“Traditional”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.