D&D General RPG Theory and D&D...and that WotC Survey

Understanding oneself is important and hard, but I think you've reversed some things here -- a framework can help with self understanding. It's the extremely rare individual that can divine thier own thinking without such tools and then articulate one. Most of that work is done by sharing and curiosity and discussion with peers. Which I'd certainly however come to better understand my own preferences and also, on topic, evaluate a rule set to see how it both is supposed to work and how it supports, or doesn't, my preferences. And I can articulate this very clearly to peers that have done similar work.
While I agree, it is also my experience that people can fall into the trap of obsessing about how to develop the framework instead of applying the framework in a practical setting. But then again, one person's obsessing is another's focus. I just tune out when people theorycraft on problems to the exclusion of actually addressing them.
 

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Parmandur

Book-Friend
In light of the...somewhat heated discussion about whether D&D is gamist and if so how, I've been digging a little into the history of RPG theory leading to the rise & fall of the GNS (Gamism/Narrativism/Simulationism) model, since I missed out on that drama when it happened. My exposure to GNS theory had been limited to Edwards's original articles on the topic, which I didn't find that problematic taken on their own (although they were very compact and assumed some experience with particular games). However, reading about the context of the theory's creation, and more importantly, how it was promulgated and "elaborated", gave me much insight into its reputations and the different ways different people react to it today.

And yet people continue to use the three principal terms of GNS theory, tacitly accepting the premise of a three-way split, but often without having read those original articles, or with different definitions and applications, in spite of the precedent Edwards established—or perhaps "appropriated" would be a better term, since he himself took the earlier Threefold Model's terms and redefined them (and redefined them further as his stance became more and more contentious). GNS may have died, according to some, but its embalmed corpse lingers on the Web and its ghost in the minds of those who've read about it. All that's to say that basic GNS terminology is now very loaded, and use of those terms more likely than not results in Huge Misunderstandings and arguments, largely split between those who are not versed in GNS theory and those who are (to whatever degree). For better or worse, undead though it be, GNS theory is basically what we have to work with.

Or is it? That history I linked above made reference to a survey WotC themselves did about types of gaming. It took some further digging to find a working (archive!) link, and it seems that survey has very nearly vanished from gamer memory. But it was a thing, and I have to wonder what influence those survey results had on the development of D&D and possibly the industry at large. Did WotC also forget about it? Did they actually use it for particular editions of D&D? Or did they just put this together and then bin it all? More relevant to those discussing theory, does it give you any new insights into designing, running, or playing D&D, or any other RPG, today? What do you think of it? (I have a few thoughts already but will save them for later, it's really late.)

There are other models/theories out there, of course, and feel free to discuss them here too if you like. But I'm mildly fascinated at this near-lost bit of RPG history.
You know, I had heard of this survey, but I had not seen this profile breakdown. This is brilliant, and explains a lot about the past twenty years of D&D design history 3E and 4E were Thinkers-Ascendent systems, that left the other playstyles a bit high and dry, and with 5E they finally began designing for that central position.

Much more useful than the hot garbage GNS mumbo-jumbo.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I don't think that's a coincidence. While I doubt Peterson intended for it to be that way, I came away from The Elusive Shift feeling rather depressed, since what I took from the book was that the RPG community has not only been struggling to define the various permutations of our hobby, but has largely failed at promulgating what ground has been broken, leading to the same contentious back-and-forths to be repeated across decades as we all flail about for terms and definitions for things we can intuit and perceive but only barely articulate.
That just sounds like the human condition overall.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Some of the relevant video game stuff is over in this old thread.


And this video about the topic.


There’s a lot more and a lot more useful stuff in video game theory and design than there is in RPGs. There’s another article about player styles and enjoyment I have floating around but I don’t have the link handy.

ETA: Here’s the link. It’s an article about video game design with the academic source at the bottom.

 
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The reason you can't define the essence, is the essence is different for everyone, and constantly shifting. It's not just hard to discuss, its impossible to discuss. The solution is don't try to talk about the essence, just focus on specifics.
True, but their can be value in stilling trying to discuss and understand the essence of something. Not everyone has "grokked" themselves or the essence yet and discussing it can help them figure it out. Or perhaps it might be someone like me that has been playing with the elephants trunk for decades and has grokked it, but then I read a blog, post, or played with different people who play with the leg and now I'm trying to grok the leg.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I find it rather ridiculous the claim from the end of the article that bias has been removed. The questions entirely focused on game structures that are like D&D, with some pretty hefty assumptions built in.
Seeing as it's a survey about D&D done by a company attenpting at the time to redesign D&D, I think it's fair to allow them to assume a D&D-like structure. :)
Not to mention participation bias.
Or data manipulation.

For example, all survey responses from people over a certain age (35, I think) were tossed*; meaning most of those who had started in the early days had no voice in the data.

This makes the results and conclusions drawn from the survey, in my view anyway, highly suspect.

* - this is noted in Dancey's report, a copy of which @Morrus has booting around somewhere in here. EDIT stored under the "Features" dropdown at the top of this or any page, it's the second option.
 


Reynard

Legend
Weirdly, the younger video game industry is just trucking along with all kinds of models and theories about the whats and whys. People who are knowledgeable and educated in game theory and design are working on it. And they have gobs and gobs of data. It’ll be far easier to simply use their models and theories and apply them to RPGs.
The video game industry absolutely is not younger than tabletop RPGs. Pong was mass marketed in 1972 but the first electronic games were developed in the 1950s. By the early 1960s university systems were being regularly used for games. When D&D arrived in 1974 it was so quickly picked up and adapted to computer gaming (again, largely at universities) because the infrastructure and appetite was already there.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I think there’s an interesting idea here in using the wargame concept of strategy vs. tactics as an analogy for the interplay between long-term narrative vs. immediate character interaction. But as a model of RPG theory, I think it’s pretty severely lacking, and even as a breakdown of D&D player demographics it’s rather weak.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Which just shows what a waste of time it is to try and define the indefinable essence of a thing. If we can intuit it, we don't need to define it, we can just do it.

Mod Note:
If you don't find the discussion valuable, that's fine - you can exit the thread. But this amounts to telling people they shouldn't talk about stuff that interests them, which is not cool.

Let them talk about what they want to talk about, dude.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Just like language is living, and in the US you can say "podium" and mean lectern as opposed to what the lectern is on, so do game description terms get picked up and morph with usage. (cough*Hit Dice*cough)

Reading the original articles about GNS is quite interesting from a historic point of view, but from a practical point of view the words mean what they have popularly come to mean. And that involves waves of usage from people who have heard about them second hand, third hand, and so forth.

So if I talk about 13th Age's recovery mechanism being undocked from characters sleeping, and someone calls that "too gamist for their tastes", gamist in this example is more about what that word has come to mean in popular usage rather than a callback to the meaning in the first presentation.

It's interesting from a historical perspective where these terms came from, but could cause miscommunication to use them in those specific aspects when the majority of those reading the terms will understand them as they are commonly used now.
 

Reynard

Legend
I think there’s an interesting idea here in using the wargame concept of strategy vs. tactics as an analogy for the interplay between long-term narrative vs. immediate character interaction.
That is interesting. I might be inclined to suggest that while these two things CAN be related, they don't HAVE to be related. If you have a one shot, for example, you can have a high degree of immediate character interaction with next to no long term narrative. Similarly, in a megadungeon campaign with high PC death rates you might have a long term narrative independent of immediate character interaction. That isn't necessarily a refutation. I am sure there are wargame models that fit with that paradigm.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
The video game industry absolutely is not younger than tabletop RPGs. Pong was mass marketed in 1972 but the first electronic games were developed in the 1950s. By the early 1960s university systems were being regularly used for games. When D&D arrived in 1974 it was so quickly picked up and adapted to computer gaming (again, largely at universities) because the infrastructure and appetite was already there.
It all depends on where you draw the line and how you define these things. You can trace all RPGs back to D&D, that to Arneson’s Blackmoor, that to Wesley’s Braunstein, and on back to early 19th century Kriegsspiel if you are so inclined. Without a working definition of RPGs we can’t really make a comparison. Whereas video games have a clear definition and a clear starting point, the invention of computers. Not so much with RPGs.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
That is interesting. I might be inclined to suggest that while these two things CAN be related, they don't HAVE to be related. If you have a one shot, for example, you can have a high degree of immediate character interaction with next to no long term narrative. Similarly, in a megadungeon campaign with high PC death rates you might have a long term narrative independent of immediate character interaction. That isn't necessarily a refutation. I am sure there are wargame models that fit with that paradigm.
In wargames it would be a skirmish/battle vs a campaign. You fight the skirmish/battle to win some immediate objective whereas a campaign is made up of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of skirmishes/battles, played or unplayed, where the objectives are much bigger and more long-term. To secure the planet (campaign) you first need to secure these seven key points and hold them (each at least one skirmish/battle each).
 

Seeing as it's a survey about D&D done by a company attenpting at the time to redesign D&D, I think it's fair to allow them to assume a D&D-like structure. :)

Or data manipulation.

For example, all survey responses from people over a certain age (35, I think) were tossed*; meaning most of those who had started in the early days had no voice in the data.

This makes the results and conclusions drawn from the survey, in my view anyway, highly suspect.

* - this is noted in Dancey's report, a copy of which @Morrus has booting around somewhere in here. EDIT stored under the "Features" dropdown at the top of this or any page, it's the second option.
I am fully on your side here. At one time I was answering all surveys and in some I was going very deep into what I would like to see. But as the game evolves, I get the distinct feeling that my voice does not matter one IOTA simply because I am no longer the target audience. Or at least, I feel that I am no longer a target audience...
 

I find it rather ridiculous the claim from the end of the article that bias has been removed. The questions entirely focused on game structures that are like D&D, with some pretty hefty assumptions built in

I'm not sure you understood that statement. Sean wrote, "Unlike some of the discussions which rage from time to time about the nature of game design paradigms, the above information was extracted from general market research data that had as much bias as possible removed."

So he's not claiming it's without any bias. Quite the opposite. He's just saying it's actually had some control for bias, whereas anything else was barely above speculation and rumor and anecdote.

Now, yes, the research study was just done on D&D players. WotC just bought TSR, so it makes sense that they study who their customers are and what they want, especially because TSR had absolutely no information at all. Which is kinda why they imploded.

However, as far as I'm aware, it remains still the largest professional market research ever done on the TTRPG industry that we have any information about. In spite of its flaws and age, it's still the best thing we really have.

I don't even see where in their model someone that enjoys/ prefers PbtA games would fit -- there's no category that fits at all.
I don't understand. Are you claiming that PbtA players don't fall on a strategic-tactial axis or that they don't fall on a story-combat axis? Or that there are zero PbtA players who could be Thinkers, Power Gamers, Storytellers, Character Actors, or generalists?

Like I get that PbtA doesn't have a lot of mechanical tactics, but you can still be a tactically minded player in the typically very combat focused Dungeon World. A player can still interact with a PbtA scene tactically.

Or are you just not happy that a study done in 1999 on D&D didn't account for a 2010 game system? I don't think that's seriously what you mean, but you kind of skipped the part where you explained it.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Just like language is living, and in the US you can say "podium" and mean lectern as opposed to what the lectern is on, so do game description terms get picked up and morph with usage. (cough*Hit Dice*cough)

Reading the original articles about GNS is quite interesting from a historic point of view, but from a practical point of view the words mean what they have popularly come to mean. And that involves waves of usage from people who have heard about them second hand, third hand, and so forth.

So if I talk about 13th Age's recovery mechanism being undocked from characters sleeping, and someone calls that "too gamist for their tastes", gamist in this example is more about what that word has come to mean in popular usage rather than a callback to the meaning in the first presentation.

It's interesting from a historical perspective where these terms came from, but could cause miscommunication to use them in those specific aspects when the majority of those reading the terms will understand them as they are commonly used now.
Never mind that the term "gamist" was, at least around these parts, informally being used as an opposite to [we didn't have a term for it then, but it's called simulationism now] years before any of the GNS stuff saw the light of day.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Sure, but that's hardly bias free. ;)
Well, there's no bias (in that regard at least) if one sees the survey as only asking about how people play D&D specifically rather than how they play whatever RPG(s) they happen to be playing at the time.

I don't, for example, think they cared overly much how people were playing Vampire; as that wasn't the game they were trying to redesign.

And can anyone explain to me how I ended up in the position of defending this awful survey?!?
 

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