2014-07-24 : The Trouble with RPGs (ii)

Following from Procedure, Components, Object, Strategy, Style; Strategy vs Style; Objects of RPGs; Non-Endstate Objects, Strategy & Style; Aside: Designing a Bell Curve; The Object and Particular Strategy; Reminder: Object Schmobject; and The Trouble with RPGs

Say that you've created a game with an object, and you're considering how best to present it to its audience.

When is it in your interests to give a quick, sharp summary of your game's object? When is it in your interests to give a vague, ambiguous summary? And when is it in your interests to leave it out, so that your audience will have to guess or discover it for themselves?

Remember that you're creating a bell curve. What effect on the bell curve does it have when you include a summary of your game's object, versus when you don't?

Look back at these three games. Why didn't their authors just come out with it? Why did they include vague, ambiguous summaries of their games' objects instead of quick, sharp ones (or did they)? Did they have good reasons, bad reasons, or what? How would you guess it has worked out for them?

These aren't questions with definite answers. I have my opinions and judgments, you have yours. Feel free to tell us all your opinions and judgments if you want, but remember that we're indie! Nobody gets to tell us what's what, we all have to decide for ourselves.

1. On 2014-07-24, Vincent said:

Or when is it in your interests to give a misleading summary? Sometimes you might want to do that instead!


2. On 2014-07-24, Vincent said:

When is it in your interests to include a section called "what is roleplaying" instead?

Or "what is Story Now"?


3. On 2014-07-24, Jesse Burneko said:

I think sometimes the "object" of the game is meant to be a guide that keeps play focused, but if everyone goes for it as fast and hard as they can you miss out on the journey.

I think Burning Empires suffers from this in that it clearly states that the object is to win the Infection mechanics.  But that's kind of trivial to do if everyone just aligns their Beliefs with that idea and maximizes their helping dice and skill use to mutual benefit.

If you don't take the extra step of treating your character as an individual with their own hopes, goals and dreams aside from stopping the Vaylen then the game is kind of boring.  There must be tension between the Infection driven macro game and the Belief driven micro game.  And since Beliefs are controlled by the players they have to buy into that tension and to certain degree create it themselves.  If all they cared about was the stated "object", then it's against your own interests as a player of the game to do anything but write Beliefs about winning the Infection.

Burning Empires requires a certain honesty about culture, politics and human ambitions.  In absence of that honesty the "object" is easily achievable.  So the "object" can't be the only thing you care about in the game.

So it might be best to downplay or be indirect about an "object" when it's supposed to be a distant beacon in the dark that informs are larger sea of priorities and expectations.


4. On 2014-07-24, Jesse Burneko said:

Addendum: There's a similar phenomenon that happens with the black wererat dice in "It Was A Mutual Decision".  Some people just grab them all the time because, "Haha, Wererat!" which misses the point.

But I'm not sure how that relates to clarity/obscurity of the object in that game.  Perhaps that problem would be solved with clearer object.  I'm not sure.

Note: The wererat black die spamming problem has been in my mind throughout this entire series of articles.  I think it's extremely relevant to the them but I haven't quiet figured out how.


5. On 2014-07-24, PaulCzege said:

The reason I never published Acts of Evil is because players never managed to do what Jesse says, treat their characters as individuals who pursue curiosity about NPCs and situations and enjoy the journey. Instead they would just bomb into situations and beat out the minimum threshold of fictional details to trigger and advancement roll. Because everyone knew from the mechanics, even if I never said it explicitly, that the objective of the game was to advance quicker than the other players, be the one to achieve occult godhood, and then describe how everyone else meets their doom. And they played like this even though they knew it wasn't fun, and that it would be more fun to just enjoy roleplaying and occult craziness and see what happened.
And I couldn't have fixed the game by obfuscating the objective somehow or by including some text about how important it is to roleplay. There's no way to obfuscate it when the mechanics point to it so strongly. I toyed with the idea of making "roleplaying" part of the path. But that's not the solution. The solution is to make the winner less certainly determined by the working of the mechanics.


6. On 2014-07-24, Vincent said:

Paul: Totally agree.


7. On 2014-07-24, Kit said:

Paul gets at something important here: that a game's object, and the way to play it for the most fun (will-o-the-wisp that that idea is) might be misaligned, and people will just as often play towards the object rather than the fun.

(And sure, maybe there's a sense in which "going towards the object, come hell or high water" is fun, but maybe we can all agree that there's a distinct shade of meaning there?)


direct link

This makes...
GcL go "And vice versa, finding fun FOR THEM no matter the object"

8. On 2014-07-24, PaulCzege said:

I'll have you know that I did it right in The Clay That Woke. The object has no direct connection to the character mechanics.


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This makes...
GcL go "But indirect - is that important?"*
PL go "indirect"*
GcL go "What kind of indirect probably matters"*

*click in for more

9. On 2014-07-24, Vincent said:

Kit: Yes! Roborally provides a good non-RPG example. It's the most fun when you play fast enough to make mistakes, but it's better strategic play to methodically double- and triple-check every turn.


10. On 2014-07-24, Kit said:

Is this another facet of the "part of a game is to make it enjoyably hard to achieve the object" thing?


11. On 2014-07-24, Alan said:

I saw something similar to Jesse. I love Mythender, as do most of the people I've played it with. But one friend saw the objective (kill the god without ascending) and correctly identified that it's a relatively straightforward optimization problem.  All the over-the-top stuff that is a big part of Mythender's fun is really just color. He couldn't enjoy the game.

I can declare the "real" objective to be: "Do crazy awesome stuff," but there isn't a matching "You might not be able to do it, though, because...." Doing crazy awesome stuff is guaranteed. Maybe it's "because you might not be creative enough," which doesn't seem like a fun challenge to me.


12. On 2014-07-24, Vincent said:

Alan: Designing an RPG that's just a straightforward optimization problem is really easy to do. We saw a lot of those at the Forge.


13. On 2014-07-24, MichaelPrescott said:

Amazing. We had a similar experience with Torchbearer's town phase - my players went at it so hard as an optimization problem that it overwhelmed the experience of just, you know, being in town.


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This makes...
JB go "I think that's intentional. Shopping in Red Box D&D had little to do with RPing in town."

14. On 2014-07-24, MichaelPrescott said:

Jesse, what your post about Burning Empires is making me think is that the game simply misstates the object. (Or, perhaps, that there's a more useful object than the explicit one.)  It might be something like, "Engage the mechanics to portray a character conflicted between their personal goals and fighting the infection."

So, it's useful to present the object of a game when play groups will likely not stumble on it in play.  Yet, discovering an object can be delightful.

Also.. I feel like there can be multiple objects in a game that are comprehensible at different times. Monsterhearts might have an object or portraying a teen struggling with three kinds of identity crisis, but if you don't know how to do that, "Use the moves a lot," and "Let others' moves influence you," seem to work really well.


direct link

This makes...
CW go "Not *can*, *must*"*
GcL go "I agree, CW"*

*click in for more

15. On 2014-07-25, Jim D said:

So, springboarding on MichaelPrescott's point, would it be reaching to think about concentric objects, kind of like concentric mechanics (cf. Apocalypse World and your Monsterhearts example)?  Like, if you couldn't accomplish "being a teen struggling with identity", you could accomplish "let the moves influence you"?

Is that a useful notion to extrapolate to other games outside of the *World ecosystem?


16. On 2014-07-25, Vincent said:

Jim D: Astute! I'm going to incorporate that idea into my thinking immediately.


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