S/Z: On the Difficulties of RPG Theory & Criticism

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
True, but, the rules of a baseball game define the field to be used. They tell you the distance to between the bases, the distance of the pitcher's mound, so on and so forth. So, the rules of baseball very much do define the field.
Sure, but someone's still gotta flatten the ground and grow the grass and paint the lines before anyone can play on it, and build the bleachers before anyone can sit and cheer for the team.

Same in an RPG - the rules of any given one lay out what can and can't happen in play but someone's still gotta design the campaign and-or setting* before anyone can play in it.

* - with, obviously, much looser guidelines than building a baseball field; but there still needs to be enough backdrop for the players to work with.
 
IOW, the rules of games define the start and end points of games. RPG rules barely define the start points and do not define an end point at all.
Don't make me break out My Life With Master. Or for that matter The Great Pendragon Campaign, the Dragonlance AP modules, Montsegur 1944, Apocalypse World, or Blades in the Dark.

And this is another poblem. The boundaries of RPGs are fuzzy - and I expect for every rule we can think up there is at least one thing commonly called an RPG that breaks that rule. (RPGs use a randomiser - unless Amber Diceless, Nobilis, Montsegur 1244, or others).

Perhaps the issue is that there is no unbiased academic willing on the subject for everyone to rally behind - most attempts are plagued by explaining why you like one playstyle or games with certain traits - inevitably leaving the impression that the criticism is more a justification of a particular style than a valid criticism.
If you're looking for an unbiased academic you're going to be waiting a long time. All the academics I can think of that people have rallied behind have advanced ... contentious ... views at least in their lifetime. Frequently to push a point of view that was outside the mainstream.

That's not to say that there aren't people like Ron Edwards, Vincent Baker, and Robin Laws trying to publish theory - just that thigns are ... fragmentary.

Personal investment makes criticism difficult IMO.
...
The point is that at some point you will have to confront terms and language breaking down as new techniques are created that share elements of both of the previously defined things.
And this is all true in my experience.
 
L

lowkey13

Guest
And this is another poblem. The boundaries of RPGs are fuzzy - and I expect for every rule we can think up there is at least one thing commonly called an RPG that breaks that rule. (RPGs use a randomiser - unless Amber Diceless, Nobilis, Montsegur 1244, or others).
"A role-playing game is what is created in the interaction between players or between player(s) and gamemaster(s) within a specified diegetic framework." :)

So many great comments! I've been mostly busy this weekend. but I wanted to drop in and add a few thoughts that I'm developing (either to continue this thread, or maybe at some point to make another long post). At this point, they are mostly inchoate. I apologize to anyone that responded to me or at'd me if I'm not directly responding to you.

I have been thinking about Blades in the Dark a fair amount, @Ovinomancer given its prominence in these conversations. I was also thinking about my earlier comment re: how many things we don't think of as "force" or "railroading" because they occur either "with consent" or prior to the start of the game can still be considered as such, depending on how you look at it- see, for example, playing a module.

Now, I know what you're thinking- playing a module isn't the same as force ("DM force" or otherwise) or railroading. But if you look at threads that we've had here in the past, you'll find two types of comments:

A. Sandbox purists. Those who assert that any module etc. is a violation of player agency, isn't fun, and so on.

B. The Tomb of Horrors jerk. I kid, mostly. But there's always that guy who is like, "Yeah, we played Tomb of Horrors. DM broke it out. We walked to it. I saw it, and I walked away." I'm using that as a shorthand for those times when players "expose" what it really going on. That the use of a module (or a pre-planned dungeon, or whatever) is really a joint social decision that is usually "forced" by the DM to the players, and "consented" to by the players. Or to use non-loaded terminology, the table agrees that they will be engaging in a particular activity within the framework of the game, and the DM facilitates it, and the players play within those boundaries.

From there, I'd move to the more specific example of BiTD. Now., imagine you're sitting down to play D&D. The DM says...

"Hey guys, I've got a great campaign for you. Okay? So ... here's the deal. You're going to play as rogues. All of you. Evil ones, but, you know, the cool kind, not the evil evil kind. And you're going to play in a city. You don't really get to leave it, because that's where we are going to play. Also? I've decided that your characters are going to want to gain power in the criminal underworld. So, we good?"

Now, I'm simplifying and kind of joking, but you see where I am going with this (I hope). Much like a module, BiTD has severe artificial constraints regarding the game. We tend to overlook these because we have agreed to them, but I think it's important to understand that they are there. @Manbearcat would probably make a distinction that this is "system force" but this type of overarching constraint fundamentally limits and changes the narrative that allows for other types of agency. To use my very tired net/adjective that I'm sure you've seen before, by so tightly limiting "choice" and "agency" in this way, BiTD allows for greater narrative freedom in other ways.

Speaking of which, one more before I have to run (also to Manbearcat-

Imagine the following system:

On success, DM must: "Yes, and."
On failure, DM must: "Yes, but."

Game provides E&E for both "yes and" and "yes but."
Player may continue after a "yes but" with "escalating consequences;" after third "escalating consequence" Player gets a "this goes on your permanent record." With E&E for that as well.

Now, is this an example of a system that allows for player agency, and constrains the DM?
Do E&E for the "and" and the "but" provide sufficient constraints?
Or does the fact that the DM can still choose to narrate any effect they want mean that it has insufficient constraints?

...I was thinking about this type of super-simplified system after MBC wrote that he appreciated having tools to help keep him from being a bad DM (I am paraphrasing). The more I think about it, though, the more I think that DMs that are incredibly concerned about these issues will necessarily ... be concerned about these issues, and seek to ensure that they are constrained, whereas DMs that are not concerned will not.

In other words, one DM could look at that system and say- that's great. Between the E&Es and the clear system, I am constrained. Another DM could look at it and say, "HA! I CAN DO ANYTHING! FEAR MY WRATH!"

Okay, enough for now.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
True, but, the rules of a baseball game define the field to be used. They tell you the distance to between the bases, the distance of the pitcher's mound, so on and so forth. So, the rules of baseball very much do define the field.
The rules of baseball only define the infield, not the outfield, at least as far as measurements go. That's why there are parks as different as Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium, to pick two.
 
"A role-playing game is what is created in the interaction between players or between player(s) and gamemaster(s) within a specified diegetic framework." :)

So many great comments! I've been mostly busy this weekend. but I wanted to drop in and add a few thoughts that I'm developing (either to continue this thread, or maybe at some point to make another long post). At this point, they are mostly inchoate. I apologize to anyone that responded to me or at'd me if I'm not directly responding to you.

I have been thinking about Blades in the Dark a fair amount, @Ovinomancer given its prominence in these conversations. I was also thinking about my earlier comment re: how many things we don't think of as "force" or "railroading" because they occur either "with consent" or prior to the start of the game can still be considered as such, depending on how you look at it- see, for example, playing a module.

Now, I know what you're thinking- playing a module isn't the same as force ("DM force" or otherwise) or railroading. But if you look at threads that we've had here in the past, you'll find two types of comments:

A. Sandbox purists. Those who assert that any module etc. is a violation of player agency, isn't fun, and so on.

B. The Tomb of Horrors jerk. I kid, mostly. But there's always that guy who is like, "Yeah, we played Tomb of Horrors. DM broke it out. We walked to it. I saw it, and I walked away." I'm using that as a shorthand for those times when players "expose" what it really going on. That the use of a module (or a pre-planned dungeon, or whatever) is really a joint social decision that is usually "forced" by the DM to the players, and "consented" to by the players. Or to use non-loaded terminology, the table agrees that they will be engaging in a particular activity within the framework of the game, and the DM facilitates it, and the players play within those boundaries.

From there, I'd move to the more specific example of BiTD. Now., imagine you're sitting down to play D&D. The DM says...

"Hey guys, I've got a great campaign for you. Okay? So ... here's the deal. You're going to play as rogues. All of you. Evil ones, but, you know, the cool kind, not the evil evil kind. And you're going to play in a city. You don't really get to leave it, because that's where we are going to play. Also? I've decided that your characters are going to want to gain power in the criminal underworld. So, we good?"

Now, I'm simplifying and kind of joking, but you see where I am going with this (I hope). Much like a module, BiTD has severe artificial constraints regarding the game. We tend to overlook these because we have agreed to them, but I think it's important to understand that they are there. @Manbearcat would probably make a distinction that this is "system force" but this type of overarching constraint fundamentally limits and changes the narrative that allows for other types of agency. To use my very tired net/adjective that I'm sure you've seen before, by so tightly limiting "choice" and "agency" in this way, BiTD allows for greater narrative freedom in other ways.

Speaking of which, one more before I have to run (also to Manbearcat-

Imagine the following system:

On success, DM must: "Yes, and."
On failure, DM must: "Yes, but."

Game provides E&E for both "yes and" and "yes but."
Player may continue after a "yes but" with "escalating consequences;" after third "escalating consequence" Player gets a "this goes on your permanent record." With E&E for that as well.

Now, is this an example of a system that allows for player agency, and constrains the DM?
Do E&E for the "and" and the "but" provide sufficient constraints?
Or does the fact that the DM can still choose to narrate any effect they want mean that it has insufficient constraints?

...I was thinking about this type of super-simplified system after MBC wrote that he appreciated having tools to help keep him from being a bad DM (I am paraphrasing). The more I think about it, though, the more I think that DMs that are incredibly concerned about these issues will necessarily ... be concerned about these issues, and seek to ensure that they are constrained, whereas DMs that are not concerned will not.

In other words, one DM could look at that system and say- that's great. Between the E&Es and the clear system, I am constrained. Another DM could look at it and say, "HA! I CAN DO ANYTHING! FEAR MY WRATH!"

Okay, enough for now.
Good post.

Couple thoughts:

1) Like you said, I would call the "artificial/contrived" constraints of BitD's setting (Doskvol) "System Force" or perhaps "Premise Constraint." There are also other aspects of the game that keep play bounded as well; the siloed "3-phase" and scene-based nature of play, the lower power curve of the PCs/Crew, and how the Heat mechanics force the players to always consider their profile.

2) Relating directly to the above, consider how close this resembles Basic D&D vs Expert and Champion:

a) Constrained setting of the dungeon in Basic with resolution mechanics that work precisely for that setting + a lower power curve of PCs + Wandering Monster/Exploration mechanics that force the players to consider their "Exploration/Resource" profile...

vs

b) Moving out into the wilderness and urban settings for E and C (which means more options for declared actions) + resolution mechanics that become less focused/fit for purpose + higher power curve of PCs (therefore more answers for obstacles and less pressure-points) + system machinery/clocks (Heat and Wandering Monsters) does less work to force players to consider their profile.

3) Torchbearer mirrors Blades in all ways above (with difference in nuance).

4) Games that have scene-based resolution and/or that have "Journey mechanics" do the same thing; they constrain in the way Doskvol does while they focus/distill/narrow action declarations toward the specific scene premise and resolution mechanics to achieve the scene's "win condition".




I think there is also another thing that happens when it comes to the "System Force" of things like the "premise/setting constraint" and Blade's Duskvol and Basic/Torchbearer's adventuring sites and Scene-Based-Resolution/Journey mechanics (D&D 4e, Cortex +, Dungeon World among others); things that constrain a GM away from Force.

Some players can feel somewhat annoyed in their OODA Loop because, due to the zoom/abstraction and level of constraint, they experience a kind of sense of "information loss" (that is the best way I can think to put it) which screws with their transition from Observe to Orient and then from Orient to Decide.

I don't experience this, but its clearly a thing and likely. Some players ( probably @Nagol ) experience this only when their expectations of the game aren't met. Nagol can happily play scene-based resolution games (Fate and probably Cortex+) but he doesn't want scene-based resolution in his D&D (hence he didn't like 4e D&D).

I guess what I'm saying is...freedom from Force can come with a price that may feel like a prison to certain players (I'm using "players" as a catch-all; so participants).
 
L

lowkey13

Guest
Fiasco. Montsegur 1244. We're right at the ragged edge here - but GMless RPGs exist. As for that matter does a set of tables to replace the DM ;)
Today is when we remember the difference between a disjunction and a conjunction.

"A role-playing game is what is created in the interaction between players or between player(s) and gamemaster(s) within a specified diegetic framework."

:)


EDIT- to be clear-

An rpg is what is created in ...
(1) the interaction between players (or) (2) (the interaction) between player(s) and gamemaster(s) ...
within a specified diegetic framework.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
"A role-playing game is what is created in the interaction between players or between player(s) and gamemaster(s) within a specified diegetic framework." :)
That's a generic enough definition that it should get most RPGs. It also captures a lot of wargames, boardgames, and other things, though. Take Gloomhaven -- RPG or boardgame? Or Warhammer 40k, wargame or RPG with armies?

I'm not knocking the intent -- it's just a really hard thing to define RPGs. I've proposed definitions before that have fallen flat in the face of this or that example. I think that the best path forward is to offer a definition that works for the majority of RPGs but doesn't grab other games too much. IE, one that has grey areas of "shrug, maybe?" but doesn't get Monopoly involved. And, that's not easy, either.
So many great comments! I've been mostly busy this weekend. but I wanted to drop in and add a few thoughts that I'm developing (either to continue this thread, or maybe at some point to make another long post). At this point, they are mostly inchoate. I apologize to anyone that responded to me or at'd me if I'm not directly responding to you.

I have been thinking about Blades in the Dark a fair amount, @Ovinomancer given its prominence in these conversations. I was also thinking about my earlier comment re: how many things we don't think of as "force" or "railroading" because they occur either "with consent" or prior to the start of the game can still be considered as such, depending on how you look at it- see, for example, playing a module.

Now, I know what you're thinking- playing a module isn't the same as force ("DM force" or otherwise) or railroading. But if you look at threads that we've had here in the past, you'll find two types of comments:

A. Sandbox purists. Those who assert that any module etc. is a violation of player agency, isn't fun, and so on.

B. The Tomb of Horrors jerk. I kid, mostly. But there's always that guy who is like, "Yeah, we played Tomb of Horrors. DM broke it out. We walked to it. I saw it, and I walked away." I'm using that as a shorthand for those times when players "expose" what it really going on. That the use of a module (or a pre-planned dungeon, or whatever) is really a joint social decision that is usually "forced" by the DM to the players, and "consented" to by the players. Or to use non-loaded terminology, the table agrees that they will be engaging in a particular activity within the framework of the game, and the DM facilitates it, and the players play within those boundaries.

From there, I'd move to the more specific example of BiTD. Now., imagine you're sitting down to play D&D. The DM says...

"Hey guys, I've got a great campaign for you. Okay? So ... here's the deal. You're going to play as rogues. All of you. Evil ones, but, you know, the cool kind, not the evil evil kind. And you're going to play in a city. You don't really get to leave it, because that's where we are going to play. Also? I've decided that your characters are going to want to gain power in the criminal underworld. So, we good?"

Now, I'm simplifying and kind of joking, but you see where I am going with this (I hope). Much like a module, BiTD has severe artificial constraints regarding the game. We tend to overlook these because we have agreed to them, but I think it's important to understand that they are there. @Manbearcat would probably make a distinction that this is "system force" but this type of overarching constraint fundamentally limits and changes the narrative that allows for other types of agency. To use my very tired net/adjective that I'm sure you've seen before, by so tightly limiting "choice" and "agency" in this way, BiTD allows for greater narrative freedom in other ways.

Speaking of which, one more before I have to run (also to Manbearcat-

Imagine the following system:

On success, DM must: "Yes, and."
On failure, DM must: "Yes, but."

Game provides E&E for both "yes and" and "yes but."
Player may continue after a "yes but" with "escalating consequences;" after third "escalating consequence" Player gets a "this goes on your permanent record." With E&E for that as well.

Now, is this an example of a system that allows for player agency, and constrains the DM?
Do E&E for the "and" and the "but" provide sufficient constraints?
Or does the fact that the DM can still choose to narrate any effect they want mean that it has insufficient constraints?

...I was thinking about this type of super-simplified system after MBC wrote that he appreciated having tools to help keep him from being a bad DM (I am paraphrasing). The more I think about it, though, the more I think that DMs that are incredibly concerned about these issues will necessarily ... be concerned about these issues, and seek to ensure that they are constrained, whereas DMs that are not concerned will not.

In other words, one DM could look at that system and say- that's great. Between the E&Es and the clear system, I am constrained. Another DM could look at it and say, "HA! I CAN DO ANYTHING! FEAR MY WRATH!"

Okay, enough for now.
Yes, of course games impose constraints. This is a fundamental requirement of a game, which, all other things included, needs to have a conflict resolution mechanism (even if it's "Bob decides!") and constraints (ie, what's in or out of the game). It's all the other things that get fuzzy about game definitions, but you cannot have a game without conflict resolution or constraints. Name any game and these things exist. Of course, they also exist for lots of things that aren't games, but that's why they're necessary but not sufficient to a definition for a game. Oh, just had a thought**. I add it at the end, but it's about your RPG definition above.

So, games must have constraints. I don't think these constraints rise to Force, as they aren't overriding player choices but instead determining which player choices are allowed. That's a distinct difference, at least to me. There's a difference between a GM telling a player, 'No, you don't shoot the Duke with a laser pistol because those don't exist in this genre/game/setting," and a GM telling a player, "No, your Space Marine doesn't shoot the alien with your laser pistol because it would be cooler if the alien gets away right now." Granted, pretty gross example of Force there, but the point isn't to explore subtle Force use but make distinct the difference between a constraint and Force.

The constraints of a system should be 1) transparent and 2) agreed to before play starts. If either of these isn't true or don't exist, then something has gone wrong.

I think your construction of yes, and/but can make for a very interesting game, and some games use this kind of construction already. I think that "no" can have a place, even in Forceless games, and achieve the escalation of consequence and... you know, I thought your E&E had something to do with escalation consequence and some other e but when I just went back to make sure I had the right verbiage, I couldn't find any definition for your E&E. :/ Maybe I'm blind. Anyway, "no" has a place, at least in the theory of making hard moves against characters after a failure. Thwarting the goal of the player action can make for good games whereas never thwarting, only complicating can... also make for good games. Ha. The long and short is that escalation can happen even in a game that has 'no' instead of yes, and/but, but it really needs to be a no, and rather than just no. The key, I think, to the escalation cycle is the conjunction. Never stop at yes or no. (This is, I think, one of the reasons that D&D features Force so much -- it's resolution mechanics are geared for yes or no, not yes or not and and or but (<-- odd sentence). You can do 'yes/no, and/but', but the system doesn't offer very much at all in the way of this (5e includes some discussion of success at cost and/or fail forward, but only as a sidebar, really, while also presenting the binary pass/fail more fully). For escalation to occur in 5e, you either have to be diligent about reducing resources to get to escalating danger or you have to use Force. The former isn't easy, the latter is. But, I'm rambling.

** So, it occurs to me that maybe your definition of RPGs is also necessary but not sufficient. It would appear that the general "you have players and a shared fiction which is developed through interaction of the players" is good stuff and covers those RPGs I can think of, but it also gets other things, so it's not a sufficient definition -- it's not limiting enough. But, it is necessary to RPGs to meet this definition? I think so.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Today is when we remember the difference between a disjunction and a conjunction.

"A role-playing game is what is created in the interaction between players or between player(s) and gamemaster(s) within a specified diegetic framework."

:)


EDIT- to be clear-

An rpg is what is created in ...
(1) the interaction between players (or) (2) (the interaction) between player(s) and gamemaster(s) ...
within a specified diegetic framework.
Heh, "or" is a conjunction in language, but a disjunction in logic. ;)
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
That's a generic enough definition that it should get most RPGs. It also captures a lot of wargames, boardgames, and other things, though. Take Gloomhaven -- RPG or boardgame? Or Warhammer 40k, wargame or RPG with armies?

I'm not knocking the intent -- it's just a really hard thing to define RPGs. I've proposed definitions before that have fallen flat in the face of this or that example. I think that the best path forward is to offer a definition that works for the majority of RPGs but doesn't grab other games too much. IE, one that has grey areas of "shrug, maybe?" but doesn't get Monopoly involved. And, that's not easy, either.
What makes it tricky (or trickier) is that some games that really don't seem like RPGs (TO ME) are still at least toying with narrative/story telling. Gloomhaven comes to mind; my experience of it is a pure tactics game with lots of flavor, but apparently there are some people who think of it as an RPG, or at least there's discussion about whether it is one. FFG's various Lovecraftian cooperative games have gotten more and more story-ish, but they don't feel like RPGs (TO ME), and in fact the more story-ish they get the less I like them (because to the extent they feel like an RPG, they feel like an RPG with a bad GM). Anything that tries to get at narratives that emerge from play is going to leave out what has been termed a "choreographed novel" elsewhere, which might not be my preferred style of play but which I wouldn't say isn't an RPG.
 
** So, it occurs to me that maybe your definition of RPGs is also necessary but not sufficient. It would appear that the general "you have players and a shared fiction which is developed through interaction of the players" is good stuff and covers those RPGs I can think of, but it also gets other things, so it's not a sufficient definition -- it's not limiting enough. But, it is necessary to RPGs to meet this definition? I think so.
That quote is right out of the Meilahti School, and you probably need to grant the surrounding theory once you're aware of the source rather than sticking to the narrow quote. It's a lot more nuanced and descriptive than you're giving credit for. Meilahti School
 
General question - are we all using the same definition of force? It seems like the definition here is roughly the GNS one, The Technique of control over characters' thematically-significant decisions by anyone who is not the character's player. If that's not the case for anyone in particular I'd love to know, mostly for curiosity's sake.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
That quote is right out of the Meilahti School, and you probably need to grant the surrounding theory once you're aware of the source rather than sticking to the narrow quote. It's a lot more nuanced and descriptive than you're giving credit for. Meilahti School
I know, I've seen it. There's a bit of slight of hand in the definition if it's being attributed to the Meilahti school, because they require a GM to be an RPG. The definition, presented outside of the Meilahti school, is better as it doesn't require a GM. The key weakness to the Meilahti school, as I've read of it, is the focus on the GM as the lynchpin of an RPG. The GM has final authority, the GM must exist (you have have more than one, but at least one), etc. They allow for rotation of the GM duties, but that still doesn't capture games like Fiasco, which don't have any point where the Meilahti defined GM responsibilities all congregate in a single player. It also has issues with player constraint of GM ability to narrate, which other games have, preventing the GM from having the sole authority to dictate what's in a scene and what's possible within a scene. Take games that allow players to introduce content, for instance. These immedately thwart the GM's authority to define what's in a scene or what's actions are allowed in a scene as the players have the authority to introduce content and change the scene after framing.

It's an interesting theory, and there's definitely some useful bits, but it's too focused around the GM authority to account for many of the current games that have such features -- FATE, PbtA, Burning Wheel, Mouseguard, etc. Further, I think that if you modify the theory to include those games, it becomes muddy outside of the most generalizable statements.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
General question - are we all using the same definition of force? It seems like the definition here is roughly the GNS one, The Technique of control over characters' thematically-significant decisions by anyone who is not the character's player. If that's not the case for anyone in particular I'd love to know, mostly for curiosity's sake.
I think we've been focusing more on GM Force, as opposed to Player Force (especially PvP, which seems more strongly implied), but this doesn't seem far off.
 
@Ovinomancer - My main point was more that a broader reading takes care of some of your examples like 40K.

I'd agree that Meilahti's insistence on a GM makes things a bit sticky. I don't think the theory addresses the extent to which the system can constrain things like the limits of power passed on to the players, which Meilahti has as the sole provenance of the GM, but games like FATE and the rest you mention have baked into the system. It is interesting though, for sure, especially set next to GNS, which I'm not a huge fan of in general, although that too has some very useful bits.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
@Ovinomancer - My main point was more that a broader reading takes care of some of your examples like 40K.
Sure, but I was taking on the definition without reference to the Meilahti school because it wasn't referenced as such. I think that, cleaved from the school, it's valid on it's own as a necessary but insufficient definition of RPGs.

Amusingly, it occurred to me tgat while a friendly session of 40K may not qualify, a tournament would, as there are table judges and even, usually, a loose storyline in a 40k game day tourney. Fun to ponder.

I'd agree that Meilahti's insistence on a GM makes things a bit sticky. I don't think the theory addresses the extent to which the system can constrain things like the limits of power passed on to the players, which Meilahti has as the sole provenance of the GM, but games like FATE and the rest you mention have baked into the system. It is interesting though, for sure, especially set next to GNS, which I'm not a huge fan of in general, although that too has some very useful bits.
Absulotely nothing to add to this! Agreed.
 
Speaking of which, one more before I have to run (also to Manbearcat-

Imagine the following system:

On success, DM must: "Yes, and."
On failure, DM must: "Yes, but."

Game provides E&E for both "yes and" and "yes but."
Player may continue after a "yes but" with "escalating consequences;" after third "escalating consequence" Player gets a "this goes on your permanent record." With E&E for that as well.

Now, is this an example of a system that allows for player agency, and constrains the DM?
Do E&E for the "and" and the "but" provide sufficient constraints?
Or does the fact that the DM can still choose to narrate any effect they want mean that it has insufficient constraints?

...I was thinking about this type of super-simplified system after MBC wrote that he appreciated having tools to help keep him from being a bad DM (I am paraphrasing). The more I think about it, though, the more I think that DMs that are incredibly concerned about these issues will necessarily ... be concerned about these issues, and seek to ensure that they are constrained, whereas DMs that are not concerned will not.
Is E&E "Explanation and Examples?"

That seems intuitive so I'm going to work off of that.

On the whole, the system you're describing sounds like 4e's Skill Challenges:

1) "Yes, and <new danger/obstacle interposes itself between you and goal>" for successes with E&E

2) "Yes, but <complication/escalation of present obstacle/adversity>" (fail forward) for failures with E&E

3) The gamestate/situation needs to change dynamically after each micro-outcome

4) Win Con (this # of successes for "a story win that is cemented in the fiction") or Loss Con (3 successes for a "story loss or setback that is cemented in the fiction")

AW/Blades and Strike (!) basic resolution + Clocks/Conflict has similar machinery. Dogs and Cortex+ are each subtly different, but they have DNA overlap.

E&E is extremely helpful, but (a) it all being player-facing and (b) the central ethos of play (not just for the conflict resolution machinery) is also extremely helpful imo.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Name any game and these things exist.
Calvinball.

But, more seriously, we cannot have a cogent discussion in which we admit that constraints exist, but also we arbitrarily push back on restriction on player agency as BadWrongFun. And that latter happens. A lot.
 
Calvinball.

But, more seriously, we cannot have a cogent discussion in which we admit that constraints exist, but also we arbitrarily push back on restriction on player agency as BadWrongFun. And that latter happens. A lot.
RPGs by their very nature contain some some elements that restrict player agency. People who refuse to admit that fact are hard to have cogent discussions with.
 

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