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Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

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Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby Xefas » Sat Mar 26, 2011 1:18 am

Yeah, it seems like I'm just being patronizing this time. But, no, really: What is a Roleplaying Game? It's an important and fundamental question. And the problem with fundamental questions is that they're so basic and implied that very rarely are they subject to scrutiny. But! I would postulate that the fundamental questions are the ones most in need of scrutiny - if your foundation is crooked, your house will be just as crooked.

So, "Roleplaying Game" is a two-part phrase. I already submitted my definition of "Game" in "The GM Isn't Playing a Game", but here it is again: "A system for modifying behavior". Games are basically little self-contained experiments in social engineering. And, typically, a Game "system" also consists of several, smaller, "sub-systems". The whole Las Vegas casino scene is a great example of a game. Its sub-systems are stuff like roulette, and craps, and blackjack and all that kinda thing. But the casino itself is one big game designed to modify a human being's behavior from "I will be responsible with my money for the safety and livelihood of my family" to "Please, casino, please take all of my money for no reason." And it's mind-bogglingly (and a bit dishearteningly) amazing at doing so.

Given this definition, I would extrapolate that a "Good" Game is one that is sufficiently adept at modifying the subject's behavior in the desired fashion. I'm not saying that this needs to be your definition of a "Good Game", but merely that I believe it to be a meaningful distinction, and it's the definition I'm operating under.

The other part of the phrase is "Roleplaying". Roleplaying is, obviously: playing a role. Or, more formally, I'd say "Modifying one's own behavior in accordance with a specific role." This definition seems very conveniently compatible with the definition of "Game", and so the full definition for "Roleplaying Game" would be "A system for modifying participants' behavior in accordance with a specific role." One could then say that a "Good Roleplaying Game" is one that is sufficiently adept at that.

Don't worry, I'm about to get more controversial here in a second, but here are a few more simple, but necessary definitions.
"System" - The means by which a Game accomplishes its behavior modification.
"Mechanic" - An individual feature of a system.
If that, then we can then say,
"Roleplaying Mechanic" - An individual feature of a system which aims to accomplish the modification of a participant's behavior in accordance with a specific role.

With that done, assuming all previous definitions can be agreed upon, then I think it would be logically clear that a Roleplaying Game must have a Roleplaying Mechanic. If one could define a game without a Roleplaying Mechanic as a Roleplaying Game, then the designation loses all meaning.

Then, finally, the reveal: D&D is not a Roleplaying Game.

Yes, one can choose to modify one's behavior in accordance with a specific role, completely separate from the game one is using, but that does not then make the Game one is using a Roleplaying Game. If that were true, then nearly everything in the whole world would be a Roleplaying Game, and the definition loses any meaningful distinction.

Now, I'm not saying that one cannot roleplay with D&D. One can roleplay with no system whatsoever, and have a great time, and have lots of fun, and it can be great, and deep, and meaningful, and all that jazz. That leads me to my second great question.

"Why do we have a system for Roleplaying in the first place?"

There's a very good reason, in fact. Games are awesome (no really; that's the reason). As humans, when given the ability to do anything we tend to do nothing. Ours brains are designed to function with constraints in mind. Ever put God Mode on in a video game? It's great for like 10 seconds, and then the game loses all meaning (mostly because its literally become less of a game).

(As an aside - and you can skip this if you like - apply this God Mode principle to a game with user-generated content. Like Sim City, or Rollercoaster Tycoon, or similar. Given infinite power, you probably took a little time to do all the building you ever wanted to do, and then you got bored. And so you just started to figure out interesting things to do to stave off the boredom for one more minute. Like have arbitrary hurricanes explode into your Sim City and murder countless millions for no reason. Or delete a segment of your rollercoaster track, causing a bunch of children to careen into a nearby wall of fire. Now, apply this with regards to "The GM Isn't Playing a Game", and think about every time your GM has done something stupid you didn't agree with.)

A little more formally, I'd say that a Roleplaying Game is useful in that it focuses Roleplaying. Even a masterful writer, given no constraints, is liable to do a little bit of "character drift". There'll be inconsistencies in his work. One scene, Buffy may be slaying newly formed deities, and the next she could be getting her ass kicked by teenagers (*cough* *cough*). When you have a system that says "This character is X good at doing Y task", then you eliminate that problem (mostly). That's the power of a Mechanic. Similarly, when you have a system that says "This character has X personality", then that's the beginning of a Roleplaying Mechanic - and it does the same thing. It keeps everything more consistent, more focused, and more engaging.

And here is the typical argument against that. Very simple, actually, and I completely agree. When I say "This roleplaying mechanic helps define your character's personality as X", the response is usually "I don't want a mechanic telling me how to play my character." Yes. I actually completely agree. And here is where we segue into examples, and I talk a little bit about good and bad roleplaying mechanics.

First, I'm not going to say "Good" and "Bad". I'll say "Pleasant" and "Unpleasant".

An "Unpleasant" Roleplaying Mechanic is overtly rigid and punishes you for deviating. Going back to the social engineering bit, this is a bit like modern-day Laws. You can shoot someone. In fact, we'll sell you a gun, and the bullets, and give you the opportunity to fire it in highly populated areas. But, if you do, you're punished. While these might be effective, they aren't particularly pleasant. Sometimes you just wish you could punch someone in the face - and it might even be appropriate - but now you're punished for committing assault.

A "Pleasant" Roleplaying Mechanic rewards you for doing something, but doesn't explicitly punish you for not doing so. Ever see a parent with a kid who's spoiled as shit? Yeah. That may sound like a negative example, but hear me out. That kid may be a bitch, but he's happy, which is the point of this whole "leisure activity" you're participating in when you play a game.

So, examples.

Burning Wheel. The "role" that the game is attempting to modify the participants into behaving in accordance with is that of a person with strong beliefs - someone who will risk life and limb, causes unbelievable drama, and do shocking and unsettling things in the pursuit and defense of what they believe. One of the ways it does this is with the (appropriately named) "Belief" mechanic. By acting on your beliefs in the face of danger, even when it would be more advantageous for you to not do so, grants you Artha, which can be spent in various ways to modify rolls and such. Now, the important thing to keep in mind here is that:
1) The player chooses their character's Beliefs. No one is ever allowed to dictate your Beliefs to you. So you're being rewarded for doing things that you said you were going to do.
2) You can just not. A Belief isn't a straightjacket. Your character can believe "All humans are evil; kill all humans", and then proceed to never do that, if you want. Artha isn't necessary to play the game, it's just a nice bonus that lets you make some interesting decisions - but the game is chock full of other interesting decisions to make, so if you just don't feel like pursuing a Belief at any one moment, it's fine.

You're rewarded for Roleplaying. In a Roleplaying Game. Yes.

Dogs in the Vineyard. The "role" is that of a person who has a lot of power and authority, whose only restraint is how far they're willing to go in the pursuit of their goals. One of the ways it enforces this is with the Escalation mechanic. If you're losing in a talking conflict, you can turn the tables on your foe by resorting to physicality - typically shoving past them, ignoring them, and thus rendering yourself immune to their influence. However, if you're losing at physicality, you can always resort to punching. If you're losing at punching, you can always resort to stabbing. If you're losing at stabbing, you can always resort to shooting the other person in their god damn face.

As you escalate higher and higher, you put yourself in more danger (and going high enough guarantees something will happen to you), but you also give yourself a pretty overwhelming edge by doing so. A Dog has the authority to shoot civilians if they expect heresy. However, are you willing to possibly subject yourself to being shot in the process? Or killing an innocent person, and having it psychologically effect you (there are rules for that - which you have control over! but that's a whole 'nother mechanic)? Or possibly raising the Demonic Influence in the area and making things harder for you?

Or you can choose to just solve your problems with talking. But there will always be that temptation. I could just punch him and win. Are the consequences worth my victory? It's a magnificent roleplaying mechanic, but it does not restrict you in any way - quite the contrary, it gives you the freedom to almost guarantee your victory in a conflict if you're willing to accept how it will change your character physically or mentally (once again, stressing that if your character changes mentally, you decide exactly how it works).

There are plenty more, but it's 4am. So I'll just leave this here for the forum's perusal.

Final Conclusion: If you want to make a Good Roleplaying Game, include Roleplaying Mechanics.

Yes/No/Maybe?
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby DragoonWraith » Sat Mar 26, 2011 8:09 pm

Not sure I agree. I mean, I see no flaw in the logic: given your definition, the rest follows nicely. By those definitions, D&D is not a roleplaying game. And they're certainly valid definitions. But I'm not... certain that I agree that a roleplaying game (here defined as a game, for which I'll accept your definition, intended to be used while roleplaying, rather than necessarily one whose particular mechanics enforce, require, cause, or reward roleplaying through roleplaying mechanics) must have roleplaying mechanics to be "good" at being a roleplaying game (again, as I just defined it). For instance, pretty much all instances of D&D's roleplaying mechanics are awful (Alignment, falling Paladins, etc), but nonetheless D&D can be used quite enjoyable and effectively to promote roleplaying. Clearly, as you indicate, this is possible without a codified system at all (freeform), but nonetheless a large number of people prefer to play D&D rather than freeform when they are attempting to roleplay with others. It may simply be tradition, since it's the biggest RPG, and the one many people are most comfortable with, but that's not nothing, either. And your definition, it seems to me, misses that.
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby Xefas » Sat Mar 26, 2011 10:35 pm

DragoonWraith wrote:It may simply be tradition, since it's the biggest RPG, and the one many people are most comfortable with, but that's not nothing, either. And your definition, it seems to me, misses that.

Yes, that's true. And I've actually seen a pretty good argument about the "Game" of D&D also including its emergent social properties. After all, something like Risk has the same number of roleplaying mechanics as each edition of Dungeons and Dragons, all of which have been completely different games. And yet, people don't roleplay with Risk, but they will roleplay with any edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Things called "D&D" carry a certain social weight to them - almost a mechanic in and of itself. You are expected by your social group to roleplay while playing Dungeons and Dragons. The reward is typically some form of acceptance by that group. Not a particularly good mechanic, but one could make that argument that it counts.

And given that, by my previous definitions, D&D would be a roleplaying game (although not a terribly good one).

But, with that, I do want to make something clear. Being a "Bad" Roleplaying Game does not somehow hinder someone from roleplaying, just like a "Bad" Movie doesn't necessarily hinder your enjoyment of it. You can watch a hundred bad movies and have an amazing time with it. You can play D&D a hundred times and have a perfect roleplaying experience every time where everyone had fun constantly and there were no hiccups.

Realistically, that won't happen, though. And it may not be that something goes "wrong" - if you're playing with a bunch of good friends who won't intentionally try to mess things up, for instance - but things aren't as good as they could be. To give an example, I'll deviate slightly from the "Roleplaying" subject, so we can get a different perspective.

Some people play 3.5 D&D. They all make a party, they go out into the world, they kill a bunch of dudes, and they have tons of fun. Nothing went wrong, so everything is fine, right? I mean, the point is to have fun, and if you're having fun, then the game is perfect for your group.

Then, those same people are coerced into playing (a hypothetical finished version of) d20r (in which Fax has hypothetically met all of his design goals and has plenty of well-designed game mechanics). They all make a party, but it's more intuitive. They all go out into the world, but it's more interesting. They kill a bunch of dudes but everything just flows quicker, easier, and better.

Which should they play? 3.5 or d20r? If the answer to that question could ever be "3.5", then homebrewing, at all, is pointless. The answer has to be d20r.

Bringing that back around, lets say some people play 3.5 D&D. They brainstorm some character concepts, they project their creative agenda out into the world, they have lots of interesting drama and personal conflict. Nothing went wrong, so everything is fine. The point is to have fun, and they had fun, so the game is perfect for their group.

Then, those same people are coerced into playing a game with plenty of well-designed roleplaying mechanics. They brainstorm some character concepts, but it's more intuitive. They project their creative agenda into the world, but it's more interesting. They have lots of interesting drama and personal conflict but everything just flows quicker, easier, and better.

Which should they play?

Even if the answer is the latter one, it does not somehow invalidate the fun that they had. It doesn't mean that D&D is somehow unacceptable to play and should be shunned. I mean, given the choice between playing D&D with friends and watching any TV show ever, I would still pick D&D. Hell, if I lived in an apartment with four other roleplaying game enthusiasts, but somehow every game in my signature were obliterated from the planet, so we had to play D&D, I would still play D&D every waking moment to the exclusion of almost everything else (I'd still eat, bathe, and occasionally sleep). Why? Because it's damn fun.

My objective isn't to belittle anyone, or their choice of game. I just want to hopefully enlighten some folks that maybe, just maybe, there is a roleplaying game out there that is more fun. And that perhaps it is that way because of roleplaying mechanics, and that it might be beneficial to broaden one's experience with the wide world of roleplaying games, instead of staying with one system because it feels comfortable. And that, most importantly, those folks interested in designing their own roleplaying games (or modifications of already existing games) might look towards considering to include some roleplaying mechanics into their project.
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby DragoonWraith » Sun Mar 27, 2011 7:58 am

Oh, I didn't think you were belittling D&D or anyone who played it. I was merely stating that given D&D's success as a roleplaying game, the definition we use for roleplaying game should include it. Your first paragraph handles that quite nicely.

There's one other concern I have, though: you assert that the hypothetical game with good roleplaying mechanics will be easier/more intuitive/flow better - I don't take much issue with this assertion, but nonetheless if you're making a case you need to at least show some evidence of that progression, which you haven't, that I can see. You've shown that, by your definition, the hypothetical game more approaches the "good roleplaying game" definition, but I don't see any argumentation suggesting that the "good roleplaying game" is necessarily easier/more intuitive/flows better.

Again, I don't doubt that these are the case, I'm merely pointing out a flaw in the argument.
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby Xefas » Sun Mar 27, 2011 2:18 pm

DragoonWraith wrote:There's one other concern I have, though: you assert that the hypothetical game with good roleplaying mechanics will be easier/more intuitive/flow better - I don't take much issue with this assertion, but nonetheless if you're making a case you need to at least show some evidence of that progression, which you haven't, that I can see. You've shown that, by your definition, the hypothetical game more approaches the "good roleplaying game" definition, but I don't see any argumentation suggesting that the "good roleplaying game" is necessarily easier/more intuitive/flows better.


You're right. Ummm...hmmm...I do kinda feel awkward always using D&D as my "bad" roleplaying game example, when there are so many games out there that are just as bad or worse. I seriously don't have this seething personal hatred for the game, it's just that everyone who plays roleplaying games knows what D&D is, so it's a great common point to work from.

So, 3.5 D&D. Making a character to roleplay with. Firstly, there are a lot of options. A lot of options, even if we're just talking about Core. This isn't a bad thing. A lot of these options are more or less powerful than others. This also doesn't have to be a bad thing. I mean, it'd be nice if they came out and said "The Fighter is meant to be weaker than the Wizard", but that's not one of the main reasons why it's so unintuitive to make a character to roleplay with.

The first main reason is that most things don't actually do what they say they do. The game says "Take two-weapon fighting if you want to be a fighter who is good at killing things with two weapons". But that's not actually true. Taking two-weapon fighting makes you demonstrably weaker than if you hadn't done so. You are not good at killing things with two weapons. The game says "Take Toughness if you want to be tougher". Yeah. If you want to play someone who is actually a tough guy, you're better off taking options that seem completely antithetical to what the game says you should do. This is pretty definitively unintuitive.

The second main reason is that most of these options do absolutely nothing to define the character in any way. Taking the "Rogue" class gives you a few new options in combat, but it doesn't define you. It makes a few numbers go up, whereas taking "Fighter" makes a few different numbers go up. But those numbers don't mean all that much - the numbers don't actually say anything about the person who has them.

If I have a Chaotic Neutral 3rd level Halfling Rogue with Endurance and Weapon Finesse, what does that actually say about him? Could you play a Lawful Good 3rd level Halfling Fighter with Weapon Expertise and Alertness the exact same way? I think you could. None of those mechanics make the character more distinct or interesting.

You could say that the Lawful Good one would be more altruistic, but there's no mechanic to that effect. I could have both Halflings snub everyone who ever asks them for help and neither of them would change at all. The words "Lawful Good" might change on one character sheet, but their behavior wouldn't be altered at all. Nothing meaningful would happen because of it.

Then, to give an example of a game with a similar setting but more intuitive character generation rules, I'll look to Burning Wheel. One, they tell you flat out what options are better than others. Being a Noble is much better than being a Peasant. In every way.

But, to the main reasons I cited. Things do exactly what they say they do. If you are a Miller, then you will be absolutely great at Milling and suck at everything else. If you have Epidemic-Wise, then you are more knowledgeable than anyone who doesn't have that wise about epidemics. If you want to play a healthy character, take the Healthy trait and you will be so fucking healthy that it's disturbing.

Secondly, everything defines something about your character. If you take the Peasant Born, Farmer, Servant, and Man-at-Arms lifepaths in that order, then you were born a peasant, became a farmer, were somehow pressed into servitude, and then became a soldier in some noble's private army. That's your entire life history, and all of the skills and abilities available to you will reflect that in every way. If you take the Comely trait, then you get bonuses for roleplaying someone who is physically attractive. If you take the Ugly trait, then you get bonuses for roleplaying someone who is not physical attractive. Those two character will play very differently, because the game rewards you heavily for doing so.

If I have two characters, one of which is Peasant Born, Urchin, Thug, Bandit, with the Impulsive and Lunatic traits, and the Beliefs "I can never trust anyone but myself.", "Rich people deserve whatever they get.", and "Men Of The Faith are all good folks." and the other of which is Noble Born, Page, Squire, Knight, with the Loyal and Perfectionist traits, and the Beliefs "A person should always defer to a man of higher station.", "The poor are meant to be both pitied and ignored.", and "Priests are greedy peddlers of false contentment." then the two of them are going to play extremely differently, and be extremely different people, because the game actively rewards you for roleplaying the person you designed.

So, when you make a character in Burning Wheel, you have a character idea, you pick the options that are obvious (if I have an ugly character, I pick the ugly trait. If my character was born a peasant, I pick peasant-born), and then you get exactly what you chose. Your character will play exactly as you made them. I think that's pretty much the definition of intuitive.

And, if you give your Burning Wheel character over to another person, while they're probably not going to play them exactly the same, the stuff on your character sheet is going to be very much apparent. Your knight is still going to hate priests, because that person is still rewarded for playing that Belief. If you tried that in D&D, and handed your Lawful Good Halfling Rogue over to someone else, their personality could change in every single way and the game system wouldn't even notice.
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby DragoonWraith » Sun Mar 27, 2011 3:12 pm

I agree that none of the words "Lawful", "Good", "Halfling", or "Rogue" necessarily has any impact on how the character behaves. My argument, however, is that this is a good thing. I hate the instances where WotC tries to tell me how to play.

I agree with you about the myriad traps within 3.5, but that's not really a roleplaying concern so much as a mechanical one: WotC overvalued some things and undervalued others.
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby Xefas » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:08 pm

DragoonWraith wrote:I agree that none of the words "Lawful", "Good", "Halfling", or "Rogue" necessarily has any impact on how the character behaves. My argument, however, is that this is a good thing. I hate the instances where WotC tries to tell me how to play.

I'm not sure that I follow. I assume that, if you choose to put "Rogue" on your character sheet, that you wish to play a Rogue. If the system rewards you for then roleplaying a Rogue, how is that "telling you how to play"? If anything, you're telling the game how you want to play, and the game just rewards you for being consistent, and uses the information that you tell it to generate interesting situations.

And, well, I guess I do understand, to an extent. I also hated instances where WotC tried to implement some kind of roleplaying mechanic in the various editions of D&D. But that's because they sucked. All of them. Most notoriously, the whole "paladin falling" thing. It's shit - complete and utter shit. But that doesn't mean that all roleplaying mechanics are shit. Just that WotC is shit at making them.

I agree with you about the myriad traps within 3.5, but that's not really a roleplaying concern so much as a mechanical one: WotC overvalued some things and undervalued others.

I think my previous post illustrates how it definitely can be a roleplaying concern. If I want to roleplay a guy who is a master swordsman and monster-slayer, who fights with two weapons, the game says "Sure, Fighters can be master-swordsmen who are great at slaying monsters. And just take two-weapon fighting and you'll be able to kill stuff with two-weapons." If I then make a Fighter with the two-weapon fighting feat, I will suck, and my character concept won't work. The game is telling me I can play a certain kind of character, and then actively inhibiting me from doing so. That is a concern in every way, including for roleplaying.
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby DragoonWraith » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:35 pm

I agree that it's a concern, but the answer is to create a TWF mechanic that works so that you can play the character. See a Tiger Claw-focused Swordsage or Warblade.

Anyway, my point is less that WotC's roleplaying mechanics have always sucked (though it is undoubtedly true), it's that when I select the Rogue class, I may want to play a rogue as WotC's fluff defines it, but I might very well want to play something else entirely that happens to want a lot of skills and some form of ability to take advantage of others' distractions a la Sneak Attack. I like the divorce between the mechanical class and any roleplaying requirements, because I can craft a character with the mechanics I want - and then roleplay the character (rather than the race/class combination) as I see fit.

So I wouldn't want such roleplaying mechanics to be tied to race/class. Maybe you could do something a la Exalted (one of the few systems I am familiar with) where you have a self-chosen motivation with actual game effects for following-through on it, but in my playing of Exalted I didn't notice much difference with the effect in play: I continued to roleplay the character much as I would have if he'd been a D&D character.
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby Xefas » Sun Mar 27, 2011 4:57 pm

DragoonWraith wrote:I agree that it's a concern, but the answer is to create a TWF mechanic that works so that you can play the character. See a Tiger Claw-focused Swordsage or Warblade.

I don't know if "Buy another one of our books where we might have gotten this very basic thing right this time, three years after our system came out." is necessarily a good answer to the problem.

...when I select the Rogue class, I may want to play a rogue as WotC's fluff defines it, but I might very well want to play something else entirely that happens to want a lot of skills and some form of ability to take advantage of others' distractions a la Sneak Attack.

Aha! Yes! There. So, what if the mechanic was "Write down what you define a Rogue to be, and then every time you roleplay to that effect, you get X bonus. And if you specifically choose to not roleplay in that way to make a poignant statement and create drama, then you also get Y bonus."

So, for instance, you could say "Being a Rogue is about being a smooth-talking con artist." and so every time you act like a smooth-talking con artist, you get X bonus. Or you could say "Being a Rogue is about being a ruthless thug who shows no mercy", and you get a bonus for that. Or "Being a Rogue is about executing your orders precisely without deviation", and you get a bonus for that.

The game should never force you to play something you don't want to play. It should ask you, the player, what you want and then make it awesome. That's a good roleplaying mechanic. Fluff? Fuck it.
So I wouldn't want such roleplaying mechanics to be tied to race/class. Maybe you could do something a la Exalted (one of the few systems I am familiar with) where you have a self-chosen motivation with actual game effects for following-through on it, but in my playing of Exalted I didn't notice much difference with the effect in play: I continued to roleplay the character much as I would have if he'd been a D&D character.


God. Exalted. ...God. I could do a whole separate thread on Exalted. It just...it...God. Lets not talk about Exalted right now. Maybe later.
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby Gralamin » Mon Mar 28, 2011 6:43 pm

Wow, I don't want to write that much. Skipping to the crux of the article.

Xefas wrote:Final Conclusion: If you want to make a Good Roleplaying Game, include Roleplaying Mechanics.

Yes/No/Maybe?


No. Specifically, such an idea is focusing in on design decisions which are not universally applicable to all types of players (Not that players should be divided up into types - such a thing actually doesn't work, but for my purposes it illustrates a good example by abusing the powers of Stereotypes.). For example, being rewarded for Roleplaying is most advantageous for the players sometimes termed as "Actors". They revel in playing their character, and, as such, will frequently receive this "reward". It also tends to hit the "Power Gamer", those who want every bonus imaginable. However, "Thinkers" who look at the game tactically, are less likely to grab the bonus, unless it gives them just the edge they need. "Watchers" who are there to treat a game as a social event, also will tend not to use it.

Arguing that rewarding any individual player type makes a game better means you are arguing some player types are less "gamers" then others. What you can say is, "For people who love playing their characters personalities, having mechanics in place to reward them for doing so makes the game more enjoyable" is fine. Arguing that this necessarily makes the game "Good", however, is frankly Elitist, disrespectful, and ignorant. (Not that I necessarily am accusing anyone of being such. Again, abusing the power of Stereotypes).

Another issue is sometimes these optional mechanics are stupidly overpowered. A good example of this is the awful stunt mechanics in Exalted. A fight between a character Stunting every action and one not at all isn't even fair.

In short, I would say to improve a game, you should focus on applying mechanics which hit as many players as possible, or focusing on the sort of group you have. If you have a group full of "Actor" types, then abusing that stereotype is a great idea. If you have a bunch of "Thinkers", I'd think twice before using such mechanics. Instead, having solid well designed mechanics which simultaneously attract multiple player types is key.
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby Xefas » Mon Mar 28, 2011 7:46 pm

Gralamin wrote:No. Specifically, such an idea is focusing in on design decisions which are not universally applicable to all types of players (Not that players should be divided up into types - such a thing actually doesn't work, but for my purposes it illustrates a good example by abusing the powers of Stereotypes.). For example, being rewarded for Roleplaying is most advantageous for the players sometimes termed as "Actors". They revel in playing their character, and, as such, will frequently receive this "reward". It also tends to hit the "Power Gamer", those who want every bonus imaginable. However, "Thinkers" who look at the game tactically, are less likely to grab the bonus, unless it gives them just the edge they need. "Watchers" who are there to treat a game as a social event, also will tend not to use it.


If someone doesn't want to roleplay, they shouldn't be playing a roleplaying game. If they want to "think tactically" and be rewarded for doing so, they should be playing a tactical game.

This is one of the reasons why I think it is more meaningful to just cut the minor technicality and label D&D a fully "not Roleplaying Game". It doesn't reward roleplaying, it's not a roleplaying game. It rewards system mastery and tactics. It is a system mastery and tactics game. You can roleplay in it, but it is, at its core, a system mastery and tactics game. It rewards those things.

To turn your argument around, D&D should have no tactical element, because the people who don't want a tactical element suffer. It shouldn't have a social element because people who don't want a social element suffer.

This whole line of thinking is backwards.

Arguing that rewarding any individual player type makes a game better means you are arguing some player types are less "gamers" then others. What you can say is, "For people who love playing their characters personalities, having mechanics in place to reward them for doing so makes the game more enjoyable" is fine. Arguing that this necessarily makes the game "Good", however, is frankly Elitist, disrespectful, and ignorant. (Not that I necessarily am accusing anyone of being such. Again, abusing the power of Stereotypes).


Please refer to my definitions. I did not say "Good" game. I said "Good" roleplaying game. Unless you're saying that, for instance a "good" tactics game shouldn't reward good tactics, or that a "good" skill-based game shouldn't reward skill. In which case, refer to the above quote and response. The logic is completely backwards.
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby Gralamin » Tue Mar 29, 2011 4:10 pm

Xefas wrote:If someone doesn't want to roleplay, they shouldn't be playing a roleplaying game. If they want to "think tactically" and be rewarded for doing so, they should be playing a tactical game.

This is one of the reasons why I think it is more meaningful to just cut the minor technicality and label D&D a fully "not Roleplaying Game". It doesn't reward roleplaying, it's not a roleplaying game. It rewards system mastery and tactics. It is a system mastery and tactics game. You can roleplay in it, but it is, at its core, a system mastery and tactics game. It rewards those things.

Having mechanics that rewards certain types of players does not make a game a game of that type. Mechanics exist to facilitate play by giving a foundation. You seem to be missing part of my point: I reject your premise that having "mechanics that encourage X" means that the game is more an "X game". In order to be a better game, regardless to genre, it has to have a wide array of mechanics, meant to encourage large numbers of players, regardless of types. Then, the most important part, is that it must still present a credible threat, a credible Challenge. There is a large amount of fun in surmounting a difficult challenge, and essentially that is what everyone is at the table for... whether the challenge is outwitting the King's court, or battling a fierce monster.

I'd never defend D&D, especially 3.5 which seems to be the main brunt of your argument, as a great game. It is, however still a Roleplaying Game. Your definitions are ones which I will never personally agree with. I would argue that trying to rigidly impose a definition on Roleplaying Game actually harms your ability as a developer... which is quite hard for me to say, with a Modron avatar. There are two purposes to definitions in games: Telling players what to expect, and helping developers make decisions... But when your definition cuts out swathes of what many consider to be a good example of the genre, it has a tendency to breed negativity for something that doesn't fit the definition. This is problematic, since it means ideas that would be looked at and considered do not get as much of an unbiased look through.

To turn your argument around, D&D should have no tactical element, because the people who don't want a tactical element suffer. It shouldn't have a social element because people who don't want a social element suffer.

This whole line of thinking is backwards.

There is a huge difference between suffering, and rewarding, even if mathematically identical. In fact, I never (meant to, might of horribly screwed up) said there is no place for such mechanics: Only that such mechanics do not make the game better.

Please refer to my definitions. I did not say "Good" game. I said "Good" roleplaying game. Unless you're saying that, for instance a "good" tactics game shouldn't reward good tactics, or that a "good" skill-based game shouldn't reward skill.


Sorry, I thought it was obvious in context that we were talking about Roleplaying Games. I'll be more careful in the future.
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Re: Game Design: What is a Roleplaying Game?

Postby Xefas » Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:52 am

Gralamin wrote:Having mechanics that rewards certain types of players does not make a game a game of that type.


The premise of your argument here isn't just incorrect in my opinion, it's false by any reasonable definition of logic. It's a breakdown of basic causality. A strategy game is a game with strategy. A resource management game is a game of resource management. X = X. If your above statement was true, then there could be no meaningful definition nor discussion of game concepts ever.

And, as much as I'd like to continue discussing this subject, if this is the assumption that you're operating under, I don't think we could ever participate in meaningful discourse. Disagreement is fine; encouraged, even. But something as semantically arbitrary as this is entirely without merit.
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