Loops in RPG Adventure and Game Design

Video game designers use two terms worth understanding for all game and adventure designers, "atoms" and "loops". This time I'll talk about loops.


"In Halo 1, there was maybe 30 seconds of fun that happened over and over and over and over again. And so, if you can get 30 seconds of fun, you can pretty much stretch that out to be an entire game." Jaime Griesemer

A "loop" in a game is a repeated action that makes up a significant part of the game or adventure. A "core loop" is a part of the game repeated many times during play, or perhaps more than any other loop. Aiming and shooting a gun while dodging in a first-person shooter is a core loop. A loop is somewhat like the chorus of a song, or a repeated guitar or piano riff. Many games (especially video games) amount to little more than the core loop. If the core loop isn't enjoyable, the game fails.

A vital question in any RPG campaign is the nature of action in the core loop. Is the core combat or some part of combat? Planning? Social interaction? Politics? Exploration? Something else? If a player doesn't enjoy the core loop, that player isn't likely to stick with the campaign.

If the core loop in your RPG adventures is that players are on the lookout for traps, that's not likely to be enjoyable with most groups. For a hack and slash RPG the core loop is rushing the enemy and chopping them up in melee. I'd guess that's the most common core loop in fantasy RPGs. If your players are primarily interested in story, you probably don't want a core loop that is combat.

A student in one of my Community Education courses said he started playing the online game World of Warcraft (WoW) as soon as it was released. Exploration isn't the core loop in WoW, but he explored EVERYWHERE. When he finally looked behind the last nook, he stopped playing and hasn't played since!

For many groups, of course, a mixture of loops with none dominating can be the most entertaining. And for best pacing, you probably want to emphasize one loop or another from one session or adventure to the next. For example, one adventure might be combat heavy, another might be puzzle heavy, another might consist mostly of talking with and persuading creatures, and so forth.

The most versatile RPG rules sets are going to be ones that quickly enable the GM to run a variety of loops, and adventures where one loop or another is emphasized. Most of us have read RPGs that are all about story, or all about combat (4e D&D?), or even all about politics. These are fine for people who want to focus on that kind of core loop, and not worthwhile for others.

When you design an adventure, or choose a published adventure to run, you'll likely have more fun if you choose one with loops that your players are likely to enjoy. They still have to do whatever-it-is you require for success, but they'll enjoy the journey.

contributed by Lewis Pulsipher
 
Lewis Pulsipher

Comments

R_Chance

Explorer
When comparing RPGs to books, movies etc the comparison is not to post-writing consumption,. The comparison is to authorship.

A book is not "static" for its author. It admits of the same range of variations as does a RPG.

The challenge in RPG design, if the goal is to achieve the same sort of story as authors do in those other mediums, is to (i) reconcile the roles of multiple authors, and (ii) to find some way to deal with the lack of opportunity to edit/revise.

The allocation of distinct functions to GM/referee and to the other players is a traditional way, in RPG design, to handle challenges (i) and (ii).

Obviously if you take Paul Ming's pre-authored "X, then Y, then Z" approach you have given up on trying to deal with challenges (i) and (ii): there is a single author (the GM) and the author has already revised/edited the story in doing that pre-authorship. But that is not the only way to run a RPG intended to yield story.
The book (etc.) is static once the author has committed it to paper - for the reader and the author barring future revision. There is no input from the reader (other than perhaps criticism). I was referring to the interplay of the GM and players as providing variation. The author / GM has to deal with the input of others, making it less... controlled. The PCs may take a GM in other directions than he had originally planned. Your points "i" is what makes for the uncertainty that makes RPGs (for me) more interesting. As for the goal of an RPG compared to a book (etc.) is, at its broadest, identical (entertainment), but the players (and GM) may have considerably different goals (especially given the social nature of RPGs) from the author of a book.
 

pemerton

Legend
As for the goal of an RPG compared to a book (etc.) is, at its broadest, identical (entertainment)
Generally a book is intended to entertain someone other than its author. Generally this isn't true for a RPG. RPGing is meant to be entertaining for the authors.

The book (etc.) is static once the author has committed it to paper - for the reader and the author barring future revision.
And an RPG session is static in exactly the same way once it has been played.

I was referring to the interplay of the GM and players as providing variation. The author / GM has to deal with the input of others, making it less... controlled.
And as I posted, once you assume the GM is the author of a RPG session, then you are committed to a railroad model of RPGing.

But the authors in a RPG include the players as well as the GM. For the participants, the RPG is not static as it unfolds; but a book or movie script is exactly the same in this respect. It is not static as it is written.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
The most versatile RPG rules sets are going to be ones that quickly enable the GM to run a variety of loops, and adventures where one loop or another is emphasized. Most of us have read RPGs that are all about story, or all about combat (4e D&D?), or even all about politics. These are fine for people who want to focus on that kind of core loop, and not worthwhile for others.

When you design an adventure, or choose a published adventure to run, you'll likely have more fun if you choose one with loops that your players are likely to enjoy. They still have to do whatever-it-is you require for success, but they'll enjoy the journey.
Isn't that just common sense, though? You should pick a system that's good at whatever tasks you'll want to represent, and you'll want to pick an adventure that contains the types of actions your players will enjoy. If your players like politics, then you should run an adventure with a lot of politics in it, and you should run that adventure in a system that has good loops for politics. If your players like combat, then you should run an adventure with plenty of opportunity for combat in it, and you should run it in a system where the combat loops are fun.

Some systems place a lot of emphasis on certain loops over others, and if you don't want to engage with that loop, then you're probably better off using a different system.
 

R_Chance

Explorer
Generally a book is intended to entertain someone other than its author. Generally this isn't true for a RPG. RPGing is meant to be entertaining for the authors.

And an RPG session is static in exactly the same way once it has been played.

And as I posted, once you assume the GM is the author of a RPG session, then you are committed to a railroad model of RPGing.

But the authors in a RPG include the players as well as the GM. For the participants, the RPG is not static as it unfolds; but a book or movie script is exactly the same in this respect. It is not static as it is written.

So, you are defining the authors of an RPG to be the GM and players. I wouldn't use that term for PCs although obviously they have significant, if limited, input. For me, they lack the overarching view and control of story that an author has. But then, the GM doesn't have that full control either, even if they have more than the players. A reason I find comparisons between books (etc.) and RPGs limited. My referring to the GM as the "author" is not meant to imply that only he has input, it is, at best, a rough comparison to books. A better comparison would be to film where actors (as "PCs") portrayals, input and ad libs can have an impact on the story. Even then, an RPG campaign may have an open ended goal as well as some final end in mind. Tabletop RPGs certainly provide more input from their audience / players than any of the other mediums (books, film, television, video games) to which they are often compared.
 
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Saelorn

Adventurer
So, you are defining the authors of an RPG to be the GM and players. I wouldn't use that term for PCs although obviously they have significant, if limited, input. For me, they lack the overarching view and control of story that an author has. But then, the GM doesn't have that full control either, even if they have more than the players.
The GM has authorship while they're creating the world, before the game starts. That's the point where they can make anything happen just because they want it to. The players may also contribute to the world-building phase, if they discuss it with the GM beforehand, but that's more of them influencing the GM's authorship rather than the players wielding any authorship of their own.

After the game starts, nobody directly wields any power at the authorial level. The players simply make decisions on behalf of their characters, and the GM makes decisions on behalf of the NPCs. If anyone authors new content during gameplay, then it's simply the GM filling in gaps that they accidentally left during the world-building phase. The GM no longer has the power to make things happen arbitrarily, or else it would invalidate the choices of the players during the game.
 

R_Chance

Explorer
The GM has authorship while they're creating the world, before the game starts. That's the point where they can make anything happen just because they want it to. The players may also contribute to the world-building phase, if they discuss it with the GM beforehand, but that's more of them influencing the GM's authorship rather than the players wielding any authorship of their own.

After the game starts, nobody directly wields any power at the authorial level. The players simply make decisions on behalf of their characters, and the GM makes decisions on behalf of the NPCs. If anyone authors new content during gameplay, then it's simply the GM filling in gaps that they accidentally left during the world-building phase. The GM no longer has the power to make things happen arbitrarily, or else it would invalidate the choices of the players during the game.
I think the "authoring" of the DM is a job that never stops :) You don't arbitrarily alter parts of the world known to the players but there is a non stop creative process adding to the world. My game and campaign predates D&D, it was established as a miniature wargame fantasy campaign world for the Chainmail fantasy supplement. I've never not worked on it. Parts are well established and known to the players, parts are under construction. Or re-construction. I tended to move the world forward on the timeline when switching editions and during moves that brought about a change in players. There are parts of my game that are still 1E or original game. Thankfully, 5E is easy to convert to.

I agree, no one has absolute power in a campaign once started, but the DM certainly has more control than the players. Arbitrary DM decisions tend to damage immersion in the setting; if it doesn't make sense players begin to lose interest. Conversely, the DM may have reasons the players can't understand for events due to their limited knowledge. As they uncover more information you can see the "Oh" moment when the lightbulb goes off over their head. That's always fun. If the players are confident about the DM this works well. It adds to the "reality" of the world when players understand why things happened the way they did. This doesn't invalidate player choices, but it does change what they may do next...
 

Jhaelen

Visitor
After the game starts, nobody directly wields any power at the authorial level. The players simply make decisions on behalf of their characters, and the GM makes decisions on behalf of the NPCs. If anyone authors new content during gameplay, then it's simply the GM filling in gaps that they accidentally left during the world-building phase. The GM no longer has the power to make things happen arbitrarily, or else it would invalidate the choices of the players during the game.
That's actually a matter of preference and also depends on the RPG system you're using.
I actually appreciate if my players offer to detail parts of my campaign world, whether it's settlements, organizations, or something else.

In the Ars Magica RPG the default is 'troupe play', so players take turns being the GM and everyone's involved in world-building. Typically, at the beginning of the campaign you decide as a group what the main themes for the campaign will be and decide on each player's area of focus when it's their turn to GM. Also, creating the covenant (i.e. the players' home base) and its occupants is done co-operatively.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
That's actually a matter of preference and also depends on the RPG system you're using.
I actually appreciate if my players offer to detail parts of my campaign world, whether it's settlements, organizations, or something else.
Still, you need to distinguish between actual gameplay and out-of-game world-building. Nobody wields authorial power during the game, because that would defeat the entire point of playing.
 

chaochou

Adventurer
Authorship is the central and fundamental act which drives all roleplaying, all the time.

Play of an RPG can't happen without it. RPG play is non-stop and ongoing authorship.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Authorship is the central and fundamental act which drives all roleplaying, all the time.
Not on the level of an author writing a story, though - outside and above the story. Roleplaying takes place within the world, as the characters being roleplayed.
 

chaochou

Adventurer
Not on the level of an author writing a story, though - outside and above the story.
This doesn't mean anything. There's a creative process. You imagine stuff. You tell other people. There's no inside or outside. Just authorship.

Roleplaying takes place within the world, as the characters being roleplayed.
I can't respond to this as it is completely devoid of meaning.

My roleplaying has always taken place in my house or that of a friend. Occasionally a ruined castle, or a games club. It's a creative process. You imagine stuff. You tell other people. They imagine stuff. They tell you. Authorship, with multiple authors.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
This doesn't mean anything. There's a creative process. You imagine stuff. You tell other people. There's no inside or outside. Just authorship.
It sounds like you're missing the point of the discussion. Out-of-character player agency is a huge issue currently plaguing the industry. Authoring content from the perspective of someone writing a story, or sitting around a table, is entirely distinct from the decisions which players make as their characters which forms the basis of roleplaying as a hobby. If you don't recognize the distinction, then you can't address the problem.
 

pemerton

Legend
It sounds like you're missing the point of the discussion. Out-of-character player agency is a huge issue currently plaguing the industry.
I don't think [MENTION=99817]chaochou[/MENTION] is missing any point.

Out-of-character player agency is a relatively unhelpful way to describe an authorship role. Acting in character is a way of describing a set of constraints on an authorship role. Authorship governed by constraints is still authorship.

Authoring content from the perspective of someone writing a story
Do you mean "Writing a story about a story-writer"? Some fiction has this character, but not the bulk of it.
 

Jhaelen

Visitor
It sounds like you're missing the point of the discussion. Out-of-character player agency is a huge issue currently plaguing the industry.
It may not be your cup of tea, but it's neither a plague nor a problem. Apparently, many players enjoy these modern approaches to roleplaying games. I have yet to give it a try, but I think some of my players would also appreciate or even prefer being given 'out of character authorship', as you're calling it.
 

chaochou

Adventurer
It sounds like you're missing the point of the discussion.
LOLOL!

Authoring content from the perspective of someone writing a story, or sitting around a table, is entirely distinct from the decisions which players make as their characters which forms the basis of roleplaying as a hobby. If you don't recognize the distinction, then you can't address the problem.
Not all authorship is rpg play. But all rpg play is authorship - something you claimed doesn't exist at all in rpg play in the post I responded to. Do you remember? You said "Nobody wields authorial power during the game, or there would be no point in playing..."

You couldn't be more wrong if you tried. Everyone wields authorial power during the game or there is no point in playing.

Out-of-character player agency is a huge issue currently plaguing the industry.
One true wayism is a huge issue plagueing your posts.
 

pemerton

Legend
Apparently, many players enjoy these modern approaches to roleplaying games.
They're not all that modern. I've recently been re-reading, and refereeing, Classic Traveller (1977). It talks about player contributions to authorship of worlds.

The idea that authorship is the sole province of the GM became predominant some time in the mid-80s, around the same time that railroading players through a pre-authored story became the default mode of RPG play (see eg most 2nd ed AD&D materials, White Wolf's "golden rule", etc).

Modern RPGs use various techniques to facilitate and structure player authorship that weren't invented in 1977, but the basic idea is not new to RPGing.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Not all authorship is rpg play. But all rpg play is authorship - something you claimed doesn't exist at all in rpg play in the post I responded to. Do you remember? You said "Nobody wields authorial power during the game, or there would be no point in playing..."
Only if you use "authorial" in a degenerate sense such that it includes role-playing, which is not standard usage and would render the term meaningless.
One true wayism is a huge issue plagueing your posts.
There are many ways you could decide how to role-play a character, and all are equally valid. The only thing you absolutely cannot do is to make decisions from an out-of-character perspective, because that is definitionally not role-playing.

If you insist on walking down the only path which is explicitly forbidden, then you are the troll who is guilty of one-true-wayism.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Out-of-character player agency is a relatively unhelpful way to describe an authorship role. Acting in character is a way of describing a set of constraints on an authorship role. Authorship governed by constraints is still authorship.
Authors write stories, whether alone or collaboratively.

Role-players don't write stories. Role-players play roles, and if you want to refer to the overarching outcome of that as a story, then that has no bearing one way or the other.
 

chaochou

Adventurer
Only if you use "authorial" in a degenerate sense such that it includes role-playing, which is not standard usage and would render the term meaningless.
No. This is just painful gibberish. I can author quotes and ideas. When one of my character speaks in a roleplaying game, I am authoring their words. When they act, I am the author of their actions. Use of the word authorship to mean the instigator of a creative process is perfectly orthodox English.

There are many ways you could decide how to role-play a character, and all are equally valid. The only thing you absolutely cannot do is to make decisions from an out-of-character perspective, because that is definitionally not role-playing.
Annointing yourself the final arbiter of what is and is not roleplaying doesn't make you right. Just self-righteous.

If you insist on walking down the only path which is explicitly forbidden, then you are the troll who is guilty of one-true-wayism.
LOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!!! Forbidden!!!! haHAHAHAHAHA. That's classic. Says the person accusing someone else of one true wayism! hahahahahahaha!!! Hypocrisy much?

But just to be clear, since even the most basic concepts, and even common words, seem to elude you... it's the exclusion of styles which aren't your own which is the hallmark of one true wayism. I have exluded none. You claim anything outside your preference is 'forbidden'.

My statement of roleplaying as authorship describes all the participants, in every style, as creative equals. Your assertions... well. Let's not examine your tragic prejudices too closely. They probably cause a rash.
 
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Saelorn

Adventurer
No. This is just painful gibberish. I can author quotes and ideas. When one of my character speaks in a roleplaying game, I am authoring their words. When they act, I am the author of their actions. Use of the word authorship to mean the instigator of a creative process is perfectly orthodox English.
The player cannot decide that their character takes any action. The player can only decide that their character wants to take an action, and the actual resolution of that action is left up to the GM. There is a difference, and it is a significant one.
Annointing yourself the final arbiter of what is and is not roleplaying doesn't make you right. Just self-righteous.
Spoken like a true meta-gaming troll. You don't get to change any definitions just because they point out how you're the bad guy in all this. Nobody does. If you insist on dragging the RPG hobby through the mud, you should look for a more receptive audience.
 
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