection of moves that players can take that have been pretty tightly scripted into the system and to go outside them is to implicitly break the game, certainly house-ruling at the least. By contrast, something like Godbound gives you character creation rules, combat rules and some sub-systems (and a lot of random generation tables for improvisational support) then gets out of the way and allows - and indeed, expects - the participants of the game to make their own direction.
 
Last edited:

Levi

Slayer Of Spambots.
Staff member
Moderator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
It's been a while since I read the Forge stuff, so I'm not sure what "coherence" means in their loaded jargon. I wouldn't say that content-oriented rules need to be incoherent in the normal sense of that word. They can easily drift off into rambling incoherence, since there is no actual pattern for the author to follow, no ultimate way of checking if a given rule is where it needs to be.
"Coherent" in terms of a book was: All rules and material point to a clear and specific form of play (that serves a particular creative agenda).

Lop off the creative agenda bit, and that's more or less your "procedural".

"Incoherent" in terms of a book was: Rules and materials point to and potentially support all sorts of possible play styles (and this causes problems because reasons).

Again, lop off the parenthetical, and that's your "content-oriented".
 

DavetheLost

Registered User
Validated User
The original D&D sort of had hex-crawl exploring the. map wilderness rules procedures. They utilizes the map from the Outdoor Survival game with an alternate map ket. Procedures were given for movement rates, generating random monsters, etc. It was very sketchy, as were all the rules of that edition.

In science fiction/space opera Starships and Spacemen, and classic Traveller both have hex crawl type procedures for generating and exploring new star systems.
 

jsnead

Social Justice Dragon
Validated User
So long as you have a set group of players who are familiar with your procedure, there is really no need to have a procedure encoded into the rules. You can just pick up new content rules and keep your procedure. That's pretty much a luxury situation though. Most people change groups every now and then, players come and go and then there will be problems getting people up to speed on how to play. If it's all there in the book, those can be avoided.
I've effectively changed groups twice in the last 25 years (in the sense of myself and between 1 and 2 other players recruiting new people as other move away or whatever), and it's never been a problem. IME, the immersionist/Sim gaming style works well for some people and is easy for them to adopt, especially for novice gamers, so I've never had a problem with this.
The issue predates the Forge. Pendragon is much older than that whole debate, but already has both the laser focus on its style and theme and the strong procedural aspects that mark the newer indie games (albeit in very different ways). I doubt players interested in immersion/simulation would have much fun with it, despite the basic mechanics being all trad, simply because its so steeped in literary reference and knightly cliché.
Most definitely, although the issue with Pendragon is simply the personality mechanics. I had a GM who loved all things Chaosium back in the late 80s, and he suggested Pendragon once, explained it, showed us the book, and several of us (myself included) bounced very hard off of it because of the rolled personality traits, so we stuck to CoC, Stormbringer, and RQ. It's the only game I had that reaction to for many years, until I started encountering Forge games.
That was part of the reason I posted this. I have often been unfairly antagonistic to players like you, and I'd like to mend fences and help us find a way to express our preferences without sniping at each other's preferences.
That is much appreciated, thanks!

As a side note, I'm intrigued with the suggestion earlier that "Blades in the Dark could count as a simulationist procedural game" Since you seem to have a moderate grasp of what the Immersionist/Sim playstyle is like, do you agree?
 

eeldip

Registered User
Validated User
"Incoherent" in terms of a book was: Rules and materials point to and potentially support all sorts of possible play styles (and this causes problems because reasons).

Again, lop off the parenthetical, and that's your "content-oriented".
pretty much how OD&D thru AD&D worked, the majority of the game (in terms of playing time) didn't even have rules! exploration, traps, social encounters and so on. you just.... winged it. but you winged it in the way that you were taught, but different groups always had very different styles. so yes, completely incoherent/content oriented using that definition.

just wanted to add that in this case, the procedural part of the rules existed but were implied. so all games coming out of this tradition depended on that base knowledge of the implied game and just added content. it also explains how lots of old role players are annoyed at story game rules, they basically step on the implied part of the game.
 

downer

Fairy Tale King
Validated User
I think that "trad" games are a lot more procedural than you are giving them credit for. Even "content-based" games are forced to describe their content in terms that can hook into the game's procedures. Describing a weapon in terms of speed, size, damage, complexity of use, price, these all only mean anything within the context of the game's procedures.

For me, the distinction is less about procedure/content, and more about what the procedures model. Trad game procedures, I think, tend to model states and concrete interactions, whereas dirty hippie games are more concerned with abstract concepts, situations, events, etc...
That is not what I mean. What I refer to as "procedure" is basically how you play the game. Think of chess. You can talk a lot about how each individual piece moves, about rochades, how a pawn can be converted into another piece and whatnot. But if you don't explain that each player has one set of pieces and that you move one piece each turn, that won't help you much. Likewise, a weapons table and even the entire combat rules won't be much good unless you understand how a roleplaying game basically works. Most games do have a more or less awkward introduction to the topic, but few have that as an actual part of the rules. Those that do, I call procedural. On the flip side of that, you can use those weapons tables and combat rules in a lot of ways. Some groups may not have much combat at all. Others have combat all the time. It all depends on their specific procedure.
So "procedure" doesn't model anything. It's the stuff you do at the table to play the game. Most games give you basic stuff, like that each player plays one character, for example. But many things, like what "playing that character" actually means, are never fully explained. Some people take that to mean they should talk like their character, others don't. Trad games don't usually tell you one way or another. Other things, like how to build an run an adventure are often absent as well. And so on and so forth. That's a form of freedom, with all the attendant chances and problems, that procedural games do not give you.

"Coherent" in terms of a book was: All rules and material point to a clear and specific form of play (that serves a particular creative agenda).
Lop off the creative agenda bit, and that's more or less your "procedural".
"Incoherent" in terms of a book was: Rules and materials point to and potentially support all sorts of possible play styles (and this causes problems because reasons).
Again, lop off the parenthetical, and that's your "content-oriented".
I see. I did indeed mean something similar, minus the condescension. I was however trying to look at the rules more in terms of genesis - where the design process seems to come from - rather than goals. Procedural games start out with procedure and then add mechanics. Which is why some people in this thread have noted that they do have rules for in-fiction stuff - of course they do. But those are at the very end of the design process. Take PbtA for example. Each game, from Apocalypse World itself, to the most distant relatives, has its own moves and playbooks, because it's easy to just swap them - the underlying procedure never changes, after all.
Content-oriented games start from the other end, they begin (and sometimes end) with mechanics for in-fiction stuff. They make a list of relevant items, then write rules for them, then put them all in some order that seems to make sense. They may hint at procedure, often you can infer the procedure from the things the rules don't say, but it comes as an afterthought or is treated as ephemeral to the actual rules.

As a side note, I'm intrigued with the suggestion earlier that "Blades in the Dark could count as a simulationist procedural game" Since you seem to have a moderate grasp of what the Immersionist/Sim playstyle is like, do you agree?
Unfortunately, I have no experience with BitD. I thought about getting it, but haven't yet. Having some players who prefer that style of play, maybe I should.
 

manwhat

Thoroughly mediocre GM.
RPGnet Member
Validated User
What I refer to as "procedure" is basically how you play the game. Think of chess. You can talk a lot about how each individual piece moves, about rochades, how a pawn can be converted into another piece and whatnot. But if you don't explain that each player has one set of pieces and that you move one piece each turn, that won't help you much.
This seems close enough to how I see it, I was going to make a similar analogy.

A lot of early RPGs (and some now) seemed to make this mistake - even though early DnD didn't.
If you provide a book with what every Chess piece is and how it moves, that's nice. You can make up a lot of games using that.
But you need to include rules of "set them up on this board, in this way; players alternate moves until one wins by capturing the other's king" or else it's not really a complete game, as sold.

I prefer to give my attention to games that are actually complete and playable. I expect it from video games, from sports, from board games. RPGs are games too, so I expect it from them.
 

downer

Fairy Tale King
Validated User
Ruminating on the topic some more (and flipping through some rulebooks), I notice that there are recent games that include, let's say "structural" elements - not quite a fully fleshed out procedure of play yet, but things that might act as anchors for such. For example, I just skimmed the new WFRP rulebook a friend borrowed me and it has explicit rules for stuff you do between adventures. In classic content-oriented games, an explicit border between "adventuring" and "other stuff" isn't justifiable - things happen in the fiction when it makes sense, not when the rules say so. While the WFRP rules don't come out and call it a "Winter Phase", like in Pendragon*, there's a strong feeling of procedure here: run an adventure, then do a maintenance phase.

This thread also made me pick up my Fragged Empire rulebook, which I bought used on a whim at the local con last year. It's got this whole resource-management thing going on, where the players gather wealth, social influence, information, tech and "time slots" to pursue their long term plans and the adventures are kind of inserted as a way to get more of that stuff. It also has some discussion of theme and playstyle, though neither are hard-baked into the rules, and weird, but helpful, "how to run this subsystem" graphics. All it lacks to be a full-on trad procedural is a big "how to run the game" infographic.

At the same con where I bought that, I played a game of Beyond the Wall, which bolts a highly-developed procedure (complete with tables for the GM to build an adventure from) onto an old-school set of mechanics. It reminded me a lot of Dungeon World, with a more trad attitude to rules writing.

Finally, I'm now in a game of Mutant: Year Zero. While we haven't played yet, only made characters, I have seen some glimpses of similar structures, with the characters adding to their post-apoc settlement's prosperity and power by adventuring in the "Zone".

Both Mutant and BtW also use in-game geography as a structuring element. Someone mentioned Diablo when we played BtW, to highlight how the distinction between the village, the wilderness and the dungeon affects the mode of play and choice of actions.

tl, dr: As anyone who has been in such discussions already realized, there's a continuum here. Many newer games don't develop a "whole cloth" procedure that permeates every moment of the game, but there seems to be a trend of including structural elements that help to organize the game and provide regular "anchors" where the fiction meets the rules in predictable ways. This may take the form of off-time phases, base-building minigames, "training sequences" and similar gadgets.

* Now that I mention it, jsnead jsnead , I was a little suprised that the personality traits, which have all the mechanical power of a wet paper towel, threw you so badly, I would have thought it was the whole "nevermind what you want to do next, this adventure is over and there won't be another till next Pentecost" attitude
 

jsnead

Social Justice Dragon
Validated User
* Now that I mention it, jsnead jsnead , I was a little suprised that the personality traits, which have all the mechanical power of a wet paper towel, threw you so badly, I would have thought it was the whole "nevermind what you want to do next, this adventure is over and there won't be another till next Pentecost" attitude
That part was weird, and I wasn't keen on it, but I'd have been willing to try - it's not all that different from Ars Magica, and I also personally was far from keen on the idea of playing a human knight rather than something stranger and more magical. However, the big issue was like many heavily immersionist players, myself and several other people in my gaming group at the time reacted in both horror and bafflement at the idea of any rules modifying a character's emotions and reactions. I can usually handle rolls for surprise, and easily handle rolls for mind control or eldritch/supernaturally induced fear, but Pendragon's personality mechanics were many bridges too far.
 
Last edited:

DavetheLost

Registered User
Validated User
I find Pendragon's personality traits to be brilliant for genre emulation of Arthurian mythic heroes. To me they really help recreate the mindset of Arthurian knights. The whole game is a bit different to most out there though. It is quite formally structured. Interesting to me that it was a hard bounce for you because of the same mechanic. I don't think it would be a good fit for my current players, so I am not playing currently. Pendragon is definitely rules for playing Pendragon and has enough subsystems of rules that require you to actively engage with the rules mechanics rather than immersing yourself in in-character role-play. The Book of the Manor for example brings near spreadsheet levels of detail to your knight's holdings. If you want to focus on the roleplaying with rules that run quietly in the background without calling attention to themselves Pendragon is not going to be your game.

Classic D&D rules used to require the same sort of attention to the rules that Pendragon does simply because every piece of game action seemed to use a different rule mechanic. Playing D&D since 1977 has gotten me so familiar with those rules that now they sit quietly in the background. Mostly because I have internalized them through long practice and familiarity. They did not really have rules for how to actually play the game though. We learned by playing with other people who knew how to play.

MouseGuard comes to mind as a game that is very clear on how to play the game. Every step and procedure is carefully laid out. How to generate characters, how to plan and structure an adventure, how to run the adventure, it's all delineated and guided. It does have a definite "way to play".

I hope I haven't completed lost the thread of what I set out to say.
 
Top Bottom