14 October 2014

Thoughts while watching the conversation between John and Zak

A conversation between John Wick and Zak S.

That conversation was spawned by John’s “Chess is not an RPG”. (I haven’t read that article at the time I’m watching the conversation.)

(Edit: I have now read the article...thoughts here.)

Note: These are just my thoughts. They are not necessarily absolute truths even if I seem to be stating them as such. As always on this blog, this is thinking out loud.

Role-playing—in the context of role-playing games—is making decisions in-character. Therefore you can role-play in any game that allows you to make decisions.

Since role-playing is making choices, the choices a game allows determines how much the game supports role-playing. By trading rules for rulings by a referee, you trade a finite number of responses to any choice for an infinite number. Sometimes called “tactical infinity”.

(There’s a point to be made that even with tactical infinity there may be limits on the choices. Infinity plus limits does not necessarily equal a finite set. But that’s probably a whole ’nother discussion.)

There is no denying that by the Moldvay edited Basic D&D booklet (pp. B2, B3, B60) and first edition AD&D DMG (pp. 7, 9, 230) DM rulings over rules is the explicit intent of D&D and AD&D.

I’d argue that it was there in the original game too, but the text is less clear. Also, descriptions of Chainmail games from before D&D indicate that Gygax and associates played that game very much in a “rulings over rules” fashion. For example, there was a story told of a Chainmail game where one side set fire to the woods where the other side had units holed up. (If anyone has a reference to a telling on that story, please post the link.)

It should be noted that even the original D&D had an example of play that does give some idea of how the game is meant to be played.

I laughed when John said that if you want to role-play don’t be a fighter. To me it is exactly the opposite. The fighter is the blank slate that only becomes interesting through role-playing. Although there has been some effort over the years to take that away from the class.

I like Zak’s analogy of a supermarket versus a set of ingredients and a recipe.

Although in a couple of editions of D&D a three minute combat might take three hours to play out, that hasn’t generally been the case.

Has there ever been an edition of D&D that explicitly says seducing a barmaid can be done in a minute with a single die roll? Even in editions with skills and even if it were a single roll, wouldn’t that typically be played out by doing a lot of things over time to accumulate bonuses to that roll?

Unless you just want to get it out-of-the-way fast because it isn’t something the group wants to spend time on. In which case this is a feature. And it still is a ruling instead of a rule.

There is something about the simplicity of the battle rules in Diplomacy that really seems to drive the negotiation aspect of the game.

The combat system in Moldvay’s Basic D&D really is simple and not the majority of the book. In my experience, this is essentially how people played combat most of the time in AD&D. Others have told me their experience is similar.

That simplicity, however, seems to allow real tactics to be applied effectively. Rules mastery is not required. Which, I think, makes it easier to make decision more in-character and less as-player.


What is the difference between a role-playing game and a conventional game?

When I am attempting to design a conventional game, I am trying to make a closed system. When I am attempting to design a role-playing game, I am trying to leave things open for player creativity and referee rulings. So the difference between a conventional game and a role-playing game isn’t that the rules tell you to role-play but that the rules leave space for role-playing.

Did the original D&D do this intentionally or accidentally? shrug Maybe both. The afterword seems to say that it was at least partially intentional.

While it may not be that people role-played in D&D because the rules were incomplete, I don’t think that can be counted out as a factor.

And, as always, I’m not sure that role-playing games even are games.

Another thought: “Role-playing” in the sense of “playing a role-playing game” is making decisions for the character. Those choices may not be made purely in-character. (Role-playing2 is not always purely role-playing1.) I’m OK with some amount of “metagaming”.


jbeltman said...

I have heard some people talking about the thief, saying that you do everything in your power to avoid using your rolls to do stuff. The thief skills are the last resort if you haven't managed to do what you want by other means. e.g. Ask for descriptions, clarifications, then use tools to examine, the find traps roll is the last resort.

From wargames that use a referree, wouldn't a competitive player try their best to do stuff that wasn't in the rules to get an advantage over their opponent? Roleplaying is an extension of that. From reading actual play accounts it seems they have an actual avoidance of using the rules. If you are using the rules then you are in danger. You level the terrain and your opponent can now know the rules they can fight you with. There are no suprises. Using the rules, again, should be a last resort, and the roleplaying aspect of these games is a deliberate avoidance of the rules of the game in order to be more successful at it. If you have to use the rules, make sure they are stacked in your favour. They found a new way to play a game, by avoiding the rules altogether.


Robert Fisher said...

Yes. It was a real eye opener to me when I encountered the concept that the rules tell you what not to do when I started hanging out at Dragonsfoot.

Even in something like chess... The rules tell you how to make captures, but most of the time in play you merely threaten to make captures rather than making them.

There’s always a jump between learning the rules and learning to play the game.