Out-of-character knowledge and exploration

December 5, 2007

I have a long-standing disagreement with one of the players in our group, and I’m just starting to make sense of it.  We have very different opinions on how to deal with information that either some or none of the characters have a reason to know.  One incident that highlights our differing opinions involved a two hour conversation in a separate room in order to keep details of someone’s character background secret form the rest of the group.  We had to postpone certain scenes until it was over, and predictably, everyone else was quite bored while this was going on.  To this person, the less than desirable effects on the rest of the group were regrettable, but acceptable in order to preserve alignment between in and out of character knowledge.  I have never found knowing things out of character to be a serious hindrance to my enjoyment of the game, and I’ve never found “surprising” twists and turns to be critical for me.

It occurred to me recently that one reason for our differing opinions is our differing goals.  He prefers to explore the parts of the game outside of his characters, while I prefer to explore the inner life of my characters.  So for me, knowing what’s coming up can help me set up situations that explore my character’s motivations and psychological state in interesting ways.  For him, knowing what’s coming up ruins his exploration.

On an even more general level, the core of this realization relates to the One True Way.  Just as there is no One True Way, there is no One True Goal or One True Technique.  Instead, there are lots of equally valid goals, and for each goal, lots of techniques for getting there.

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Focusing in: How we play

August 28, 2007

Our group plays exclusively traditional style games.  Some recent games include L5R, d20 Iron Kingdoms, d20 Modern/Spycraft, and V:tM.  I’ll be focusing on this sort of arrangement.  While there are indie games out there that answer the question “How can we address problems associated with traditional rpgs?” in unique ways, I’m seeking to answer the same question within a traditional framework that will be useful to my gaming group, and hopefully other groups like ours.  In other words, “What techniques can we use to make the traditional rpg experience better?”, rather than “What other games can we play?”

 In terms of the questions I posed in the last post, our group divides authority according to the traditional GM/player dichotomy.  We discourage “active postmodernism” and director stance.  We’re not entirely agreed on what other stances are OK, but actor and author are the primary candidates.


The beginning: goals

August 23, 2007

I’ve spent a lot of time in the recent and not-too recent past talking with my gaming group about what makes a game enjoyable.  From our past experiences and personal preferences, we’ve started to put the pieces together and build tools for GMs and players to improve their games.  While it has often been challenging to bring about change, the small push of talking openly about what we want and expect from a game has brought us closer to a common vision for our gaming experience.  However, my interest in this endeavour tends to exceed the group norm by a substantial margin.  I’m starting this blog as an outlet for my thought process, which I’m told is often involved and lengthy.  Hopefully, once I’ve explored ideas here, I’ll be able to bring the conclusions back to my group in a concise and useful way.

 My goals are:

  • To create tools that enable specific and precise communication about gaming:  I believe that communication is the cornerstone of successful gaming.  It is crucial between GMs and players in defining what the shared imagined space contains.  (Shared imagined space is a great term.  Three words, each necessary and sufficient to convey meaning.  Don’t get me started on “creative agenda”…yet.)  It is also critical when offering or soliciting advice about gaming; without accurately knowing the purpose of the parties involved, it is impossible to find appropriate solutions.  Finally, this kind of communication is important to allowing gamers to actually *use* theory.  All of these often bog down due to miscommunication stemming from poorly crafted definitions, or failure to revise or subdivide in the case of counterexample.  I seek to craft definitions and organize ideas in such a way that clear meaning can be communicated between group members quickly and efficiently.
  • To craft a (Grand Unified) Practical Theory of Roleplaying:  This is the holy grail of roleplaying theory.  I’ll be questing after it in the tradition started by my (many) predecessors.  I’ll incorporate as much existing theory as makes sense to me, and fill in the gaps with my own ideas.  Of course, I’ll be starting piecemeal as I think of things, so we’ll hold off on “Grand Unified” for now. 🙂  It seems to me that a problem with roleplaying theory is that both the purpose and applications are often neglected.  Sure, it’s an interesting thought, but why do I need it, and what can I do with it?  I’ll be looking for ways to connect theory (my own and others) to applications, in order to create what I’ll call “technology.”  Technology might best be considered techniques for pursuing a particular goal.  Want to speed up the pace of your game, or build party cohesion?  There’s technology for that.