jl8e: (Default)
From a conversation yesterday about character creation for RPGs:

When creating a character, you need to be able to answer the following questions for them:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you want?
  3. Why are you here?
  4. Where are you going?

If you don't have an answer for some of them, the character's likely to fail to function in play, usually because a situation comes up where the character ought to react, you poke the concept in your head, and it doesn't do anything.

(OK, that's not necessarily true for everybody, but it's true for me. It's my main failure mode as a player.)

The answer to #4 may not actually have relevance to play - the GM and other players will probably throw plenty of spanners into the works, so you can't plan out the character's destiny - but it's useful to know anyway.

They overlap heavily enough that being unclear on the answer to one of them will probably work, but two or more is going to bite you.

The character doesn't need to know the answers, as long as you do.

The answers don't have to be good ones. My character in [livejournal.com profile] drcpunk's Sorcerer game started out with his answer to #4 basically being "Nowhere. I'm stuck in a holding pattern." That's a fine answer, as long as the holding pattern is unstable. And it was. In essence, most of his action throughout the game has been because of his refusal to deal with his problem.

Most NPCs can get away with a lot less detail. Mostly, you need to know what they want, and everything flows from there. Only the major players may need more fleshing out.

Really, all this is just as applicable to writing in general, but it came up in an RPG context, and I don't pretend to be qualified to muse upon the craft of writing, anyway.
jl8e: (Default)
If somebody doesn't understand how to play your game, it's your fault.

If somebody can't extract basic principles from the rules, it's really your fault.

As long as they can read, and are trying to understand, they are absolved of any blame.


You can make all sorts of excuses, but that's all they are - excuses. Some are good excuses ("this game is pretty complex", "space/financial/time constraints limit the size of the rulebook"), some are really bad ones. ("This game contains radical ideas that are beyond the comprehension of the unwashed masses.") They don't absolve you of the responsibility.

The bottom line is that it is your job to make them understand.

And yes, it's bloody hard. It's probably impossible.

But you have to try as best you can.

And if your efforts leave a significant fraction of the audience scratching their heads and getting it wrong, then your product is defective. You can do a lot to mitigate the problems after the fact, but it is less than ideal.

Just don't insult people for not understanding. Don't tell people that the game you're selling is not designed for them. If it's not for them, don't sell it to them. Don't say they don't understand because there's something wrong with them.

(And yes, I freely admit that the rules of Shadowfist are not as clear as they should be. I have excuses, but it's still my fault. I can duck any blame on Angband's documentation for now, but only for now.)
jl8e: (Default)
An interesting idea that I acquired from the Forge, and a good illustration of why I think the place is useful, with some serious caveats.

I've had an RPG system kicking around in my head for years. The Forge has proved helpful in implementing it, both in persuading me to actually type it up, and in prodding me with ideas that fit smoothly into the basic mechanic.

GNS and the Big Model? Completely, utterly, useless.

But conflict resolution? Conflict resolution was a perfect fit.

Imagine a character sneaking in to a guarded castle. In a task resolution system (D&D, GURPS, etc.), one might roll a skill to climb the wall, then another to evade the guards, another to pick a lock. If all of these succeed, you're in the castle. If if one of them fails, you can be left sort of in limbo if the GM isn't careful.

In a conflict resolution system, the individual tasks are abstracted away, and the question is simply "Did you get into the castle?", or possibly "Did you get into the castle without alerting the guards?" (The fact that you get in may simply be assumed, especially if nothing interesting is going to happen unless you got in. Alerting the guards or not might also be handled as a separate conflict.)

Now, both have their advantages and disadvantages. In some sense, they're simply much different levels of abstraction.

Task resolution can be overly detailed. (GURPS combat with all the rules in use.) Conflict resolution can be overly simplified. (Resolving a millennia-long interstellar war in a single die roll is entirely conceivable.)

Task resolution doesn't deal well with goals that don't fit the system's skill mechanics. (If you want to slash somebody's face with a sword, scarring them for life, you can roll to hit, inflict damage, but that doesn't answer the question of whether you scarred him.)

Conflict resolution systems don't necessarily handle situations where the only question that really matters is whether or not you do something, without an active force in opposition to you. (If somebody cuts your hamstrings and dumps you in the desert to die, it can be argued that you're still in conflict with the guy who left you, or the desert environment can be treated as an opponent. But if you need to climb the tallest tree in the forest to see how far away the enemy armies are, what's opposing you?)
jl8e: (Default)
Ok, there's this web site called The Forge. It's devoted to the discussion of and encouraging the creation of creator-owned role-playing games. (Real pen and paper RPGs, not computer games.)

There's also been a big focus on the theory of RPGs, and experimenting with new or non-traditional concepts (GM-less play, distribution of narration rights, etc.)

There's a bunch of interesting stuff there, and a number of interesting-looking games have come out of it. (I've only read or played a couple, so won't make any recommendations, though Dogs in the Vineyard looks very interesting, despite the fact that I find its setting fairly uninteresting.)

In future posts, I'm likely to muse on various RPG theory subjects, so if you find yourself wondering "What's this GNS thing he's foaming at the mouth about?", you might visit the Forge to attempt to satisfy your curiosity.

However, just as I wouldn't suggest somebody read rec.games.roguelike.angband without warning them about Neo, (if you don't know, don't ask - your life will be much richer) I can't send people off to the Forge without letting them know about my reservations about the place.

(It also gives me a place to get it off my chest without going over to the Forge and starting a thread that might as well be entitled "Why You Guys Suck".)

In short, I find the prevailing attitude at the Forge distinctly unwelcoming, and counterproductive to its stated goals.

Now, this may just be me, and in part it probably is. I'm aware enough of my personality flaws to recognize this.

But I'm going to lay a lot of the blame at the feet of Ron Edwards.

(The Forge is not just Ron's site, but, at least from where I stand, he's by far the dominant personality among the powers that be.)

Ron is the general moderator of the Forge. The kindest thing I can say about his moderation style is that it's somewhat autocratic.

Ron wrote most of the articles on RPG theory available on the Forge.

In general, Ron seems to set the tone.

And I find that tone to be kind of ugly. Other posters are not generally as bad, but I see a lot of reflections of Ron's attitude in the overall Forge mindset.

There's a strong sense of elitism. Not only does this attitude state that are Forge-style games better than more traditional ones, but that the traditional ones are actively bad, sometimes to the point of people stating that those playing "traditional" games cannot actually be having fun. (Actually, far worse has been stated, but I'm not willing to attribute that to more than a relatively small subset of the population.)

Ron's theories are generally treated as received wisdom. (I disagree with them a lot, frequently fairly vehemently. I cannot say whether most others find them more persuasive, or whether those who didn't eventually gave up and left.)

When people come to the Forge with their ideas for a game, I see people attempting to push the author to fit it into the Forge's mold, whether or not that's what the author seems to be looking for.

There used to be a couple of forums for discussing RPG theory, but they were shut down around the time I started reading the site.

(There's discussion still ongoing in the blogs of various people, but in my hierarchy of useful internet discussion fora, blogs are basically at the bottom. You can't find anything, the interfaces generally suck, and the only way to start a topic of discussion is to start your own blog, and hope somebody reads it.)

I could probably go on at length, but I think I've covered the basics, which is kind of the point of this. Interesting place, but it could be a lot better than it is.


jl8e: (Default)

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