What Do You Mean By "Fun" In Your RPG?
  • What Do You Mean By "Fun" In Your RPG?


    When someone says a game is "fun," you probably donít really know what they mean, and maybe they donít, either. Until you recognize that what's fun for you isn't necessarily fun for every game player, you cannot be a good GM.


    Itís obvious that whatís fun to a serious Chess player is not the same as whatís fun to a serious D&Der. Whatís fun for an Apples to Apples player is very different from fun for a Diplomacy or Britannia player.

    Some people have identified different kinds of fun or enjoyment in games, and the most well-known of these is ď8 Kinds of FunĒ by Marc LeBlanc.


    • Sensation/Game as sense-pleasure
    • Fantasy/Game as make-believe
    • Narrative/Game as unfolding story
    • Challenge/Game as obstacle course
    • Fellowship/Game as social framework
    • Discovery/Game as uncharted territory
    • Expression/Game as soap box
    • Submission/Game as mindless pastime


    You can see that some of these are in some RPGs and not in others, but most RPG rules permit most of these kinds of fun if the GM tries to provide it. When you're planning a campaign (or designing an RPG ruleset, or writing an RPG setting) ask yourself which kinds of fun your target audience likes, and try to incorporate them into your work. For example, Discovery is obvious as many RPGs have a considerable exploration segment. RPGs usually offer Fellowship well, by their co-operative nature. Campaigns that are games (where you can fail) and not playgrounds (where there is no failure) are often Challenging Obstacle Courses. Some campaigns are big Puzzles, with lots of puzzles in each adventure.

    I might prefer to call narrative Story because to me narrative (an account of what happens) is always in a game, but not always a good story. Some campaigns emphasize stories and some don't. Sometimes a GM imposes a story on the game, other GMs let the players write their own story, that is, create a narrative thatís interesting and original to them.

    Many campaigns encourage self-Expression, most are about Fantasy (in the sense of something outside the real world).

    Submission (time-killing) is not unusual in RPGs, though less in tabletop than video. The least common of the ď8 KindsĒ is Sensation, because so much of an RPG takes place in the minds of the players. On the other hand, in LARPs sensation is a major aspect.

    Another point of view is Nicole Lazzaro's Four Keys to Fun that create powerful emotions:


    • Hard Fun: Fiero Ė in the moment personal triumph over adversity (Goals, obstacles, strategies)
    • Easy Fun: Curiosity (Exploration, Fantasy, Creativity)
    • Serious Fun: Relaxation and excitement (Repetition, rhythm, collection)
    • People Fun: Amusement (Communicate, Cooperate, Compete)


    While not the same as LeBlancís, you can see lots of crossover. Iím not sure why she chose ďseriousĒ for category 3, but I canít immediately think of an alternative.

    Iím sure we can come up with other kinds of fun that may appeal to smaller groups. For example, I like to see how a game is structured, how designers accomplish their goals. I like co-operation, but against human opposition (as in RPGs), not so much against simple programmed opposition via cards (as in tabletop co-op board and card games).

    Larger groups, too: we can suppose that many video game players have fun seeing depictions of violent death (often in slow motion, with gore), which are very common in AAA video games, and which we only imagine in tabletop games. Another example, some video gamers are so wedded to graphics that they cannot enjoy a game without photo-realistic visuals.

    Perhaps you can suggest more?

    contributed by Lewis Pulsipher
    Comments 32 Comments
    1. Olgar Shiverstone's Avatar
      Olgar Shiverstone -
      Crushing my enemies, driving them before me, and hearing the lamentation of their treasure chests.
    1. Jhaelen -
      While I haven't thought about it in such terms yet, except subconsciously, I feel that neither method of categorization is entirely accurate.
      I think I prefer pen & paper RPGs over all other kinds of games because they check all the boxes, with the exception of a 'mindless pastime'.

      That last category (Submission) is a strange beast because it's in many ways the opposite of what I normally seek in a game. I suppose this is what's covered by 'Serious Fun' in Nicole Lazarro's 4 Keys? If so, that's really a weird name for that key. Still, there's a big market for games that focus on providing this kind of fun: Almost all mobile games cover this category. I also play some of them when I have a few minutes of time to kill. But if I'm seeking a relaxing pastime for longer periods I don't really look to games. I vastly prefer watching tv shows or movies or read a novel.
    1. DM Howard's Avatar
      DM Howard -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      While I haven't thought about it in such terms yet, except subconsciously, I feel that neither method of categorization is entirely accurate.
      I think I prefer pen & paper RPGs over all other kinds of games because they check all the boxes, with the exception of a 'mindless pastime'.

      That last category (Submission) is a strange beast because it's in many ways the opposite of what I normally seek in a game. I suppose this is what's covered by 'Serious Fun' in Nicole Lazarro's 4 Keys? If so, that's really a weird name for that key. Still, there's a big market for games that focus on providing this kind of fun: Almost all mobile games cover this category. I also play some of them when I have a few minutes of time to kill. But if I'm seeking a relaxing pastime for longer periods I don't really look to games. I vastly prefer watching tv shows or movies or read a novel.
      I agree with you, Jhaelen, if I am going to be playing D&D is isn't for a passive or "mindless pastime" experience. There will be stretches where I almost have to force myself to read the next part of an adventure or prep the next game, not because I don't enjoy it but because it is far from a passive experience. Maybe for some players the passive and/or mindless pastime holds water?
    1. Ralif Redhammer's Avatar
      Ralif Redhammer -
      Some players just want to show up, roll some dice, and kill some monsters. They donít pipe up when people are talking about what to do next, they donít really role-play. I feel like thatís selling themselves short on the experience, but so be it. Thatís about as close to a passive experience as Iíve seen in gaming.

      Quote Originally Posted by Bravesteel View Post
      Maybe for some players the passive and/or mindless pastime holds water?
    1. Stacie GmrGrl's Avatar
      Stacie GmrGrl -
      The purpose of knowing the 8 Kinds of Fun is to recognize that all players are all 8 Kinds... Its just that we all have them in a subconscious different order.

      From this we can recognize that no two people really experience "Fun" in the same way.

      This is really why all the games that say if you're having fun you're doing it right isn't exactly correct. The word "Fun" is just way too subjective to be used as a blanket statement to represent all people.

      I don't play for fun. I play for the Experience of being Creative, of enjoying the Fantasy of role-playing, to enjoy the Challenge of using game mechanics and seeing how the Story evolves from everybody's participation.

      Using "Fun" to try and represent all this is pure falacy.
    1. EzekielRaiden's Avatar
      EzekielRaiden -
      It's complex, for me, when playing a TTRPG. I like grappling with systems and crunch...but I also like telling an awesome story with loads of so-called "fluffy" details. I like having the option to talk my way through most conflicts...but also being able to crack skulls when I need to. In some ways, I'm both highly attached to specific fluff, yet in other ways I can work around nearly anything. I hate it when the choices I've made about how I build my characters simply don't matter, but I also hate it when I have to plan to the sixth decimal place before I even get to session 0.

      So...yeah. It's a hairball.

      Quote Originally Posted by Stacie GmrGrl View Post
      Using "Fun" to try and represent all this is pure falacy.

      "Fallacy" seems like a very strong word, here. I think it would be more accurate to say that subsuming all of this into the single word "fun" makes the word nearly useless. It's one of the mixed blessings of English. As a highly analytic language (read: we break things down into small, single words, with minimal inflection, relying on word order), English tends to favor high-concept words that are then narrowed down by circumlocution or adjectives. E.g. unlike in medical terminology, common English does not have individual words for glioblastoma vs. melanoma vs. osteosarcoma: we instead speak of brain cancer or skin cancer or bone cancer; or unlike ancient Greek, which had numerous terms for the affectionate relationships between humans, English speaks of love as an over-arching thing, within which one may find particular flavors like "platonic" or "familial."

      To cut my blathering shorter: I just mean that, while I agree that people are usually using the over-arching category "fun" incorrectly, that doesn't mean that it is inherently incorrect to use it. There may be reasons to do so, sometimes, just as there are reasons *not* to do so sometimes.
    1. Laurefindel's Avatar
      Laurefindel -
      Quote Originally Posted by Bravesteel View Post
      Maybe for some players the passive and/or mindless pastime holds water?
      I don't think anyone uses the hobby as a mindless pastime around the table, but I could see some rpg-related activities filling that category; such as painting a bunch of figurines, or making characters just for the heck of it and killing time. I know I sometimes go back to prior edition books/adventures/supplement, looking at the art, how they ruled this and that back then out of curiosity/nostalgia, just because I don't want to do something too stimulating at the moment.
    1. Gradine's Avatar
      Gradine -
      Submission (Extra Credits uses the term "Abnegation" which I prefer) in TTRPGs is basically the style of play that the Munchkin card game riffs off of; kick down the door, kill the monsters, steal the loot. TTRPGs do this with fairly straightforward dungeon crawls; Orcs and Trolls and Ogres in discrete rooms that aren't especially difficult to navigate. "Beer and pretzels" play, as it were. Most video game and computer RPGs add this with grinding (either for EXP or loot).

      Sensation is actually quite common in TTRPGs and actually probably accounts for a decent chunk of the bitterness over D&D 4e. They involve everything from figurines and tokens and models on tactical maps to handouts like maps and letters. 4e's emphasis on tactical maps and figures and exact distances in particular unsettled quite a few players for whom Sensation matters little and found them to be an unnecessary money and time sink, for instance (as I recall, this also happened a bit with 3rd edition). Heck, even the mere act of rolling dice can trigger Sensation (the feel in your hand, the sound of them hitting the table, watching as they teeter between two very different outcomes). If the idea of a "diceless RPG" sends shivers down your spine you're probably a player who highly values Sensation.
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      I might prefer to call narrative Story because to me narrative (an account of what happens) is always in a game, but not always a good story. Some campaigns emphasize stories and some don't. Sometimes a GM imposes a story on the game, other GMs let the players write their own story, that is, create a narrative thatís interesting and original to them.
      For me, there's two type of stories in RPGs. The constructed story, which can range for "Why are we here adventuring " to grand story arcs and PCs or NPCs. who feel like family.

      The other is the "sport-style" story. This is where the story comes more from the players and their PCs successes and failures when interacting with the rules and taking chances. Much like how the drama around actual sporting events in not just the collection of points by the winning team, but the history of the teams and their players and how that impacts the game at hand.

      Lots of sandbox games and OSR stuff seems predicated on this. It's less about Ragnor the dwarf (Bob's PC) finding his lost love, but more about how Bob's PC, Ragnor II, died due to failing his climb check and fell into a Roc nest while Bob's PC, Ragnor III, scored the crit that saved the game (and game world) when he should have died.

      You can still have strokes of luck and unluck in a constructed narrative game and you can still have tales of revenge in a sports-style story, but those tend to be icing on the cake as compared to the focus.

      While not the same as LeBlancís, you can see lots of crossover. Iím not sure why she chose ďseriousĒ for category 3, but I canít immediately think of an alternative.
      Committed fun? For CRPGs this would be similar to grinding. You do a thing that offers some mental stimulation, but overall isn't demanding. You can just get into the zone and these lower grade mental tasks keep you busy enough to shut off other thoughts in your head For most people who like to just drive, it's sort of the same thing, I suppose.
    1. MarkB's Avatar
      MarkB -
      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      Perhaps you can suggest more?
      Humour?
    1. Sunseeker's Avatar
      Sunseeker -
      Sometimes it's the first kind of thing and often it's the second kind of thing but usually it's the third kind of thing but only when it isn't the eighth kind of thing and never the seventh kind of thing and sometimes the sixth kind of thing but only when it's the fourth kind of thing.
    1. Sword of Spirit's Avatar
      Sword of Spirit -
      I'm glad other people beat me to the punch in this, but I cannot emphasis/agree more strongly that "fun" is a specific experience that is not identical to enjoyment.

      I actually get really irritated when people talk about the purpose of RPGs being fun. Why? Because it isn't, necessarily. Almost all role-playing games are about recreation, and most of them are also about enjoyment. But fun is a subcategory of enjoyment.

      As a different example of what I'm talking about, take movies. Watching most movies is both recreation and enjoyment. But it is pretty rare that it is accurately termed "fun." The concept of fun requires a sort of dynamic interaction with something or someone that isn't attained through passive absorption of content like you see in a movie.

      Watching some movies can be recreation but not enjoyment, or enjoyment but not recreation. Note: I'm talking about positive experiences watching movies here. Not watching a movie you hated. Sometimes the goal of watching an enjoyable movie isn't recreation, and sometimes you recreationally watch a move for a goal other than enjoyment. I'm sure people can come up with their own examples.

      The same applies to RPGs, except that fun is much more common amongst them than the extremely rare concept of having fun watching a movie (it would require something like watching it with friends and joking about--something interactive).

      But while fun is extremely common in RPGs, there can be positive and desirable role-playing games that are not intended to be fun (or even games).

      I'm going to write up a more detailed article on this at some point, so this was just a drive-by soapboxing on it.

      The reason all of this matters is that words and concepts inform our thoughts, which affect our communication, etc. We can't have a meaningful discussion about the nuts and bolts of role-playing if one person is caught in the mindset that role-playing is all about having fun, another person thinks role-playing is about enjoyment (fun optional), and a third person feels greatly edified by overcoming grueling, non-enjoyable role-playing experiences, but all of them use the word "fun", for what they like.
    1. practicalm's Avatar
      practicalm -
      While not the same as LeBlancís, you can see lots of crossover. Iím not sure why she chose ďseriousĒ for category 3, but I canít immediately think of an alternative.
      Quote Originally Posted by Von Ether View Post
      Committed fun? For CRPGs this would be similar to grinding. You do a thing that offers some mental stimulation, but overall isn't demanding. You can just get into the zone and these lower grade mental tasks keep you busy enough to shut off other thoughts in your head For most people who like to just drive, it's sort of the same thing, I suppose.
      Serious fun is more about how your fun makes a difference in the world. Did you learn a new strategy? Did the game change your emotional state or your behavior? Did you make a change to the world during your fun.
      One of the classic examples is making a game out of a task to make it fun.
    1. practicalm's Avatar
      practicalm -
      Quote Originally Posted by Stacie GmrGrl View Post
      The purpose of knowing the 8 Kinds of Fun is to recognize that all players are all 8 Kinds... Its just that we all have them in a subconscious different order.

      From this we can recognize that no two people really experience "Fun" in the same way.

      This is really why all the games that say if you're having fun you're doing it right isn't exactly correct. The word "Fun" is just way too subjective to be used as a blanket statement to represent all people.

      I don't play for fun. I play for the Experience of being Creative, of enjoying the Fantasy of role-playing, to enjoy the Challenge of using game mechanics and seeing how the Story evolves from everybody's participation.

      Using "Fun" to try and represent all this is pure falacy.
      Nicole Lazzaro has been doing hard research on the concept of fun for around 20 years so your burden of proof is pretty high. I've listened to her talks and had private conversations with her and other people about what fun is and the funny thing is all the things you are talking about are part of her exploring the concept of fun.

      I play for the Experience of being Creative,
      Hard Fun or Serious Fun depending on how the creative experience changes you

      of enjoying the Fantasy of role-playing,
      Easy Fun

      to enjoy the Challenge of using game mechanics
      Hard Fun

      seeing how the Story evolves from everybody's participation
      People Fun / Serious Fun / Hard Fun

      You can also refer to Raph Koster's book Theory of Fun if you want a different perspective.
      As someone who has made a number of video games, the craft of game making is very concerned with what fun is and how it applies to games (including table top games). Game designers needed language to describe what they were attempting to make in their games and processes for testing if the game is fun.
      Getting fun into games is still very much an art than a science but people like Nicole do a great job in expanding the frontier of Fun.
    1. Sword of Spirit's Avatar
      Sword of Spirit -
      Quote Originally Posted by practicalm View Post
      Nicole Lazzaro has been doing hard research on the concept of fun for around 20 years so your burden of proof is pretty high. I've listened to her talks and had private conversations with her and other people about what fun is and the funny thing is all the things you are talking about are part of her exploring the concept of fun.

      Hard Fun or Serious Fun depending on how the creative experience changes you

      Easy Fun

      Hard Fun

      People Fun / Serious Fun / Hard Fun

      You can also refer to Raph Koster's book Theory of Fun if you want a different perspective.
      As someone who has made a number of video games, the craft of game making is very concerned with what fun is and how it applies to games (including table top games). Game designers needed language to describe what they were attempting to make in their games and processes for testing if the game is fun.
      Getting fun into games is still very much an art than a science but people like Nicole do a great job in expanding the frontier of Fun.
      I'm not sure that I really want to jump in here, because I'm not up to the commitment of participating in the typical 8 page back and forth we are accustomed to on forums, but I do want to point out that nothing you said seems to explain why the linguistic term "fun" applies to such activities--only that they are enjoyable and desirable to many people, and that games are often designed to create them. (Which I don't dispute.)

      I like eating green olives out of a jar sometimes. They taste like balls of salt and vinegar. I wouldn't describe them as pleasant tasting, or delicious, or any such thing. I'd probably say that I think they "taste good" in severe moderation. I only like one at a time, and then I'm probably good for months without eating any more. So while "taste pleasantness" might be the assumed reasoning most people like food, in this case, I like the food despite the taste not being particularly pleasant. Replace "taste pleasantness" with "fun" and the olives with a recreational activity of your choice.
    1. Jhaelen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sword of Spirit View Post
      Almost all role-playing games are about recreation, and most of them are also about enjoyment. But fun is a subcategory of enjoyment.
      You have a good point there. Enjoyment would probably be a better term to cover the mentioned categories.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      I'm not sure that diving into the semantic rabbit hole of fun vs enjoyment is really all that valuable. If we take the notion of "fun" at face value -as in something you like doing and want to do again - it makes things work a lot easier.

      But, I think the larger point is well made. We all emphasise different aspects of "fun" and how we rank those aspects will differ from those around us and are a pretty big point of contention within a particular group. I wonder if there would be value in a sort of questionnaire for new groups to see where they rank the different points and identify possible areas of contention.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      For me, when I play, fun is requisite on 3 things:
      • Making reasonably informed meaningful choices for my character.
      • A good story resulting from cumulative meaningful choices
      • Some significant element of risk being overcome


      As a GM, drop the first, but add,
      • players engage with the rules in a meaningful and informed way
      • Players enjoyed session
    1. buda's Avatar
      buda -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ralif Redhammer View Post
      Some players just want to show up, roll some dice, and kill some monsters. They donít pipe up when people are talking about what to do next, they donít really role-play. I feel like thatís selling themselves short on the experience, but so be it.
      I spent all day making decisions. Now - just want to beat up monsters until candy comes out. Someone else can drive.

      This isn't an "all the time" mode for me. But sometimes "mindless" is what I need.
    1. RobertBrus's Avatar
      RobertBrus -
      My suggestion (IMHO):

      I've seen a number of articles on the GM's responsibility to make sure the players are happy. It is an important point. But here is my "deeper" take on this theme.

      What about the GM? Is the GM "earth mother" who is quite happy to allow the players to suckle any way that makes them happy, and the GM smiles and "isn't it all wonderful." Or, isn't the GM also a player who has equal right to have "fun?"

      I hate meta-gaming during combat. When it's another player's turn, shut up and let them have the spotlight. Why in the hell is your rogue trying to tell a wizard which spell to cast? Oh, because you the player know everything about wizard spells. You are playing a rogue; shut the hell up.

      My point is simple: the GM is there to help everyone have a good time. The players should show the same respect for the GM. It cannot be players only. If not, the GM needs to find another group of players. Or at least, respectfully remove the players who refuse to give back to the GM. Then, everyone can have fun, each in their own/collective way.
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