Defining TTRPGs and the the International Roguelike Development Conference's "Berlin Interpretation"

I wanted to springboard a discussion off this really interesting point made in the "Limits of my Language" thread.

Kind of tangent, but…

I think that the main problem with any kind of TTRPG discussion, theory, and whatnot is the fuzziness of the term itself. If:
  • Solving tactical and strategic problems in hostile, “fantasy Vietnam” environment…
  • Char-op and hacking and slashing…
  • Immersing oneself in an imaginary world, speaking in funny voices and all that…
  • Experiencing a linear, GM-authored story with an agreement between the participants to not “break” it…
  • Collaborative storytelling in a director stance and all that genre emulation jazz…
  • Playing a solo game with journaling and random tables to generate prompts…
…is TTRPGing, then, what isn't? At which point we can say that activity X isn't a TTRPG? Even the “tabletop” part is a questionable criterion — we live in 2E 21 and a lot of games are played online, and even before that, many games don't really have a use for a table.

Of course people butt heads all the ####ing time! Why wouldn't they?
I'm sure there's a way we can come up with a list of qualities that TTRPGs share, in a similar way to how the 2008 International Roguelike Development Conference in Berlin came up with a list of qualities that define a Roguelike computer game.

Because of the sprawling diversity of the games that have been called Roguelike, the discussion at the conference produced a list of qualities that were not meant to be an exclusive and definitive list of what was or was not Roguelike. Instead,

Missing some points does not mean the game is not a roguelike. Likewise, possessing some points does not mean the game is a roguelike.
If a game had a number of these qualities, we could say that a game is "more Roguelike" or "less Roguelike" than a particular example based on these criteria.

Most interestingly, developers have come up with revised lists to account for the newer generations of Roguelikes (and the "Roguelite" genre that includes games like Spelunky and Hades).

So...we could come up with a list of qualities of TTRPGs that the genre shares, but not every game needs to have all of those qualities. I'm not sure of the utility of this, but we do love to make lists and definitions, don't we?
 

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payn

Legend
Missing some points does not mean the game is not a roguelike. Likewise, possessing some points does not mean the game is a roguelike.
This right here gives me a headache already. I have seen a number of posts indicating very narrow views of what an RPG is. I have seen posts that have very encompassing views on what an RPG is. No idea how you come to terms with that.
 

Haiku Elvis

Adventurer
I'm not saying it can't be done but the advantage of the roguelike definition is there was a single original game that the genre (and definition) is based on. The equivalent would be if we looked to OG D&D only for defining points, but the reason OSR exists is most modern games have moved away from that to a certain degree over time and would probably fail that test. Hell even 5e might not depending on the definition points chosen.

I think the below amended quote from Justice Potter Stewart may be best we can manage:

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography" TTRPGs], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."
 

payn

Legend
I'm not saying it can't be done but the advantage of the roguelike definition is there was a single original game that the genre (and definition) is based on. The equivalent would be if we looked to OG D&D only for defining points, but the reason OSR exists is most modern games have moved away from that to a certain degree over time and would probably fail that test. Hell even 5e might not depending on the definition points chosen.

I think the below amended quote from Justice Potter Stewart may be best we can manage:

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography" TTRPGs], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."
Not only that, but a number of folks will take issue of using D&D at all, as the template for TTRPGs.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
I wanted to springboard a discussion off this really interesting point made in the "Limits of my Language" thread.


I'm sure there's a way we can come up with a list of qualities that TTRPGs share, in a similar way to how the 2008 International Roguelike Development Conference in Berlin came up with a list of qualities that define a Roguelike computer game.

Because of the sprawling diversity of the games that have been called Roguelike, the discussion at the conference produced a list of qualities that were not meant to be an exclusive and definitive list of what was or was not Roguelike. Instead,


If a game had a number of these qualities, we could say that a game is "more Roguelike" or "less Roguelike" than a particular example based on these criteria.

Most interestingly, developers have come up with revised lists to account for the newer generations of Roguelikes (and the "Roguelite" genre that includes games like Spelunky and Hades).

So...we could come up with a list of qualities of TTRPGs that the genre shares, but not every game needs to have all of those qualities. I'm not sure of the utility of this, but we do love to make lists and definitions, don't we?
I know I don't get much traction, yet I feel that these games, it is simple enough to say that rolling a d20 vs a target number, and that is D&D. It's the base mechanic, I can't think of anything else in the beginning which would say it is not so. Though I know we all get our own personal definitions too.
 



Cool? So does Traveller, which is more important; except I only vaguely know who Arneson was, I mean I have heard the name.
That's exactly what Gygax wanted.

 

Aldarc

Legend
I wanted to springboard a discussion off this really interesting point made in the "Limits of my Language" thread.


I'm sure there's a way we can come up with a list of qualities that TTRPGs share, in a similar way to how the 2008 International Roguelike Development Conference in Berlin came up with a list of qualities that define a Roguelike computer game.

Because of the sprawling diversity of the games that have been called Roguelike, the discussion at the conference produced a list of qualities that were not meant to be an exclusive and definitive list of what was or was not Roguelike. Instead,


If a game had a number of these qualities, we could say that a game is "more Roguelike" or "less Roguelike" than a particular example based on these criteria.

Most interestingly, developers have come up with revised lists to account for the newer generations of Roguelikes (and the "Roguelite" genre that includes games like Spelunky and Hades).

So...we could come up with a list of qualities of TTRPGs that the genre shares, but not every game needs to have all of those qualities. I'm not sure of the utility of this, but we do love to make lists and definitions, don't we?
Maybe TTRPG is too broad in the same way that 'video/computer/console game' is likewise too broad of a starting point. 'Roguelike' represents a genre or arguably sub-genre of games, so maybe we should not be looking at what qualities TTRPGs share on the whole, but, rather, look at different TTRPGs out there as a families or genres of games and the traits that they share. What are the "genres" or "types" of TTRPGs that are out there?
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
It’s gonna be a challenge just to get anywhere in such a discussion @Tun Kai Poh ….but I’ll throw a few traits I think are common enough.

Just a few to get started, but here we go:
  • Participants adopt fictional roles
  • There is a shared fictional space thought of as the game world
  • There are rules and processes that determine what happens in the fictional space and who gets to decide and when
  • There is usually some randomizing factor used to help determine the results of actions when the outcomes are in doubt
I’d have more, but I’m trying to be as foundational as possible, so those are what I’d start with.

*Edited to finish a thought that got cut off.
 
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@hawkeyefan that's a good start.

As a nod to the solo journaling genre and the very recent lyric game families on itch.io that spiritually descend from Yoko Ono's performance poetry, I'd broaden the definitions:
  • One or more participants adopt fictional roles
  • There are one or more fictional spaces, which may be shared between participants
Lyric games be wild. I should know, I make them!
 


To put us into perspective: computer RPGs might not qualify in our minds, but TTRPGs are a mere footnote in the economically massive world of CRPGs.

So definitions that overlap with your Roguelikes, Baldur's Gates and World of Warcrafts? Might want to consider those as well.

But don't worry, my brain isn't trying to fit LARPs in yet, despite the cross-pollination into TTRPGs from parlour larping and Norwegian larp.

....or should it
 

Endroren

Adventurer
Publisher
Wouldn't you say the answer to your question is in the name? If you take on the role of an imaginary (or perhaps historical) character in the game, and the choices you make in the game are based on what that character wants/needs/desires, and in any social interactions (whether between players or game elements like NPCs) you act the part of that character, it's a roleplaying game?

We've played Monopoly as a roleplaying game, with each person taking on personas and interacting and making decisions as that persona. I've played tabletop war games where we've done the same thing. It seems to me the ruleset and the minis and the flow of the game doesn't make a huge difference. "Being" the character is what sets the experience apart.
 

payn

Legend
Maybe TTRPG is too broad in the same way that 'video/computer/console game' is likewise too broad of a starting point. 'Roguelike' represents a genre or arguably sub-genre of games, so maybe we should not be looking at what qualities TTRPGs share on the whole, but, rather, look at different TTRPGs out there as a families or genres of games and the traits that they share. What are the "genres" or "types" of TTRPGs that are out there?
I like where you are going with this, however, getting D&D dialed in will be the tough. I mean, if you ask folks what TTRPG to use for high school romance in an anime style, you'll get at least one person adamantly stating that D&D does it best.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
That's exactly what Gygax wanted.

So now there are two of us? Though d20's are still the defining element, just look at the adds on facebook and twitter.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I like where you are going with this, however, getting D&D dialed in will be the tough. I mean, if you ask folks what TTRPG to use for high school romance in an anime style, you'll get at least one person adamantly stating that D&D does it best.
My sense of genre or family in regards to TTRPGs is less about "high school romance in an anime style" and more akin to "PbtA" or "OSR." This is to say, games that generally have an overlapping set of design principles, approaches, aesthetics, or even system mechanics. A game setting's genre is often the lipstick on the pig, even if many use incredibly similar shardes of lipstick: e.g., a world of medieval fantasy adventure but with a twist!
 

payn

Legend
My sense of genre or family in regards to TTRPGs is less about "high school romance in an anime style" and more akin to "PbtA" or "OSR." This is to say, games that generally have an overlapping set of design principles, approaches, aesthetics, or even system mechanics. A game setting's genre is often the lipstick on the pig, even if many use incredibly similar shardes of lipstick: e.g., a world of medieval fantasy adventure but with a twist!
I agree, but many folks dont get or care about the distinction.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I agree, but many folks dont get or care about the distinction.
Sure, but it's worth pointing out an obvious point: the people who get or care about the distinction between Roguelikes and others games are the one's who are making the list of qualities Roguelikes may share and not the people who don't get or care about those distinctions.
 

payn

Legend
Sure, but it's worth pointing out an obvious point: the people who get or care about the distinction between Roguelikes and others games are the one's who are making the list of qualities Roguelikes may share and not the people who don't get or care about those distinctions.
The advantage is that there are so many more videogamers and designers out there. Its ok to have sub-genres cause folks naturally gravitate to their interests. Nobody thinks all video games are Super Mario Brothers quite like folks think all TTRPG are D&D.
 

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