2014-07-25 : RPGs Have Objects, Q&A

Wrapping up 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; The Trouble with RPGs; and The Trouble with RPGs (ii)

Let me tell you my platform:

It's good to make a good game even if it has a small potential audience, even if few people would enjoy it.

It's good to make more games, weirder games, and easier games to play.

Procedures, objects, components, players, strategy, style; these are words, ambiguous, not jargon. I'm telling a story about games, not creating a taxonomy or a model.

I cheerfully accept all disagreement on any point. My goal isn't to convince anybody of anything, only to say what I think myself. Some of you might find this frustrating.

So, if you have outstanding questions, overall comments, observations, please feel free!

1. On 2014-07-25, Davide said:

Vincent, I lllloved - yeah, that much, with 4 l's - the concept of strategies and style, and how the Player make their style choosing between strategies. Somehow, in my head it got extended to the fact that the 'style' has a great influence on the resulting fiction.

After reading it became like 'well, obviously, that's in almost every game', but for some reason it was never formalized in my mind. Yes, not the smartest here.

Anyway, thanks for the package of useful insights!


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

Davide: Thanks for saying so!


3. On 2014-07-25, Aron said:

I had hard time to understand what object of the game means but now I'm OK with that. But I have two questions.
I see the connection between procedures, objects, components and the strategy. I can't see this connection with style. Or the style is an independent element in a game?
I can't understand the bell curve of experiences. How do you position an experience? Do the Y axis represent enjoyment? What does the X axis represent?


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

Aron: On the x-axis: whatever quality you're interested in. Enjoyment, sure. Character identification. How many times you roll dice. How many sessions get cancelled. Whether your character gets killed. Anything.

On the y-axis: quantity, across all play. How many people, groups, how many times they have that same experience.

On style: when you have more than one strategically sound choice for which play to make next, you still have to choose one. Since they're all strategically sound, you have to choose on some other basis. I'm calling that "style."

It's an important part of the idea that strategy and style go hand in hand.


5. On 2014-07-25, Gordon said:

Well, there's the "supplant" thing here, but it is perhaps unimportant. And I'd love to know why "The Trouble with RPGs."

But what I'd really like to know more about is dealing with the ambiguous - the complexity. Acknowledging that there are multiple objects is one thing, but dealing with how that impacts design seems like a big deal. A big deal that isn't addressed by looking at one object, one context for strategies and style.

Or the complexity of understanding/communicating the procedures. Or of knowing if something is, or isn't, or was but now isn't, "strategically sound."

I mean, I'm liking what's building here - and thanks so much for posting it - but every time I start imagining using it, I find myself going "But what about ..." What about conflicts/overlaps/support from multiple objects? What about objects not "of the game", but of the players? What about objects that only emerge in gameplay (perhaps due to design, or perhaps not)? What about the fact (I'd say) that at most moments of play, in most RPGs, the set of at least potentially strategically sound decisions is HHUGE?

Of course, no reason I shouldn't just swat away on my own at the Furies of complexity chasing me through Achaea, but I am curious as to if they (perhaps in some personal variation?) pester you and if so, where you've stashed them for this series of posts.


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

Gordon: Here's why it's not a big deal.

When you design a game, you have insight into your subject matter, insight into real human experience, and insight into roleplaying as a practice. Your insights cut through ambiguity and complexity; that's what an insight is.

When you design to express your insights, the question is never how much complexity or ambiguity you must deal with, accommodate, work around. Your insights already dealt with, accommodated, worked around all of it. The question is simply how clearly, how artfully, how well, you can express your insights.


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This makes...
VB go "well, and how good your insight is."*
AF go "calls to mind cheap tricks"*
VB go "excellent connection!"*

*click in for more

7. On 2014-07-25, Gordon said:

Vincent, that's ... flat-out, personal-impact inspirational. Thank you. I mean, I very much remember the three insights thing, but the cutting through adds a punch. Thanks again for the, um, insight.

Of course, it's absolutely no help with "how can I even talk at Vincent's blog about strategy and style when 'strategically sound' is so frickin' complex!?!", but hey, I'll take insight over explanation here.

No bites on why "The Trouble with RPGs"?

And again, with as much sincerity as thainawebz will allow, thanks.


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This makes...
GcL go "I almost asked "what does this say about the 3 insights thing?""*

*click in for more

8. On 2014-07-25, Aron said:


Bell curve understood.

I understand what is style and why is it important in games (especially RPGs) but I don't know how style emerge from procedures, objects and components. Or do you mean these things include style? So a procedure is not simply a mechanic but it includes the style of the text in the manual? A board as a component of a board game includes the art?



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

Gordon: No sweat!

Oh, "the Trouble with RPGs" just because so many RPGs are so unnecessarily cagey about their objects. The conventional wisdom about RPGs has been that none of them have objects, or that their objects are so complex that we can't summarize them, or that they don't come from the game's design but from the players, and I consider all of this nonsense and troublesome.

edit to add: When we talk about strategy and style, we won't be able to draw any conclusions across games, no, because "across games" includes every complexity and ambiguity. But we will be able to talk concretely about individual games and use good examples to explore the topics.

Like I say, I'm not trying to build a taxonomy here. Not even a model. A critical theory at most, but probably just a (hopefully) compelling and useful story.


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This makes...
GcL go "Easier to imagine "strategically sound" in the context of a particular game"*

*click in for more

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

Aron: Oh! No, I'm talking about a different kind of style. I'm talking strictly about your playstyle when you're playing the game. When you play a game, I'm saying, your playstyle fits within, goes hand in hand, with playing well.


11. On 2014-07-25, Andy said:

Don't really have a followup comment. Just saying that this was a really cool exploration!


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This makes...
VB go "cool, thanks!"

12. On 2014-07-25, Joao said:

do what you like, like what you do.


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This makes...
VB go "advice I will try to take to heart."

13. On 2014-07-25, Gordon said:

Vincent - So, is that (RPGs don't have 'em, or they're too complex, or only from players)  the conventional wisdom you're referring to here in encouraging thinking about the object?

I find acknowledging the complexity and the existence/role of player objects useful, but yeah, not that they universally supplant (heh) the designed object(s). So I think I'm avoiding those conventional wisdom traps, but I'd be interested if there were others you see.


14. On 2014-07-25, Aron said:

Vincent: Playstyle? I thought you wrote about style in the games. Now I'm really confused. :-)

Example: in the Small World board game there are fantasy races. Each has a special ability (procedures) and each has tokens (components). A player can choose between the available races and she use strategy to do so. Strategy emerge from procedures & components & object. If there are more than one strategically good race the player use style. (She choose the Hobbits because she loves Frodo from the books.) But in this case there is an element of game design she base her decision: the fantasy theme, the fantasy races, the art on the cards. The game designers choose this deliberately and this effects the decisions of the players. This element of game design is not in the procedures, components and objects.
Did I misunderstood something?


15. On 2014-07-25, Jesse Burneko said:

Vincent, if this is an aside let me know and I'll take it elsewhere but...

I see you talking a lot about the "audience" for a game being a property of the game.  On one hand that thought is kind of freeing.  Make the game, and it will have the audience it's going to have; big or small don't sweat it.

On the other that's kind of frustrating because it suggests there's no way to deliberately grow a given game's audience.  Do you believe that?  Do you believe there's really no way to take a game from an audience of 10 to an audience of 100 to an audience of 1000?



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

Jesse: If a game has a potential audience of 1000, and so far it's reached 10, then yes, you can take it from 10 to 100 to 1000. This requires you to invest the right kind of work at the right time.

If a game has a potential audience of 10, and it's reached them all, then no amount of work of any kind will ever get it to reach 100, let alone 1000.

A game's potential audience changes over time, of course. Public tastes change. The needs of the marketplace change. People grow and regress. You might discover 15 years later that now your game has an audience of 1000, who knew?

But the kind of publishing I do, with a $0 budget for marketing and complete reliance on word of mouth? There's really no way to take a game whose potential audience is 10 people and make 1000 people like it.


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This makes...
JB go "Hmm.. Freeing AND Depressing."

17. On 2014-07-25, Jwok said:

@Vincent RE designing games around insights: That is a truly inspirational bit of wisdom. Incidentally, ALL of your game design suddenly make sense to me now. To echo Gordon, thank you so much for your...well, your insight :)

I'm curious - do you only design games around these insights,or do you ever make something just because its "kinda cool"?


18. On 2014-07-25, Joshua said:

I have a thing I want to say, and I want to say it here even though it was prompted by a comment [link]

Judson Lester said the following in response to Jesse Burneko's comment about choosing to play the game that matched the attitude or play style one wanted to play in. He used the phrase "right tool for the job"

Judson says:
"What you're saying parses, but I don't agree with some of your premise. I mean, when I set out to make a thing, I pick a toolset. That toolset is never a game. [...]"

So I disagree obliquely with Judson, (ie. only when that phrase is taken out of context like I'm doing now).

This reminds me of something I've wanted to say since you started this series.  I think it is very interesting that you've framed this discussion about RPGs by seeking principles that are demonstrably true of all games.  This has resulted in a lot of argument by analogy. Ie. looking at strategy & style in chess. BUT...

...but I really think RPGs are only ever going to partially fit into a category that includes other games. The definition of words like "object" as used in the context of chess, or hockey, become necessarily tortured when we try to apply them to The Quiet Year or Breaking the Ice, (see what I did there, yeah I'd hate me too!). 

I think virtually all RPGs are a form of creative expression, like painting, writing, drama, or music.  I think you can safely say that "creation" is an inherent object in every play session in a way it is not in any game that is not called an RPG. Once that is said however I think it ceases to be helpful for a game designer to use the language of "object of the game" to describe the tone, genre, style of play best supported by the rules and procedures. Instead I would suggest, this would be the point at which you could start to use language from the other domain. Use metaphors like, palette, instrument, 'tool' to explain how this particular game is going to be best at helping its players create a certain kind of art.

This is not my original idea of course. I first heard it from Ron Edward in chapter 1 of Sorcerer but I hesitate to give him all the credit since 'role players', social theatre actors, drama therapists, clowns, etc.  have known this for a long time.

So Vincent, that is my response to this project and your very stimulating and exciting line of reasoning.  Thanks.


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This makes...
VB go "fixed your link!"

19. On 2014-07-25, Moreno R. said:

because so many RPGs are so unnecessarily cagey about their objects

Standing ovation.


20. On 2014-07-25, Jesse Burneko said:

Joshua, oh shit!  I think you just cracked open what's been itching me about this whole series and the point of view I've been arguing from.

RPGs aren't (to me) first and foremost *games*.  They're first and foremost tools for group creative expression, like musical instruments.

That's what's been bothering me.  That's what I've been trying to say to Vincent about playing games "right."

Some people make crap music because they don't know how to play the instrument well.  They aren't *using* it right.  And if they're unwilling to learn, they're never going to get *better*.


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

Joshua: Here's what The Quiet Year's website has to say about its object:

The Quiet Year is a map game. You define the struggles of a post-apocalyptic community, and attempt to build something good within their quiet year. Every decision and every action is set against a backdrop of dwindling time and rising concern.

Like I say, I cheerfully accept your disagreement!


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

Jesse: I think it's probably time for you to accept that you disagree with me about this.


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

For completeness' sake, here's what Breaking the Ice's website says about its object:

Players help one another tell the tale of romance arising between two characters, and the set-backs and wacky twists the lovers' tale may take.

Play out the ups and downs of a couple's first three dates. From first bumbling attempts to get to know one another, to the stirrings of trust and desire. Watch the attraction flare, and see if the flame will light a fire that will last for a lifetime—or just burn brightly and flicker out.


24. On 2014-07-26, Gordon said:

It's so easy for this to get all twisty-tangly cross-referential. Like, who's to say that "game" (in an object/etc. sense) can't BE the tool you choose to use? Then it's the people who don't know enough about "game" who aren't using it correctly and will never get better until they learn.

I'm assuming this series is much more about using the game tool well in RPG design than it is about what RPGs fundamentally ARE (in fact, I read establishing that as one of the purposes behind this particular post by Vincent). I'm hoping it's not necessary to think RPGs are first and foremost games to get value here, because for now I'm not sure what RPGs (even particular subsets of RPGs) first and foremost are - I'm actively trying to not worry about that.

In fact, as I consider the questions in the previous post (how to present object, when it's in your interest to ..., and etc.), I think I HAVE to abandon knowing what an RPG first and foremost is and instead just worry about the objects I care about/choose to focus on RIGHT NOW. Trying to answer those questions in any sense for all objects of even one particular game, never mind all RPGs ... ain't gonna happen.

It's a more focused way of thinking about this stuff than I normally adopt, and I do worry Vincent's losing some important stuff along the way (like, sometimes people ARE playing wrong despite basically/mostly/even entirely following the procedures, or that players do too have objects independent of the game), but maybe that's for later? Like, the truth is that the full set of all objects of a particular RPG maybe *is* impossible to talk about. But we can talk about (e.g.) these particular objects that're important to our insights. While there will be some interference from the other objects (and etc.), we don't need to fully understand to move forward.

Well, that's more of a personal digression than I planned, but I'll leave it in case someone finds it useful.

Looking forward to whatever's next ...


25. On 2014-07-26, Judson said:

As long as my words are being used as a springboard: yes, Jesse, I think that cracks something open - and that's definitely a point of disagreement. An RPG is a game, for sure, and that's part of what's intriguing about the form.

Let me ask you this: If what you're looking for is a 'tool for group creative expression,' why do you prefer RPGs to Improv or a writing workshop?


26. On 2014-07-26, Vincent said:

Jesse, Judson, Joshua: If there's some particular reason you'd like me to host this conversation, that's cool, let me know and it can continue here. Otherwise, it seems to me like it'd be more appropriate in one of your own spaces, wouldn't it? You can plus me in if you'd like me there.


27. On 2014-07-28, Vincent said:

Aron: I think I'm with you.

The visual style, the tone, and the content of the game can certainly affect a player's playstyle, yes.


28. On 2014-07-29, Vincent said:

Jwok: "I'm curious - do you only design games around these insights, or do you ever make something just because its 'kinda cool'?"

Huh! I don't know. When is it an insight, and when is it just kinda cool?

You know me. I don't think that any of my insights go beyond 'kinda cool.' Maybe one or two, but probably not.

Fortunately I do think that it's great for everybody to make all the kinda cool games they can, including me.


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