May 29, 2009

I was thinking about what changes have happened design-wise, in the last 8 years or so in rpg design, and it both highlighted what (at least to me) are the biggest defining aspects of a given design as well as what defines a “Traditional RPG”.


Or: Input. How can players input into what happens?

In a traditional rpg, players are limited to affecting the fiction through the actions of their characters, while the GM is generally allowed to create the fiction directly.

Non-traditional games play with it- trading narration, giving players direct means to shape fiction, divvying up authority, etc.


What are players rewarded for doing?

Traditional games generally either follow the D&D structure (treasure or fighting), BRP (do a skill, skill gets better), or the GURPS model (show up to play), with anything outside of that being left to GM whim.

Non-traditional games surprisingly tend to follow the D&D route- reward according to the focus of the game, though many play with ideas like variable reward possibilities, putting strategic choices into reward mechanics, or divvying up who makes the rewards and/or for what reasons.


How does the overall arch of play go? How does “what happens?” get decided?

Traditional games generally either fall into the “Location Based” (aka the Dungeon) or the “Choose your own adventure” hidden flowchart/plot tree method, where the possibilities are not known to the players.

Non-traditional games have everything from a very exact list of the scenes to be played through, to mechanical pacing methods to scene to scene flow dictated by the players through mechanics.

Obviously, there’s probably some exceptions in this division, but I think it works pretty well and better than the focus of “GM power” which tends to cloud these conversations.



  1. Interesting observation about the reward systems. BW is the only improve-by-doing game in the DIY world that I can think of offhand. It’s kind of fun. We should have more of that.

    • BW’s reward system is multilayered. It comes down to Do & Improve + Artha.

      The Do & Improve part is tricky, because it’s not just do- it’s do with a certain level of difficulty, which encourages players to find challenges rather than just do easy stuff over and over and grind up their skills.

      Artha plays off of Belief, Instincts, Traits to work as a focus much like Issues in PTA, and, provides an interesting reward system from the immediate to the long term, culminating in Shade Shifts in the long term play.

      Riddle of Steel also has a fun parallel development. Skills are raised “Do & Improve” but everything else improves only by Spiritual Attributes.

      So in both cases, there’s enough serious tweak on Reward that people are hesistant to call them Traditional, and also why we see so many trad players and groups have a hard time with them- it’s close enough to what they know they think they know how to play it, and different enough to cause problems. (Herowars/Quest has some of the same issues).

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