03 February 2008

Three approaches to RPGs

Here’s an attempt to categorize some styles of play in role-playing games. Please note that these are stereotypes; they are charactitures. Real games and real gamers are going to have some mix of these approaches.

  • Adventure focused: The meat of the game is exploring, searching, and puzzle-solving. The combat system tends to be simple so that combat is over quickly and the game can get back to the adventuring. Discussions are for figuring out where to go to adventure or extracting clues to solve puzzles.
  • Combat focused: Adventuring and discussion are just filler between cool fights. The combat system is at least moderately complex, though it can be either abstract or simulationist.
  • Discussion focused: The players (and GM) are talking “in character” as much as possible. The game is about negotiation, diplomacy, politics, etc. Combat is for when negotiations break down. Adventuring is just for getting to the next discussion.

Contrary to the opinion I’ve often read—based both on my own experience and reading about the earliest role-playing sessions—the adventure focus was first. Although the earliest players were wargamers, they quickly dropped the more complex wargame combat systems for more simplified and abstract ones.

Then games like TFT came along that seemed to strike in a more combat focused direction. I suspect that as AD&D spread, many AD&D groups tended towards a more combat focused style, though TSR themselves were still playing more adventure focused. In GURPS, we see the combat system split into the basic (adventure focused) and advanced (combat focused) levels. I’ve definitely seen a number of D&D3e games that are more combat focused than any AD&D game I ever played. What I’ve read of Feng Shui, it seems to be very combat focused too, which seems appropriate for it.

I suppose the World of Darkness games are the poster child for the discussion focus, but I haven't actually played them.

The discussion focus, perhaps, needs mechanical support the least. Though there can be mechanics to support discussion focus. And sometimes games have mechanics that can be used to minimize or replace the discussion aspects of the game.

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