Progress in rpg design

(from an old G+ post I found while looking through my G+ export)

For some people, the idea of progress in RPG design is threatening — they like the games they have, and they don’t want them to change.

For others, the idea of progress in games is associated with assholes using it push the games they like, or the games they are selling (cf Vampire in the 90s, much of the Forge crowd in the 2000s).

For yet others, they see the counter-evidence to any simple story of linear hobby-wide progress. For example, the recent resurgence of OSR play as a reaction to the plotted-epic-story direction D&D took in the 90s and 00s.

I think progress is possible, and is happening (on multiple stylistic fronts, which as S John Ross points out in [his now-unavailable G+ post] it must do). But I’m not surprised when people don’t believe in it, or don’t like the idea

Transactions and Rawplaying

Paul Beakley has defined two new rpg theory terms which I think will be useful.

The Transaction — “The steps players engage in to settle outcomes in the fiction. … a subset of the much larger conversation in which all the play takes place.”

I don’t think that definition is particularly instructive, but the worked examples he gives in his post (for Scum & Villainy, Burning Wheel, and Apocalypse World) are much more so.

Rawplaying — “Playing an RPG by the rules because we earnestly feel the rules produce the best experience for us.”

The term is useful to me because while it’s not always what I do, it’s very often what I try to do. And there’s a big divide in rpg culture between people who take this seriously and people who don’t.

Structure-preserving transformations

… following Christopher Alexander, positive change is a matter of producing “structure-preserving transformations” – starting with a core, and figuring out how to elaborate on the core in a way that produces wholeness, not mess. These possible transformations are what you’re looking for in problem-solving space: states of affairs that are near the current state of affairs but better, and achievable without destroying the dignity and cohesiveness of the existing state of affairs. Each transformation allows you to begin imagining further transformations from a new starting point. (source)

The Dungeon World core loop

What is the core loop of Dungeon World? How are the high-level events in a game supposed to occur? The RAW is not precise to the specificity demanded by my exacting analytical genius. So I will describe it here.

Firstly, all of the below happens in context of my previous description The highest-level structure of Dungeon World. This loop is inside that. Key quote:

Dungeon World is a game of rules that modify a conversation. That conversation refers to a simulated world, which is modified by the conversation and in turn shapes the space of what is reasonable for the conversation to say at any point. The world does not have any more reality than that — it doesn’t “do” anything itself, unless the (rule-governed) conversation causes an update.

The loop

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The highest-level structure of Dungeon World

This post describes how I view the highest-level structure of Dungeon World. Most of what I’ll say also applies to Apocalypse World, so I’ll mix discussion of the two with little warning.

The first level — everything is the conversation

Dungeon World is a game of rules that modify a conversation. That conversation refers to a simulated world, which is modified by the conversation and in turn shapes the space of what is reasonable for the conversation to say at any point. The world does not have any more reality than that — it doesn’t “do” anything itself, unless the (rule-governed) conversation causes an update.

For example, if the Red Knights haven’t been mentioned for six weeks of game time, they exist in a space of possibilities – they could be here, they could be there, they could be anywhere within six weeks travel of wherever they were last. The conversation can bring them into the current scene (or show their very obvious effects e.g. having burnt down a town and left their flags all over it) as long as that is consistent with the time, the distance, and whether of all of the chaos shrines in all the mountains of the world there is some plausible reason for them to show up in this one.

What the Red Knights don’t do is move around in the background, in some factual sense, even in the GM’s head. The GM may have ideas about this, but they’re merely ideas until the live conversation makes them fact. The GM’s prep is raw material, prompts, aids, but not reality.

I.e. the possibility and plausibility space is “real” beyond the conversation (and each player plus GM will be independently monitoring it to some degree) but the precise facts there are not.

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What Does Railroading Ever…

This isn’t one of my “let me carefully review the basics of our hobby” posts — it’s a discussion on Story Games. Eero Tuovinen has a thread there called A Bit of Railroading Theory, which is exactly that.  It includes sections like “The creative payoff of railroading” that I think are sound (though note the objections raised by David Berg further down the thread).

Eero makes one major point that I think is right — railroading is a hard way to GM, at least if you want your players to have a good time. It’s not necessarily easier to make railroading work than to wing it:

“The historical tragedy of our hobby seems to be that railroading has been understood as the hiding place of the mediocre and the starter set of the newbie when precisely the opposite is the case: you should only do railroad play if you, alone, actually are capable of being an entertaining storyteller. If that’s not the case, the railroad bit is just an incidental detail, and the real issue with your game is that you’re putting a mediocre and boring thing in front instead of trying to hide it in the back, as a sensible person would [grin].” (source)

What do published rulesets ever do for us?

Some months ago, I asked What Do Rules Ever Do For Us? I asked, there, “Why use rules? Why not just freeform?” Under “rules”, I included those that were “RAW from a third party text, hand-crafted by the GM, or assembled by the play group through a democratic process”. Here, I’m going to zoom in on the first of those and ask “What do published rulesets do for us?”. I’m not interested, here, in things that any collection of rules can do — I’m interested in a what a set of rules carefully designed by a third party can do for you.

I’m not asking, here, about rulebooks per se, as texts or as physical artefacts — I’ve asked that elsewhere. I’m asking about the rules themselves, howsoever communicated and stored.

Continue reading “What do published rulesets ever do for us?”