Musing on Star Wars themes in RPG

Laurefindel

Legend
I still see no reason why a Star Wars RPG would be objectively better with a system that mechanically emphasized either emotional action or narrative tropes/storytelling. They are perfectly good games, but I don't think having rules for those things are a benefit IMO.

This is what I mean by narrative games, and I think by this point you have a good handle on my opinions regarding playstyles.
I’m still a bit hazy on what is considered a narrative game. I thought they were more like Fate or Amber with malleable rules to fit the fiction on the spot, as opposed to games where game mechanics guide the narrative with results than can later be interpreted depending on fiction.

But in the end, they’re all serving a fiction and play within a certain narrative.
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I can't comment on Monster of the Week. 4e has action resolution mechanics that are focused on the success or failure of action. So does Apocalypse World (which surely gets to be a paradigm of PbtA!).
Okay?

I don’t know what conversation you’re having at this point. I’m sorry.

Also since we’re being extremely pedantic apperently, I’m not sure how you’re using paradigm? I could see paragon? Or maybe like “example of the most common paradigm of”, maybe?

I’ve heard “sets the paradigm for XYZ” before, maybe that’s the intended usage?
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
I find the use of "Narrative Game" hard to parse because every RPG I've every played has been very narrative. And even if I understood the distinction being made, I think I would prefer a label that didn't suggest other games are "non-narrative." (I find games where I have full control over what my character thinks and does to be fun. Should I call those games "Fun RPGs" and let those who disagree absorb the implication...?)

And, as a couple posters above have said, I still don't see why Star Wars particularly needs, more than other genres/settings, to mechanically differentiate fights with emotional stakes. Sure, Luke has daddy issues, but that dynamic is a special case within that fiction. None of the other characters are paired similarly.

On the other hand, maybe what is really desired is a mechanic that does get used, for all characters. That is, if you're playing a rogue-ish smuggler, or a neurotic droid, then you are supposed to choose a foil with whom you have a particularly strong emotional connection. One that you expect to face frequently enough that it's worth making the game more complex by having mechanics that apply in those situations.

And that sounds to me not like a Star Wars-specific thing, but a general preference in RPGs. Which is valid...I'm not saying it's wrong, even if it's not my preference...it just doesn't strike me as more appropriate to Star Wars than any other genre/setting/fiction.

EDIT:
And, ultimately, letting Luke's player decide how to play their character differently when finally confronting Dark Vader is, to me, the core of what roleplaying is all about. I don't want mechanics forcing me, or even encouraging me, to do that. And if it's not my character, and Luke's player decides to just treat the fight as no different from fighting ice monsters or storm troopers, I'm ok with that.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I’m still a bit hazy on what is considered a narrative game. I thought they were more like Fate or Amber with malleable rules to fit the fiction on the spot, as opposed to games where game mechanics guide the narrative with results than can later be interpreted depending on fiction.

But in the end, they’re all serving a fiction and play within a certain narrative.
There are many ways games can be classified, of course. I would consider both kinds of games you describe as narrative games, or if you prefer, non-representative (as in, the rules are not primarily designed to represent anything that actually exists physically in the world of the setting, but instead are designed to evoke an emotional and/or storytelling experience.
I find the use of "Narrative Game" hard to parse because every RPG I've every played has been very narrative. And even if I understood the distinction being made, I think I would prefer a label that didn't suggest other games are "non-narrative." (I find games where I have full control over what my character thinks and does to be fun. Should I call those games "Fun RPGs" and let those who disagree absorb the implication...?)

And, as a couple posters above have said, I still don't see why Star Wars particularly needs, more than other genres/settings, to mechanically differentiate fights with emotional stakes. Sure, Luke has daddy issues, but that dynamic is a special case within that fiction. None of the other characters are paired similarly.

On the other hand, maybe what is really desired is a mechanic that does get used, for all characters. That is, if you're playing a rogue-ish smuggler, or a neurotic droid, then you are supposed to choose a foil with whom you have a particularly strong emotional connection. One that you expect to face frequently enough that it's worth making the game more complex by having mechanics that apply in those situations.

And that sounds to me not like a Star Wars-specific thing, but a general preference in RPGs. Which is valid...I'm not saying it's wrong, even if it's not my preference...it just doesn't strike me as more appropriate to Star Wars than any other genre/setting/fiction.
I really feel free roleplaying is the place for defining and playing out emotional stakes, and story is determined by the actions of PCs and NPCs in the game as play continues. Personally, neither aspect of play is benefited by adding rules for it.
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
I really feel free roleplaying is the place for defining and playing out emotional stakes, and story is determined by the actions of PCs and NPCs in the game as play continues. Personally, neither aspect of play is benefited by adding rules for it.

I tend to agree. That said, I've read @pemerton's explanations of ways in which mechanics can help reinforce such things, and while it's not my cup of tea I can appreciate that others may enjoy that form of gaming.
 

pemerton

Legend
I still see no reason why a Star Wars RPG would be objectively better with a system that mechanically emphasized either emotional action or narrative tropes/storytelling.
I don't recall asserting that anything would be "objectively better". I said what I think would make a game fit within, or exemplify, Star Wars themes.

I'm a huge fan of Classic Traveller, as you (or anyone else) can see in my many actual play threads about that system. Classic Traveller is a sci-fi RPG. Classic Traveller is also a system in which distances between worlds, sometimes distances on world, the amount of money a character owns, the interest rate on their mortgage, etc, all count. To me, it seems obvious that none of that is relevant to Star Wars, and hence that Classic Traveller would not be a RPG that does a particularly good job of fitting with, or exemplifying, Star Wars themes.

But no doubt there's someone out there who's had a good time playing a Star Wars game using Traveller. Good luck to them!

So if I get what you’re saying, the mechanics of Luke shooting at a squad of stormtroopers should be different from those of Luke facing Darth Vader? How do would you implement that?

Traditional rpg would make Darth Vader a stronger enemy. Some would make Darth Vader a “boss” type villain, or a nemesis with additional abilities, closer to those of a PC, while stormtrooper would be a mob or brute squad à la 7th Sea.

So an emotional connection could leave different kind of wounds, but that requires another gauge than simple hp. And maybe they can even deal - wait for it - emotional damage! But joke aside, what did you have in mind?
Well, as I said I think there are different ways of doing this.

One is to have relationships rated like other abilities, with these then being able to be called on as augments. I'm thinking HeroWars/Quest as an example.

Another is to have emotional connection/conviction act as a buff - Prince Valiant and The Riddle of Steel are both examples of this, although with their own differences. Pendragon can also work like this, although its version gives the player less control because of the way its Passion mechanics work.

There are also approaches that make emotional connection relevant in slightly more oblique ways, that exploit distinctive features of RPGing. In Burning Wheel (and Torchbearer, which is a reasonably close cousin of BW), players earn rewards (basically, buff tokens) by declaring and following through on actions that speak to the beliefs, goals etc that they have authored for their PCs. And the GM's job is to present situation that put pressure on those beliefs, goals etc (preferably in ways that increase tensions and create opportunities for trade-offs and pathos: eg I can save my friends, or I can get away safely with my loot, but probably not both!). In Burning Wheel, if nothing of that sort is at stake then the dice aren't rolled - the GM just says 'yes', and the action moves on until something of this sort is put at stake. The effect of this, in play, is to focus the action on matters of emotional salience to the characters and to encourage players to commit themselves (including via expenditure of their tokens) at moments of heightened stakes.

Apocalypse World, and similar games, uses the soft/hard move structure to put matters that the characters are emotionally connected to, and their choices in relation to those matters, at the centre of play - both in the way situations are presented, and in the way consequences are established.

Another device is simply to have simple vs extended conflict: BW, HW/Q, Prince Valiant (and plenty of other RPGs I'm sure) all have this, meaning that you can zoom out for stuff that isn't worth a lot of table time, while zooming in on the conflicts where the degree of investment is high and hence it is desirable to play through the detail. (4e D&D also has this in a somewhat crude fashion, in that a monster can be statted as a minion or more robustly, and a skill challenge can be set at a low or high degree of complexity - but a combat against a small number of minions in 4e will generally be unsatisfactory for other reasons, in the sense that the PCs don't really get to shine, and a good framework with zooming in/out won't have that problem in the same way.)
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I don't recall asserting that anything would be "objectively better". I said what I think would make a game fit within, or exemplify, Star Wars themes.

I'm a huge fan of Classic Traveller, as you (or anyone else) can see in my many actual play threads about that system. Classic Traveller is a sci-fi RPG. Classic Traveller is also a system in which distances between worlds, sometimes distances on world, the amount of money a character owns, the interest rate on their mortgage, etc, all count. To me, it seems obvious that none of that is relevant to Star Wars, and hence that Classic Traveller would not be a RPG that does a particularly good job of fitting with, or exemplifying, Star Wars themes.

But no doubt there's someone out there who's had a good time playing a Star Wars game using Traveller. Good luck to them!

Well, as I said I think there are different ways of doing this.

One is to have relationships rated like other abilities, with these then being able to be called on as augments. I'm thinking HeroWars/Quest as an example.

Another is to have emotional connection/conviction act as a buff - Prince Valiant and The Riddle of Steel are both examples of this, although with their own differences. Pendragon can also work like this, although its version gives the player less control because of the way its Passion mechanics work.

There are also approaches that make emotional connection relevant in slightly more oblique ways, that exploit distinctive features of RPGing. In Burning Wheel (and Torchbearer, which is a reasonably close cousin of BW), players earn rewards (basically, buff tokens) by declaring and following through on actions that speak to the beliefs, goals etc that they have authored for their PCs. And the GM's job is to present situation that put pressure on those beliefs, goals etc (preferably in ways that increase tensions and create opportunities for trade-offs and pathos: eg I can save my friends, or I can get away safely with my loot, but probably not both!). In Burning Wheel, if nothing of that sort is at stake then the dice aren't rolled - the GM just says 'yes', and the action moves on until something of this sort is put at stake. The effect of this, in play, is to focus the action on matters of emotional salience to the characters and to encourage players to commit themselves (including via expenditure of their tokens) at moments of heightened stakes.

Apocalypse World, and similar games, uses the soft/hard move structure to put matters that the characters are emotionally connected to, and their choices in relation to those matters, at the centre of play - both in the way situations are presented, and in the way consequences are established.

Another device is simply to have simple vs extended conflict: BW, HW/Q, Prince Valiant (and plenty of other RPGs I'm sure) all have this, meaning that you can zoom out for stuff that isn't worth a lot of table time, while zooming in on the conflicts where the degree of investment is high and hence it is desirable to play through the detail. (4e D&D also has this in a somewhat crude fashion, in that a monster can be statted as a minion or more robustly, and a skill challenge can be set at a low or high degree of complexity - but a combat against a small number of minions in 4e will generally be unsatisfactory for other reasons, in the sense that the PCs don't really get to shine, and a good framework with zooming in/out won't have that problem in the same way.)
I'm sure that is all a great time if that's the sort of game you enjoy, but I still fail to see how any of it is a better fit for Star Wars than a more representative game.
 

pemerton

Legend
I find the use of "Narrative Game" hard to parse because every RPG I've every played has been very narrative. And even if I understood the distinction being made, I think I would prefer a label that didn't suggest other games are "non-narrative." (I find games where I have full control over what my character thinks and does to be fun. Should I call those games "Fun RPGs" and let those who disagree absorb the implication...?)

And, as a couple posters above have said, I still don't see why Star Wars particularly needs, more than other genres/settings, to mechanically differentiate fights with emotional stakes. Sure, Luke has daddy issues, but that dynamic is a special case within that fiction. None of the other characters are paired similarly.

On the other hand, maybe what is really desired is a mechanic that does get used, for all characters. That is, if you're playing a rogue-ish smuggler, or a neurotic droid, then you are supposed to choose a foil with whom you have a particularly strong emotional connection. One that you expect to face frequently enough that it's worth making the game more complex by having mechanics that apply in those situations.

And that sounds to me not like a Star Wars-specific thing, but a general preference in RPGs. Which is valid...I'm not saying it's wrong, even if it's not my preference...it just doesn't strike me as more appropriate to Star Wars than any other genre/setting/fiction.

EDIT:
And, ultimately, letting Luke's player decide how to play their character differently when finally confronting Dark Vader is, to me, the core of what roleplaying is all about. I don't want mechanics forcing me, or even encouraging me, to do that. And if it's not my character, and Luke's player decides to just treat the fight as no different from fighting ice monsters or storm troopers, I'm ok with that.
I think a RPG in which random person XYZ has the same chance of finding Luke on Hoth, and has the same significance when spotted by Luke, as Han does, is not doing a good job of fitting and exemplifying Star Wars themes.

Some other examples I think of are R2D2 and C3PO getting to stick together when sold by the Jawas; Han saving Luke during the Death Star run; Chewbacca finding C3PO on Bespin; the rescue of Han from Jabba by his friends; Luke being able to withstand the Emperor to save his father.

I think an impersonal resolution framework is not well-suited to this sort of thing.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm sure that is all a great time if that's the sort of game you enjoy, but I still fail to see how any of it is a better fit for Star Wars than a more representative game.
Because the core themes of Star Wars are devotion and love (and the complex ways these interact and sometimes conflict)?

Yoda tells Obi Wan that Luke, by going to Bespin to try and save his friends, is ruining his training. But in fact he is completing it. That's the core of Star Wars!
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I think a RPG in which random person XYZ has the same chance of finding Luke on Hoth, and has the same significance when spotted by Luke, as Han does, is not doing a good job of fitting and exemplifying Star Wars themes.

Some other examples I think of are R2D2 and C3PO getting to stick together when sold by the Jawas; Han saving Luke during the Death Star run; Chewbacca finding C3PO on Bespin; the rescue of Han from Jabba by his friends; Luke being able to withstand the Emperor to save his father.

I think an impersonal resolution framework is not well-suited to this sort of thing.
That's just the way the story happened to work out in my view. Having mechanics that  make the story work that way would actually make the whole thing less meaningful to me.
 

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