2005-05-06 : A complete game has...

From my point of view as just some guy; the judge(s) of the game chef competition may have wholly other opinions.

Also from my point of view as a guy with some opinions about quality; people who don't agree with me about what's good may have wholly other opinions as well.


1) Mechanical rules for opposition, situation, IIEE, resolution and outcome. They should include both a reward mechanism and a positioning mechanism.

2) Mechanical rules establishing each player's starting position wrt resolution and reward for sure, and the others as appropriate.

3) Rules or guidelines providing each player with an answer, at every moment, to "what should I be doing right now?"

4) Enough material to kick the players without any further work on their part into agreement about at least two of: characters, situation, setting and color. Characters and setting is the easiest, but not-at-all easy to get right; characters and situation is the easiest to get right.

5) Rules or guidelines for coming to agreement about the other two.

6) Violence, sex, children, money, God, or art.

Anything I've missed?

1. On 2005-05-06, Vincent said:

I emphasize: this is not an official answer for the Game Chef Competition. This is my personal answer, in general, to anybody who wonders what I happen to personally think.


2. On 2005-05-06, Jeffrey Straszheim said:

Question, what is a positioning mechanism?


3. On 2005-05-06, Ben Lehman said:



P.S.  Do you absolutely need mechanical rules for situation?  It seems to me that that means situation needs to be predefined.  How do you reconcile these two statements?


4. On 2005-05-06, Vincent said:

Jeffrey: A positioning mechanism is a rule that lets you say, with the weight of the rules behind it, "this thing right here? I really care how it turns out." My favorite way to put it is "if you don't like your roll, here's what you can do..."

Examples include hero points in Hero Wars, fan mail in Primetime Adventures, spiritual attributes in the Riddle of Steel, trust in the Mountain Witch (in a really cool, unusual way), even karma in Shadowrun (in a broken, stupid way).

Usually it's a replenishing resource you spend voluntarily for some kind of bonus or reroll or modifier or something, but not always.

The reason Shadowrun's karma is broken is a) you choose between spending it now on this roll or saving it for permanent character improvement; b) spending it now on this roll is less effective than saving it; c) it replenishes so slowly that if you do spend it you're left seriously behind. (Shadowrun first edition, this is; dunno about later editions.)

Spiritual attributes in the Riddle of Steel aren't (primarily) an expendable resource; instead, they're things like "I must kill the two-armed man" and you get them on every roll(!) that has anything to do with them. What makes them voluntary is that you get to decide what they are, and you can change them pretty much at will over the course of play.

The Mountain Witch's trust is interesting and unusual because a) you get it from your fellow players and b) you spend it on their rolls, not your own. Like, I might give you 3 trust; you then get to decide when to contribute them to my rolls - and furthermore, you get to decide whether to contribute them on my side or on my opponent's. It creates a really intense and prodoctive inter-player dynamic.

A positioning mechanism is necessary if you want your players to feel ownership of and have power to contribute to what happens. Which you definitely should want.

Thank you, please ask!

Ben: Politics yes!

Your mechanical rules have to take situation into account, I meant. You need rules or guidelines for creating an initial situation, but they can be social, whatever. You need mechanical rules for resolving the current situation into a new, subsequent situation, of course. They need to capture, reflect, represent, or some other how take the current situation into account.


5. On 2005-05-07, JasonL said:

I may participate.

Vincent, a question, if I may?

re: 4) How much material is generally needed about character?  Is a good, sound, character creation and reward system enough, or are you talking in 'who these characters are in the SIS' terms, ala "yer all Vampyre's, Dude!"


"Oh, it's you...


6. On 2005-05-08, Vincent said:

Jason: a character is wholly imaginary, wholly fiction. A character is a fictional person with a) a stake in an issue and b) fitness to follow through on the stake, whatever in particular that means.

As designer, you should provide enough material that characters are easy to come up with (stake and fitness and all). You can do this either directly, like "everybody should think of a sorcerer at a turning point (kicker)." Overwhelmingly most games do it this way. Or you can do it indirectly, like "collectively describe a town in crisis. Now, everbody choose someone who lives in the town and who's a figure in the crisis." Very few games do it this way - Legends of Alyria will, I understand; I don't know any others.

The mechanical parts of "character creation" are the [i]player's[/i] starting positon wrt resolution, reward and maybe the others. You need that no matter what your game does with characters.


7. On 2005-05-08, Charles said:

Although it may not do it that well, Ars Magica also does the "collectively describe a town in crisis. Now, everbody choose someone who lives in the town and who's a figure in the crisis." I guess it does it more like: "Choose somebody who lives in the town and is important, now collectively describe the crises of the town so that they involve the important people. Flesh out the other people who turn out to be important to what's going on." At least, the covenant rulebook from some edition (I don't remember which one) did.


8. On 2005-05-09, Ghoul said:

This post is to see if I'm in-synch with what you're saying...  I like the idea of defining this, as I've often felt that big RPGs I've read are somehow incomplete, while very small RPGs are complete.  And I've debated with people just what "complete" means a couple of times (for one example, here.

I've always (well, OK, for maybe 10 years or so... it's included in the blog post above) said an RPG needs only two things...

A) A means for creating characters that not only makes them interesting and dynamic but also determines them in a useful shorthand (usually game mechanical form) that can be used in...

B) A means for resolving conflicts between the characters or between the characters and the world at large.

But I actually like your list much better.  My (A) was intended to include your (2) and (3) and a tiny bit of (4), but not really enough of it (especially since "interesting and dynamic" are hard terms to define), and it isn't stated as well.  My (B) is (much) better stated as your (1).

(3) and (4) are, I think, the critical spot most games lack without realizing it.  Without them, characters are a bundle of abilities without a purpose (lack of (3)), or (even worse, I think) a bundle of abilities at cross purposes with other players' bundles of abilities on issues other than those covered by the mechanical rules for resolving opposition (i.e., the things you list in (4)).

I'd never thought about (5) much... but I like it.  It points out that this sort of conflict is NOT the sort refered to in (1) (though the same rules COULD be used, I suppose... perhaps Universalis is an example of this, if I understand it correctly).

I'd certainly write my blog post above differently with this list of requirements in-hand.  And it'd be a better post for it.


9. On 2005-05-09, Vincent said:

Charles, yeah. How cool Ars Magica would be if to start play you created a covenant, created serious crisis for it ("although they didn't realize it then, this event would transform the covenant forever..."), and created characters only then!


10. On 2005-05-09, Ninja Hunter J said:

V., that's a neat idea for a game there. I gotta think about that.


11. On 2005-05-09, Neel said:

So, I guess I'll disagree.

Here's a game I ran once, when I was in college. It was a "puzzle SF" game, inspired by old SF short stories by Issac Asimov or Poul Anderson—in each scenario, I put the PCs in a situation with a scientific problem in it, and the players had to use deduction and their science knowledge to find a way out of it. For example, part of one game was basically lifted directly from Poul Anderson's "A Three-Cornered Wheel", where the players had to move some heavy equipment from point A to point B, but the alien natives had a religious prohibition against the use of circles in wheels. How do you move the equipment without angering the natives, when you have only medieval-equivalent tech to work with?

It failed most of your criteria, but was one of the most fun games I've run. I'll run through 1-6.

1-2. It missed on all counts. The closest we came to mechanics was that I'd publically do back-of-the-envelope calculations to figure out if a player's idea was reasonable. (The public part was to ensure that I was modelling their actual idea, so they could argue about my assumptions, and to check my work.)

It totally lacked any reward or positioning mechanism during play. The reward was outthinking me, and I suspect that the players would have been strongly opposed to adding any of that—it would have said, socially speaking, that I didn't think their naked brains were good enough to beat me, since mechanics are often seen as "belonging" to the GM.

The only other thing was that if they failed to solve their problem, I was expected to outline a solution that could have worked, to prove that they hadn't faced a no-win situation.

3. There were no guidelines here. This wasn't a problem, because brainstorming tends to draw everyone around the table in—the hardest part of GMing for me was to stay quiet as the players talked and argued.

4-5. The PCs were basically tokens representing resources and constraints, so the players would figure out what to do and then have their PCs execute. The situation and the setting were provided by me, and helped form the problem for the players. I think you'd be happy with the setup here.

6. Nope, none of these. But science surely deserves its own category, right?


12. On 2005-05-09, xenopulse said:


Given that we're talking about RPGs, and thematic ones at that, on this blog, is it possible that your SF Puzzle Game is not a thematic RPG, but something else? For example, a puzzle game? I've solved many puzzles with hypothetical situations where the "characters" are simply pawns for the approach to the puzzle. Solving the puzzles was fun, but I didn't consider it RPing.

- Christian


13. On 2005-05-09, Ben Lehman said:

Christian—I think there's a lot of interest to be explored here before we go banging to "not an RPG" drum.  My question was not about thematic empowered play at all.  It was about a role-playing game (any sort of role-playing game) text.

Neel—See above.  This is not at all a question about system in play, text in play, or play at all.  No one is arguing about freeform play, in any of its many systematic forms.  It is a question about "what elements are necessary before a role-playing game text can be considered complete?"

If you were going to write up an RPG book for that game you played, to help others play the same or a similar game, what elements would you include, either mechanical or in terms of player and GM advice, before you could consider the game text "complete?"



14. On 2005-05-09, xenopulse said:

Well... you're right. I didn't mean to be dismissive, rather, I mean to explore what kind of game we're discussing the "necessary ingredients" for. They'll differ, surely, for different types of games.


15. On 2005-05-09, Neel said:

Hi Ben, I certainly agree that there was a lot of system in that game but there's a difference between system and mechanics, especially in the reward system. Outwitting the GM is certainly a reward, but it's not one you can easily mechanize. By "mechanize", I mean something you can put into the text of the game and have it work reliably across many groups. (For example, what if the other players can easily read the GM? Then they probably won't get much pleasure in outwitting him or her, since it's so easy.)

This is actually the reason I haven't written it up— I don't know a good answer for your question! I've got a few ideas, but they'll have to wait until I have more time.


16. On 2005-05-09, Neel said:

I mean, the post about the ideas will have to wait because right now I have some work. More in a couple of days.


17. On 2005-05-09, anon. said:

This is actually the reason I haven't written it up—I don't know a good answer for your question!

Neither do I!  Writing game texts to teach a largely freeform game is hard, because you have to speak unspoken and sometimes ineffable system elements.

I mean, the post about the ideas will have to wait because right now I have some work. More in a couple of days.

Cool.  I look forward to it.



18. On 2005-05-09, Vincent said:

Neel: yeah, you aren't so much disagreeing with me as talking about a different subject. My group's Ars Magica game doesn't have some of my 1-6 either, but it's clearly a complete and playable game. Not a complete and playable game text though.


19. On 2005-05-09, Vincent said:

Or even more to the point: not a game I could submit to the game chef competition.


20. On 2005-05-09, Ben Lehman said:

I am totally submitting a game entitled "y'know... you do the thing with the stuff... trust me, it works out."



21. On 2005-05-10, Ninja Hunter J said:

The rules for my game are going to be about secretly currying favor with the other players to get them to do what you want with their characters. It's freeform and diceless and the only mechanic is that you must regret your actions in the morning.


22. On 2005-05-10, Eric Finley said:

Neel - I think you actually had (or could write down) most of Vincent's checklist for that game.  Check it -

1) The system chooses to recognize only a specific type of conflict.  All other conflicts are hors systeme.  Resolution is by scientific proposal.  Intent and initiation are the player's.  Execution is BOTE calculations by the GM, with consultation.  Effect is as derived thereby.  Reward for one-shot games is, traditionally, more about the satisfaction than the character advancement.  (You could also argue that this is the sort of game where practice is its own reward.)  Positioning is implicit in the fact that the system is incredibly selective as to which conflicts it addresses, and also in allowing all players input during the calculation/assumptions phase.

2) Level playing field for resolution; reward is binary, got it/didn't get it.  You start out not getting it.

3) Is obvious.

4) You pinned down situation and colour in the text.  Thorny problem; aliens or alien worlds, hard SF.

5) Characters and setting are necessitated by the specific situation, and (in the tradition of hard SF) the protagonists are largely interchangeable anyway.  So it's pawn stance; so what.

6) I would add 'science' under art, here.  Good science.

Just setting everything down to that checklist sure makes a heck of a decent outline document...

- Eric


23. On 2005-05-11, JasonL said:


I'm trying to work through Vincent's complete game checklist on a sample game - similar to what Eric and Emily are doing here on anyway - on my blog.

I'd appreciate any comments or questions or suggestions you may have.  You can just follow the link above, or point your browsers to and look for the JOMT entry.



"Oh, it's you...


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