Archive for December, 2011

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Creative Agenda: Processes

December 28, 2011

Different descriptions with the same fundamental meanings for Creative Agendas.

These sentences are short and precise, though that doesn’t necessarily make them easier to understand.

The one nice thing is that of these, only one word is used out of “general understanding” and that is “fiction” being the “Things we imagine at the table when we roleplay”.

I’ll go ahead and put up the usual, rarely heeded caveat that these descriptions indicate what each CA highly prioritizes over other things, which isn’t the same as completely excluding what the other CAs prioritize.

Narrativism:
Systems aimed at producing a creative process that creates emotionally meaningful improvised fiction.

Gamism:
Systems aimed at producing competitive challenges that includes non-quantifiable factors (Fictional Positioning) as aspects of play.

Notice that the non-quantifiable factors actually are what differentiate gamist rpgs from other types of general games (boardgames, minis, cardgames, etc.)

Simulationism:
Systems aimed at producing fiction and experiences within a given set of expectations and boundaries.

The Overlap Fallacy

Below I list game design features prioritized for each type of Creative Agenda.

You’ll notice that each Agenda shares about HALF the features from the other two sets…but only half.  It could be considered like three sets: AB, BC, AC.

The thing is, this reality is something that becomes a terrible pitfall for many people, both design-wise and in gameplay.  People see there’s a common feature between two groups, but don’t realize that the excluded parts – what they are different in, is what makes them mutually exclusive playstyles.

For example, the player wanting Sim campaign invites the player who wants Nar play to join in- at first all the talk about character backstory and fiction gets them both excited.  But then the player who wants Narrativism starts making hard choices for their character, choices that change the character, and maybe the setting too… and the Sim seeking player is frustrated and at a loss for what to do.  They decide the Nar player is a “problem player” and stop inviting them after a while.

IT IS CRITICAL TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE PRIORITIZED FEATURES ARE PRIORITIZED OVER THE EXCLUDED SECTION.  If the set is AB, then AB are always going to be more important in this set than C, and if the set is BC, then BC is always going to be more important than A.  When you try to put the groups together, you get people arguing between the features they exclude or consider a non-priority.

Narrativist games prioritize these features:

– Requires player agency
– Requires uncertain outcomes
– Often benefits from immediate reward systems to focus play

– Requires coherent creative buy-in from everyone playing
– Fictional elements are often key to decision making
– Often may benefit from having solid setting/situation materials from which to draw upon.

Gamist games prioritize these features:

– Requires player agency
– Requires uncertain outcomes
– Often benefits from immediate reward systems to focus play

– Successful play requires a strong understanding of the limitations to acceptable action (whether fiction based or mechanics)
– Often benefits from mechanics designed to enforce consistency

Simulationist games prioritize these features:

– Requires coherent creative buy-in from everyone playing
– Fictional elements are often key to decision making
– Often may benefit from having solid setting/situation materials from which to draw upon.

– Successful play requires a strong understanding of the limitations to acceptable action (whether fiction based or mechanics)
– Often benefits from mechanics designed to enforce consistency

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Epimas: Games for $2.22

December 21, 2011

A lot of rpg PDFs are on sale right now for $2.22 – including two games I recommend everyone to try at least once: 1001 Nights and Breaking the Ice.

Both games have shifting “GM-ish” roles, lack “success/failure” task dice mechanics, instead basing more on player judgment and rewards and play really well in one sitting.

If you want to explore rpg theory, these two games (along with; Primetime Adventures and Shadow of Yesterday) would be a great base to start with.

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Verbally Explaining Rules

December 18, 2011

I’ve gotten to play a lot of boardgames in the last 2 weeks, and yesterday a couple of friends commented I did a good job explaining the rules to a new player – that said, everyone did a great job of teaching as we played, which I find is crucial for speeding the learning curve.

1. Explain the win conditions/general point of play

I start here, because it tells people what they’re TRYING to do, and makes all the rules I give after that, have context.

2. Explain the general rules that constitute the majority of gameplay and a basic strategy around them

I start general, because, again, we’re laying out context – it’s like having folders to store documents in- the folder lets you categorize what the specific rules are, and assists people in retaining the ideas.

I also give a general strategy, because any game that’s a good strategy game can’t be mastered by a quick explanation, plus it gives the new player context to see what other players are doing and why, and learn from that as well. Without that context, the actions appear opaque.

3. Go only into the specifics as immediately pertain to the new players just before, or just as it comes up in play

Save the weird, exception based stuff for last, and only as it’s immediately important or very likely to be immediately important.

Sure, it’s probably great to know that this one thing has this one exception that could be important- but odds are good a new player won’t be able to remember it, or really figure out the reason it’s important. Get them up on the basics first, and the things they’re immediately dealing with.

4. Have everyone explain motivations or highlight choices for the first part of play

“I’m choosing this because it’s good for this and that.” “I’m spending my Bonus Points to get extra dice.” etc. This helps again, give the player context and to model off of what everyone else is doing.

5. Lay out options for new players during play, and point out some strengths/weaknesses to each

Whenever it comes around to the new player’s chance to take action, be sure to list out some viable choices and what makes any of them good choices or why a few are bad choices.

Notice that this is different than simply going, “YOU SHOULD DO THIS”. You may encounter places where there is only one good option, and if that’s the case, point out why that is, and why the other ones aren’t good. (A good game shouldn’t have too many of these points in play…)

The Pitfalls to Avoid

The two big pitfalls I see happen a lot are either trying to explain the rules by the order of procedure OR by getting caught up in explaining EVERY option, instead of what’s immediate and most important.

And the reason is this:

Whatever you first tell players, is most likely to stick. The more material you explain, the less they remember.

So if you start off with explaining 20 minutes of how to set things up, or a whole lot of options but not an overall context- by the time you get around to those important things (assuming you do…) it’s all a blur at that point.

Example: Burning Wheel 101

Burning Wheel 101

Many times I will put together a “quicksheet” – a simple 1-2 page document that highlights the basic rules and procedures for a given roleplaying game. It’s not intended as a full teaching document, as much as something the players can read before the game, AND something the players can reference during the game.  (ETA: Fun enough, it looks like folks were looking at these issues back in 1975, with OD&D character sheets!)

And, as we play, and I highlight options or make suggestions, I point back to the sheet as a process of getting players to see that the core information is right there, and they can and should access it regularly.

“Hey, you could get 2 extra dice if you FORK in your Maps-Wise and Orienteering skills on your sheet.” *points to FORKs section on the sheet*

Making a quicksheet also helps you learn how to phrase things and figure out which aspects are most important in explaining how a given game works. Then, when you come around to teaching new people- you just follow the sheet as a list of talking points.

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Time and Themes in Nar Play

December 7, 2011

I’ve been thinking about media and the sorts of ways different media can address different ideas – primarily constrained by the time the media has to explore it.

Narrativist gaming can go anything from a short one shot to hundreds of hours of play, which means it could hold the same length and opportunity to explore ideas as the longest epic story or tv series, to the length of a movie or tv show in terms of time.

And, when you look at these different media, you can see the types of themes and depth, is constrained by time. I’m guessing that one of the biggest areas we’ll see exploration in design for Nar play is going to be about how we handle time and coordinate our theme exploration around that.

Right now, we have about 3 means of bounding time:

1. A set number of sessions

Primetime Adventures is the key here, though self-imposed limits(such as a one-shot) tend to work well- the group can pace their exploration with this in mind. You can make sure to place anything your doing with the idea of potentially/probably seeing resolution by the end of the set limit.

2. A mechanical* ending trigger

My Life with Master really started this, though you see it in Polaris, Breaking the Ice, Bliss Stage, Burning Empires, Poison’d and a lot of other games- there’s some kind of stat, event, or score that eventually triggers off endgame for everyone. Since everyone at the table knows what that looks like, they can angle for or against it- how things end is a pretty big statement that wraps things up.

(*obviously, mechanical could also include stuff like “When two players or more decide it’s over” or such)

3. Unbounded

This, right now, seems to be the default in a lot of ways. While this isn’t too bad, and enough games still allow you to regularly hit themes with either group prioritization or mechanics (Burning Wheel, HeroQuest, Riddle of Steel), the big problem is coordinating the scale of theme to address and wrap up. Not to mention the usual problem of unbounded play in general- keeping it going. Committing to indefinite play is difficult for most people.

I’m guessing what we’re going to see over the next 10 years is actual expertise in what themes fit for what time spans and better mechanics to meet those needs. Right now, we hear about people having legendary results of long term campaigns once-in-a-while, because I’m guessing we’re lacking both techniques and mechanics to make more consistent results. (And, of course, the classic time issue)