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RPG Theory- The Limits of My Language are the Limits of My World

pemerton

Legend
I’m thinking of people on Twitter or Reddit who respond to positive play experiences —-characterized as not needing to roll dice all session because they were just role playing — by saying that the 5e can’t be credited with their successful session, on account of the relatively sparse social and exploration pillars. That 5e is more extensive and robust in combat compared to social and exploration tracks with my perception of the system, and from what I can gather is a common observation, but maybe that could be classed as a specific approach and contrasted with the ‘other approaches’ you reference. However you want to classify it, I’m proposing that 5e’s system/approach is sufficient in this regard for 5e players, and not just because they are unaware, or vaguely aware but uninterested, in other games. That is, I wouldn’t assume they people prefer 5e only because they haven’t tried other games. FWIW, I hope they do try those other games, and my statements above were not meant to indicate that those other games are not worthwhile, much less say anything specific about classic traveller in particular.

You contrast “consensual agreement of shared fiction” with “mechanical resolution,” which is pretty close to what I was trying to say but with slightly more technical terms. Given that, it seems that the main point of your post is to suggest that I am not qualified to reference a phrase like “system matters,” or, more specifically, the way I’ve seen that sentiment expressed in online discussions. Similarity, you can probably infer from our discussions that I don’t know anything about classic traveller, and was certainly not attempting to make any claims about classic traveller, so suggesting that my comment in 5e does not apply to classic traveller it seems to imply that my frame of reference is parochial while yours is expansive.



That is, your response demonstrates the exact dynamic OP described: claiming authority by referencing a putatively deeper understanding of theory, insertion and insistence on particular phrases (with definitions known by you), and driving conversation towards your particular play experiences. As I’ve said many times, I certainly respect the depth of rpg knowledge you and others on this board have, so it’s unfortunate and unnecessary that you still feel the need to claim this authority.
When you say "some people" in a post in a thread where a number of the posters are being criticised - as per you post here that I've quoted - I have a natural curiosity as to who the people are you have in mind. The phrase "system has a say" is one that on these boards I've only ever seen used by @Manbearcat, in posts that I believe you have probably also read, so I did take you to be alluding to him.

When you say that "system doesn't matter", a negation of a very well-known slogan associated with a particular individual and web-forum, are you surprised that that comes to mind in me (or other readers)? If what you actually mean is that you prefer free roleplaying to mechanics, I'm not sure why you don't just say that.

For me, this has nothing to do with authority: for me it is about what @Campbell posted upthread:
people make bold assertions about what's possible in roleplaying games
Eg back in the dying days of 4e D&D, when I wanted to explain why I liked skill challenges, I posted Why I like skill challenges as a noncombat resolution mechanic

I didn't say anything about what "we", or anyone else, "needs". I just explained why I like that particular method of resolution. As you can see from that thread if you want to, I didn't purport to speak for all 4e players. And indeed many 4e players posted in that thread explaining why they don't like skill challenges.

I don't know how many of the Twitter or reddit posters you refer to are also 5e players. But I don't understand why you frame your response to them using plural phrases like "we" and "5e players" (as if the latter were all of one mind on how to approach social resolution in 5e D&D play) rather than by attesting your own preferences.
 

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Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I've seen arguments that its not just fantasy, but a particular sort of fantasy that D&D supports, and I think its a combination of that fact and the particular time and places when D&D got rolling that largely contribute to it. Its a form of fantasy that easily supports ongoing group play, sets up, generically, a set of easily understood aims that multiple players/character can engage with, and sets all of the players as a default on a relatively easy footing.

Its actually not easy to find an SF set up that's similar; almost all of them fail out on some of these grounds. Different problems arise with superheroes. Some other genres are not as popular in general (Westerns) or bring their own problems to the table (urban fantasy). That doesn't mean there aren't people that like SF or urban fantasy, but it requires more work to get them in the same space on it.

Absolutely. The type of narrative D&D games (which is almost entirely unique to D&D descendants) produce is uniquely accessible because it allows for an incredibly cooperative play model. It also is pretty much like most of the video games newer gamers grew up playing so playing D&D feels more natural than something more focused on individual characters like Exalted or Legend of the Five Rings despite not being less specific than them. If you have played World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 14, Darkest Dungeon, Diablo, Divinity or Dragon Age you have basically already played D&D. Most video games RPGs are basically already linear storytelling based forms of D&D.
 
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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
To me, this is a strange view to take. My main reason for engaging in theory and analysis has been to improve my play: my Rolemaster play at first, then my 4e D&D play, then other systems that I've played over the past several years.
Okay. Let me reclarify. I don't see how theory and analysis of rpgs in general or of non-D&D-4e games helps improve your D&D 4e play?

Analyzing your D&D 4e play... I get how that might help improve your D&D 4e play. But what does bringing other games into that discussion help?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Okay. Let me reclarify. I don't see how theory and analysis of rpgs in general or of non-D&D-4e games helps improve your D&D 4e play?

Analyzing your D&D 4e play... I get how that might help improve your D&D 4e play. But what does bringing other games into that discussion help?

A lot of the techniques I use in traditional games have their roots in other roleplaying games. I think the GM role is in part a game design role. Understanding how roleplaying games can be designed and played holistically provides a more comprehensive knowledge base that helps when it comes to tailoring the game to this specific set of players. The DMG2 is absolutely full of techniques that have their origin in other games as an example. Understanding how they work in other games really helps you apply them in 4e.

My own 4e games were immeasurably improved by both my World of Darkness/Exalted background and having an awareness of Burning Wheel. Burning Wheel taught me the scene framing techniques that grounded our 4e experience.

I also think we should spend time reflecting from time to time if the game we are playing matches with what we are trying to do. When I ran Lancer I realized that it was not a good match for our game and we moved the game over to Beam Saber.
 

Just a quick thought on this conversation and a peculiarity of D&D and now 5e culture.

A long, long time ago, I brought up and broke down 5e’s Social Conflict mechanics. I described them as giving social play a structure and feel similar to Pictionary/Charades + Wheel of Fortune. From a read, I thought this was a very solid bit of game design not because they’re the best Social Conflict mechanics I had seen (at that point or since). I said that because they worked holistically with the rest of 5e’s design and play feel (solving various puzzles and integrating various pieces of fiction to trigger mechanical advantage).

When I ran the game, I was pleased (enough) with the results. I praised the game and design for this. This was a good long while ago.

I came on this board to express that sentiment and, to no big surprise, to a respondent pretty much everyone either didn’t have a clue what I was talking about (they didn’t read this section of the DMG or perhaps they didn’t read the DMG much at all) or (the very few) felt it was rubbish and weren’t using it.

It’s mistaken to chalk this up as a case of “system doesn’t matter.” System very much did matter to all those folks way back when. They were subbing out 5e’s “system’s say” for:

* Procedures they had accreted over the years from other games (including past D&D).

* “GM decides” based on extrapolation of the fiction + unrevealed backstory.

* “GM decides” based on the GM’s storyteller mandate and/or AP requirements.

* Negotiated imagination via some type of table consensus achieved.

++++++++++

I frowned then that a coherent piece of 5e design was being ignored and subbed out for something else with the play culture being ignorant of the Social Conflict rules or brazenly asserting they’re either crap or not worth the effort to assimilate in play without even trying.

My takeaway wasn’t that D&D fans don’t care about “the system’s say” (as every 4e edition war proved that premise to not be true). My takeaway was that D&D fans deeply care about it (and care about it in a way I find frustrating…particularly because this would be bizarrely misattributed to design being irrelevant!)!
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Absolutely. The type of narrative D&D games (which is almost entirely unique to D&D descendants) produce is uniquely accessible because it allows for an incredibly cooperative play model. It also is pretty much like most of the video games newer gamers grew up playing so playing D&D feels more natural than something more focused on individual characters like Exalted or Legend of the Five Rings despite not being less specific than them. If you have played World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 14, Darkest Dungeon, Diablo, Divinity or Dragon Age you have basically already played D&D. Most video games RPGs are basically already linear storytelling based forms of D&D.

Of course that's no surprise, since most of them are descended from games that were pretty obviously D&D derived. The interesting thing is that, to a large extent, the party based fantasy CRPG largely fell out of fashion (you'll often have more than one character but its a main character and 2-3 companions who rotate in and out), but that's probably an artifact of the move to realtime games.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
@Manbearcat

Another example of the same phenomenon at play are 5e Backgrounds. We have an amazing piece of game design that grounds characters to the setting, provides firm fictional positioning, and allows unlimited player fiat within a narrow area of the fiction players can depend on (that does not come from a damn spell book).

I see so many GMs on this board treat Background features and abilities like Natural Explorer like polite suggestions and I wonder why they cannot see the brilliant pieces of 5e design for how brilliant they are.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
OK. Though there's a chicken-and-egg (or something like that) issue - change the game to much to grow market penetration, and may be the prospective player doesn't want to play it anymore!

Eh, could be, but a game you can't find fellow players for is kind of useless except as an intellectual exercise. Its an area I can't help but think the advent of remote play has probably helped with since you don't have to locate everyone locally (though its still a challenge once you move into more obscure systems from what I've heard).
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
My takeaway wasn’t that D&D fans don’t care about “the system’s say” (as every 4e edition war proved that premise to not be true). My takeaway was that D&D fans deeply care about it (and care about it in a way I find frustrating…particularly because this would be bizarrely misattributed to design being irrelevant!)!

You can also run into a thing where the usage people are making of "system" ends up at loggerheads.

While I understand your usage, I don't find describing naked GM arbitration as part of "system" very useful, on a couple grounds: 1. It makes talking about whether a game has a system for X fraught since, pretty much by definition, that can be applied to every game including ones not intended for it, often without anyone even thinking about it, and 2. My observation has been that its frequently not very, well, systematic. In the case of other people they presumably don't think of it as part of system because they consider "system" to imply constraints (which kind of just reinforces my second take on it, but this is an area where I admit to some cynicism) which they actively don't want in some particular part of the game.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
You can also run into a thing where the usage people are making of "system" ends up at loggerheads.

While I understand your usage, I don't find describing naked GM arbitration as part of "system" very useful, on a couple grounds: 1. It makes talking about whether a game has a system for X fraught since, pretty much by definition, that can be applied to every game including ones not intended for it, often without anyone even thinking about it, and 2. My observation has been that its frequently not very, well, systematic. In the case of other people they presumably don't think of it as part of system because they consider "system" to imply constraints (which kind of just reinforces my second take on it, but this is an area where I admit to some cynicism) which they actively don't want in some particular part of the game.
Feels a lot like arguing whether 0 should be classified as a number or the empty set should be classified as a set.
 

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