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[Theory/Rant] The Fourth Agenda

Omnifray

Registered User
Validated User
#1
Elements of Fun in a Roleplaying Game

OK, I'm feeling in a controversial mood, so:-

We roleplayers worship at the sacred altar of FUN. But what is FUN? Whose FUN? How does it come about? And why is it so twinkly???

Let's have a look at some of the sparkly things a roleplaying game can give you.

All true roleplaying games involve DEPICTION of a fantasy world and the characters in it. The tired, old theories of roleplaying call this EXPLORATION or SIMULATIONISM.

Any game that allows tactical choices can give you a CHALLENGE to overcome. The staid and stagnant theories of the past call this GAMISM.

Roleplaying games may also allow you to FOCUS on dramatic THEMES and PREMISES, MORAL dilemmas, ETHICAL questions and the like. How far will you go to survive? Is friendship more important than honour, does loyalty come above truth? The pretentious theories of roleplaying scholasticism call this NARRATIVISM.
(Of course, some players just want to play really evil or plain fanatical characters, and their moral and ethical dilemmas are often terrifyingly straightforward - so, not much premise or theme to explore there. But I guess you can find dramatic theme/premise even in, say, Reservoir Dogs or possibly even Kill Bill if you look hard enough.)

Some players value being CREATIVELY INVOLVED.

That DEMANDS player control.

But there is a point missing from this compass.

MYSTERY, SUSPENSE and the SENSE OF THE UNKNOWN. MYSTERY and SUSPENSE can INTRIGUE the player, create a sense of WONDER, even create a sense of FEAR.

These things demand UNPREDICTABILITY - a LACK of player control.

MYSTERY and SUSPENSE are in DIRECT TENSION with players having narrative control.

Many roleplayers hypnotised by the dogmatic theories of yesteryear seem to believe that their creative agenda must be "gamism" (by implication, munchkinny powergaming), "narrativism" (play consciously steered towards dramatic themes) or "simulationism" (perhaps, by implication, a tedious focus on the humdrum minutiae of an impossible verisimilitude).

The propaganda of narrativism is that it paints not necessarily a realistic picture (which simulationism paints), but a BEAUTIFUL one (and pure gamism may paint no picture at all).

The point of this diatribe is that roleplaying games may paint a picture which is beautiful for reasons OTHER than verisimilitude or dramatic theme or premise.

I STAND AT THE EDGE OF THE UNKNOWN

I do not want to call this "creative agenda" Mystery play, because that connotes some dumb-ass murder mystery with Colonel Crumb (The Butler Did It).

I would call it Suspense Play.

Suspense Play supports gamism (because it creates the Challenge of the unknown) and simulationism/immersion (because in real life we do not always know what is going on, so having no sense of mystery destroys verisimilitude).

Suspense Play denies outright, abstract player plot control. But it does not deny all forms of metagaming / player plot input. There has to be a filter between the players' plot input and the final outcome - that filter is the referee's interpretation and fiat.

Of course, it has often been thought that player plot input breaks Depiction / Simulationism. That's strictly untrue. There is nothing realistic in an in-game sense about a character being played by a player. The role of the player is not and never can be a realistic thing in and of itself. The player may make in-character decisions purely in-character, but that is not even in tension with, let alone incompatible with, the player making out-of-character plot-input decisions on whatever basis he likes. That usually includes the basics of character generation (few characters realistically choose their own basic physical and mental characteristics). Player plot input is no less compatible with Depiction / Simulationism than player input on character generation or even on character decisions - because in real life the characters of real life (we, ourselves and us) do not (we believe) have players. Or so it may seem at first glance.

But of course knowing that you have plot-input powers as a player may affect your attempted in-character decision-making and weaken Depiction / Simulation that way. The way around that problem starts with the Bridge of Destiny - the concept that Fate or Destiny has a special plan for your character. (If not, why would he be a player character??? - central to the storyline!!!) He may even be dimly conscious of the role of fate. But above all player plot input and metagame stuff like powers of luck and destiny must be anchored to the strict rule that their outcome is never certain. They must always pass through the filter of a dice-roll or ref fiat.

And that also solves the problem that player plot input poses for Suspense Play. Anchor your player plot input to dice-rolls or ref fiat, and player plot input will not destroy your sense of suspense.

I suppose that a heavy narrativist steer towards a particular dramatic theme or presence could detract from Suspense Play, if it entails predictabilty (for the player). But fundamentally, obeying the above rules, you can have player plot input and Suspense Play under one roof.

Suspense Play, supported by and supporting Depiction and Challenge.

That's the heart of what gaming is about for me.

Mystery and suspense - the core of any truly great story. [Discuss.]

Steering things crudely towards a particular, pre-determined or evolving dramtic theme or premise - fine, if you want it.

But don't get in the way of my Suspense Play.

And don't talk down to Suspense Play folk - we're the ones having fun!

;-)
 
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Kiero

Retiring User
Validated User
#2
Let's see, I'm strong on fun, lukewarm on simulation and theme, couldn't give a crap about challenge, unpredictability or mystery. I like player input and control, and shared manipulation of the imagination space.

So really Suspense Play is something I don't care about, and don't aim to create in my games. Par for the course with GNS really, none of those describe what I want and enjoy in a game.
 
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Lord Minx

Active member
Validated User
#3
I for one give this rant 2 out of 10 Angry Criticists. The random Capitalization and invented jargon was a nice touch, but the actual criticism levelled was too convulated for an honest rant while at the same time covering too familiar ground to be interesting. Also, make more spelling mistakes and throw some exclamation marks in there the next time.

M
 

Omnifray

Registered User
Validated User
#4
Let's do this in the manner of Socrates.

K:- "I don't need challenge, suspense or mystery in my storytelling games."

O:- "Excellent. I have the perfect way for you to have the best storytelling game ever, with no element of suspense or mystery. Since the masses are always right, 65,000,000,000,034 Harry Potter readers can't be wrong. Harry Potter books are the best form of fantasy out there. So, instead of wasting your time with your inadequate attempts at character depiction, plot-writing, narrative themes etc., why not go with the best? Just pick up the latest J K Rowling offering and you're home and dry. Why roleplay at all, when you can just read a good book?"

K:- "Oi! I want player input and control, and joint manipulation of our shared imagined space."

O:- "Oh! I see. I was deeply unfair to you in my previous comment. Right, well, let's cut out all the dice for a start. Here are the rules for your roleplaying game. Everyone sits around in a circle and you take it in turns to add a word, phrase, sentence, paragraph or long essay to the story. And- that's it. You can have fun, simulation, theme and above all shared input. Just take turns to narrate what happens."

K:- "But that's not a game."

O:- "Exactly. Without challenge [edit] and/or unpredictability [/edit], there's no game in roleplaying game. And challenge without suspense - is it even possible? The suspense in Chess comes from not knowing your opponent's next move. If you could always know how your opponent will react to each move of yours, and how you will react to his, and how he will react to that, etc., there would be no game. The challenge is the game in roleplaying game, and depiction is the roleplaying in roleplaying game. But Suspense is the magic."

K:- "Ah! My eyes have been opened!!! Thank you Master."

O:- "No problem, grasshopper."

;-)

THIS IS NOT AN ACTUAL CONVERSATION BETWEEN K AND O.
 
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Kiero

Retiring User
Validated User
#5
I don't really care about the "game" in RPG. No, reading or writing some fiction isn't a good substitute. Nice try, though.

Have you ever played Wushu?
 

Omnifray

Registered User
Validated User
#6
I for one give this rant 2 out of 10 Angry Criticists. The random Capitalization and invented jargon was a nice touch, but the actual criticism levelled was too convulated for an honest rant while at the same time covering too familiar ground to be interesting. Also, make more spelling mistakes and throw some exclamation marks in there the next time.

M
To be fair, it was 80% theory and only 20% rant.

What I really meant by labelling it [Theory/Rant] was [Theory with minor Ranty Qualities].

If this is so familiar already, why is there so much pretentious narrativist bullcr*p out there.
 

Omnifray

Registered User
Validated User
#7
I don't really care about the "game" in RPG. No, reading or writing some fiction isn't a good substitute. Nice try, though.

Have you ever played Wushu?
I have never played Wushu.

I am reading the Burning Wheel books at the moment, when I have time.

But I have a very big problem with ANY game which gives you fate points which provide a 100% certain get-out-of-jail-free card, providing immunity to death.

Which is not to say that WHFRP ain't fun. It's a lot better than a lot of the other stuff out there. But Fate Point = Saved Ass = Big Spanner in the Works of Fun.

PS I just don't believe that you don't care about the "game" in "roleplaying game". If you started a Wushu game knowing exactly what was going to happen, who was going to say what and when, you wouldn't want to play. Simple as. You need unpredictability, just admit it.
 
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Kiero

Retiring User
Validated User
#9
I have never played Wushu.

I am reading the Burning Wheel books at the moment, when I have time.

But I have a very big problem with ANY game which gives you fate points which provide a 100% certain get-out-of-jail-free card, providing immunity to death.

Which is not to say that WHFRP ain't fun. It's a lot better than a lot of the other stuff out there. But Fate Point = Saved Ass = Big Spanner in the Wheel of Fun.
Well, Wushu doesn't have Fate Points. It's not a narrativist game, either.
 

Dolphin

The Cheery Nihilist
#10
K:- "But that's not a game."
Even by the standard you seem to be setting in the next sentence (challenge and/or unpredictability) the thing you describe would still be a game (the challenge is being entertaining, the unpredictability is the other players).

I'd argue it wasn't a roleplaying game, because no one is playing a role, but it's certainly a game.
 
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