10 January 2009

RPG drivers, take 2

Isn’t “sandbox” really “PC driven”?

“Plot driven” sounds like “railroading” to me. I think often, however, “plot-driven” is used to mean “DM driven”. “DM driven” can mean either “railroading” or “NPC driven”.

So, my list of alternatives is beginning to look like...

  • Railroading
  • Character-driven

About railroading: Although it is often considered a dirty word—especially among the grognards—I tend to think it is perfectly valid...in moderation.

So, now I’m thinking less in terms of alternatives and more of a continuum. A triangle with the vertices...

  • Railroading (DM predestination)
  • NPC driven (PCs reacting to NPCs)
  • PC driven (PCs being proactive)

I really should’ve drawn a diagram to emphasize that these are extremes rather than alternatives, but that’s too much work for “thinking out loud”. Well, today it is.

Does sitting on any of these vertices makes for a particularly good game? Don’t you really want a mix?

Perhaps being closer to the “PC driven” vertex is better and being closer to the “railroading” vertex is worse.


Dwayanu said...

It depends on your criteria! You've got to have a context of prior valuations from which to derive these.

When I go to an RPGA event, I know that there's a set program of "encounters" ahead. The only real choices I have are in dealing with those situations, and even those are narrowed by a formal distinction of some as "combat encounters" and others as "skill challenges." Within that scope, it serves the needs of a game -- but not what I consider a good role-playing game.

Going beyond that kind of (already extreme) "railroading" to cheating -- "fudging" rules or rolls to ensure that a predetermined "story" unfolds -- removes the game element as well, reducing the exercise to one of amateur theatrics.

My own preference is for the game as originally designed: a referee impartially managing an environment the players are free to explore at will.

That events in that environment may proceed along predictable courses in the absence of player interference is NOT "railroading." On the contrary, it is an essential part of giving the players a milieu that makes sense rather than being wholly arbitrary.

Robert Fisher said...

I’m not sure how I’d use criteria when observing what things drive RPGs.

I know I don’t need context, though. This is thinking out loud after all. ^_^

And I’d agree. I’m talking about RPGs here, not RPGA events. ^_^

Yes, railroading is not things going on in the absence of action by the PCs. Railroading is when the referee (obviously or subtly) controls the actions of the PCs.

“My own preference is for the game as originally designed: a referee impartially managing an environment the players are free to explore at will.”

Right. Which to me says that what is going to drive things is the interplay between PC and NPC actions.

Robert Fisher said...

Duh! Criteria have to do with my question about what makes a good game.

Robert Fisher said...

My point was...I think...that whatever your criteria, I suspect sitting staunchly on a vertex isn’t going to make for a good game.

If it’s all railroading, that gets annoying.

If it’s all the PCs reacting to NPC actions, that gets annoying.

If it’s all the PCs acting and the NPCs never take any initiative, that gets annoying.

Hmm...it’s probably too late for me to be posting... ^_^

Dwayanu said...

What I meant by criteria and context is what you want to get from an RPG.

A good stock of interesting NPCs sure is a big help. All around, I found the Griffin Mountain campaign book for RuneQuest an excellent resource; the mix of elements therein should be a good model.

Superhero games in my experience tend (as in the comics) mainly to be a matter of the heroes reacting to the schemes of villains. Actually, it seems a general rule of more player-driven games that the PCs are freebooters or rogues rather than upholders of the status quo. Even the superheroes tend not to take much initiative in improving the world constructively as opposed to "smashing evil-doers."