Three Levels of Play


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  1. #1
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    Three Levels of Play

    I'm re-posting the message I sent to my current game's mailing list during our debate on the awarding of bonus experience because I'm curious to hear how other GMs and players react to my theory on the three levels of play in an RPG.

    I think one of our problems here in this discussion is the eccentricity of
    my GMing style.

    My games run on three levels: the metatextual, the textual and the
    mechanical. Many GMs, including some authors of D&D 3.x attempt to collapse
    these levels into a single level of play. Those who seek to collapse all
    three levels into the textual are considered "role players"; those who seek
    to collapse all three into the mechanical are sometimes pejoratively called
    "roll players." (For the purposes of this discussion, I am deliberately not
    using the term "metagaming" which is problematic and imprecise.)

    Unlike most GMs, I am not interested in collapsing my games to a single
    level; to offer an entertaining game to people with various styles of play,
    I try, instead, to keep these levels all operating independently of one
    another rather than organizing them into some kind of hierarchy of good
    play. Therefore, I expect my players to turn up with all three selves when
    they come to my games.

    I encourage and appreciate those who as players try to decipher the big
    world puzzle on a metatextual level. Everyone, regardless of their
    character's intellectual faculties and culture should be able to participate
    in those process unfettered by textual and mechanical concerns of the game.

    I encourage and appreciate those who as players conduct their characters
    in action in a credible way. Offering credible justifications for character
    actions, however, is not the same as having characters act solely based on
    knowledge in their possession. For instance, a shaman or cleric might rush
    over to a character who is on the verge of death and heal her in the nick of
    time because the character's player informed the caster's player that she
    had only 1 hit point left; the fact that this action was decided-upon based
    on a mechanical play of the game doesn't matter to me -- what matters is
    that a textual justification is provided, ie. "he looked like he was about
    to pass out from blood loss." Similarly, an illiterate character might
    choose to search in a particular spot for an item the player knows is there
    from a close study of manuscripts that the cannot read; I have no problem
    with the fact that this action was decided-upon based on a metatextual play
    of the game, provided that a post-facto justification is offered to explain
    how the character decided to do this.

    I encourage and appreciate those who as players make maximum use of their knowledge of the rules both on their own characters and on other players'
    characters. Everyone, regardless of their knowledge of the rules, should be
    able to take advantage of tactical insights gained by those studying them.

    Now, to the question of experience as described in the DMG: this gets right
    to the heart of why I am running a D&D game. I deliberately use the oldest,
    most primitive D&D experience mechanic because I want to tell a particular
    kind of story. Over the years, my players have become very cautious and fear
    engaging in violent confrontations. Essentially, I have chosen to use D&D in
    the past two years because I want to tell stories that contain violence.
    A Fusangite

    -----------------------------------

    one must depart from the province of Lean-tong, north of Peking and that after travelling 12,000 li, the traveller would reach Japan, and thence to the north, after a journey of 7000 li, arrive at the country of Wen-Schin (the painted people). Five thousand li from this country towards the east is Tahan, which is 20,000 li from Fusang.

    -- A 6th century account of Fusang, the country across the Pacific from China.

 

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    So how does this work again?

    If someone has memorized the monster manual and is playing 3.0, and knows that a Rakhasa is vulnrable to blessed crossbow bolts, he could say "hey, my character thinks this beast is evil, and wants the priest to bless his weapon before he enters combat...the weapon happens to be a crossbow this time...yeah, that's it...a crossbow..."

    Or do you mean something different.

    This is not meant to be negative. I am just confused.
    28 days... six hours... 42 minutes... 12 seconds. That... is when the world... will end.

    -Frank, Donnie Darko

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    I normally wait for a thread to get up to or near ten posts before adding it to the DMing Advice thread but there's just no sense in waiting for this one by the often provocative fusangite...
    Check out 30 Things Can Happen! A System-Free Sourcebook for Fantasy RPGs.

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    Ignore fusangite
    Particle_Man asks,

    If someone has memorized the monster manual and is playing 3.0, and knows that a Rakhasa is vulnrable to blessed crossbow bolts, he could say "hey, my character thinks this beast is evil, and wants the priest to bless his weapon before he enters combat...the weapon happens to be a crossbow this time...yeah, that's it...a crossbow..."

    Or do you mean something different.

    This is not meant to be negative. I am just confused.
    Is this a "credible justification"? I would argue that this qualifies as a barely credible justification. If someone tried this in my campaign, people would probably groan.
    A Fusangite

    -----------------------------------

    one must depart from the province of Lean-tong, north of Peking and that after travelling 12,000 li, the traveller would reach Japan, and thence to the north, after a journey of 7000 li, arrive at the country of Wen-Schin (the painted people). Five thousand li from this country towards the east is Tahan, which is 20,000 li from Fusang.

    -- A 6th century account of Fusang, the country across the Pacific from China.

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    OK, you complain that metagaming is imprecise and problematic, but you have no problem making up the terms metatextual vs textual and applying them to gaming? What the heck? You do know that everyone pretty much knows what metagaming is? That it's defined in the DMG?

    I guess I don't see what the deal is. The metatextual game you're describing is abhorent to me. I avoid it like the plague. I have no interest in it. Although I'm well aware that D&D and other RPGs are indeed games, I don't want them to feel like games, I want them to feel like stories unfolding. The rules are there to facilitate that. They are not to be something to valued for their own sake. In my opinion at least. Metagame knowledge is even worse.

    I have no interest in what you call the mechanical game, beyond how well it facilitates what you call the textual game, and what you call the metatextual game is anathema to me.

    Anyway, I'm not sure if there was a question in your post or not. I can understand what you're doing with the terms you use, but I don't understand why you value metagaming. I have yet to see you say anything about why it is desirable.

    I'm also not sure what violent confrontations have to do with the rest of your post.
    Last edited by Joshua Dyal; Wednesday, 5th November, 2003 at 04:13 AM.

    "I realize that I am generalizing here, but, as is often the case when I generalize, I don't care." Dave Barry

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    Sounds like you have your own gaming style working for you. Keep it going Master Fusangite.
    Correl IV: Beneath the Surface | Correl.wikispaces.com

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    Mark calls me,

    the often provocative fusangite
    I'm thinking of including that in my sig file. How very complimentary -- that's exactly who I'm trying to be.

    Joshua Dyal says,

    OK, you complain that metagaming is imprecise and problematic, but you have no problem making up the terms metatextual vs textual and applying them to gaming? What the heck? You do know that everyone pretty much knows what metagaming is? That it's defined in the DMG?
    The term metagaming is a catch-all category that doesn't really make sense. That's what makes it imprecise. It encompasses all playing based on information the character doesn't consciously have. I'm suggesting that this is too broad a category. It also suggests that you can actually situate yourself in your character's mindset given the minute amount of information you have about the campaign world.

    I guess I don't see what the deal is. The metatextual game you're describing is abhorent to me. I avoid it like the plague. I have no interest in it. Although I'm well aware that D&D and other RPGs are indeed games, I don't want them to feel like games, I want them to feel like stories unfolding.
    Much as I am loath to compare RPGs to novels, I think the metaphor might be useful here. When you read books, don't you enjoy anticipating what might happen next based on symbolic and mythic clues in the narrative? When I read GRR Martin's Song of Ice & Fire series, from the moment King Robert died, I was wondering how things would play out in Tyrion's temporary wardship of his nephews and how it would involve imprisonment in the tower. For me, being swept up in a story includes not only being carried along by the characters but also by the symbol system the author uses.

    The rules are there to facilitate that. They are not to be something to valued for their own sake. In my opinion at least. Metagame knowledge is even worse.
    But D&D rules aren't designed to facilitate being swept up in the story. If you want to be swept up in the story, you are using the wrong rules. If story is your primary goal in a game, I'm all for that. I've run such games. But I would never, in a million years, use D&D if that were the game I wanted to run. Classes and levels -- that's a ridiculous mechanic if your priority is story. Rules grafted to a system of physics based on Victorian-era spiritualism? How does that facilitate storytelling? Alignment!? Need I go on?

    Anyway, I'm not sure if there was a question in your post or not. I can understand what your doing with the terms you use, but I don't understand why you value metagaming. I have yet to see you say anything about why it is desirable.
    When I read a novel, I'm experiencing the book on all three levels: I'm counting the pages between where I am and the end of the book and imagining what the author will do with only that many pages; I'm engaged in the characters' lives and the narrative of the story; and I'm engaged in deciphering the symbol sytem, guessing what inspired the author and discerning the themes.

    I guess I assume that adding levels of sophistication to things is often inherently enjoyable.

    I'm also not sure what violent confrontations have to do with the rest of your post.
    One of the reasons I chose the D&D rules system is that I found that my players had not been engaging in physical confrontations to solve problems. If I had just wanted to move to a rules-heavy system, I might have chosen Runequest or some other game in which combat is often lethal but instead, I chose to go with a game whose rules encourage combat. You're right. I suppose that doesn't directly bear on what I said above.
    A Fusangite

    -----------------------------------

    one must depart from the province of Lean-tong, north of Peking and that after travelling 12,000 li, the traveller would reach Japan, and thence to the north, after a journey of 7000 li, arrive at the country of Wen-Schin (the painted people). Five thousand li from this country towards the east is Tahan, which is 20,000 li from Fusang.

    -- A 6th century account of Fusang, the country across the Pacific from China.

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    You raise some interesting points.

    Unfortunately, I initially read 'metatextual' as 'metrosexual'.

    It makes *much* more sense now.

    Crab people indeed.
    /ˈwərmˌwo͝od/ noun. a state or source of bitterness or grief.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The "Provocative" fusangite
    How very complimentary -- that's exactly who I'm trying to be.
    That's what makes the difference between Message Boards and Message Boreds...


    (Thanks, BTW)

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    So how does this tie into the awarding of bonus XP again?

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