What do you want out of a roleplaying game, anyway?

I've been thinking about why I like to play roleplaying games, and why I like to run them. I've also been thinking about why I don't like to play roleplaying games and why I don't like to run them. What do I want out of roleplaying?



My conclusion is that I want to participate in creating collaborative fiction with other creative, cool people. I want to play games that would be amazing if they were translated to other narrative mediums such as television or novels.



In the game design community, we talk a lot about reward cycles. In most roleplaying games that looks like leveling up and being able to kill things more things with better gear. This doesn't necessarily create good fiction, and I'm not interested in games that don't create good fiction.



Powerful fiction is often focused on the underdog, the guy who gets clobbered most of the time, and then despite all odds finally gets what he desires or deserves.



Traditional RPGs, such as D&D and its decendants, have tons of mechanics that are focused on task resolution: making stuff, picking locks, killing rats. These games can be played with very little story whatsoever. The "fun" is in picking the lock, rolling a natural 20, leveling up, getting that magic item.



Narrative RPGs don't really give a crap about whether you pick the lock unless not picking it is just as interesting as picking it. You don't fail and retry or take 20. The damn lock is there for a reason, and if you don't pick it, someone gets hurt, or something gets something.



I find it odd that so many gamers say that their most fun at the table didn't involve a single roll. What game are they actually playing? That tells me that they are more interested in story than in small-scale war gaming.



So why are they still playing games whose mechanics are focused on combat rather than conflict? My guess is that they've never been hipped to games that will really create amazing stories.



What if I told you that there are systems out there that will allow the players to collaboratively create a story that is just as good as anything on television? What if I told you that the GM has very little prep and railroading isn't an issue? What if I told you that rolling dice are just as important in deciding plot and action as in the games you're used to?



Here they are (a few of them, anyway):



Primetime Adventures

In A Wicked Age

The Shadow of Yesterday

FATE



What do you guys want out of your roleplaying games? Let's talk about it?

Comments

  • Brennen Reece;356 wrote: I find it odd that so many gamers say that their most fun at the table didn't involve a single roll. What game are they actually playing? That tells me that they are more interested in story than in small-scale war gaming.


    That'd be me. Mechanics only have a place in my games so as to help determine an outcome, but the telling of the story is paramount. The adventure, and what happens along the way to the characters, is the reason we get together to play. It's not to play a glorified version of chess or a tabletop WOW; it's to meet and adventure with friends, and hopefully, to survive the world the DM has erected. It's meeting strange beasts, experiencing wonderful, terrifying, and horrible magics, and conversing with everyday folk in town. It's sailing the high seas, or descending into the deepest dungeon. It's taking eagle flights to the Canopy (avariel elf civilization only accessible by air) to investigate something. It's encountering a gigantic destroyed seige engine on a lonely, windswept, ancient battlefield and wondering what it might have been, and not knowing there's more to it than meets the eye. All these and more are why I love AD&D. Experiencing unique events and unknown adventures.

    So why are they still playing games whose mechanics are focused on combat rather than conflict? My guess is that they've never been hipped to games that will really create amazing stories.


    This is likely, yes. In the internet age of WoW and computer gaming, the vicarious thrill often is determined by a computer.

    What if I told you that there are systems out there that will allow the players to collaboratively create a story that is just as good as anything on television?


    I'd believe you. I believe any D&D edition can be the tool to allow DMs to create such stories, but I also believe earlier editions tend to make it easier on DMs because the mechanics of the game aren't as critical to the game as other editions. Many of the rules in AD&D are optional intentionally.

    What do you guys want out of your roleplaying games? Let's talk about it?


    Everything I described above. :)
  • Brennen Reece;356 wrote: What do I want out of roleplaying?



    My conclusion is that I want to participate in creating collaborative fiction with other creative, cool people.


    Ah, a man after me own heart! *brogue*

    Brennen Reece;356 wrote: What if I told you that there are systems out there that will allow the players to collaboratively create a story that is just as good as anything on television?


    Ugh, I sure hope that you can create stories better than the crap they have on television :p



    But yes, you've probably seen me rant elsewhere about how I prefer to take it one step further and drop formalized systems altogether :cool:

    Power to freestyle! *burns a WotC flag* :D
  • I'd believe you. I believe any D&D edition can be the tool to allow DMs to create such stories, but I also believe earlier editions tend to make it easier on DMs because the mechanics of the game aren't as critical to the game as other editions. Many of the rules in AD&D are optional intentionally.
    Power to freestyle!


    I'm actually a fan of systems, but not of D&D-style systems. I really like when mechanics are critical to the game, and by the game I mean "story."



    Most traditional games focus on Task Resolution, which answers questions like "will he hit the bullseye with the arrow?" or "will he kill the dragon?" To do this, you add your skill level in archery or swordsmanship to your dice roll and compare it to some other number.



    Narrative games, on the other hand, use mechanics to handle Conflict Resolution. A conflict is when one character wants something, and another character doesn't want him to get it. An example:



    John (sorry John): Okay, my stakes are this...If I win, Sir Barnard's arrow flies true and strikes it's target. The princess is impressed by his skill and decides to visit him later in his room.



    Brennen (the GM): Hmmm...what about the princess just goes and talks to him. I think whether or not she visits him is another conflict.



    John: Fair enough.



    Brennen: So if you don't win, the arrow misses the target entirely, and the entire royal family laughs at Sir Barnard. Everyone else follows suit.



    ...



    John rolls for Sir Barnard, and adds not only his bonus for his skill in archery, but also a bonus because he really is in love with the princess. This represents him trying harder due to his motivation, which would be written down on his character sheet with a system-specific bonus. Not only whether or not he hits his target is at stake, but his reputation as well. Conflict is not about arrow versus target, but character versus character.
  • Varl;359 wrote: ...the telling of the story is paramount. The adventure, and what happens along the way to the characters, is the reason we get together to play.
    Totally with you on that. Kind of hated to pare down the quote, it was so eloquently put.

    Varl;359 wrote: I believe any D&D edition can be the tool to allow DMs to create such stories, but I also believe earlier editions tend to make it easier on DMs because the mechanics of the game aren't as critical to the game as other editions.
    True enough. I've played D&D for a long time, and absolutely, you can have games where the focus is on story in D&D. I've only recently been exposed to narrative-style games, but the thing I've noticed about them is that while you can play a story-focused game using D&D, the narrative games make it practically impossible not to. System really does matter--the narrative games have rules designed to provoke story rather than simply making it possible. There's nothing wrong with D&D, but the best things I do as a DM are things that I'm finding are commonplace in narrative game systems.
  • The other interesting thing about narrative-style games is that they spread the responsibility for storytelling out more. My approach to my D&D game was to have a story that was gradually revealed to the players. As a Good DM, I was working really hard to interweave the storyline with those of the player characters, really letting the characters shape the campaign.



    That's good as far as it goes, but it's still my story--shaped and morphed by by the players, but still my story. Or in terms of the narrative crowd, it's "story before"--I have a story coming into the game. We're shaping it together, but we're not collaboratively creating it--at least not on an equal footing. Narrative games give the players more control over the story and aim to let the story emerge during play ("story now"--hurray, I finally understand Brennen's sig). They're not reliant on the GM to figure out what direction to take the campaign.



    I can imagine that some players (maybe including me, sometimes) like "story before". They like having a story, a mystery, whatever, revealed to them. I don't think that's lazy. I think there's a certain loss of verisimilitude in narrative games because, as a player, you're no longer exploring a world that's real and whole. You're creating it along with the GM, and I can imagine a little bit of loss with that. In exchange for giving up the mystery and the world's verisimilitude, the players get to truly collaborate on the same level as the GM, and the sense of wonder gets spread around a little more evenly, because everyone, even the GM, can be surprised at what develops.



    That doesn't mean that I won't play D&D or that I think that one style or the other is always better. For me, at least, it just means there are more options on the table the next time I'm joining or starting a game.
  • Brennen Reece;361 wrote: Narrative games, on the other hand, use mechanics to handle Conflict Resolution.


    I struggled with this a bit--the jump to resolution on one roll. (Okay, it's not always one, but it's always few.) You sort of give up the blow-by-blow, and it starts out seeming like you're just making stuff up instead of seeing "how it really happened". But if I take a step back and think about it, my color commentary wears pretty thin by round 5 or 6 of a battle, and my session logs (when I actually write them) reduce the battle to a few key moments...not unlike narrating a conflict resolution in a narrative game.



    You no longer "see" every blow land, but over the long haul, I think that the time is better spent elsewhere anyway. It's not really the mechanics of the battle that I'm interested in. What I think is really cool is the way in a narrative game, the players and the GM essentially say, "Okay, here are a couple really cool ways this could turn out.", and the notion is to make the positive and negative outcomes equally interesting. You roll the dice, and someone narrates the outcome within the bounds of what the group laid out.



    Some games throw an additional twist into it by assigning narration rights in unconventional ways. As a result, you might get to narrate your own character's death or you might get to narrate another character's success or failure. The beauty of shared narration rights is that sometimes things can go in directions you never saw coming.
  • Omnidon;360 wrote:

    Power to freestyle!
    Brennen Reece;361 wrote: I'm actually a fan of systems, but not of D&D-style systems. I really like when mechanics are critical to the game, and by the game I mean "story."


    Freestyle doesn't necessarily mean a lack of game mechanics, only that you make up those mechanics as you go along. You don't use a pre-prepared system.



    It is true though that I don't care for dice and rigid statistics. I'd rather solve conflicts with common sense and creativity than with arbitrary dice. While I agree with the concept that such conflicts need to be resolved impartially, I feel that no feasible amount of statistics and dice rolls can account for the myriad variables involved as well as the human mind. The only time I feel a real need for those things is in a truly competitive system where there are clear player vs. player aspects.

    John Lammers;363 wrote: The other interesting thing about narrative-style games is that they spread the responsibility for storytelling out more. My approach to my D&D game was to have a story that was gradually revealed to the players. As a Good DM, I was working really hard to interweave the storyline with those of the player characters, really letting the characters shape the campaign.
    John Lammers;363 wrote: I can imagine that some players (maybe including me, sometimes) like "story before". They like having a story, a mystery, whatever, revealed to them. I don't think that's lazy. I think there's a certain loss of verisimilitude in narrative games because, as a player, you're no longer exploring a world that's real and whole.


    I'm a big fan of collaborative storytelling. My players and I refer to it simply as "Story mode". Unfortunately, I find that most people fall into the latter category of the true "player".



    Most of my players prefer to find a middle ground. What we call "Adventure Mode" is not truly collaborative, but it's definitely not the prefabricated, linear gameplay you get out of most D&D games.

    The GM is responsible for creating the world and roleplaying the NPCs, but the plotline is formed entirely around the player characters and their actions, rather than funneling them through something conceived in advance. If the character decides to drop everything in the middle of the current plotline and take ship to another continent, so be it. I feel the GM shouldn't tamper with the roleplaying of a player character, even for the sake of convenience.



    As such, in a VT environment, I tend to need even more than most people the ability to improvise and to add things off-the-cuff. While our VT gameplay would certainly be more regulated and competitive in nature than most of our games, I don't make all my maps weeks in advance and expect the players to visit them one by one in a predetermined order. Anything that helps me throw stuff together on the fly is greatly desirable, even when I have to sacrifice high-end graphics to do it.
  • Omnidon;367 wrote: I'd rather solve conflicts with common sense and creativity than with arbitrary dice. While I agree with the concept that such conflicts need to be resolved impartially, I feel that no feasible amount of statistics and dice rolls can account for the myriad variables involved as well as the human mind. The only time I feel a real need for those things is in a truly competitive system where there are clear player vs. player aspects.


    The thing I like about dice and other sources of randomness is that they force me to make up something that fits the randomness. I find myself sometimes attached to a particular outcome, thinking I have a really cool idea that I want to use. But then if the dice go another way, I'm forced to throw that out and come up with something totally different. In stretching to make the outcome that I didn't want as interesting as the one that I did, I end up in unexpected, interesting territory. For me, at least, it keeps the ideas fresher and is more challenging.
  • John Lammers;368 wrote: The thing I like about dice and other sources of randomness is that they force me to make up something that fits the randomness. I find myself sometimes attached to a particular outcome, thinking I have a really cool idea that I want to use. But then if the dice go another way, I'm forced to throw that out and come up with something totally different. In stretching to make the outcome that I didn't want as interesting as the one that I did, I end up in unexpected, interesting territory. For me, at least, it keeps the ideas fresher and is more challenging.


    Heheh, well that's what my players are for. *They* are the random factor in my games. Since they can create any character they want and those characters aren't limited by stats, the decisions those characters make can be very unexpected and will guide the outcome of the game.



    Since I don't force decisions upon the player characters but just encourage accurate roleplaying, it is literally *impossible* to plan ahead. You could argue that I should be able to figure out what decisions the characters will make, but characters in my games have complicated personalities, and only the person who created the character can have an accurate understanding of that personality.



    Such a game requires players who are truly dedicated to roleplaying though. They can't just create generic Legolas' and Gimlies, as is popular to do in D&D-type games.
  • As the title says: What game have you spent most time with?



    ---



    Im not sure at all. But it might be one of these: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Golden Sun or any of my Super Mario games...



    ... If I would have to pick one of them I would guess the Lord of the Rings game. The game takes like 100 000 hours to level and get all of the good items, so thats pretty much why.
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