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Guaranteed Input

March 21, 2021

Many months late, I come across Cavegirl’s Theory of Hard & Soft Tools which is an excellent summation of the design issue around types of player input, GM fiat, Procedures vs. Directives, undirected broad authority, and the old conversations around Push & Pull play and mechanics.

For the last month or so I’ve been trying to formulate a good way to talk about hard tools and “guaranteed input”, but that post kinda covers most of it. This idea is also one of the points of why narration trading is an easy and useful feature to include in games aiming for Narrativism; when the whole group has the potential to completely change the direction of any story, railroading, or Illusionism cannot function.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this because on one hand, there is a treasure trove of design theory available (GDC talks, boardgames, etc.) RPG design is only -just- starting to tap into it and a lot of the old spectres keep popping up, including confusion “light systems”(short word count) for being the same as systems that are supporting or complete when mostly it shovels the work onto the group or the GM and provides rather inconsistent play experiences across the board.

It is true that the simplest rule is “I say the thing and it happens” and everything else is more work, but fundamentally for play to have a direction and momentum, mechanics should be contributing to that as well. A system that “gets out of the way” is basically saying you’re going to swim because you’ve found all vehicles are bad because you kept driving cars into water and wondering why they don’t float, instead of trying something that does what you are trying to do – get a boat instead.

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