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How roleplaying works: All of the above

January 29, 2011

There’s a lot of conversations going on right now which have the same base problem of folks trying to take one facet of roleplaying and use it to explain the whole affair.

It’s rather like arguing whether the wheels or the gasoline or the motor is the part that makes a car work – when you need all of them for it to function.

What are we playing and why?

“Roleplaying games are games where imaginary fiction is the focus of play and influences play choices.” – here, I mean “focus” as in the medium of play, not as in, the point of play.

The point of playing, the why, is the Creative Agenda which is most reliably fulfilled when a group is on the same page about it and aided by Reward Systems to help organize play. Without clear communication and organization, you consistently run into problems which we’ve seen for decades of play and are obvious when considered.

How do we make it work?

With this in mind, both the fictional events & the systemic methods matter to shaping play.

What we imagine, the fiction, shapes choices as the group decides both importance & plausibility.

What we do at the table- the system by which we organize play, works by organizing who can say what gives consistently good play when it’s working and is a source of conflicts when it fails to match the group’s goals.

A well designed game uses both of those features to help the group coordinate and mesh ideas with specific ideas, description, and mechanics. Looking at fine detail- the most mechanical elements exist as tools to feed back into choices and meaning in play.

The Big Picture

Simply put: Yes, system matters, yes, setting matters, yes, fiction matters, yes, the people you play with matters.

All of these matter. This is what the Big Model Theory from the Forge has been saying the whole time. People keep asking “wait, how can this AND that both apply?”

Vincent Baker has an awesome diagram of how major components of roleplaying fit together. The cohesion of that, and how it is written vs. how it is played is often a source of confusion. The gaps Vincent points to, are mostly dealt with by having a good set of procedures and directives and using unstructured authority with clear directives to fill the space.

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