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Other Games, Development, & Campaigns => Design, Development, and Gameplay => Topic started by: Warthur on June 25, 2007, 12:58:20 pm

Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Warthur on June 25, 2007, 12:58:20 pm
It's often said that RPGs are like a more nuanced version of "Let's Pretend", only that the participants tend to be older and there's more rules. It's a pretty good analogy.

On the other hand, there's a good reason why I don't go back and play "Let's Pretend" these days, unless I'm babysitting some five-year-olds: it's no longer satisfying to me in the same way it was back when I was tiny. I'm older, my imagination is more nuanced, I want to avoid ridiculous "Bang! You're dead!" "No I'm not!" arguments. Systems provide form and structure to the game, and that's pretty vital.

I was talking with a friend over lunch about the nightmare of the Holocaust thread, and he pointed out that the game proposed there feels a lot like the sort of roleplay exercise that you'd do in class at school... except the exercise in school will be supervised by a teacher, and will be accompanied by a fat dose of facts to put things in context.

We realised, there, that that's one of the problems both he and I have with Forge-inspired games: the "Narrativist" approach to play seems to produce lightly-more-systemised versions of a classroom exercise. Dogs In the Vineyard is a good example of this sort of thing: the system is set up with the idea that it's actually reasonably for a PC to win most conflicts... provided that their player is willing to make the moral statement that "my character is willing to do this in order to get what he wants." My Life With Master is an even better example: as far as I'm aware, it's explicitly set up to be an object lesson about abusive relationships, and what system it has is geared entirely towards that.

A lot of you probably had to do the Balloon Debate at some point in school, and those of you who didn't have probably heard of it. It goes a little something like this: a bunch of people with varying characteristics and professions (an old millionaire philanthropist, a policeman, a pregnant woman and a priest, for example) are on a balloon which is plummeting to destruction, and they'll only survive if one of them lightens the load by jumping out of the balloon to their death. Who should get thrown off?

It was pointed out by my friend that the Balloon Debate is the perfect Narrativist RPG, albeit a systemless one. It's all about exploring a theme which isn't stated explicitly in the situation ("What makes someone worthy of life?"). And we both agreed that we didn't find Balloon Debates especially interesting; they hinge on simplifying and codifying moral decisions which are actually quite complex, and coming up with moral dilemmas which are hopelessly specific, and assume furthermore that the players are going to engage with the questions they pose on their own terms as opposed to saying "Hell with it, I'll just shove the nearest person off the balloon. If we waste our time arguing we'll die for sure."

On one hand, fair enough: you shouldn't play a Narrativist game if you have no interest in exploring the theme at its heart, because it sure as hell won't support you if you ignore the themė. On the other hand, as a player I'd appreciate the right to say to the GM "Look, I'm sorry, but I just don't agree with the premise of the moral dilemma you've posed me and I'd prefer not to have to engage with it," just as my PC might say "Fuck your save-the-kitten-or-save-the-puppy deathtrap, Dr Doom - I'm not going to let you get away just to soothe my conscience." (Also, let's remember that Uncle Ron says that real Narrativism hinges on the theme not being implicit in the situation - which means that the theme being explored isn't necessarily going to be obvious upfront.)

Because the Narrativist approach frequently deals with themes of ethics and morals, it's inherently going to push peoples' buttons more than games which are just meant to be good dice-rollin' fun, and yet no self-proclaimed Narrativist game I've seen has an option for players (or GMs) to say "You know what? Let's not steer the game in this direction, it's not making me happy." Of course, you could always come out and say that, but the beauty of Narrativist systems is supposed to be that sufficient authorial control is shared that you don't have to.

I think this is the essential difference in approach and mindset that differentiates traditional games from the Forge's Narrativist offerings: most-to-all traditional games would devolve to "Let's Pretend" if you stripped away all the system elements, whereas many Narrativist games would devolve to a classroom exercise.

I question the worth of roleplaying games as philosophical exercises. As was pointed out in the Holocaust thread, pretending to be a Holocaust victim for a while in no way gives you any insight into the experiences of real life Holocaust victims - at best, you just learn about your own personal preconceptions of what it would be like to be a victim. Such exercises are useful in classrooms precisely because a teacher is present to deliver a fat injection of facts after the exercise is over and put everything in context, and that simply isn't present in an RPG session. There's a reason you don't do quite so many roleplaying exercises like this once you reach higher education: by that point, you're meant to draw your conclusions about a topic through research and argument and reason, rather than sitting around thinking about how it would feel to experience the historical situation under discussion.

I don't see any reason to play a "story game" to explore a theme with my friends when I can just sit down and talk about the subject in question with my friends (and probably draw more reasonable conclusions by doing so.) Conversely, when I want to play pretend with my friends and we're in the mood for swords and sorcery, I can see plenty of reasons to play Dungeons & Dragons or Runequest or Burning Wheel or REIGN rather than reverting to "Let's Pretend".
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: TonyLB on June 25, 2007, 01:11:16 pm
Y'know, your description of how you believe these games would feel in play doesn't mesh well with my experience of how they actually feel when I play them.  Not to say that they couldn't feel this way for some other people, just that they don't for me and my friends.

Is that even worth talking about, or should I just say "Okay, yeah, if the games turned out the way he's talking about that would suck," and nod in agreement?
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Abyssal Maw on June 25, 2007, 01:22:11 pm
This is an issue similar to one I've been kinda focused on as well. Although my shorthand for it is "performing a part" vs "playing a game".

The thing with RPGs is that there have always been some performance-y type elements- you can talk in character, you can act out a scene, kinda.. but it was still playing a game.

What eventually happened was people started to believe that the performance part was the only thing that mattered ("role-playing vs roll-playing"), and pretty soon they were touting theater books and impro and so on.

This is why I see these story-games as an evolutionary dead-end. You might as well just join community theater or become a mime or a busker of some kind. The game elements are mostly gone (or mere vestigial nubs) by the time you are done and you don't need them. They obviously appeal to people who have a need to get attention and do performance stuff (not necessarily talented people, but you know..)

But they aren't games anymore. It seems fairly obvious.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Settembrini on June 25, 2007, 01:26:29 pm
The thing that makes Thematic Games inferiour, is that the thematic decision is always way more artificial and contrived than a thematic decision in an Adventure Game.
That´s the price you pay for frontloading your games to be all about these decisions. They lose gravitas.

There´s a huge difference between being betrayed by the party rogue after two years of gameplay that was regular adventuring and acting out a betrayal situation in any of the Thematic Games.

You can have thematics in your Adventure Game, but you can´t have adventure in your Thematic Game.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Pierce Inverarity on June 25, 2007, 01:36:03 pm
Warthur, ignore Tony, he's on his default water-muddying mission.

I will note here that weeks ago I proposed in jest that DitV be used for the moral suitability test for prospective German army conscripts. Military service is (or was?) compulsory in Germany, unless said test proves you to be a pacifist--then you get to work in hospitals etc. instead.

In my time, they used to have that oft-lampooned question: "You're sitting on a park bench with your g/f at night. It so happens you've brought your submachingegun (rofl). A mugger approaches and threatens you both. What do you do?"

Any answer short of "I deliver my purse and g/f on a silver platter to the despicable criminal" would land you in the army.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Pierce Inverarity on June 25, 2007, 01:37:05 pm
PS: Settembrini, very good point re. thematic frontloading.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Warthur on June 25, 2007, 01:40:53 pm
Quote from: TonyLB
Y'know, your description of how you believe these games would feel in play doesn't mesh well with my experience of how they actually feel when I play them.  Not to say that they couldn't feel this way for some other people, just that they don't for me and my friends.
To be fair, I have had some kick-ass Dogs In the Vineyard sessions in my time, which didn't feel like classroom exercises. But I suspect that that was because I and the group I was playing with were all approaching the game as "Let's Pretend" and letting the "how far will you go to solve the community's problems?" question slide entirely. Guns, bloodshed, torture, we had a whale of a time.

However, Dogs, My Life With Master, and most self-declared Narrativist games that actually fit Uncle Ron's definition (as opposed to, say, Riddle of Steel, which is as Simulationist as Simulationist can be but gets to be called Narrativist anyway) aren't designed from a "Let's Pretend" angle, because Let's Pretend doesn't give Ron his "Story Now!". They are designed more like the classroom exercises: the roles you play and the system are geared towards exploring the central theme of the game, rather than towards mucking about with your character. True, you can always ignore that and muck about with your character; some games will support this better than others (My Life With Master doesn't support it at all).

The Narrativist approach to game design, if followed, will tend to produce games which feel (to me) like classroom exercises, or cheap substitutes for a real discussion about the themes evoked.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: PGiverty on June 25, 2007, 01:44:40 pm
In the interest of disclosure it would be great for people who are discussing specific games would mention whether they've actually played them or even read them. It helps me weigh the value of any speculation about the nature of those games.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Settembrini on June 25, 2007, 01:46:47 pm
Basically in my eyes, all the Thematic Games I´ve seen and experienced (Actual Play) were basically meaningless sophomoric wankery.
Because nothing was at stake.

They decide what is at stake, which devalues it for me.

Not so in [just as an example] D&D: The ressources and options and situation  can become so crystal clear for everyone, the characters so beloved and history laden, that very intense moments come to be.
The decisions affect your actual play experience in the future. Whereas fucking up your character is "FUN NOW" for the Thematician, fucking up your character in D&D is a grandiose statement for what you really care for.

Because you, as a player will have less options for fun in the future. You are actually sacrificing something.
In the TRGs I know, all sacrifices are posturing and onanistic ones that only your character makes.
And it´s even called good game design when you as a player are actually given mechanical reward for this.:rolleyes:
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: James J Skach on June 25, 2007, 02:30:44 pm
By the way, Warthur, the answer is easy. The priest leaps out of the balloon as soon as it's known if one is gone they will survive. He doesn't even think twice and he doesn't wait to see if anyone else will do it first. He. Just. Leaps.

It's an interesting dichotomy - thought I suspect Tony is quite correct when he shows how there are ways to play it that don't feel as you describe.

Which is always my problem when Swinery rears it's ugly head in any form - and why Cheetoism, for all it's swaggering, is dead on in many respects. It all depends on the group and how they use the system.

The defining failure of all Theory, as far as I am concerned, is that it attempts to predict what will happen when the system meets the group - and that's a recipe for failure.  Note I'm not talking about games, but about the universality of any theory that speculates on these matters.

Sure, you can talk about how some rules might lead to a change of feel in a game in a certain way - but it will never be universal.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: CodexArcanum on June 25, 2007, 05:47:48 pm
See, I've had a kick ass time with DitV as well, and I (as GM) did go into it thematically.  The players enjoyed it too, before any smartass tries to claim otherwise.

But... here's the key. Like Uncle Ronny says, the theme needn't be obvious.  Players don't give two shits about "what lengths they go" to save the town.  Hell, Bakers says as much in the rules of the game.  The GM isn't there to hold hands, or talk about how everyone feels now that the town crisis is resolved.  The GM doesn't judge.  If the players want to introspect over who they killed along the way, then they can explore that.  If the players want to just get the job done and NOT consider it, then they're free to do that too.

Now, I'm just defending Dogs, because I think it's a great game.  Other thespy, Forgite games, I don't know about.  I've avoided My Life With Master because I have no interest in the way it plays, and it looks like it plays like crap.


Really though, thematics is just a fancy way of saying "what if?"  It's exploration of an idea.  Books do it, movies do it, games do it.  Even D&D has themes, of a sort.  Incidentily, that's what pisses me off about the "betrayal" argument.  Sure, it hits harder if, at the end of a two year campaign, the rogue tricks the party.  That's an object lesson in betrayal right there.  But why?  If the rogue's player is just being a dick, I'm grabbing the pitchforks and torches.   But if there was an in-game reason, then that's satisfying and interesting.  It's a thought you can explore and understand.  "Dude, you've been secretly working for the bad guy for 6 months?!  How did we miss that?"  

That's thematics.  Forgey games just try to create a structure that encourages thematic play, rather than waiting for it to accidently develop.  Sometimes, the frontloading is too much or the execution is flawed though, and you get crap.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: David R on June 25, 2007, 06:41:29 pm
Another thread where some try to draw up unnecessary divisons and push their own jargon  - thematic is inferior, Sett ? So now your made up term for playstyles you don't like is inferior not different as you previously stated but inferior . Damn Swine, they are everywhere - and off course DitV is mentioned.

Regards,
David R
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Settembrini on June 25, 2007, 07:07:11 pm
Quote
Forgey games just try to create a structure that encourages thematic play, rather than waiting for it to accidently develop. Sometimes, the frontloading is too much or the execution is flawed though, and you get crap.

Exactly.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: -E. on June 26, 2007, 06:57:00 am
Quote from: James J Skach
By the way, Warthur, the answer is easy. The priest leaps out of the balloon as soon as it's known if one is gone they will survive. He doesn't even think twice and he doesn't wait to see if anyone else will do it first. He. Just. Leaps.

It's an interesting dichotomy - thought I suspect Tony is quite correct when he shows how there are ways to play it that don't feel as you describe.

Which is always my problem when Swinery rears it's ugly head in any form - and why Cheetoism, for all it's swaggering, is dead on in many respects. It all depends on the group and how they use the system.

The defining failure of all Theory, as far as I am concerned, is that it attempts to predict what will happen when the system meets the group - and that's a recipe for failure.  Note I'm not talking about games, but about the universality of any theory that speculates on these matters.

Sure, you can talk about how some rules might lead to a change of feel in a game in a certain way - but it will never be universal.


Agreed -- this is a great articulation of why "System Doesn't Matter That Much."

The people sitting around the table will probably figure out how to have a good time, no matter what the game author intended (it works in reverse, too -- they can decide to have a dysfunctional power struggle and I don't think the game rules will make much of a difference in most cases).

A lot of the AP reports from indie games look pretty much like what you'd expect from a traditional system based on the same subject matter.

Cheers,
-E.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Warthur on June 26, 2007, 10:10:36 am
Quote from: CodexArcanum
See, I've had a kick ass time with DitV as well, and I (as GM) did go into it thematically.  The players enjoyed it too, before any smartass tries to claim otherwise.

But... here's the key. Like Uncle Ronny says, the theme needn't be obvious.  Players don't give two shits about "what lengths they go" to save the town.  Hell, Bakers says as much in the rules of the game.  The GM isn't there to hold hands, or talk about how everyone feels now that the town crisis is resolved.  The GM doesn't judge.  If the players want to introspect over who they killed along the way, then they can explore that.  If the players want to just get the job done and NOT consider it, then they're free to do that too.

Now, I'm just defending Dogs, because I think it's a great game.  Other thespy, Forgite games, I don't know about.  I've avoided My Life With Master because I have no interest in the way it plays, and it looks like it plays like crap.


To be fair, My Life With Master is much closer to the "classroom exercises" I've been talking about than Dogs In the Vineyard is. It is, as you point out, entirely possible to play Dogs in a manner which entirely ignores the relevant theme. However:

a) Uncle Ron says that the theme shouldn't be inherent in the situation, not that it needn't be inherent.

b) Uncle Ron defines theme as follows:

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Theme is defined as a value-judgment or point that may be inferred from the in-game events.


What to ye and me is a strength of Dogs - that it can be played perfectly enjoyably while ignoring theme entirely, or making the theme wholly optional - is actually a failing if you look at it from the point of view of a hardcore Narrativist, since Narrativism (as defined by Ron Edwards - and if we take Ron out of the picture, what's left of Narrativism?) is specifically about exploration of theme as a play group. My Life With Master, conversely, is (in theory) the ideal Narrativist game, since you pretty much have to address the central theme.

Hence the fundamental difference in approach between Forge-inspired indie Narrativist games and traditional games. The thing about "Let's Pretend", and the traditional games which provide "Let's Pretend" with structure, is that Let's Pretend, at the end of the day, means jack shit. It's a fun game you play until the bell goes and you have to go back to class, at which point it's shunted to the back of your mind (or you sneakily keep playing in class and get in trouble when the teacher notices).

Conversely, classroom exercises are meant to be meaningful, in the same way that Narrativist games are meant to be meaningful: you're supposed to come away having explored a theme and come to some sort of new understanding about the issue, even if it's just an insight into how you or your friends think about the matter.

Here is where I have a problem with the Forge's approach. I think "Let's Pretend" benefits immensely from having a system - for me, system does matter. Which system is used is really a matter of taste (so the choice of system doesn't matter that much, so long as everyone's cool with the system picked), what does matter is that a system is used in the first place. Systems provide structure, and structure is vitally important if you want to play an actual game as opposed to running around shouting "Bang! You're dead!"

I don't think classroom exercises, or philosophical debates, or discussion of "issues" between friends are helped by attaching game systems to them. Yes, rules of debate or the terms of a classroom exercise can impose a structure on the discussion and make it more likely that useful insights will be reached. But that's not the sort of thing Narrativist games provide - those games concentrate mainly on providing systems where people compete for authorial control (often, but not always, with the GM having authorial control most of the time). In other words, it's like a philosophical debate where you have to make a successful dice roll before you stand up and make your point, and where (in those games where there's a GM) one participant has vastly more power to frame the debate than everyone else.

With that in mind, it's no surprise that a lot of people (including a bunch of folk who are convinced they are playing in the "Narrativist" style but haven't actually read Ron's confusing definition of what that is) take these games and just play them as if they were traditional games, and have a blast. It's like a class where the kids are assigned the balloon debate, and so they decide amongst themselves that they will save the balloon by landing it in a swamp (guaranteeing a soft landing) and then they're exploring a jungle to try and get home and OH NO A TIGER and so on: yes, they're having a blast, but it's not what the teacher (game designer) was hoping they'd do.

EDIT TO ADD: I think that Forge-produced games are less likely to provide satisfying "Let's Pretend" experiences than games where the designers took a "Let's Pretend" approach to things, simply because they often simply don't support that approach to play. Dogs does, but that's almost by accident - it borrows sufficient elements from traditional games that it can be played like them. My Life With Master doesn't.

EDITED ONCE MORE TO ADD: Oh, and that brings me back to the title of the thread. I don't like Narrativist games, because I'm happy to junk the systems they provide entirely and just chat about some idea with my friends. Conversely, I love traditional RPGs, because they allow me to enjoy "Let's Pretend" again; I couldn't go back and just play "Let's Pretend" without any system, because that sort of unstructured play simply isn't satisfying to me any more.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Abyssal Maw on June 26, 2007, 10:26:08 am
Warthur is making a lot of sense to me here.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: David R on June 26, 2007, 10:28:37 am
Really ?

Edit : Sorry AM/Warthur my post is not contibuting anything to this discussion. I withdraw this comment.

Regards,
David R
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Warthur on June 26, 2007, 10:34:17 am
Quote from: David R
Really ?

Dude, if you've got an issue with what I'm saying, why not directly reply to one of my points and actually engage with me, hm? Passive-aggressive whining from the sidelines isn't going to convince anyone.

Edit to add: Whups, you must have edited while I was posting. :)
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: David R on June 26, 2007, 10:39:15 am
Quote from: Warthur
Dude, if you've got an issue with what I'm saying, why not directly reply to one of my points and actually engage with me, hm? Passive-aggressive whining from the sidelines isn't going to convince anyone.


You are right. I made an edit to my post. I won't take you up on your offer though because you said more or less the same on most of your threads about certain games in which I've participated in. You obviously like talking about this sort of stuff and of course about what Uncle Ron says. That's cool but not exactly my scene.

Regards,
David R
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: James J Skach on June 26, 2007, 06:04:36 pm
It's actually a brilliant read, Warthur, IMHO.  Thanks for the perspective.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: LostSoul on June 28, 2007, 09:50:05 am
Quote from: Warthur
In other words, it's like a philosophical debate where you have to make a successful dice roll before you stand up and make your point, and where (in those games where there's a GM) one participant has vastly more power to frame the debate than everyone else.


In the games that I've played, saying that you want to make a roll for something (or saying that you don't) is like standing up and making your point.  Success or failure on the roll doesn't mean you're not making your point.

In Dogs, staying in a gunfight is like saying, "This is worth dying for."  (Or risking death for.)  The actual outcome of the conflict doesn't change that point you've made.

I agree with the second half of your statement.  And I find Settembrini's posts here very thought provoking.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Warthur on June 28, 2007, 04:35:13 pm
Quote from: LostSoul
In the games that I've played, saying that you want to make a roll for something (or saying that you don't) is like standing up and making your point.  Success or failure on the roll doesn't mean you're not making your point.

In Dogs, staying in a gunfight is like saying, "This is worth dying for."  (Or risking death for.)  The actual outcome of the conflict doesn't change that point you've made.


Yes, but if you crap out on the dice roll and fail horribly that's like the system slapping you in the face and saying "Wrong!"

Furthermore, even if we say "Initiating dice rolls equates to making a point", the GM has vastly more power to initiate dice rolls in Dogs than the players do - he has all the NPCs and the very environment itself at his beck and call.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: TonyLB on June 28, 2007, 06:05:51 pm
Quote from: Warthur
Yes, but if you crap out on the dice roll and fail horribly that's like the system slapping you in the face and saying "Wrong!"
I do not understand this perspective.

My character says "I've got to stand up for this principle ... even if it means I get shot in the head and die.  That's how important it is."

The dice go badly.  My character gets shot in the head and dies.  How does this diminish my statement?  My guy didn't just claim he would die for the cause ... he actually died for it.  Sounds like more of a statement to me.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: LostSoul on June 28, 2007, 06:51:00 pm
Quote from: Warthur
Yes, but if you crap out on the dice roll and fail horribly that's like the system slapping you in the face and saying "Wrong!"


What Tony said.

Quote from: Warthur
Furthermore, even if we say "Initiating dice rolls equates to making a point", the GM has vastly more power to initiate dice rolls in Dogs than the players do - he has all the NPCs and the very environment itself at his beck and call.


I think this can be a problem.  If the GM has set up a town that is all about bigamy, and I don't care about that, then I won't have a chance to make the kind of points that I dig on.  The GM will push conflicts that I'll just give on.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Warthur on June 29, 2007, 07:05:51 am
Quote from: TonyLB
I do not understand this perspective.

My character says "I've got to stand up for this principle ... even if it means I get shot in the head and die.  That's how important it is."

The dice go badly.  My character gets shot in the head and dies.  How does this diminish my statement?  My guy didn't just claim he would die for the cause ... he actually died for it.  Sounds like more of a statement to me.

Because the character not only got no closer to solving the problem, his player is actually prevented from contributing to the discussion from that point onwards.

Furthermore, if you agree that the strength of the statement is affected by the roll of the dice, to my mind that's unacceptable even if the dice roll backs up the statement. The merits of your statement shouldn't have some ridiculous random element undermining or strengthening them; that's effectively asking people in a formal debate to roll dice to see how cogently and effectively they are allowed to make their points.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: TonyLB on June 29, 2007, 07:37:41 am
Quote from: Warthur
Because the character not only got no closer to solving the problem, his player is actually prevented from contributing to the discussion from that point onwards.
What has solving the problem got to do with anything?  Why would failing to solve the problem invalidate anyone's moral statement about how important the problem is?

Are you approaching this with a superhero-story mentality, where a statement of "I care for this very deeply!" is always accompanied by the power to act successfully upon that passion?  Like Peter finding the strength to defend Mary Jane, or Ben Grimm finding the strength to support his team-mates?
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Warthur on June 29, 2007, 01:06:58 pm
Quote from: TonyLB
What has solving the problem got to do with anything?  Why would failing to solve the problem invalidate anyone's moral statement about how important the problem is?

Because if someone says "This problem is worth sacrificing my character's life for" in an exploration of theme, the discussion (as expressed through the game) is put in an untenable position.

Either the character gives his life but the problem is not solved, in which case the character's player's input is not being respected.

Or the character gives his life and the problem is solved, effectively ending the debate - potentially before the other players can make their points.

Narrativism is based on the idea that the primary purpose of a story should be an exploration of theme, which to me defeats the purpose. The primary purpose of a story should be to tell a story, and if there's exploration of theme as well then all well and good.

To me, nothing is less likely to produce "art" than sitting down and declaring "this is Art because we are being Artistic!", and nothing is less likely to produce literature - or a literary narrative - by sitting down and saying "We're going to make Literature by adhering to a bunch of rules for making Literature that we've made up and are by no means universally agreed-on!" The central claim of Narrativism, however, is that through a systemised set of rules you can produce literary narratives.

Quote
Are you approaching this with a superhero-story mentality, where a statement of "I care for this very deeply!" is always accompanied by the power to act successfully upon that passion?  Like Peter finding the strength to defend Mary Jane, or Ben Grimm finding the strength to support his team-mates?

No, I'm approaching this from a "exploring theme" angle, which is supposedly the basis of Narrativist gaming. What is the point of allowing people to explore a theme if you squash their exploration if the dice fall out wrong?
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: J Arcane on June 30, 2007, 04:49:00 am
Quote
To me, nothing is less likely to produce "art" than sitting down and declaring "this is Art because we are being Artistic!", and nothing is less likely to produce literature - or a literary narrative - by sitting down and saying "We're going to make Literature by adhering to a bunch of rules for making Literature that we've made up and are by no means universally agreed-on!" The central claim of Narrativism, however, is that through a systemised set of rules you can produce literary narratives.


Wow.  Light-bulb moment.  

I can't say as I'd made the connectiong before, between Forge theory and those "writing course" scams my mother is always buying, but I can see the connection now.

I've always tried to impress upon her that the only real training in writing is practice.  There's no magic course or theory or set of rules that will make you a better writer.  It's really just an juxtaposition of talent, and trial and error.  Reading a lot of other good books helps too.

Really I don't see it as being any different with writing an RPG, and certainly that approach has served the vast majority of RPG writers plenty find for a few decades now . . .
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Caesar Slaad on June 30, 2007, 11:13:19 am
Quote from: Warthur
To me, nothing is less likely to produce "art" than sitting down and declaring "this is Art because we are being Artistic!", and nothing is less likely to produce literature - or a literary narrative - by sitting down and saying "We're going to make Literature by adhering to a bunch of rules for making Literature that we've made up and are by no means universally agreed-on!" The central claim of Narrativism, however, is that through a systemised set of rules you can produce literary narratives.


Whoa. That's almost sig-quotable. :cool:
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Christmas Ape on June 30, 2007, 11:28:05 am
Quote from: Caesar Slaad
Whoa. That's almost sig-quotable. :cool:
Yeah. If my big purple sig weren't all full of J Arcane's awesome stuff about GMs, I'd absolutely appropriate that.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Warthur on June 30, 2007, 12:00:15 pm
Thanks for the enthusiasm. It's a sentiment that Dan Hemmens (who you may have seen on the Big Purple) and I have shared for a long time, and I suspect he was the one who first expressed it in similar terms.

It's very, very easy to lose sight of the fact that even the greats of literature and the arts were often working to pay the bills and entertain people as much as they were trying to make Great Works, and indeed often the most well-remembered piece of an artist's output won't necessarily be one where they were consciously trying to make "Art".
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: LostSoul on June 30, 2007, 10:18:35 pm
I believe I play with a narrativist agenda (except in the current D&D game I'm in, that's gamist, pure awesomeosity).  I don't sit down and declare that I'm creating art, or claim that what I'm doing is art.  

What I do is get excited when we make moral choices through our characters.  I believe that some sets of rules help us produce those moments.  

I have never found that failure (dictated by the dice rolls) ruins that excitement.  I have found the contrary to be true: failure tends to make things cooler.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Warthur on July 01, 2007, 12:08:39 pm
Quote from: LostSoul
I believe I play with a narrativist agenda (except in the current D&D game I'm in, that's gamist, pure awesomeosity).  I don't sit down and declare that I'm creating art, or claim that what I'm doing is art.

Which is fair enough, but Ron Edwards (who, let's remember, coined and defined the term) inherently links narrativism with producing literary stories (and asserts that literary stories come about through exploration of theme).

Quote
What I do is get excited when we make moral choices through our characters.

How is this different from playing a so-called "simulationist" game and playing a moral character? How does this fit the actual definition of narrativism of exploring a theme?

Quote
I believe that some sets of rules help us produce those moments.

What features of rules sets help with this?

Quote
I have never found that failure (dictated by the dice rolls) ruins that excitement.  I have found the contrary to be true: failure tends to make things cooler.

So you admit that some dicerolls are better than other dicerolls?
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Thanatos02 on July 02, 2007, 07:45:10 pm
Quote from: J Arcane
It's really just an juxtaposition of talent, and trial and error.  Reading a lot of other good books helps too.

It's true that writing courses will not magically make you a better writer, but they can help. Mostly, though, you only need one or two basic courses if they're done right, and lots of practice. Little helps more then other writers who are willing to pan your shitting writing, also.

I think that's true for the RPG world, too. It's work writing stories. It's work writing background fiction. It's work learning rules. It's work to make something new. There's no magic rule bullet that will make one's game better, and to tell the absolute truth, there are really only so many mechanical rules-bullets you can even have before one game starts to look like all the others. (It's just like D&D, but with guns!/no classes/you're asian instead!)

Many Forge games keep trying gimmicks instead of solid designs. That's why a few are solid games, but a lot are either weak or one-note.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Fritzef on July 08, 2007, 06:32:52 pm
I'm struck by the very insightful analogy between thematic narrativist games and classroom role-playing.  It strikes me as spot-on, though with a major limitation.  I'll get to that in a minute, but I just wanted to mention that, strangely enough, this insight means that narrativist games tap into an earlier stratum of RPG design that predates D&D and other RPGs-as-entertainment.  I've recently learned that the term 'role-playing game' itself was apparently first used in education, some years before D&D arrived on the scene.  And political scientists were using 'role-playing' exercises, and calling them that, on college campuses as far back as the 40s.

All of which means very little, but I like the irony of Forgite games being the 'old stuff' or inspired by the old stuff.  Traditional gaming grognards get to be the newfangled innovators.

Now for that limitation.  I agree with Warthur about the shallowness of some RP exercises used in the classroom, when they are ways to get students to explore implicit moral questions, like the balloon game.  On the other hand, RP exercises can be very useful when they are used to explore how the different parts of a fairly complex social structure or institution inter-relate and interact.  This sort of thing can be easier to grasp by seeing it 'in motion' with people playing the roles of various actors in the situation.  These RP exercises aren't anything like narrativist gaming, though--they are explicitly aimed at modeling or simulation.

But that's a little off topic, I guess.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Settembrini on July 08, 2007, 06:38:26 pm
Nonono!

Kriegsspiel-> Braunstein -> D&D -> Adventure RPGs

Socializing -> What if?-Game -> Classroom dillemma + US-Soaps+D&D -> Thematic Games
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Fritzef on July 08, 2007, 06:56:05 pm
Quote from: Settembrini
Nonono!

Kriegsspiel-> Braunstein -> D&D -> Adventure RPGs

Socializing -> What if?-Game -> Classroom dillemma + US-Soaps+D&D -> Thematic Games

Well, maybe.  I have some problems with the Braunstein->D&D link myself and we're still left with the question of where to put those simulationist classroom RPGs.  A deeper problem is what kind of connection are we tracing here?

******************

I started to write a longish post on the difficulties of understanding the history of the RPG, but then decided that this thread isn't really the place (threadjacking).  Maybe another time, in a new thread.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: David R on July 08, 2007, 07:15:41 pm
Quote from: Settembrini


Socializing -> What if?-Game -> Classroom dillemma + US-Soaps+D&D -> Thematic Games


Quote
From my sig:
Aces In Spades - (WT) Strange Skies,Familiar Troubles (Baa Baa Black Sheep meets first season of Lost  )


:eek: :D

Regards,
David R
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Settembrini on July 09, 2007, 02:19:36 am
Quote
I started to write a longish post on the difficulties of understanding the history of the RPG, but then decided that this thread isn't really the place (threadjacking). Maybe another time, in a new thread.

I´ll be there. There´s a lot of wisdom I gained via Google-Zen, that needs structurization via dialogue. We´d better summon Elliot when the stars are right to helop us out.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Arminius on July 09, 2007, 01:56:26 pm
The poli-sci RP games sound, to me, like just an academic version of Braunstein. Or rather the other way around. Might take another look at Weseley's interview  (http://www.acaeum.com/forum/about3888.html)at the Acaeum; also check out Herman Kahn and the use of roleplaying at RAND in the 50's & 60's.

Basically those guys were into game theorgy (the mathematical/social-science kind, not what ought to be called RPG theory), and so was Weseley...oh, wait, no need for me to write more, it's already been done up by Rob MacDougal here (http://www.robmacdougall.org/index.php/2007/06/r-and-d/#more-159).
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Settembrini on July 09, 2007, 02:08:15 pm
Wow!
This Rob guy did what I planned on doing next year: hunt up all the Weseley scientific material and digest it.

I´ll still do it, 2008, I´m coming.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Arminius on July 09, 2007, 02:12:02 pm
Well, he found it through my LJ, and I got the ref to Weseley & Braunstein from you, so we're both in the chain of knowledge. But he did the legwork and he's apparently going to publish in Push, which is good from my perspective because it helps show that story-based gaming is a deviation based on misunderstanding the tools that were handed to RPGers.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Settembrini on July 09, 2007, 02:29:42 pm
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that story-based gaming is a deviation based on misunderstanding the tools that were handed to RPGers.

I feel a deep and fuzzy warmth when I read such sentences from you.
There might be only a handful of people on the internet who realize that stuff.

The problem is, in my eyes, that there is not a real misunderstanding that happened. It´s more like different audiences receiving the Method of Roleplay in a leisure context , and projecting their wants and needs unto it.

See the Ron Edwards interview on a prime example on that, but I´m sure you know legions of examples.

Why do I think it´s the receiving audience that matters?
Because of the situation in Germany.

The (nearly) total lack of wargamers in the early RPG hobby doomed us to story-centered gaming in a travesty of RQ mixed with AD&D2nd FR style background wallowing. It went so far, that having an actual challenge and danger in the game is seen as a "revolutionary movement" (=ARS)

It was some hippy LOTR fans that picked up RPGs, and this audience still is the largest over here, albeit influxes from many different social groups have levelled the playing field.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Sosthenes on July 09, 2007, 02:39:33 pm
Quote from: Settembrini

The (nearly) total lack of wargamers in the early RPG hobby doomed us to story-centered gaming in a travesty of RQ mixed with AD&D2nd FR style background wallowing. It went so far, that having an actual challenge and danger in the game is seen as a "revolutionary movement" (=ARS)


Oh go put on a Che t-shirt, will ya?
FOLLOW was about as wargamey as you can get, DSA had attacks of opportunity in '85.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Settembrini on July 09, 2007, 02:43:33 pm
Quote
FOLLOW was about as wargamey as you can get, DSA had attacks of opportunity in '85.

Midgard is played by nobody, and Werner Fuchs is the great tragic figure of the German Hobby.
Look what German mainstream gamers think of DSA 1st, the Werner Fuchs tactical rules, or the Sword & Planet adventures (Tor der Welten, Borbarads Fluch).

I love these Fuchsian influences, but alas, the audience wasn´t there to receive it. Instead the Kiesow-abomination that is DSA 2nd rules supreme.

EDIT: Actually your examples are backing up my point: Even when given the choice, the German audience opted for story-based gaming and jeux d´ambiance.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Sosthenes on July 09, 2007, 02:53:19 pm
Quote from: Settembrini
I love these Fuchsian influences, but alas, the audience wasn´t there to receive it. Instead the Kiesow-abomination that is DSA 2nd rules supreme.


I'm not saying that it didn't turn ugly, but it certainly didn't start out as bad as you tell it. So the beginning situation wasn't all that different from the US, it just got worse because the dominating company made certain decisions. Most of which are made due to market demand. If you don't branch out with several settings, the only way to make more money is to publish more and more details about the one setting you've got. And I guess that the publisher is partly to blame for that...

And the worst excesses didn't occur until the early 90s, where the storytelling craze was hitting paydirt.

So I don't see a big difference. The same would be true for the states if TSR had vanished early and White Wolf had prospered even more. Or even if M.A.R. Baker would've had a better publishing deal and more time/collaborators.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Settembrini on July 09, 2007, 03:03:15 pm
My point is your point:

The receiving audience matters. Demand is a function of the preferences of the audience.
These preferences can be changed, but in our sad case, the preferences of hippy-kiesow and his hippy audience coincided.
And Werner Fuchs, Science Fiction gaming and challenges in RPGs became the fifth Beatle.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Arminius on July 09, 2007, 03:40:49 pm
Quote from: Settembrini
The problem is, in my eyes, that there is not a real misunderstanding that happened. It´s more like different audiences receiving the Method of Roleplay in a leisure context , and projecting their wants and needs unto it.
Ah, don't get me wrong. The MoR as you put it is adaptable to multiple uses. What I'm saying is that far from being "square wheels", the actual mechanics and authority/responsibility-structure of D&D, RQ, Traveller were well-adapted to the purpose for which they were intended: exploratory, experiential roleplay.

The deviation was taking those tools and using them for pre-sketched plots...basically distorting the responsibility of the GM while retaining the mechanics and authority-distribution. What was really needed (and some newer games provide, though in the process becoming quite different kinds of RPG) was a new set of mechanics and authority-structure to go along with the new responsibility-structure.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Sosthenes on July 09, 2007, 04:18:13 pm
Quote from: Settembrini
The receiving audience matters. Demand is a function of the preferences of the audience.
These preferences can be changed, but in our sad case, the preferences of hippy-kiesow and his hippy audience coincided.


Well, the RPG business isn't as demand-driven as other markets. Most companies don't produce what would be best for them, creativity and the interests of the authors play a big part. What little straight-forward demand there is mostly comes in broad brush strokes. That's the reason why we see more fantasy games than sci-fi or horror games, but apart from that we've barely entered the area where much market research can be made to aim directly towards the publics interest.
Mainly because both the amount of customers and the amount of publishers is relatively small.

More than with other markets, the supply creates demand. The mere fact that RPGs started with Tolkien-esque fantasy games has left an indelible mark on the whole business.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Fritzef on July 11, 2007, 01:12:49 pm
Well, since the thread seems to be going this way anyway...

Some very cool information here.  I'd read some of 'Old is the New New' before but had no idea that Rob blogged on the history of RPGs.

Eliot, you are quite right about the RAND influence on poli-sci roleplaying games--the earliest article that I can find that actually uses the full phrase, from 1959, explicitly refers to a RAND study of 1958.  Doing a little more digging, though, I've found that role-playing exercises were being widely discussed by the 1940s, but in rather different fields:  sociometry and training, particularly nursing.  Using role-playing for professional training was nothing new, of course--lawyers had been doing moot courts or similar exercises for centuries--but calling it role-playing seems to have been a new trend in the 1940s, in English at least.  The sociometric role-playing seems to have been more along the lines of exploring social roles and group dynamics; it also seems to have been used for therapy, just as it is today.

Not sure, what, if anything, these earlier strains of role-playing have to do with RPGs as such; perhaps all they did was help popularize the term.  Still, some of that literature might bear looking into by someone working on RPG theory--for instance, there seems to be some sort of analytical distinction between role-taking and role-playing, which conceivably could prove useful.  Or not--I don't know enough to say.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: alexandro on August 25, 2007, 08:27:17 pm
@Set: Bull!

D&D is already predetermined when it comes to decisions of value.
Losing hit points/gold/magic items is more valuable than losing the life of a NPC, the respect of the populace etc., so guess what most players are going to choose?
If they don’t make the obvious choice, they may “win” in-game, but lose on the table, making it a pretty hollow victory.
The schizophrenia of the RPG-community is that this kind of masochistic behaviour- denying oneself resources which allow contribution to the game- is in some way “good roleplaying”.
So I only make a meaningful statement about the value of a certain NPC, if I degrade my character to a cripple watching from the sidelines for the next couple of fights (which make up for a large part of why it is *fun* to play the game).

[irony] Yeah, that sounds like a bunch of fun. [/irony]

Thematic games are different in the way that they don’t pre-determine (or at least: don’t predetermine in the same way) how valuable certain decisions are, leaving the player open to really THINK about his options, without it becoming some kind of brainwashed thematic-Adventure wankfest like the one Set described.

Or do you really think the Rouge betraying the party after two years of gameplay is in any way more fun to the players (other than the player of the Rouge, of course)
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Imperator on August 27, 2007, 06:06:35 am
Great stuff, Warthur! I think that you really make some good points in there.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Abyssal Maw on August 27, 2007, 09:19:42 am
Quote from: alexandro
@Set: Bull!

D&D is already predetermined when it comes to decisions of value.
Losing hit points/gold/magic items is more valuable than losing the life of a NPC, the respect of the populace etc., so guess what most players are going to choose?
If they don’t make the obvious choice, they may “win” in-game, but lose on the table, making it a pretty hollow victory.
The schizophrenia of the RPG-community is that this kind of masochistic behaviour- denying oneself resources which allow contribution to the game- is in some way “good roleplaying”.
So I only make a meaningful statement about the value of a certain NPC, if I degrade my character to a cripple watching from the sidelines for the next couple of fights (which make up for a large part of why it is *fun* to play the game).

[irony] Yeah, that sounds like a bunch of fun. [/irony]

Thematic games are different in the way that they don’t pre-determine (or at least: don’t predetermine in the same way) how valuable certain decisions are, leaving the player open to really THINK about his options, without it becoming some kind of brainwashed thematic-Adventure wankfest like the one Set described.

Or do you really think the Rouge betraying the party after two years of gameplay is in any way more fun to the players (other than the player of the Rouge, of course)


It's spelled 'Rogue'.

Ok, first of all: you are wrong. Given the choice, many D&D players will make sacrifices to save NPC's if it interests them to do so. I recently ran an adventure called Shargon's Rage at GenCon. It's actually timed, so there's many reason not to waste time pursuing side tracks and other things.

Anyhow, during the adventure, there's a scene where a huge pirate army is attacking a town. I ran this adventure twice: In both cases, I actually improvised a detail that wasn't in the encounter: large groups of scattered, helpless, civilians.

You know what the players did?

In both cases, they made sure to clear an area of civilians before using area attacks (like fireballs.)  In one case, a pair of blackwheel gnolls ran through threatened areas and suffered AoO's in order to cover a retreat by a group of escaping townsfolk. Now this was two disparate tables of people, most of whom did not know each other. I've noticed similar things at home games.

SO I'm feeling pretty confident that if you put such opportunities in a game, D&D players (who want to be heroic anyway, for the most part) will be glad to pick up on them.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: James J Skach on August 28, 2007, 12:44:41 pm
Ummm..what AM said.

Let's be clear, you may lose gold/magic item/whatever, but that doesn't "degrade your character to a cripple watching from the sideline."

But here's the fundamental flaw in your thinking: "D&D is already predetermined when it comes to decisions of value."  I don't know what you're playing...but it's not D&D...
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: K Berg on August 31, 2007, 04:19:19 am
Quote from: Abyssal Maw
In both cases, they made sure to clear an area of civilians before using area attacks (like fireballs.) In one case, a pair of blackwheel gnolls ran through threatened areas and suffered AoO's in order to cover a retreat by a group of escaping townsfolk. Now this was two disparate tables of people, most of whom did not know each other. I've noticed similar things at home games
.

And wouldn't you say that in both cases they made thematic choices because of the front-loading of the game in question?

Just like the previous example that staying in or escalating to a gunfight in Dogs in the Vineyard is a thematic statement.

Neither may be marked by the waving of flags in game at that moment, neither may actually be thought on very deeply. Bu all cases are statements by the players in question: This is really, really important to me.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: Thanatos02 on August 31, 2007, 08:16:44 am
I'm not sure what you mean, but the situations arn't quite the same.
If you view, say, D&D and Dogs in the same lens, then the situation doesn't make any sense because you're trying to find the games 'values' in the mechanics. Dogs builds the situation in because, in the rules, every situation where dice are rolled contribute to the possibility of a fallout which makes rolling dice a statement (in theory) about your character willing to take a penalty, however steep, for the action.

Which is fundimentally different then a D&D character taking an action that isn't rewarded with higher numbers. (Gold, items, exp.) There are people that view that as a negative. These rewards or situations are not mechanically measured except that NPCs may be statted. But the truth is, the games are not on the same paradigm. There's no need to give a mechanical measure to in game relationships, because the players know what their characters would want to do in those situations. It's less about gaming the system then it is about engaging the game on its own terms. D&D isn't really 'frontloaded' in that way. Its rules work different.
Title: I Don't Play "Let's Pretend" Any More.
Post by: K Berg on August 31, 2007, 11:32:17 am
In dogs you have rules that state - use guns = risk of getting higher fallout.

In DnD you have rules that say do not use everything to your tactical advantage = risk of loosing hitpoints.

Both risks may take your character out of play.

So when you based on in game events make a choice for your character that equates risk of taking your character out of play you are making a thematic choice. What kind of choice totally depends on the situation.

You are saying this is important enough for me, the player, to risk my character.

Now in Dogs this is right there in your face. In DnD it is layered down with a lot of other stuff so it is not so readily apparent. It also depends a lot on GM interpretation, because of the lack of direct rules support. But it is there.

Yet one can not say a thematic choice is dependent on rules alone. The rules only give you how to resolve the situation. How it pans out. The situation in itself is key to understanding the thematic choice. Will I draw on my brother to prevent him from beating the farmhand to death, will I risk being overrun by pirates to move the innocent refugees away from the killzone.

You can not equate a thematic choice with potential gain. A thematic choice (mechanically speaking) is what will you risk. That is how the escalation mechanics in dogs work, of which I can not think of an equvialent in DnD rules wise, the rules are just there to support the potential-risk taking. The thematic choice grows from the situation.

And where Dogs create a specific kind of situation (judges coming to a town filled with sin) DnD leaves this wide open (though good smiting evil seems implisit).