D&D 5E [+] Explain RPG theory without using jargon

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." ―Albert Einstein

GNS. Story...Somewhere. Impossible Things. It all comes across as nonsense hidden under a thick layer of jargon specifically designed to keep the whole thing obscure and for insiders only.

So, this thread. If you're a fan of or think you understand any particular kind of RPG theory, here's your chance to explain it to people without that ever-present stifling layer of jargon.

A few ground rules. 1. No jargon; use plain English. 2. No tautologies. 3. Don't quote; use the Feynman Technique*. 4. Use examples from 5E.

* The Feynman Technique is, basically, this: "Without using the new word which you have just learned, try to rephrase what you have just learned in your own language."

For our purposes, this means explain things in your own words, without quoting someone else. It's great that Ron Edwards has thoughts, but put forward your own. If you've digested and understood his theories, then you should be able to explain those theories using your own words, not his.

As for the examples, the best way to help a lot of people understand things is to provide concrete examples referencing something they're familiar with. The most popular RPG is 5E, so use that as your example. If 5E doesn't work for your theory, explain what would need to change to make it fit your theory. Not in-depth subsystems and design, rather explain it in the simplest, most straightforward way possible. If you add X, it pushes the game towards theory Y. If you changed Z, it pushes the game towards theory A. Etc. And importantly, explain why that change does what you're claiming.

So how about it? Any takers?

ETA: Adding a [+] to keep the thread positive.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I think with GNS and other Forge waffle, the jargon is the point.

By throwing down terms like "story now" or "ooda loop" or "deprotagonization," you get the benefit of looking like you're in an elite in-group of RPG theory crafters as well as interject interminable stories of that one time you played Burning Wheel or Prince Valiant when everyone else in the thread just wants to know how to implement passive Perception well or whatever.

EDIT: In before the [+].
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I think with GNS and other Forge waffle, the jargon is the point.

By throwing down terms like "story now" or "ooda loop" or "deprotagonization," you get the benefit of looking like you're in an elite in-group of RPG theory crafters as well as interject with interminable stories of that one time you played Burning Wheel or Prince Valiant when everyone else in the thread just wants to know how to implement passive Perception well or whatever.
Thanks for the reminder to include a [+] in the title. It would be great to have this conversation without the bickering and finger pointing.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Some people really like to play where play follows an understood set of cause and effect. Where the system generates this kind of play. This ranges a wide gamut, from a system that is very precise and details and step by step in generating outcomes, to systems that stress more abstract concepts like following a story or adherence to genre tropes. This is Simulationism.

Some people really like to play where achievement is important. They're less concerned with a clear cause-effect relationship but more towards clear procedures that can be played hard. Challenge is important. This is Gamism.

Some people want to play to find out, where the focus of play is one the character. Where there's not a planned story or setting that dictates outcomes, but rather that these serve only to provide situation that asks questions of the characters. That play generates spontaneously from the last moment of play, and stays lasered in on the characters -- what they want, who they are, and discovering the truth of these things through the testing of play. This is Story Now.

All people can like multiple ones of these, but you can't do them at the same time -- one has to be the priority in a given moment of play. You can toggle in play between them, but this leads to inconsistency in play. For the record, most 5e play is the abstract end of Simulationism, often called High Concept Sim, where the concerns of the story are the cause/effect model used for play under direction of the GM.
 


niklinna

Snickers satisfies!
are those real terms form the forge?
OODA loop is from military theory. "Deprotagonization" is from Paul Czege, and is mentioned in the glossary on The Forge, but I don't know if he brought up the concept in that context or if they adopted it. "Story Now" is right out of one of Ron Edwards's essays, to my knowledge.

Edit: Fixed typos.
 
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OODA loop is from military theory. "Deprotagonization" is from Paul Czege, and is mentioned in the glossary on The Forge, but I don't know if he brought up the concept in that context or if they adopted it. "Story Now" is right out of one of Ron Edwards's essays, to my knowledge.

Edit: Fixed typos.
I have heard story now, and I could break Deprotanization down (although I'm sure there is more too it) but Ooda Loop really seemed like nonsense... so wow thanks
 

So how about it? Any takers?

ETA: Adding a [+] to keep the thread positive.
I have never been to the forge, I don't even pretend to understand half there jargon, but I will try.

RPG theory of GNS is just a break down of weather the game itself is more important or the story that the game creates is more important.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I missed the OP requirement to use only 5e. This is impossible, as 5e is well rooted in one agenda, High Concept Simulationism. The system relies far too much on GM Says (rulings) to function that it, at best, weakly supports the challenge approach of Gamism (and there really only in combat, although the Social Interaction rules are lightly this as well). The entire structure fights against Story Now, as you'd have to completely rewrite and/or ignore do much to get there.

The requirement to stick to 5e is like saying that you have to use Monopoly to explain how Risk plays.

edited to fix typos caused by using my d***ed phone.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I would say the following:

First, I tend to view RPG Theory as dealing with TTRPGs. In other words, I think that other activities (from computer games to improv theater to live-action role playing to boardgames) can inform the discussions that we have, but it's easier to discuss table-top roleplaying games specifically.

Second, I think that most RPG theory tends to try and discuss typologies, or to put it in more simple terms- most of it is trying to categorize either (a) types of players, or (b) types of games. I find that to be unhelpful, as most RPG games and players cannot easily be described in a single category, and there is a long history of these characterizations being used in unhelpful ways.

With that in mind, I have often found it useful to think of binaries (opposites) within games in order to establish parameters of play. Doing this helps us define things more clearly- sort of like saying that if you have the North Pole and the South Pole for the earth, you can recognize that most things are between them, but it helps you pinpoint everything in relation to the two poles.

I'm not going to go through all of these, but I'm going to list three broad areas that I think most people understand, and why they impact the game. Then I will use those to illustrate how tweaking those inputs can affect 5e.

So-

A. Division of Authority.
Most games have a DM/GM/Referee, and players. How the game chooses to allocate the authority between the GM and players is important- some games allocate more authority to the GM, some allocate more to the players. In addition, this authority is often divided in three other areas-

1. Authority over the world.
Does the GM have final authority over the world of the game, or is there some type of shared authority? Are there rules or mechanisms that allow the players to narrate new features to the world? To override the GM? Are there constraints on what the GM can do in the world? Is the world "hidden" from the players and known to the GM?

2. Authority over the characters.
Do the players have final authority over their characters? What are the limits to that authority? What circumstances allow the DM (or other players) to override that authority?

3. Authority over the rules.
While this is often-overlooked (or usually done by informal means), a final issue in many games is who has authority regarding the rules. Another way to look at this is that some games tend to "bind" the authority of the GM with regard to the rules more severely (rules are to be known to all and run "as-is"), and other games tend to "empower" the GM to either make adjudications (rulings, not rules) or to adjust rules as needed ("Rule 0").


B. The World or the Rules.
Most games tend to offer ample some mix of the following ways to interact with the game- either (1) the GM narrates a situation, and then the player can narrate a solution (sometimes called "Playing the world" or "Skilled Play") that the GM can adjudicate; or (2) the the GM narrates a situation, while the player invokes a rule that the GM can adjudicate.

That might be a little abstract, so here's too examples-
(1) The GM says that there are monsters in the room, and a chandelier, and the game doesn't have any specific rules for jumping and hanging on the chandelier, but the player says that he jumps onto it and down on to the monsters. The GM determines the results of that action.

(2) The GM says that there are monsters in the room, and the player says that he is attacking them- and then rolls a d20 to see if he hits.


C. Resolution Method.
The amount of variability that a given resolution method will call for can greatly affect the progression of the game. Another important factor is whether the system uses binary methods or other methods for resolution.

1. Variability- to dice or not to dice.
Put simply, dice are the lifeblood of variability in most RPGs. But they aren't required- there are many great RPGs that can function without dice, so long as there is an agreed-upon resolution system. In addition, even games that regularly use dice (such as D&D) often have parts of the game go by without the need to use dice. How, and when, variability is required is an important component of the game.

2. Are there pass/fail checks, fail forward, or other methods of resolving issues in the game?
When there are actions that require dice rolls, are the results binary (pass/fail, like most rolls in D&D or a "to hit" roll)? Is there some other mechanism (degrees of success or failure, fail forward, etc.)?



So, looking at what I just wrote, what can we say about what 5e generally is, and what tweaking it would do?


A. Authority in 5e.
5e tends to fall heavily on the "GM Authority" spectrum of most TTRPGs. By RAW, the GM has final authority over the world and the rules. However, 5e (unlike a lot of indie games and some modern games) also has a very strong set of norms regarding player authority over the characters; whereas other games might have you play out social issues, romance, and other things regarding your character "in fiction," this type of game effect on your character is highly disfavored in D&D.

Tweaking these factors could allow for more player input and narration into the world- for example, allowing players to narrate more features of the world, or making the GM follow a prescribed set of rules (similar to Adventurer's League). Because of the structure of D&D and 5e, with an exploration pillar, it is unlikely that this balance can be tweaked too far.


B. The World or the Rules in 5e.
OD&D, and some rules-lite variants, tended to fall on the "playing the world" category; but 5e is definitely more rules heavy. Most things in 5e are done by invoking specific rules- attacking, casting spells, using class abilities, using skills, etc. Even those things that are no covered by specific rules are often handled by DC checks.

That said, there are many tables that provide a more rules-lite experience; you will often see this in social interactions. You could ask for more rules for social interactions (a kind of codified "social combat") or, as you sometimes see, there are tables that do away with social skills and rolls.


C. Resolution Method in 5e.
Finally, one issue in 5e that often crops up is that by the rules as written, most things are diced for (high variability) and they are also pass/fail. This can have unfortunate consequences in terms of the narrative structure of 5e- other games have moved to systems that allow for "fail forward," so a party isn't doomed by a bad failure. Put simply- the structure of 5e is much more generous than the older versions of D&D, but it is also quite possible for a single failed role in a poor design to mean the end of an adventure (which also explains the numerous conversations about fudging).


This is not meant to be exhaustive, but simply to show how thinking about the system itself can allow you to examine the type of game you are running, and what aspects of that game you like, and what you'd like to change.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
If I want to write a specific scenario that serves as the "story" of the game, I think 5e is quite suited to it. The reliance on preparation (maps, stat blocks, traps, etc) means that much of the game will be determined ahead of time. You see this in many published adventures. A series of encounters and situations that progress toward a conclusion. How do we stop Acererak and break the Death Curse that plagues the land? How do we kill Strahd and escape from Barovia? And so on. 5e is very much a GM driven game.

If I don't want to prep like that.... don't want to create maps and stat blocks and situations ahead of time... but instead prefer for the game to unfold as we play rather than beforehand, then I'd run a different game. In these games, I as GM don't actually know how things will go. There isn't a "first you find the thing, then you have to bring it someone, then they ask you to go somewhere else to destroy it" kind of sequence of events. Some games are designed specifically to deliver this type of experience. These games rely more on the players to drive the game. 5e is not such a game.

To make it work for 5e, you'd have to remove the need for prep... so encounter location maps and tactical grids are essentially out, and detailed NPCs and monster stat blocks aren't exactly suited for this either. The character classes and abilities would need to be redefined with less tactical grid focus. Many abilities and use of skills would also likely need to be redesigned due to the other changes in play. You'd need to shift the authority away from the GM, and doing so would have an impact in just about all aspects of play.

So basically, you can make some small changes to 5e that may nudge it a bit toward those other games, but to actually make it work like those others, you'd basically be redesigning it from the ground up.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I have never been to the forge, I don't even pretend to understand half there jargon, but I will try.

RPG theory of GNS is just a break down of weather the game itself is more important or the story that the game creates is more important.
Nope. Not at all close, actually. GNS is looking at what people want out of games -- what their agenda for play is. It carves out 3 large groups:
-- people that want verisimilitude to be king
-- people that want challenge to be king
-- people that want character* to be king

(*This is very high level summation, and "character" really means not that your character wins or is successful or is actually a king, but that questions about the character are the most important -- who are they, what do they believe, and do they actually act that way when push comes to shove.)

The idea is that you can't have multiple kings at the same time -- if the game is being adjudicated purely on whether or not it's making sense "in the world" of the fiction, then challenge is not primary because things that are needed to enhance challenge are not aligned to things that the 'world' demands. To give a 5e example, Challenge (Gamism) would be keenly interested in well balanced encounters that really push at skill in resolving them and that follow a pattern that extends long term strategic challenge as well. In other words, games that fully push the CR balance tests and that make hard use of the daily XP budget and that pace rests 2 short to each long. This fights against agendas that are about the world making sense, with encounters that can be unbalanced and how the daily XP budget doesn't align well with the kind of play that's desired. Sometimes it can appear that these align, but it's almost always accidental and temporary.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
RPG theory is primarily about 3 things.

1. Authority
2. Principles
3. processes (or lack thereof)

It also is concerned with how these things interconnect to form certain experiences.

There are many different types of authority. There are many different sets of principles and ways to resolve them when they come into conflict. There are often many different processes involved even in a single game.

All these different parts and how they relate make the theory very complex.

On top of this some game are more codified in the rules than others and some leave significant aspects up to the table or dm.
 

Celebrim

Legend
So in its most simple terms, RPG Theory is just about asking the question, "Why is playing an RPG fun?" The idea was that if we could figure out why exactly RPG's are fun and develop a technical language for talking about that, then we as designers and referees could run games that were more fun. That is, people in RPG theory believed that RPGs were both an artform and that creating good RPGs was a skill or a craft, and as such the creation of them could benefit from a formal theory just as you have for example Music Theory to discuss why music sounds good.
GNS developed out of that conversation. And people thinking about this first said, "Well, it's fun because you get to explore an imaginary world and that imaginary world is like a wonderful toy that you can play with and examine and learn from." And then some other people said, "Well, RPG's are fun because you produce a story, and humans love to tell stories. And with an RPG you get to be both an actor in and author of your own story." And then, after a while, some other people said, "Wait a minute. We are forgetting that first and foremost, RPG's are a game, and like any game what is fun is overcoming a challenge. RPGs present you with puzzles to solve and tactical situations to figure out and challenge your logic and creativity, and then when you solve the puzzles it feels good. You get a jolt of pleasure."
Those three ideas became the basis of GNS theory. And at it's heart when you cut away all the jargon, that's what GNS is about.
And then GNS went to some really dark places starting with a couple of what I now feel are enormously wrong headed assumptions.
The first of these was that these three ways of having fun were the only ways of having fun that were intrinsic to an RPG. People who talked about other ways that they enjoyed RPGs - like the fact that they got to hang out with friends regularly - were told that that was just incidental to the game and not intrinsic to it.
People also noted that at times the different ways to have fun were in conflict. Sometimes if you wanted to have a good story, you might make choices that were sub-optimal for winning. And from this observation and others like it, people - and particularly a guy named Ron Edwards - made the false assumption that each of the three ways of having fun were always mutually exclusive. The same game could not cater to all three types of fun at the same time.
Along those lines, people in GNS assumed that the maximum fun was achieved when a game knew what sort of fun people had playing it and that game catered exclusively to that sort of fun with rules that would never get in the way of the particular sort of fun that made that game fun. Games that had rules that seemed to cater to more than one type of fun were disparaged. The idea that one player could be having all three sorts of fun at the same time, and that perhaps for most players and table fun was maximized when a game deliberately catered to multiples sorts of fun was outright dismissed because it contradicted the theory. The theory was taken to be more true than experience. What the theory predicted was taken to be true, and any experience that contradicted the theory was taken as proof that the person wasn't actually a very good RPG player.
But perhaps even worse, the GNS people made predictions about which rule sets catered to which sorts of fun which IMO have been at this time conclusively proved wrong to just about everyone but a few GNS true believers.
That said, for all the self-evident failings of GNS theory, I think the fact that it started the discussion has proven useful. It might bear no more relationship to what actually makes a game fun than the theory of four elements - earth, air, fire, and water - has to real world chemistry, but you have to start somewhere.
 

jgsugden

Legend
RPGS, or role playing games, are team storytelling games where random chance, often introduced through the use of dice, is incorporated to add randomness to the story. That random factor allows the players to resolve disagreements over how the story should proceed, and to introduce unexpected surprises for everyone.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
So in its most simple terms, RPG Theory is just about asking the question, "Why is playing an RPG fun?" The idea was that if we could figure out why exactly RPG's are fun and develop a technical language for talking about that, then we as designers and referees could run games that were more fun. That is, people in RPG theory believed that RPGs were both an artform and that creating good RPGs was a skill or a craft, and as such the creation of them could benefit from a formal theory just as you have for example Music Theory to discuss why music sounds good.
GNS developed out of that conversation. And people thinking about this first said, "Well, it's fun because you get to explore an imaginary world and that imaginary world is like a wonderful toy that you can play with and examine and learn from." And then some other people said, "Well, RPG's are fun because you produce a story, and humans love to tell stories. And with an RPG you get to be both an actor in and author of your own story." And then, after a while, some other people said, "Wait a minute. We are forgetting that first and foremost, RPG's are a game, and like any game what is fun is overcoming a challenge. RPGs present you with puzzles to solve and tactical situations to figure out and challenge your logic and creativity, and then when you solve the puzzles it feels good. You get a jolt of pleasure."
Those three ideas became the basis of GNS theory. And at it's heart when you cut away all the jargon, that's what GNS is about.
And then GNS went to some really dark places starting with a couple of what I now feel are enormously wrong headed assumptions.
The first of these was that these three ways of having fun were the only ways of having fun that were intrinsic to an RPG. People who talked about other ways that they enjoyed RPGs - like the fact that they got to hang out with friends regularly - were told that that was just incidental to the game and not intrinsic to it.
They aren't? I mean, if I like getting together with friends, it really doesn't matter what game we're playing. If I'm looking to decide what game to play, hanging out with friends isn't an input -- what those friends like and what they want from a game is, though.

Struggling to see the problem here, or why this is dark.
People also noted that at times the different ways to have fun were in conflict. Sometimes if you wanted to have a good story, you might make choices that were sub-optimal for winning. And from this observation and others like it, people - and particularly a guy named Ron Edwards - made the false assumption that each of the three ways of having fun were always mutually exclusive. The same game could not cater to all three types of fun at the same time.
Right, and this I agree with -- you can't prioritize these things at the same time. I can point to so many threads here at ENW and point out how they're a direct conflict between the Sim and Gamist agendas. What are hitpoints is a perfect example -- some people really need hitpoints to be clearly explained by the fiction, and others don't care because they're just an artifact to make combat fun and challenging. Rest rules in 5e are the same. CR/encounter balance is the same. Leomund's Tiny Hut is an interesting point where both agendas agree it's terribad, but for different reasons (it doesn't make sense in the world versus it negates challenges trivially).
Along those lines, people in GNS assumed that the maximum fun was achieved when a game knew what sort of fun people had playing it and that game catered exclusively to that sort of fun with rules that would never get in the way of the particular sort of fun that made that game fun. Games that had rules that seemed to cater to more than one type of fun were disparaged. The idea that one player could be having all three sorts of fun at the same time, and that perhaps for most players and table fun was maximized when a game deliberately catered to multiples sorts of fun was outright dismissed because it contradicted the theory. The theory was taken to be more true than experience. What the theory predicted was taken to be true, and any experience that contradicted the theory was taken as proof that the person wasn't actually a very good RPG player.
Right, now here we're better. If we're going to treat the Forge as a monolithic block of people (which would be like saying the 5e forum is a monolithic block) and not a few loud speakers (we don't have those here, certainly!) then you can argue that there was a drift towards exclusion using GNS. I think that games can absolutely cater to multiple agendas, but this is allowing players to select how they use that game rather than the game supporting multiple ones simultaneously. Mostly it's Gamism that's the middle-man here. You can have a Sim or Gamist game, or you can have a Story Now or Gamist game. It's nearly impossible to align Sim and Story Now. Mostly because Story Now discards any concern for verisimilitude as means to adjudicate action. Verisimilitude in Story Now is an after action issue -- you resolve, then align. Sim is about aligning, then resolving. Very backwards from each other, very hard to align. Gamism can work in either configuration, so really is more about 'is there enough challenge-based play available?' Blades in the Dark is a good example of having enough mechanical heft to it's engine that it can be bent into Gamism pretty easily. But, yeah, GNS is a reasonable tool to evaluate and consider, not a straighjacket to be applied with formal rigor to exclude.
But perhaps even worse, the GNS people made predictions about which rule sets catered to which sorts of fun which IMO have been at this time conclusively proved wrong to just about everyone but a few GNS true believers.
Okay... not sure on this without any particulars.
That said, for all the self-evident failings of GNS theory, I think the fact that it started the discussion has proven useful. It might bear no more relationship to what actually makes a game fun than the theory of four elements - earth, air, fire, and water - has to real world chemistry, but you have to start somewhere.
Yup, same for me. I'm not a particular fan of it, but it's a terribly useful tool to look at things. The best thing that came out of the Forge and GNS is codifying and bringing forwards Story Now, which really only hit it's stride post Forge with Apocalypse World.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
First we have to ask: "What is an RPG theory?"

If someone could explain that in simple words, that would already be very helpful,
To me, "RPG Theory" is trying to explain RPGs in order to help design new RPGs. Not from a game mechanic perspective (though theory can help with figuring out why mechanics aren't working or aren't fun) but from a larger perspective - what makes people want to play RPGs? Why do they work? What makes them fun? What can you see if you look across lots of different RPGs to see where they're similar? Where are they different? Why are they different? Do those differences matter? If they do, why do they matter? etc.

Despite my complaints about GNS and the terminology used with it, I do think that it's got a good core of observations to it for game designers to consider. At the core of GNS is what Edwards termed agendas but which I think are better termed motivations for players - why are players sitting down to play a particular game? What are they trying to get out of the game when they sit down to play it? Why are they coming back to the table to play it again? What about the game is engaging the player?

Edwards very broadly defined three motivations for players (that's the GNS). Since this is a + thread I'll leave my snarkiness about naming these motivations aside, but I think they're a good place to start when trying to explain why a game engages its players:

Type 1 is about being motivated by challenges - the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. If engaging with the rules of the game and through clever play and/or good luck achieving victory brings you to the table, that's a type 1 motivation - which is the "G" in GNS.

Type 2 is the one that I think is the fuzziest - it's all about exploring some aspect (or multiple aspects) of the game for the joy of exploring that aspect, not necessarily in the service of beating a challenge. This can be as varied as wanting to play "in character", or exploring the setting as a world, or even playing with the mechanics of the game to see what you can do with them. All of these end up lumped into this second type of motivation, which is the "S" in GNS.

Type 3 is about story - wanting to have a game with a satisfying narrative. A beginning, a middle and an end and have it all "make sense". That's the "N" in GNS.

One mistake that was made in the original GNS model was to put these motivations in opposition - I would argue that most people who enjoy RPGs have at least 2 of these 3 motivations to keep coming back to the table, if not all three. A game that only satisfies one of these motivations is going to have a smaller pool of players who are interested in it, while a game that satisfies multiple of these motivations will have a broader pool of players interested in it.

For instance - part of why I think that D&D is so broadly popular is because you can use it to satisfy all three of these motivations. The mechanics of D&D are good at scratching that "type 1" itch, while the structure of the game is open enough that the "type 2" motivation can be satisfied without special mechanics, and if you have players who are interested in having that satisfying narrative the game can be adapted to allow for that as well - as the plethora of Actual Play streams and podcasts demonstrate.

I think it also helps to explain why, contrary to so many opinions on the Internet and yet empirically supported by evidence, D&D is actually a great introduction to RPGs. Because folks who are new to role playing and come from other games are going to naturally have a lot of "type 1" motivation to learn new games - overcoming challenges is pretty much what non-RPGs are all about. So D&D provides a platform to broaden the idea of what a game can be in a way that is gentle to new players - unlike RPGs that downplay that type 1 motivation in favor of either enforcing a narrative structure or relying on players wanting to explore their characters/world/system. I would argue that D&D teaches gamers what an RPG is in a way that other RPGs just .. don't. It provides a satisfying "game loop" for folks expecting a game to be about overcoming a challenge while also providing the flexibility to learn to explore in the game and also teaching players to game with a story in mind.

I would also argue that if you look at RPGs with this motivational lens in mind you can see how D&D (and it's offshoots) truly are different from other RPGs on the market. From my POV most traditional RPGs that are not D&D focus very heavily on satisfying that "type 2" feeling - whether you're talking Call of Cthulhu or Traveller or Vampire the Masquerade the draw of the game is to exist as a character in a world and explore what that means. The actual challenges in the game that are overcome through clever play and luck are often secondary to exploring what it's like to be a character in the world.

Now you can play D&D that way - many people do - but it's hard to do the reverse and get a satisfying game experience out of it. Why are we playing Call of Cthulhu if we're not getting into character and exploring that Lovecraftian world? Why are we playing Vampire if we're not going to get into character as an angsty immortal pseudo-teenager with superpowers? The point of these games is often much more to explore the setting or the drama of being a character in that setting than it is to setup a challenge and knock it down - in fact often the published scenarios for these sorts of games the challenges are just ways to set up opportunities for players to do that kind of exploration.
 

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