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Why Do You Hate An RPG System?


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It is the only interesting result. Risking a PC you have invested time and effort into is what makes RPGs come alive. Otherwise, all you have is what overgeeked noted: a bunch of people telling each other how cool their imaginary friends are.

I would say there are a lot of things that make RPGs come alive. One of which is indeed risk. But there are lots of different things to risk.

Look at Call of Cthulhu and its risk of characters’ sanity and how that changes the feel if a game versus one where the only risk is PC death. The game feels different. Look at Delta Green, where you watch as an agent’s connections to their loved ones bear the brunt of their struggles against the mythos. Look at any number of other games where concepts of identity or belief are at risk during play. Where the PCs take actual consequences from their choices along the way and need to press on anyway.

Death is far from the only interesting consequence in an RPG. At times, I’d say it’s the end of consequence.
 



I would say there are a lot of things that make RPGs come alive. One of which is indeed risk. But there are lots of different things to risk.

Look at Call of Cthulhu and its risk of characters’ sanity and how that changes the feel if a game versus one where the only risk is PC death. The game feels different. Look at Delta Green, where you watch as an agent’s connections to their loved ones bear the brunt of their struggles against the mythos. Look at any number of other games where concepts of identity or belief are at risk during play. Where the PCs take actual consequences from their choices along the way and need to press on anyway.

Death is far from the only interesting consequence in an RPG. At times, I’d say it’s the end of consequence.
The ending of a PC's playability, be it insanity, death, or maiming, amounts to the same thing. Wounds or sanity, the loss of the PC is the stake in the game.
 


The ending of a PC's playability, be it insanity, death, or maiming, amounts to the same thing. Wounds or sanity, the loss of the PC is the stake in the game.

It need not be.

For example, I’ve played in a Tales From the Loop game. Character death is off the books in that game….it does not happen.

Yet there was risk. The characters had goals and achieving them was uncertain. We had to play to find out if they could succeed.

And that game was not anything like players “telling each other how cool their imaginary friends are.”
 

There are so many significant risks that characters take in the grand history of fiction, often with incredibly dramatic stakes on the line, and yet the only ones that you seem to imagine that matter or regard as interesting for TTRPGs are ones that physically harm the character?
RPGs are a game, not fiction.

But to go back to the fiction that was the core of TTRPGs, Frodo's core goal was to destroy the One Ring and survive.
 

And that game was not anything like players “telling each other how cool their imaginary friends are.”
Sounds like it was, actually. If my PC can't die/go insane/etc, just text me the outcome. If the stakes are that low, why bother? Hamlet could have just waited for his inheritance, but it wouldn't have made an interesting play.
 

Aldarc

Legend
RPGs are a game, not fiction.
RPGs are games of creative fiction.

But to go back to the fiction that was the core of TTRPGs, Frodo's core goal was to destroy the One Ring and survive.
Most characters in fiction want to survive. Survival is basic. It's just as interesting as reading "I'm good at MS Word" on CVs. But I would say that Frodo's core goal was not to survive. The framing of Frodo's goal was simply "destroy the One Ring." He hoped that he would return to the Shire, but his goal was destruction of the Ring of Power.
 

Sounds like it was, actually. If my PC can't die/go insane/etc, just text me the outcome. If the stakes are that low, why bother? Hamlet could have just waited for his inheritance, but it wouldn't have made an interesting play.

There were stakes. I wouldn’t say they were low.

If a GM can’t take that game and give it stakes that don’t rely on threat of PC death, then I’d say it’s a failing of the GM and not the game.
 

There were stakes. I wouldn’t say they were low.

If a GM can’t take that game and give it stakes that don’t rely on threat of PC death, then I’d say it’s a failing of the GM and not the game.
I would say that a GM who changes the traditional venue of TTRPGs is simply forcing his players to listen to a dull story of his own devising. Another example of the failed story-teller seeking affirmation through other venues.

Because, you see, GMs don't set the stakes of an RPG: they create and operate the world. It is the players who set the stakes and write the tale. They decide what is worth risking their PCs for, and what is not. Their actions promote consequences, which they must live and operate with (provide they survive them).

A campaign where the GM sets the stakes is simply a railroad: go hence, solve thus, proceed on to the preordained conclusion.
 

I would say that a GM who changes the traditional venue of TTRPGs is simply forcing his players to listen to a dull story of his own devising. Another example of the failed story-teller seeking affirmation through other venues.

Because, you see, GMs don't set the stakes of an RPG: they create and operate the world. It is the players who set the stakes and write the tale. They decide what is worth risking their PCs for, and what is not. Their actions promote consequences, which they must live and operate with (provide they survive them).

A campaign where the GM sets the stakes is simply a railroad: go hence, solve thus, proceed on to the preordained conclusion.

I don’t think that the GM sets the stakes alone, but they are involved for sure. The only point I’m making, which you actually at times seem to agree with, is that the stakes can be something other than just survival.
 
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pemerton

Legend
This thread seems to have jumped the shark.

The assertion (eg from @overgeeked) that a RPG in which PC death is not on the line is just one in which participants "Just sit around and tell each other how cool your characters are" and/or involves PCs taking baths in lava is just bizarre.

In most fiction, the stakes confronting the protagonist are not will I die?

Even in most adventure fiction, the stakes confronting the protagonist are not will I die? REH's Conan survives crucifixion! So does Wolverine - and when we read the Wolverine limited edition we know that it's not his life that is on the line.

What are high stakes for Wolverine? His relationship with Mariko. His very different relationship with Kitty. Can he make it into the Hellfire club without having to go berserk and kill?

What are high stakes for Conan? Will he have to choose between doing the right thing and getting the treasure? (Most of the time, yes. But not always.) Can he maintain his relationship with Belit? What loss will the usurper inflict on the land of Aquilonia?

The rules of Prince Valiant state outright that PC death is not normally a part of the game - it's always the GM's discretion, informed by the fiction and any salient mechanical results, whether or not a PC dies. That has not stopped my group's play of Prince Valiant being reasonably intense from time-to-time.
 

I don’t think that the GM sets the stakes alone, but they are involved for sure. The only point I’m making, which you actually at times seem to agree with, is that the stakes can be something other than just survival.
I disagree: the players set the stakes. Otherwise, its a railroad at best.

The core of a TTRPG is the survival of the PC. Sure, there are secondary goals (clouds of them in most of my campaigns), but all are contingent upon the PC remaining alive, physically viable and sane. Remove the core, and we're back to imaginary friends.
 

Willie the Duck

Adventurer
I disagree: the players set the stakes. Otherwise, its a railroad at best.

The core of a TTRPG is the survival of the PC. Sure, there are secondary goals (clouds of them in most of my campaigns), but all are contingent upon the PC remaining alive, physically viable and sane. Remove the core, and we're back to imaginary friends.
You keep saying this, but providing little support other than repeated assertion.

Ghostbusters RPG is a TTRPG where survival is assumed that is about as far away from new school narrative game as can be. A character can fall off a building and it won't kill them. It will, however, keep them out of the action for an extended period (those skyscrapers have a lot of stairs, man) while the success or failure of the games general goals and stakes (capturing ghosts, saving the city/world, etc.) are decided without them.

Obviously continued survival is necessary for the game to proceed, but removing threat-of-nonsurvival as a gameplay element does not reduce the game to 'imaginary friends.' Instead, all it does is focus the success or failure of the endeavor for which the PCs strive onto the endeavor itself, instead of endeavor+survival. That could mean that the game is imaginary friends, but doesn't require it to be so, nor really incentivize it in any great way.
 

I disagree: the players set the stakes. Otherwise, its a railroad at best.

I don’t think that’s true at all. I think you’d have to do some work to explain that.

The core of a TTRPG is the survival of the PC. Sure, there are secondary goals (clouds of them in most of my campaigns), but all are contingent upon the PC remaining alive, physically viable and sane. Remove the core, and we're back to imaginary friends.

I don’t think that’s the core of RPGing. And I think the bit about imaginary friends and how cool they are applies to any game.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
The players decide what their characters do. So the player decides what their characters care about. Even if the player writes a War and Peace length backstory about their deep connection to their family, the player is rightfully free to decide at any moment they don’t want to be inconvenienced by that strong family connection. So despite making a character for whom “family is everything” if that family ever becomes an inconvenience, the player can (and almost certainly will) decide the character simply doesn’t care enough to bother. Which is why the orphan edgelord backstory is so popular. No hooks for drama. Most players don’t want any. I’ve watched this, and things like it, play out hundreds of times over the nearly 40 years of playing and running RPGs. When it comes down to it, the only reliable stakes a DM has that the player is likely to care about is their character’s survival. If that’s the only point of leverage that consistently works, that’s where DMs go.

If we’re comparing RPGs to fiction, which they’re not, by the way, then the vast majority of players would sit out the story as they fairly consistently refuse the call to adventure. Or would simply get sidetracked and wander off on some side quest, care more about getting paid or finding gold than most characters in fiction, or lose sight of the goal and wander off. Or find the quickest, easiest, most self-aggrandizing, most self-enriching, and most boring way possible to end the story. “No thanks Gandalf, I’m not walking through Mordor to Mount Doom to drop the ring into the fire. There’s a hole in the top of the mountain and we have giant eagles. Psh. ‘Walk’. Ha. ‘Risk’. Ha. No thanks. Oh yeah, how much will you pay me for this? You’ve had too much pipeweed if you think I’m doing this for free.” The typical gamer mindset is diametrically opposed to the fiction writer’s mindset. Fiction goes for the most drama possible, whereas most gamers go for the least drama possible. That’s why most game write ups make for boring stories. Typical D&D characters are far, far closer to Spanish conquistadors slaughtering their way across the New World in search of gold than anyone you’d find in Tolkien...well, except the villains, of course.
 

I don’t think that’s true at all. I think you’d have to do some work to explain that.
Not at all. It's self-evident to anyone with any imagination.
I don’t think that’s the core of RPGing. And I think the bit about imaginary friends and how cool they are applies to any game.
Really? How many imaginary friends were on your football team in high school and college?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
My experiences have been quite different, but it really does not matter. I don't play in most GM's games and I do not run games for most players. What anyone else does who does not share a table with me is immaterial for the type of games I want to play in and run.

I have not been doing this thing for 40 years, but I have for more than 20. I have had to be somewhat selective, but I view that as part of any sort of adult socialization. You have to find people that you are compatible with, who like the same sort of stuff you do.

While I do enjoy OSR and challenge oriented play from time to time the vast majority of my roleplaying experience has been in more character focused games. I know the process I use can work because I have seen them work. They are not the only processes that work and they might not work for any given group. I don't know what else to say there.

It's been our experience that the specter of death gets players to focus too much on being prudent when we are looking for the sort of characters who don't always do the most prudent things. Our games are not adventure games. It's not about overcoming the challenge or what silly stuff we can get away with. It's about playing a game where our characters are deeply embedded into the situation and the stakes are more personal. Having to live with failing to achieve personal objectives, losing NPCs my character cares for, having relationships redefined, losing status all feel harder for me to deal with than any character I have lost in any other game group I have been part of in the past.
 

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