A neotrad TTRPG design manifesto


Next time you're not sure, I think that in order to avoid stating "horribly incorrect views" of the thing you're not sure about, you should go out of your way to state that you're NOT SURE, in order to avoid any lack of clarity.

Oh, wait . . . for the third time in fewer days, I find myself utterly confused by this thread!
But wait that's just what he—OH, I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.

log in or register to remove this ad


(He, Him)
I don't know what "inferred" and "prescribed" mean in this context. I mean, "inference" would be something the reader/audience engages in; but "prescription" would be something that the author engages in. So how do they contrast?

@FrogReaver contended this, and you "liked" the post and replied to in in 614 saying "I agree":

So how is this is not an assertion that a single, self-standing sentence can be a narrative?
I intended (only) as part of the assemblage, as I hoped my example made clear. Although I lack any precise way to say how much is enough, particularly given possible meta-narrative.

I didn't disagree with this (though I did ask what is at stake by framing it in terms of signifier/signified, rather than referring term/referent).
I'm not sure. So far as I know, they're just what narratology has used historically. Maybe it's to avoid importing without care the implications of linguistic theories of reference? (I'm not saying they wouldn't apply, only that one might not want to import them wholesale.)

But this is not what @FrogReaver posted, that you agreed with, which was the post that prompted me to express my doubt that a single, self-standing sentence can be a narrative.
I can see how that was misleading. The poster seemed to be on the right track.
Last edited:


(He, Him)
@AbdulAlhazred Your sketch of the Robin Hood game, and the role that rules do and don't play in it, is terrific. I've played that sort of thing using AD&D, and Eero Tuovinen is correct that the rules are not a very suitable content delivery chassis. Adapting better rules - that allow the adding of colour as you describe (Who is my Merry Man friends with? What is the cut of my Merry Man's tights?), and that structure working through the story in a way that is better than map-and-key + random encounter rolls - will make the experience better, without changing the core underlying structure and process of play.

@clearstream: I adopt post 626 holus bolus as an appendix to my post 627.
You asked above if I was still in agreement with the Bitslayer essay. I'm more "Yes, and" in its regard. That "and" is what I'm exploring here: I aim to adjust my argument as follows.

A few ways of treating our material or subjects of play have been outlined, and there may be more.

They can be actively disclosed. You simply tell me the way it is. This isn't something we intend to contest.​
They can be addressed playfully. We negotiate via fluid, unwritten rules.​
They can be addressed gamefully. This may be something we intend to contest, perhaps because we don't want to accept it. We negotiate via written rules with a commitment to upholding them. It can be something we want to address in a particular way, where doing it that way constitutes an experience that would not be obtained or would be hard to obtain consistently otherwise.​
In all cases, I believe norms and principles apply. When the intent is to shift those to specific norms and principles, those specifics must be communicated to folk outside the originating group.

Different folk observably enter play with expectations and preferences as regards subject/treatment pairings. There may be subjects they're content to simply have disclosed, and others they want to submit to game play. That could be to do with qualities of experience they hope to have, or validation, or simply habit; and no doubt other motives besides. I read Edwards to have made an argument about a preferred way to treat certain material or subjects of play. I take him to imply that it is the necessary way, if one wants to experience those subjects ludically.

What I want to adjust is that when I used the term "ludically-crux" I inadvertently implied "crux" i.e. what was most important. I intended - what was most important to experience as game play - hence "ludically". @pemerton pointed out the possibility of a player to whom what was most important to them in joining the session of play, was not most important to them to experience as game play. (For the sake of argument, let's suppose New-Lucy fits this description. It turns out that her strongest motives for joining a session of play are to engage in playfully revealing story and expressing her character.)

In hindsight, the notion of "ludically-crux" implied a wider ideal where I intended a narrower. One could value mechanics without those mechanics necessarily being focused on whatever is most important to your intended play. While it seems obvious that players could be well-served choosing game texts with utility to whatever they count ludically-crux, they would be even better served choosing texts with utility to what they count crux. As I will explain below, this leads to shifting the "ought" in the ideal I'm advocating.

My "and" then is my observation that many of the innovations referred to in this thread arose from a wave of design that drew together the crux and ludically-crux. That's why it became important GM followed rules. And seeing as the crux had a far greater scope than what had formerly being counted ludically-crux, that forced a number of other design improvements (streamlining for play) informed by theory such as Baker's. My second step is to infer from Edwards, implications for "ludonarrative" (meaning narrative in the medium of game), with the explanatory consequence that the "neotrad" selection of innovations preserve their purpose to some extent wherever they are relocated to. In fact, I suggest that is part of the value in incorporating them.

Well, there are a couple things missing from your descriptions here: Rules clearly are constituted in RPGs for the purpose of regulating who, when, and why specific instances of fiction can be incorporated, as you yourself at one point imply. Now, this would seem to fall under VB's rubrik of "stuff you don't need, better handled informally" EXCEPT for the other half of that which you have elided here; which is the bringing in of the unpleasant and unexpected. We can CLEARLY see that this is where VB was leading, as AW exemplifies a rules system which does this quite gracefully! In terms of a neo-trad sort of play unpleasant and unexpected are not elements that are always necessary, so I think the question does become much more cogent here! That is, Given that the players are aiming at exemplifying a theme which is already established before play begins, what is the purpose of rules? I'd say that, to a large degree, they are employed to add color!
I'm not following how this is responsive to my #614. Did you mean it to respond to a different post?

Let me try to give an example: You might invent a milieu and corresponding rules which are intended to allow the players to assume the roles of Robinhood and his Merry Men. Obviously fiction will include elements like King John, the Sheriff, Maid Marian, Sherwood Forest, etc. Rules might then describe the attributes of a Merry Man, facilitating the definitions of things like their particular backgrounds (fugitive nobility, impoverished knight, rogue monk, villainous poacher, etc.). The rules might further enumerate various possible bits of flavor, such as the types of weapons (longbows aside) that a given character has expertise with, NPC family members who might be brought into the story, etc. It might also specify some other sorts of color, like what sorts of acts and situations lead to an increase in the reward offered for a given character by the Sheriff (and thus regulating different sorts of fallout like the deadliness of the pursuit or whether their NPC family is threatened). I can see all of the above as potentially useful, but they're fundamentally present in order to elaborate on and ease the player burden of 'getting into character'.

Now, constitutive rules regarding the actual process of play are also going to be necessary in order to construct a true game out of this, but the question is, as Baker implies, are they really necessary? If the participants are in agreement on the nature of the milieu, and the style of play (neo-trad/OC, so presumably whether Robin and Co 'win' or not isn't actually part of the stakes) already tells us the general trajectory of the narrative, then can we not simply fill in the blanks in an informal way? Honestly, wouldn't it be at least a reasonable supposition that rules in this form of game are really present to do this merely because it eases the generation of fiction? So, for instance a structure in which the GM is told to formulate 'adventures' in the form of 3-part stories with a lead-in, a crisis, and a resolution would work reasonably well, with details suggesting specific sorts of each scene, etc. I'd think you could construct a pretty decent game of this sort by these means, but I think VB is still right that skilled participants in play are likely to find the rules more a bother than a help.
Certainly groups I've played with have made the sort of move you outline. I believe your remarks are addressed by my adjustment at top of this post. Technically, I adjust from one sort of principle to a second sort of principle. The first sort is - you ought to want X and do Y. The second sort is - you ought to do Y if you want X. You ought to settle in game play, subjects that you want to experience ludically. One could then read Edwards as saying something equivalent to - you say you want to experience dramatic protagonism in your game play, but you are not settling that in game play: here's how you settle it in game play. I take designers to be saying something about what they intend to be experienced in game play, when they decide to incorporate the sorts of mechanics referred to. Or at least, I recommend that they decide if they are saying anything by it!

Thus turning to your "skilled participants". "Skilled" could imply that they can manage an unwritten rules structure with sufficient insight and consistency that they needn't use a written text. I have observed such groups. Or it could imply that they share norms and principles sufficiently strongly and with sufficient sophistication that they can richly treat a subject playfully. I have observed groups like this, too. I think what Baker is observing is that for either of those groups, there can still be hesitation and other glitches around saying that which no one at the table wants to say. He implies, and I would outright state, that there can also be webs of constitutive and regulatory rules that are very difficult to emulate freeform. Not because no one wants to say it (whatever they say), but because over the span of play it unfurls complexly so that it is difficult to say it any other way.
Last edited:


(He, Him)
Just about any sentence can have an implication of narrative in the sense you suggest. I mean, if I say "It was raining", and last night you watched the Daredevil film, then your mind might turn to Matt Murdock seeing Electra's face in the rain.

But that doesn't mean the assertion is an implied narrative about superheroes and their broken hearts!

In the context of JRRT, he actually does use a lot of implied narrative, but not simply by producing self-standing sentences. For instance, at one point Aragorn (? I think it is) refer to "the cats of Queen Beruthiel". I haven't gone back to find my book, but the internet gives me this quote, which seems right in my memory:

He is surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Berúthiel.​

Now that has an implied narrative: a Queen, with cats who wander at night, but always find their way home. And JRRT does this a lot - with Earendil (a mariner, who tarried in <I can't remember where>, but we get the idea of a somewhat hesitant saviour, which is a common and powerful trope); with the White Tree in Minas Tirith; etc, etc.
In a game this would be deconstructed for traversal by the player as author/audience.

"He" - some character avatar​
"is surer of finding the way" - some scalable character capability is implied​
"home" - perhaps literally a location on a map, and to find our way there, necessitates locations that are not home​
"a blind night" - a system for both nights, and that the character can be deprived of sight​
"cats" - creatures with capabilities in relation to night sight and sureness of finding home​
"Queen Beruthiel" - apocryphal, in both the original and the game - a reference without a referent​

I can now traverse the narrative to "read" that he gets lost. A different story. A question I ask is - why don't we just interpret such a deconstruction as simply "the world"? Wouldn't that imply that our world is a narrative!? Which is not something we ordinarily assume.

I think what makes the assemblage narrative is when it is a cherry-picked, twisted and coloured subset of the world. Every story can be told... of the intended sort. It's opinionated, as indicated by words such as "tarried". It's not good enough merely to have mariners (a character, seas, ships, relevant capabilities) but also they must at times be compelled to tarry. Perforce it must be make believe, as "fiction" implies. It takes us beyond our real world.

I think that you are correct in post 624 to say that, in the context of a RPG, this sort of thing is setting backstory. An interesting question, in RPG play, is *who gets to flesh out the implications?" Compare, in this respect, orthodox Burning Wheel compared to orthodox AD&D.
A quick reflection on the trajectory of narrator over time may answer that. My understanding is that classical narratology started out assuming a narrator (and believing narrative impossible without one.) Passing through movies, and now on to games, post-classical narratology accepts that player (as author/audience) traversing the narrative can narrate it to themselves... and to other players via the game's "rendering" methods. It's not in that light suprising that TTRPG followed a similar trajectory.

Where "neotrad" is expected to fall, in this respect, is not clear to me, but I think probably closer to AD&D unless the backstory is fairly intimately connected to a player's character.
To me it is simpler still. Integrating the given mechanics should draw the play toward that of the sources of those mechanics.
Last edited:

Remove ads


Remove ads

Upcoming Releases