A neotrad TTRPG design manifesto

One difficulty is seeing what the test is for how much designed narrative is too much. That seems subjective. Take Stonetop. 200+ pages of designed narrative (in various forms).
I utterly fail to understand your definition of narrative. That's like calling the appendices of LotR where Tolkien lists out all the names of all the kings and lists of which things they did, and which bad guys showed up during their time, etc. That's NOT A NARRATIVE, nor is a map, nor a key, a narrative. I mean, sure, we can both probably agree there are some fragments of narratives (examples, maybe a few plot hooks) embedded in the book somewhere, but it is highly inaccurate to call it '200+ pages of designed narrative'. I think you are confusing FICTION and NARRATIVE, and in the case of Stonetop (much like other similar milieu, even many employed in Trad play) the fiction depicted is very general and contains VERY LITTLE story of any sort at all. We learn the physical layout of Stonetop and its surroundings, and something about the people who live there and how they live. That's basically it! That IS NOT NARRATIVE.
A narrative, story, or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whether nonfictional (memoir, biography, news report, documentary, travelogue, etc.) or fictional (fairy tale, fable, legend, thriller, novel, etc.). Narratives can be presented through a sequence of written or spoken words, through still or moving images, or through any combination of these. The word derives from the Latin verb narrare (to tell), which is derived from the adjective gnarus (knowing or skilled). The formal and literary process of constructing a narrative—narration—is one of the four traditional rhetorical modes of discourse, along with argumentation, description, and exposition. This is a somewhat distinct usage from narration in the narrower sense of a commentary used to convey a story. Many additional narrative techniques, particularly literary ones, are used to build and enhance any given story.

--Wikipedia

@Manbearcat's assertion that metaplot is an essential characteristic of neotrad is interesting and would matter. Forbidden Lands has a metaplot. Does the 4e game text (the three core books) have a metaplot? Or FF L5R (core book) for that matter. What happens if a group play 4e using SCs and all that, or L5R, but stop short of creating a metaplot? Do those game texts become not-neotrad in that scenario? The switch here is defining "neotrad" in terms of play, whereas in my OP I firmly defined it in terms of design. So that would be the argument to make, i.e. that I'm wrong about "neotrad" labelling a trend in design. Otherwise one is talking about something else: maybe OC-ish play? Or whatever play one thinks has a metaplot adhering to it.
TBH I think that the 'six styles' are exactly that, styles of play! Now, I also happen to believe that they are associated with certain traits in game design, as in certain of those make a game effective in use for a certain style of play. I think your diagnosis of neo-trad is fine in terms of "this is a typical characteristic way to design a game for this use case" but I think it is quite possible to utilize different game texts in different ways. This comports with the ideas of @pemerton for example (probably largely echoing RE here).

I think neo-trad play does require some sort of plotting. I'm not sure that has to be 'meta-plot' and I've seen various uses of 'meta' in relation to plot over the years. Essentially neo-trad play, showcasing the PCs as themselves, requires something to happen in order for their characteristics to be so showcased. Superman must exercise his limitless strength, speed, etc. He may also have to exercise his heroic traits, selflessness, humility, mercy, etc. and again that REQUIRES that there be some sort of action taking place. Now, I might possibly differ on the details of what that has to be with other posters, I'm not sure. Like, it seems to me that a Narrativist 'plot free' game could showcase Superman. The difference between that and neo-trad is that in the true Narrativist version the system itself, the process of play, will throw up things like "you must allow Lois Lane to die in order to save the Earth." This is NOT going to be allowed in neo-trad! (not unless the player wants it to happen) That might be accomplished via some form of meta-plot, where things are brought to the proper state by a kind of deus-ex-machina or something like that.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

We'll have to agree to disagree with this. You would be helping yourself to a hard-conflation of ludonarrative with one sort of narrative. That would be both limiting, and at odds with what I understand to be the mainstream understanding of narrative.

Picture by analogy the same move proposed for written narratives. Only Western tradition protagonist dramatically resolves problematic features of human existence counts. That's hard to justify.
I suggested it as a way of pointing out the sorts of issues with co-opting phrases and terminology in general. Its no worse than the way PtFO, for example, has been used here.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
It surprised me that you read my words to imply I was literally quoting RE etc. Moving on therefore,

I personally find it a rather prescriptive, even implausible, assertion. For instance, when my niece plays D&D - in what I would describe as a broadly OC or neo-trad style, using the language of the six cultures of play
Recollect from my OP that I resist the conflation you imply here. So if you aim to insist on that we'll need to agree to disagree. I'm not saying you shouldn't insist - only that in this thread I am speaking only to neotrad as a design trend.

- I think that what matters most to her is the portrayal of her character. And this is not settled by game play. The idea of her character is something that she brings with her to the table, and game play provides her with an opportunity to express that idea, to portray her character. It doesn't settle her idea of her character.
We hopefully agree that to be playful and to play a game are not identical. @Emberashh has often referenced improv. I have emphasised gamefulness because I have been focused on the incorporation of innovative mechanics into subsequent game texts. Following rules and enacting mechanics is associated with game play, rather than simply play. It becomes a game, once we commit to following rules.

TTRPG could be assessed as being playful as well as gameful. That may have interesting consequences. What happens when your niece is not provided with opportunity to express her character via game play? Is that game-facilitated expression rightly discounted as being ludically-crux, for your niece? What is your account for why she choosees to play a game, if it is not?

what the players want is the experience of the story in the second person, prompted by their first person prompts to the GM to narration. Thus, as Tuovinen notes, "the player has the primary control over the pace (how quickly you go over your material) and focus (what parts of your material are particularly observed) of play, even as the GM by definition holds primary content authority."

This is a completely different experience, for a group of people sitting around a table talking to one another, from one of them just regaling the others with a story. And it does not depend on any assumption that Lucy wants to work for the story - as opposed to prompt its second-person revelation to her by inserting herself into the fiction via a character and thereby providing first-person prompts - nor that she wants to be challenged by a "guessing game" punctuated by strategic challenges. In fact, in commentary I read from those who play in a "trad" style, it is often seen as a weakness for the GM to make the players guess what first person prompts they have to provide in order to trigger the revelation of more of the story. This is a fairly common way in which trad play grinds to an unsatisfying halt.
Based on this, let's modify my scenario. Original-Lucy indeed did want the guessing game and strategic challenges, just as I described. New-Lucy has other motives: she wants to insert herself into the fiction via a character and thereby provide first-person prompts. Can you say in what senses you take New-Lucy to be playing a game? So that I can better understand your view on this. For example, does it matter if she or her GM are following rules?
 
Last edited:

clearstream

(He, Him)
I utterly fail to understand your definition of narrative.
I use the definition employed by post-classical narratologists and ludologists, not wikipedia. So far as I can make out, you (and wikipedia) use narrative as a synonym of story. Does that sound right? Classical narratologists might have agreed with you.

That's like calling the appendices of LotR where Tolkien lists out all the names of all the kings and lists of which things they did, and which bad guys showed up during their time, etc. That's NOT A NARRATIVE, nor is a map, nor a key, a narrative. I mean, sure, we can both probably agree there are some fragments of narratives (examples, maybe a few plot hooks) embedded in the book somewhere, but it is highly inaccurate to call it '200+ pages of designed narrative'. I think you are confusing FICTION and NARRATIVE, and in the case of Stonetop (much like other similar milieu, even many employed in Trad play) the fiction depicted is very general and contains VERY LITTLE story of any sort at all. We learn the physical layout of Stonetop and its surroundings, and something about the people who live there and how they live. That's basically it! That IS NOT NARRATIVE.
I've said this a few times, but the issue is not one of any sort of confusion. It is definitional. As I would define it, fiction (as it pertains to narrative) is narrative that involves make believe: that has nothing to do with its inclusion or exclusion from a story. Tolkien's list of kings in LotR is fiction, as is his tale of Smith of Wootton Major. To say that the latter is a (fictional) story is to say that it is narrative and it involves make believe and it extends to a series that has the qualities of apparent causality, temporality, etc.

TBH I think that the 'six styles' are exactly that, styles of play! Now, I also happen to believe that they are associated with certain traits in game design, as in certain of those make a game effective in use for a certain style of play. I think your diagnosis of neo-trad is fine in terms of "this is a typical characteristic way to design a game for this use case" but I think it is quite possible to utilize different game texts in different ways.
I agree with you that "it is quite possible to utilize different game texts in different ways". I'm addressing the design of the game text. Recollect that as cited in my OP, the author of the "six styles" clarified they were discussing OC play (which makes sense, for the reasons you outline) and not neotrad design.
 
Last edited:

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
I'll try to break a few bits down for clarity in an effort to avoid miscommunication
I found your post here much easier to follow. Two questions I would ask, 1) why is it expected that GM-follows-rules obviates the powerful standing norm that players-follow-rules?
That bold bit is using wording that may be accurate to the letter but it's also kinda misleading by replacing the specific bindings with vague & nonspecific "rules". There are all kinds of reasons why the GM might need to ignore or make new rules to ensure smooth gameplay. One example from my 4e years running narrative games like fate at a FLGS might be the frequent need to flatly & openly refuse to spend points from the GM pool of them or tell a player that they don't need to spend one for that compel. Both of those examples are massive violations of the rules and perhaps even the spirit of the game itself, but the instances almost always had a specific commonality that justified it. That commonality is a couple tropes so common to d&d players that I can save time by relying on Brennan Lee Mulligan to spin their tale
Those two characters fit reasonably ok into a d&d group without much disruption because of how d&d is structured differently from fate. In fate they are violently in conflict with the proactive & dramatic notes that fate itself repeatedly talks in depth about. The conflict is so great that not blatantly ignoring the rules while constantly steering the game back into gear would consume every other aspect of play. /neotrad is incredibly up front about binding the GM to the PCs bleem described
, and 2) where does your notion that a neotrad design will not put into words the desirable guidance and supporting mechanics arise from?
Have you not been reading the back & forth over the last few pages? You can see a clear example of pointing to just such a case in 557 or go back to the gasps of disdain when I mentioned fate's gm & player initiated compels binding players as an example of a player responsibility in narrative games like fate many pages ago. Put them together and you have a reluctant admission of the very halfhearted shift in 551 to vaguely gesture at some player responsibilities under the social contract rather than neotrad itself owning the need for beefier rules there. Even when those gestures in 551are pointed at as an example of the kinds of player responsibilities that neotrad needs to be clear & up front about there's no real willingness to admit them being responsibilities. The fact that you yourself would ask question2 rather than just look at and outright say "neotrad expects players to be responsible like A B C" could be another example of that reluctance in the way the question continues to raise the bar for a GM faced by a player trying to use neotrad as a shield
I have some sympathy with your take on the second, although it doesn't seem to be necessarily the case (nothing about neotrad necessitates it... the converse, IMO.)
Not sure if there's anything I can say to that not said above. These aren't problems that neotrad supporters need to have "sympathy" for, they are things that neotrad supporters need to be up front about openly admitting just as quickly as the shadowrun community is to supply advice like "you should have a bunch of d6s because just one d6 is going to be slow".
 


Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
A backstory IS a narrative and it is, again, dishonest to try to argue otherwise because of some extreme hesitation with just admitting you're telling some stories.

I mean, for the love of god telling stories is how the whole hobby is pitched! Stop acting like its a bad thing!.

This is the kind of behavior that makes me believe half the motivation on the opposing side is just being in the cool kids club at any cost. Emergent narratives are posited as cool so any and all measures are taken to say thats whats happening, up to and including making nonsensical claims to combat any counter to contrary.
Mod Note:

Calling people dishonest and impugning motives like this is a good way to start arguments. We like to discourage that kind of behavior, here.

Don‘t make the mods “discourage” you harder.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
So, @clearstream, if I'm reading post 588 correctly, as an example of what you mean for what is ludically crux ("the important thing that is to be settled by gameplay" if that's a fair paraphrase?), in the Tyranny of Dragons adventure path, what has to be settled by gameplay is the answer to this question:



Everything that happens in the AP is, in a sense, a lead-up to that question.

At first glance, it seems as if the AP is also asking the following question that must also be answered through gameplay:



However, upon reflection, I would say that this question isn't really "settled through play", insofar as it's not clear to me that the AP actually cares about how it's answered! (I recently wrapped up running this AP, so it's fresh in mind.) It feels more like set dressing that is meant to give the player characters something to do in order to gain enough levels to be able to answer the first question.

Apropos of


It strikes me that Tyranny of Dragons, as written, does not submit very much of what matters to gameplay, and so as a piece of content for a particular game (5th edition Dungeons & Dragons) would not be neotrad in design or ambition. I am sure that comes as no surprise, since the mechanics of 5e are emphatically not neotrad.

Apropos of


I don't see 5e D&D as doing anything do promote the lusory duality of players or shift the GM role in any respect to something more closely resembling the other players.

Am I understanding what you're getting at?



(I will here have to admit to some ignorance as to whether "lusory-duality" has been defined upthread; it's not actually clear to me what is meant by that, but I assume it's been defined somewhere and I just missed it.)
What do you think of questions like how, such as how do they stop Tiamat?

Is that a question that needs answered in play?
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Fleshed out a bit more, rpg computer games are quite replayable, even though the story is often extremely linear. Why is this? I suggest it’s because how you do X is just as important as whether you do X. I also suggest that how is just as important to ttrpg’s. This is why adventure paths can be quite fun.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I use the definition employed by post-classical narratologists and ludologists, not wikipedia. So far as I can make out, you (and wikipedia) use narrative as a synonym of story. Does that sound right? Classical narratologists might have agreed with you.


I've said this a few times, but the issue is not one of any sort of confusion. It is definitional. As I would define it, fiction (as it pertains to narrative) is narrative that involves make believe: that has nothing to do with its inclusion or exclusion from a story. Tolkien's list of kings in LotR is fiction, as is his tale of Smith of Wootton Major. To say that the latter is a (fictional) story is to say that it is narrative and it involves make believe and it extends to a series that has the qualities of apparent causality, temporality, etc.


I agree with you that "it is quite possible to utilize different game texts in different ways". I'm addressing the design of the game text. Recollect that as cited in my OP, the author of the "six styles" clarified they were discussing OC play (which makes sense, for the reasons you outline) and not neotrad design.
Not to go to far down this rabbit hole, but a narrative to me (didn’t realize there was another definition) need not be deep or complex, it can be a single sentence. He was angry. That’s a narrative. It was raining. That’s a narrative. The king decreed that taxes would increase. Narrative again.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top