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Jul. 3rd, 2005 @ 01:30 am Balance in Role-Playing Games
Due to recent happenings in my own group i would like to pose a question:
Should an rp gaming-system be balanced, and if so, in how far is that beneficial for gaming?

Pax vobiscum

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Jul. 3rd, 2005 @ 01:27 am Leeching the Knowledge of my Peers
Has anyone of you yet encountered an rpg-system that uses individual wounds with respect to impediment, mutilation and death rather than a general-purpose "health", "life" or "hit point" value that damage is subtracted from? I know FUDGE theoretically supports it, but have yet to see an implementation. If you have ever used one: did it work out? Is the complexity manageable?

Thank you for the help

Pax vobiscum

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Jun. 17th, 2005 @ 01:23 pm ... but my dice are so pretty!
I know this has been obliquely mentioned here before, but I wrote up some more concrete thoughts on it and figured I'd post them here for general dissection.


Can role-playing games be considered art?

It's an old question, and one I've discussed at length on RPG.net. I've been thinking about it again recently, though, in light of preparation I've been doing for a guest spot in my friend punslinger's Exalted game.

Most agree that RPGs have characteristics of both games and art. Like games, RPGs have rules and strategies. They're sold in game shops. They're often played for entertainment alone, without any consideration of the "higher" purpose usually assigned to art. On the other hand, they involve large and sometimes well-written texts (the rulebooks), and role-playing sessions can resemble intense improvisational theater, dealing with subtle interactions and big ideas.

The resistance to calling RPGs "art," however, comes strong from both gamers and art-world denizens. The latter's objections are hardly surprising, since anything so heavily associated with geekiness and mass-market profitability couldn't possibly be art in the eyes of the elite. The former, however, always intrigues me. Shouldn't gamers be excited to highlight the artistic aspects of what they spend so much time doing?

Seems to me that gamers' unwillingness to call RPGs "art" is rooted in a few assumptions: that the categories of "game" and "art" are mutually exclusive, that art is static and transmissive as opposed to developing and participatory, and that art must have a readily-identifiable artist/author. All three of these are outdated and repressive ideas about art.

I define "art" as "a man-made object, text, or experience that provokes the emotions, stimulates the senses, and engages the mind." Actually, I'm on the fence between using "and" or "and/or" to link those three together; anyway, for my dollar, the best art does all three. RPGs and role-playing experiences clearly have the potential to do all three. And just because some role-playing experiences fall short of the mark doesn't disqualify the entire category. Does Gigli make us stop counting cinema among the arts? Certainly not. Neither should crappily designed or played (i.e., boring) RPGs.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go prepare to artistically kick some uppity-anathema ass.
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Jun. 8th, 2005 @ 01:44 am Physics and Storytelling
IntroductionCollapse )

The Problem ItselfCollapse )

Post War NotesCollapse )
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Jun. 1st, 2005 @ 08:09 pm In response to Icingwings response to a post long ago...
Icingwing said the following:

"Regarding the class system: quite frankly i do not like the new class system either. Most of my points are valid for any class system, so there's that. Additionally, the idea of classes is based on the fact that you do not start with a newborn child. Classes are to represent the training/education you got during your youth (which is after all the time when you learn most). According to the books it takes years of training and learning to become but a class 1 sorcerer or magician - but according to the new D&D-system you can become on from one second to the other, due to a level up. Entirely beside that, while the new class system certainly offers a few more degrees of freedom it quite frankly still fails to keep up with my imagination. I could ramble on, but it seems to me that _sterno_ is better qualified for putting forth critique than i am."

Since I just joined the community, I thought I would respond. Please note this is entirely from opinion and experience.

I really like the class system in 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons. I am a long term veteran of AD&D, and have played years of games using Gurps, BESM (NOT besm d20), Rifts, and other classless role playing games. While a classless system does indeed usually function as intended, there are things I like about playing with character classes, in 3rd edition (3e from here).

First, The class system balances out areas of concentration for each role, complete with balanced strengths and weaknesses in an easy to understand fashion. Players are Encouraged (note that word choice, it will come into play later) to use parts of their characters in certain fashions that are appropriate to the choices they intend to make and the paths they intend to follow. If you are playing a social character with a variety of options for interaction with people and objects, it benefits you to play a rogue. They get a large number of skill points which help with these interactions. If you want to be the leading man in the party (mad martigan from Willow, Wolverine OR the hulk from comics, etc.), the fighter class gives you the tools you need to succeed at making war, such as profficiencies, hit points, attack bonuses etc. The same goes for all of the classes, you are given the tools to succeed at which you choose to do.

Second, the class system of 3e is more open than past systems, allowing you to customize a character the exact way you want to play it. Gone are the days that wizards can only use clubs, staves and daggers. I can make a wizard who uses a greatsword in combat. I can make a fighter who is filled with social graces. By allowing your character to take any skills and feats they choose, your character is not limited by class. The class allows them to play their role in a party, but allows them the options they feel are necessary for success and to play their character as it is meant to be played.

Now to those who feel leveling up is "BAM, I SUDDENLY GOT STRONGER AND MORE POWERFUL", the next level is the result of weeks and months of constant improvement. It is simply done at one time. While this is not a faucet drip slow progression like some games, it does keep a balance level that allows the DM to appropriately gauge the parties strength and plan challenges accordingly.

Those who feel the class system is too restrictive can also create with their DM a class that is unique. It must still be balanced, but this new class can include the features that they want to use. (I usually use a Bard as the basis for these created classes. Since the bard has a little bit of everything, it is easier to swap certain things out for others).

So while free form games can function, the class system in 3e is a useful, fun and adaptable way to give your character the benefits they want without the headache of point distribution.
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Jun. 2nd, 2005 @ 12:38 am The Secret of Reusal
This is partially in response to some points from the article that devil_panda pointed out in his last entry.

This article disadvises to get too immersed into details of an adventure, since wanting the players to fully experience all those ingenious ideas that one has come up with may lead a storyteller to prod the players along a certain path at which time all those ideas will feel force-fed to the players, something that is rarely enjoyable, even if the meal itself is delicious, if you will pardon me getting alegorical.

Here is my answer to that: while this may be true for unexperienced storytellers, i think there is a different way to approach and to use it. I tend to amass an excessive amount of background information ere i start any adventure. I rarely plan an adventure in advance, as in my experience players are creatures that are prone not to confer to plans but rather find some unimaginable loop-hole to leave whatever you thought was an absolutely fool- and idiotproof path and either bypass half of the adventure or get themselves into far more serious trouble than they can possibly handle. I also want to avoid keeping the players in leading strings as far as i possibly can – in my opinion players should not have more restrictions placed on their actions than in real life, rather less (with the possible exception of something like mental disadvantages or similar things that they should honor to remain true to the character they have chosen to play). Also i prefer to acknowledge it if a player comes up with something that i have not thought of and rather make it easier for them than put stones in their path – creativity is something that should in my eyes be rewarded rather than frowned upon. That of course makes it normal that players just choose to walk past some part of the adventure i have designed, either missing it or simply ignoring it (i still vividly remember an adventure in which they stubbornly ignored any of the lucrative eight sidequests that i offered them during the adventure). To answer the question „But isn't that frustrating?“: No. The easiest thing to do is what i already hinted on in the title: anything that i do not use in one adventure i can, if i want to, use in another adventure. Just because the players managed to avoid the fifty Death Traps of Doom you prepared for them in advance by going over the rooftop of the castle does not mean that your designs are wasted – they just get passed on to the Underground Caverns of Horror. This is the most obvious way of reusal. There are far more difficile ones, though: single phrases of the speech that you have prepared for an NPC (do you do that? I generally rather try to get an impression of the NPC and make up an impromptu speech, because in general you are not holding a speech but a conversation.) may reappear in someone elses mouth, accessories that you have drawn for the elven princess of Filarnia might be found in a treasure chest on Micol Island instead, and so on. While this is the next level of abstraction, it still is not the last: whether you want it or not, you will reuse part of your adventure – but in the least obvious way: you learn from them. Even if you throw away the sketch of the Orc-Inn, your drawing skills will have improved. Whether or not you reuse the riddle that you have come up with – it will be something that sharpened your mind and wits. Thus, ultimately, even if the you do not even play the adventure you had in mind, simply preparing it will not be in vain. With that mindset, there is no need to get the players to notice and acknowledge all the details you have prepared – and even beside the fact that ultimately all that work is for you, if they do not notice your ingenuity, your brilliance and your skills today, they will if you keep working on yourself to improve your gaming and do not abandon the group.

Pax vobiscum

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Jun. 1st, 2005 @ 09:24 am Knight at the Improv
Apparently I'm the last person on earth to catch Jason Nelson-Brown's Save My Game column on the Wizards of the Coast website. While his articles are aimed primarily at Wizards customers (read: D&D players), I think he offers a lot of wonderful advice for any roleplaying enthusiast.

In his most recent installment he discusses the role of improvisation and planning ahead at the game table. Here's what caught my eye:

"Ask any musician or actor how he improvises during a performance, and he'll tell you that improvisation is a product of practice and repetition. A performer thinks through the possibilities of how he could play a particular tune or portray a certain character, then tries out one option after another. In that way, he can see what works for him and which style seems to fit the material best. Through experimentation, he builds a repertoire of options that he can keep handy -- just like a carpenter collects his most important tools in a toolbox. Then, when it's time for a show, the performer can pull out any tool or combination of tools and use them in any way he wishes. The audience can't see the toolbox -- they just see what the performer does with it. If he has only one tool in the box -- no matter how good it is -- his performances will get stale pretty quickly." - link

As a game master I've always gravitated towards running event based games, in which the game and the excitement level are propelled forward by story elements both inside and outside the realm of player character control. IMHO, this style of play can only be successful if the players feel 100% capable of taking spontaneous actions without interrupting the flow or quality of the game. Structured improvisation technique has been a staple of my game preparation routine for as far back as I can remember.

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May. 27th, 2005 @ 06:39 pm my take on Intragroup Gaming Relationship Models
Current Mood: supremely nerdy
In reply to devil_panda's recent post.

To begin with, I have three assumptions about role-playing game groups:
1) They are collectives, groups of individuals.
2) The practice of RPGing entails an effort to create, and to negotiate the creation of, a shared object or experience.
3) How a gaming group works is based less on the roles that gamers are presumed to have (because gamers don't always fulfill their roles in the same ways, or even at all), and more on the existing relationships between the members of that group.

If I want to stay true to my assumptions, the question becomes: How do I describe a gaming group in terms of relationships and in a way that will help me to understand how gaming groups work?

That's not hard: when you're looking at relationships, the salient thing is always power. So, now I ask: Who has the power in the group?

In the archetypal gaming group, the game master has authority to manipulate not only the game and the story, but sometimes the pcs, and rarely the players. The players, on the other hand, are authorized only to manipulate their characters and each other. Of course, no group really matches the ideal gaming group, not one hundred per cent. In this view, then, there are a few salient characteristics of gaming groups that might be investigated so as to get an idea of how a gaming group really works:

The way these power relationships are discussed by the gamemaster and the players. What do the participants say they're doing, and what do they say other gamers are doing? Creating a chronicle? Matching wits? Drama? Sport? A game? We might do well to pay attention to these "native" models of gaming.

Real life social relations between gamers. This could be so many things that it's not even worthwhile trying to discuss them in any broad sense. One player could hate another player. The GM could just be a bad communicator. There may be gender-based, racial, sexual, psychological, ethnic, national, political, religious, blah, blah, blah, blah number of real life factors that affect the ways in which a given group associates. Maybe there's just one black player in the group? Maybe somebody insists on playing flirty characters of the opposite sex? Maybe the GM has a crush on a player?
While this line of inquiry seems like a path to nowhere because of how complicated it could get, it doesn't have to be that way, because most gaming groups have an idea of what the game should look like and try to adhere to that model. So, where do they get the idea of what a game should be like? In part from their gaming friends, which takes you right back to the proliferation of particularities that I listed above. The other part comes from something that metagamers know about all too well . . .

The rules. Thinking about a gaming group according to the above three points, I came to these conclusions:
a) Rules do not govern the physics of a fantasy world, as that is something that has no physics, exists only in the minds of the players, and is, indeed, the very shared object that the gamers seek to create.
b) Rules do not dictate how gamers should behave towards one another, because very few gamers take ethical codes (such as the Camarilla has) as seriously as they take the game mechanics.
c) Rules do not structure the relationships between gamers. Truly, this is what the rules are meant to do. But, when the accepted method of gaming is to throw the rules out the window if the situation calls for it - and it usually is - then we are compelled to think a little bit harder.
What do the rules actually do? The rules act as a common object of interpretation for participants in a game. What do I mean by this? The rules, since they are governed by what the gamers agree on, and since they are actively negotiated in the course of the game, are influenced by the gamers as much as they actually influence the gamers. The rules, then, are the site where power is exerted, where power is realized, and where power becomes efficacious. This also goes for . . .

The story. The story is another common object of interpretation for participants. It works in analogous, but probably not exactly similar, ways.

With these points ready to analyze, one can track the shifting power relationships in a group, and track the various kinds of "dysfunctional" or atypical groups that can appear.

Being that I understand this community to itself be a collaborative project towards better gaming, I want this to be my first contribution to that project.
That in mind, I'd appreciate criticism.
One thing is obvious in my theory: that every gaming group is different. Thus, to get at a better picture of how power relationships in a game can be understood, I think that some case studies of actual gaming groups would be useful. What is the power like in your group? What affects the relationships between your fellow gamers? Who really has the power, and what determines how they can use it?
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May. 27th, 2005 @ 05:51 pm Digital Character Sheets - Pro and Contra
During the last years more and more digital character sheets for different gaming systems have appeared. Those feature a number of benefits: there are many that already calculate some values for you; no longer do you have to worry about the paper ripping apart when you erase one of the old stats; modifications to old values can be made easily; trying out different combinations of values and comparing their effects on the stats becomes less exhausting.

Some of the more traditional players watch this phenomenon more critically, though: there is a special quality to having something real, a sheet of paper, representing the character in ones hands; digital sheets make cheating easier (one should whish that one should not have to worry about that); minimizing/maximizing stats is not something that all storytellers want their players to be able to do easily; the permanent hum of a computer or laptop is considered a disturbance of the atmosphere by some players.

What is your point of view regarding that issue? Are there any arguments for/against digital character sheets that i have not mentioned that go beyond personal preferences? Do you consider any of the arguments presented above invalid? Why?
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May. 27th, 2005 @ 10:50 am Intragroup Relationship Models
It is commonly assumed that everybody is on the same page regarding the roles of roleplaying group participants, but recently it has become clear to me that this is clearly not the case. I propose several models of rpg intra-group dynamics.

In a Game Master Centered model the Game Master is the ultimate organizer, and arbiter of the gaming group. Players are basically just along for the ride and some entertainment, and trust their Game Master implicitly to make the experience fair, challenging, and fun.

In a Player Centered model the Players themselves are the ultimate group organizers, and a game master is pretty much appointed because the players need one. Although the game master still crafts stories and still has the final say on arbitration, there is a much larger emphasis on player input on both their individual characters and the game world as a whole.

I can think of plenty more models, and numerous variations on the models above. If roleplayers are ultimately performing for the benefit of one another, choosing the group model that best fits one's gaming group is crucial.

What models do our community members use or their games?
What model do you find most ideal?
What models would you never consider playing under?
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