log in or register to remove this ad

 

Beginning to Doubt That RPG Play Can Be Substantively "Character-Driven"

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Interestingly, one of the oldest debates in RPGs (since it arose out of D&D) was the debate over whether rules enabled play, or rules discouraged play.

In other words, did additional rules in an area lead to better play by delineation, or did it cause players to be forced to work within the rules and thereby stultify creative play?

The answer to the question "Does it lead to better play or stultify play?" is, of course, the ambiguous, "Yes."

Heck, the push-pull of rules and systematizing play is as old as Gygax and Arneson.

What we forget is that... different people work differently.

Some poets are their most creative when working in free verse. Others when working in sonnets. Some are best unrestrained, others best with a framework.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Interestingly, one of the oldest debates in RPGs (since it arose out of D&D) was the debate over whether rules enabled play, or rules discouraged play.

In other words, did additional rules in an area lead to better play by delineation, or did it cause players to be forced to work within the rules and thereby stultify creative play?

Heck, the push-pull of rules and systematizing play is as old as Gygax and Arneson.

I have not studied TRPGs or the history thereof in enough detail to be sure I remember seeing this discussion going back that far, but I am pretty sure that I've seen more modern echoes of it. I like to think that I'm reasonably intelligent, and that I've thought about TRPGs in ways that go beyond "what am I going to run this Saturday?" but I have to admit there are times when the discussion seems to be happening on a different (more theoretical) level than I'm used to thinking about.

As @Umbran says above, the answer to this push-pull (and I suspect to most similar questions) is ambiguous. People have tastes and preferences, and some things might work more intuitively for more people, but that seems to be about as far as can be said with certainty.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
... but I have to admit there are times when the discussion seems to be happening on a different (more theoretical) level than I'm used to thinking about.

It is often happening on so theoretical a level as to be difficult to link it back to actual practice. :/

As @Umbran says above, the answer to this push-pull (and I suspect to most similar questions) is ambiguous. People have tastes and preferences, and some things might work more intuitively for more people, but that seems to be about as far as can be said with certainty.

It isn't necessarily even around what works more intuitively. It is often about how the brain generates ideas and chooses concepts, or how one can suffer from option paralysis.
 

Yeah, a game like Torchbearer is amazingly designed...utterly brilliant.

But there is no way a game like Torchbearer could ever, ever, ever hope to supplant a "GM decides" game like 5e D&D because its too "refined" (and I don't mean that in a snobby way...I mean that in a "one man's trash is another man's treasure" sort of way), focused, niche, and just requires far too much from all table participants (and a healthy dose of players want a much more passive experience).

But...if someone (like the OP) is looking for a pretty specific experience, I'm going to talk about games and techniques (and not "GM decides") that may provide that.
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Sorry! I was thinking about, inter alia, the introduction of the thief class. Whenever rules are introduced to a part of any RPG that were not previously there, people complain that it prevents them from doing what they did before.
No worries. I appreciate that people have studied (or remember) the history. While I played a fair amount of 1E, I wasn't paying any attention to what was going on outside the game/s I was playing in. I only really started paying attention about the time of 3E, and I only started thinking about the design of TRPGs in the past decade and change (when, oddly, I was kinda burnt-out on TRPGs in general, except as a social thing with friends). I've been playing and running 5E for just coming up on 2 years, now, and while I love the system (because it mostly works the way I expect it to) I know enough about people and design to know it's not going to be right for everyone.

There is a fine line between the use of jargon as a shortcut to concepts, and the use of jargon to obfuscate and intimidate.

Agreed, though I'm new enough here that I'm not willing to ascribe motives to the people using jargon so intensely.
 

It might be fairer to say that a game's mechanics tell us what the writer/s thought the player/s would need rules for.

I get the distinction your making, but I don't know if it's meaningful enough to matter. I mean, the things you need rules for are largely the things that must come up in play, right? Sure, some things that lack rules may come up, but I don't know if this is a case of such things not needing rules so much as being less of a focal point for the game. More that they weren't expected to come up often enough to devote more rules to them.

The minimal social mechanics that did exist in early D&D were still tied to combat and delving.....morale, henchmen, followers, etc. In a pinch, if Robillard needed to impress some NPC, perhaps a Charisma check of some sort could be made. Each edition has had varying degrees of guidance of this kind in the books. But they usually take the form of suggestions, where as the more focal areas read as more codified.

Interestingly, one of the oldest debates in RPGs (since it arose out of D&D) was the debate over whether rules enabled play, or rules discouraged play.

In other words, did additional rules in an area lead to better play by delineation, or did it cause players to be forced to work within the rules and thereby stultify creative play?

I think this likely speaks more about the quality of the rules and how they fit the gameplay more than merely their presence. Yes, certain rules can be an obstacle for any number of reasons. But is it a rule that's the problem, or is it that rule?

My group tends to view Encumbrance this way....that it's too fiddly and annoying, and doesn't add to the enjoyment of play, and so we hand wave it. It slows the actual game down and does it for a result that doesn't feel all that meaningful.

Same group of players find the Gear/Load system in Blades in the Dark to be easy to implement, and enjoyable in play. It leads to potentially meaningful choices that they need to consider, but doesn't come with the annoying bookkeeping. In that sense, it enables play.

That's just a simple comparison and anecdotal as all hell, so take it for what it's worth.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I get the distinction your making, but I don't know if it's meaningful enough to matter. I mean, the things you need rules for are largely the things that must come up in play, right? Sure, some things that lack rules may come up, but I don't know if this is a case of such things not needing rules so much as being less of a focal point for the game. More that they weren't expected to come up often enough to devote more rules to them.

There's no doubt a lot of that, but it could also be an expectation on the part of the writer/s that, say, interacting with NPCs would be a matter of playing out the interactions, rather than rolling dice (or using any other mechanic).

I'm not really arguing hard, here, just saying that "you need rules for this" isn't necessarily the same as "the heart of the game" (which may not be your exact words). Obviously it's a reasonable presumption that if the PCs are expected to behave in a certain way, there will be mechanics for that.
 


Ratskinner

Adventurer
'No mechanics' is never a limitation; and in this case 'finality of resolution' doesn't sound like a good idea. In combat, yes, there's usually a finality - one side or combatant dies, or surrenders, or is made captive, whatever; the combat's done and in most cases it only has to be done once.

I would make two points in response to this:

1) I think that has more to do with D&D discouraging the players from breaking off combat through its combat mechanical oddities. Even in some of the earlier rules, there were popular "parting shot" or "free swing" variants for disengaging. And that's not to mention opportunity loss of XP/treasure. That is, adventuring parties don't generally retreat from combats. Rarely, if ever, do you see one side "drive off" the other without inflicted devastating casualties. In part, I blame this on the HP system, without a "death spiral" combat really is a winner-take-all affair. The loss of "resources" is so trivial that we constantly see DMs appearing with 5MWD problems. Combat carrying only a singular "finality" leads to all sorts of narrative oddities.

2) 'No mechanics' actually is something of a limitation. Players (including the GM) are playing a game, they look to the rules to explain/describe how. I've noted that players are often loathe to engage in things that the rules don't cover. Why risk something that may work, when you can rely on your trusty sword for little risk. You can't "game" non-mechanics like you can all the mechanical fiddly bits of a combat system. And when you only have a hammer, everything is a nail.
 

There's no doubt a lot of that, but it could also be an expectation on the part of the writer/s that, say, interacting with NPCs would be a matter of playing out the interactions, rather than rolling dice (or using any other mechanic).

I'm not really arguing hard, here, just saying that "you need rules for this" isn't necessarily the same as "the heart of the game" (which may not be your exact words). Obviously it's a reasonable presumption that if the PCs are expected to behave in a certain way, there will be mechanics for that.

I get you....no worries, I'm not trying to argue either!

I think that you're right, that they felt that the DM would help abdicate anything not specifically addressed by the rules, and that the game mechanics gave them enough to do so. Just the nature of the role of the DM kind of expects that these things are his responsibility. And I think that largely would work for the kind of game they were playing.

I think in the earlier days of RPGs, there were more blindspots, for lack of a better term. The people making the game had a pretty specific way they played it, and so all the rules were designed to deliver that experience, or something close to it. It was pretty narrow, in that sense. Then it changed and morphed once it got out into the wild, and other people put their own spin on things.

In more modern game design, there are less blindspots. We're more aware of the broad selection of playstyles and modes of play and reasons to play....all of that. I feel now, when a game designer makes a decision to include mechanics for X but not for Y, it's a pretty clear indicator that the game is about X more than Y. And just like in the early days, people can take that X game and make it more Y, and it can all work out great.

But for those seeking Y, there may be other games more suited.
 







Well, no. I mean, yes.

Yes and no!

Your point is well-taken (I agree that good rules are better than bad rules) and that certain rules enable certain styles better, and that, for example, the gear/load system for BiTD is great for a heist game; but, perhaps, would not be so wonderful for a grittier game. A simplified encumbrance system (like the one for Torchbearer) might be useful in that circumstance where you do have to plan out your dungeon crawl a little bit more but don't want to get too deep into the fiddly bits.

But my point was a little different. The introduction of a rule, ANY RULE, means that players will naturally employ that rule. To use the encumbrance example- imagine a game where encumbrance just wasn't a rule. At all. No gear/load. No simplified encumbrance. The character just carried what the player thought was reasonable, Done and done. As soon as you introduce a rule, no matter how wonderful and elegant, you have to use it.

This was the objection to the introduction of the thief in D&D (oh, no you have to have an ability to climb a wall, or hide?), to most social skills (what, I have to roll to talk to a guard?), and as a broader criticism with certain RPGs (players don't know what to do unless they have a "push button" skill to use).

In other words, it's not so much about the elegance of any particular rule, so much as an observation that the introduction of rules into areas where there were not previously rules naturally constrains activities.

See also my oft-repeated observations about adjectives. If you have a box, and then you have a green box, it can no longer be any other color. Some people prefer to play with a minimum number of pre-set adjectives, that they might choose for themselves what type of box they are in. :)

I agree with you mostly. I don't think that the introduction of ANY RULE means that the players will employ that rule. They may employ it, they may adjust it, they may discard it. So the intro of ANY RULE means that it needs to be addressed in some way. Such as my table deciding that Encumbrance can go take a poo.

I think it's about how that rule may fit into the system. To go back to the Gear/Load system in Blades in the Dark....although it's a great mechanic, it can't simply be bolted onto D&D in favor of encumbrance. It requires some of the elements of Blades to work....most specifically, phases of play divided to "Downtime" and "The Score". So unless you also want to make a similar distinction in D&D....like maybe "In Town" and "Delving" or similar, then it simply wouldn't work as intended.

And yes, I agree with you that having rules can constrain choice. I don't know that it always must do so, but I agree that it certainly can. That's where the elegance comes in. Is the rule worth it? Does it enhance play? Or does it get in the way of or restrict play? Chances are it may do a bit of both. Are any drawbacks sufficiently offset by what's gained? Or is what's gained worth dealing with the drawback?

To bring this back to the OP.....I think that any system that lacks mechanics that support the character driven style of play would be a "con" so to speak. It's a weakness of that game as it relates to this goal.

So if someone said "I'd like to play a RPG that is more character focused than adventure focused", which response would be better:

"Here's a game that has tools that will help you create character focused play."

OR

"Here's a game that has no such tools. But it doesn't really have any obstacles if you want to kind of do it on your own while you play."

Obviously, based on the differing stances in this thread, there's no right answer.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
So if someone said "I'd like to play a RPG that is more character focused than adventure focused", which response would be better:

"Here's a game that has tools that will help you create character focused play."

OR

"Here's a game that has no such tools. But it doesn't really have any obstacles if you want to kind of do it on your own while you play."

Obviously, based on the differing stances in this thread, there's no right answer.

While there's no right answer, a question might narrow down what'd work for the querent: "What do you find to be more of a stumbling-block, rules or the absence or rules?" The question might need re-phrasing, depending.
 

Presents for Goblins

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top