When should RPGs tell you the goal(s) of play?

edited August 2014 in Story Games
My intuitive answer is "always". But many RPGs don't, and it seems presumptuous to assume their creators are all shameless deceivers or fools who don't understand their own games.

It's also tough for me to judge just when an RPG is or isn't being forthcoming about the goals of play. What about when a game tells you the characters' goals, and the player primarily plays their character? Good enough? Not even close?

By "goals of play", I do not mean the key objective at any given moment, like "avenge my father's death" or "earn enough points to exit the dungeon". Instead, I'm talking about the over-arching purpose of why we're playing at all. Example: "the purpose is to see how these characters fare, given who they are and the world they're in."

Inspired by Vincent's post here.
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Comments

  • Personally, I find a straightforward summary of game goals to be a welcome addition to the other orientation for play. Inspirational color is good, stuff about character goals is good, but when I assemble my buddies to play, I want to know, what's the purpose here? When I say "the purpose is to see how these characters fare, given who they are and the world they're in", is that something that the game is hell bent on supporting, or is it just, like, my opinion? I'd like to know before I bring a new game to people.

    If a rulebook is a "do what you want with this" toolkit, just tell me that, so now I know that it's on me and my friends to set our own goals. If a rulebook is all about killing monsters and leveling up and getting cooler, then I'd want to have that spelled out for me up front too, so I can pitch properly, or choose a different game, or whatever.

    Why doesn't every RPG tell me all this? I can only guess at the possibilities:
    - Vagueness doesn't hurt sales. Customers will project their own goals onto a game that doesn't contradict them.
    - Some customers buy RPG books for the fiction and flavor and sense of mystery, and overt statements of purpose would harsh that vibe.
    - Tradition and emulation of what's come before.
    - Some designers don't think in terms of player goals at all, and would be hard pressed to identify a purpose of play between "it's fun" and "the characters you can play are really cool".
    - Telling someone a goal is not the most important part of helping them pursue it. Some designers may have concluded (with or without trying it first) that stating goals isn't actually helpful. (I would, of course, disagree.)
    - Communication breakdown. They're trying to state the game goal(s), but what sounds clear to them does not sound clear to me. Flowery and fiction-based prose leaves me uncertain about the real-world facts.
  • I think a huge proportion of games - and game designers - simply don't know what they're for or what their purpose is. It's beyond the author's ability to communicate that.

    This is a reason why sometimes the best rulebooks are the ones that are *not* written by the designer.

    And I'm very much with you, here:

    While in theory I can imagine various games which might actually be stronger for keeping the object of play under wraps ("learn by playing"-type games, social experiments, and so on), I find a clear articulation of a game's goals to be one of the major selling points for me.

    Understand what makes a game tick, in my experience, and your fun with that game increases about 200%.
  • It's rare that games actually don't tell you what their object is (by this definition).
  • edited August 2014
    There's also a broad overlap between "game system" and "tool". When the designer thinks of the work as a tool, its "object" is rarely addressed prescriptively. The tacit understanding is that the consumer (typically a GM) is a skilled hobbyist who will make use of the tool in their own way. In such circumstances telling them what to do with the tool could be seen as either pointless or patronizing.

  • I agree with JDCorley, naturally.

    -Vincent
  • This is not a direct answer to anything here yet. I just got inspired to grab the closest rpg book here (well, second-closest - I chose not to consider Traveller 5th edition due to its obscure writing style) and look at what it has to say about the purpose of play (a better term than "goal" here, I think). The game I got happened to be Earthdawn, 1993 edition. Let's see what the purpose of playing Earthdawn is.

    On p. 10, after a brief introductory fiction:
    Earthdawn is a roleplaying game designed for two to eight players. Like many other roleplaying games, Earthdawn has an open-ended style of play. That is, the game has no definitive ending, no preset time limit or number of turns of play, and no single goal that, when achieved, marks the end of the game. Unlike other types of games, however, there is no winner or loser. The object of the game is to have fun while exercising your imagination. When this happens, everybody wins.
    ...(Some setting description)...
    In contrast to many other roleplaying games, characters in Earthdawn do not simply survive each adventure and become a little smarter or little richer. Earthdawn adds another dimension to roleplaying; its characters become heroic figures, accomplishing deeds so impressive that generation after generation will honor their memory in song and story. The world of Earthdawn brims over with legends, heart-stirring tales of famous adventurers told by the fireside to while away the night. Earthdawn player characters can become the figures in those legends. As they buid their characters' legends through play, they create the fireside tales that their descendants will tell about them. Gaining this heroic stature through daring deeds is as important a part of playing Earthdawn as any lesser gain riches or experience.
    On the next page, a general introduction to roleplaying emphasizes certain features:
    Everyone has read a book or seen a movie where the protagonist does something so utterly wrong that the reader or viewer wants to shout a warning to the character. But no warning from the audience can keep that character from doing what the plot demands, no matter how much trouble it lands him in. The readers and viewers can't change the character's behavior; we're just along for the ride. A roleplaying game turns this situation on its ear. In a roleplaying game the players control the actions, or play the roles, of their characters and respond as they wish to the events of the plot. If the player doesn't want his character to go through a door, the character won't. If the player thinks his character can talk him or herself out of a tight situation rather than resorting to that trusty pistol, he can talk away. The plot of a roleplaying game stays flexible, always changing based on the decisions the players make for their characters.
    That's then followed by an explanation of the traditional structural model: the GM creates and runs the world, the players run characters who experience the world. The purpose of the edifice is mentioned in passing later:
    The gamemaster describes the world as the characters see it, functioning as their eyes, ears, and other senses. Gamemastering takes both skill and practice to master, but the thrill of creating an adventure that engages the other players, tests both their gaming skills and the characters' skills in the game world, and captures the players' imaginations makes the gamester's job worthwhile. FASA publishes game supplements and adventures to aid the gamemaster, but talented gamemasters always adapt the game universe to suit their own style.

    A roleplaying game offers its players and level of challenge and personal involvement unmatched by any other type of game. Because the players and gamemaster create the adventures they play, what happens in the course of a roleplaying game is limited only by the players' imaginations.
    After that comes a longer introductory story, then setting history, and although I won't go through the book with a comb right now, my impression is that the book doesn't particularly go into the purpose of the enterprise again before the GM section. I almost didn't check that, but there's actually a couple of pages more on trad structural theory of roleplaying in there. Page 230 discusses control of the game, mostly (it encourages GM fiat, because the GM is the one who bothered to put the game together, so they should decide everything about anything), but there's also this:
    Roleplaying games are first and foremost a form of entertainment. Think about it. Why do you play roleplaying games? To get together with some friends and have a good time. [Then it goes on to suggest that you should stop, take a break and talk about it if the game stops being fun.]
    I'm sure there are many ways to interpret that, but what I take away from it is that Earthdawn has a purpose deeply embedded in the tradition of roleplaying, so far so that its authors treat the purpose almost as a given: roleplaying is fun, therefore we do it. This of course doesn't answer anything (such as, what is the fun thing), but we can read between the lines a bit and say that the Earthdawn theory of roleplaying is that it is fun to pretend to be a character in a story, and it is fun to tell stories for those characters to be in. And that's therefore the purpose of Earthdawn.
  • There's also a broad overlap between "game system" and "tool". When the designer thinks of the work as a tool, its "object" is rarely addressed prescriptively. The tacit understanding is that the consumer (typically a GM) is a skilled hobbyist who will make use of the tool in their own way. In such circumstances telling them what to do with the tool could be seen as either pointless or patronizing.
    I agree. I read a blog post somewhere saying that GURPS is more like a game engine that you can use to create a game of your own. Many definitions of games includes a goal, but in a simulator you often make up a goal of your own. Take Goat Simulator, as an example. Saying that a game always must consist of a goal is to limit yourself in what kind of games you can do.
  • edited August 2014
    By "goals of play", I do not mean the key objective at any given moment, like "avenge my father's death" or "earn enough points to exit the dungeon". Instead, I'm talking about the over-arching purpose of why we're playing at all. Example: "the purpose is to see how these characters fare, given who they are and the world they're in."
    I do think that the creator of the game should tell why to play the game. Mostly so it can attract the right kind of target audience, but also to make it easier to grok the mechanics. If the reader knows the game is about building group trust, then s/he can view each new mechanic in that light.

    But is that really a goal?

    A goal is a purpose but a purpose isn't a goal. Telling the reader why the game is fun isn't a goal, but it's a purpose.
  • So, the point in my quoting Earthdawn here was that I wanted to illustrate a common phenomenon in rpg writing where the mission statement of the game is muddled by what I like to call traditional homilies: an unexamined game design relies on unexamined, general claims about the game's purpose. Such homilies often result in a description of purpose that is either uselessly vague, or mistaken altogether. (Quality issues with the game itself may also be involved in making a mission statement muddled: if the game's purpose is vapid or it doesn't have one, it's difficult to write a sharp and correct mission statement.)

    Upon review Earthdawn, however, wasn't as bad as some games about this, so it's not by any means a perfect example for my initial purpose. I would still like to say that Earthdawn is really not sharply prescriptive in the way I like a game to express its purpose, but at least it does get in a few comments on the matter in between describing how to play. The mission statement is also reasonably accurate, I think; I haven't played the game, but I think I understand what it does and how, and saying that it's a vehicle for the GM to run adventures and players to run characters for the sake of reveling in fantasy stories is as accurate as any description I could manage. (Except maybe the interesting "Earthdawn is an attempt to fix D&D into a more literary fantasy genre mold" analysis, but that'd certainly be too much to ask of the game text.)

    So yeah, you may take this as an ambiguously successful attempt at demonstrating the traditional difficulties that games have in expressing their purpose :D
  • I kinda disagree about the importance of telling the players the purpose of a game. It's a bit hard hot explain for me and it may have more to do with the way I'm interpretating what I'm reading in this thread, so don't judge my answer until you have readed my whole attempt at explainig this. I may not even be able to explain it in a single post but I'll try my best.

    First, It's a Game. Everyone knows what's the purpose of a Game since we were little. It's meant to be an activity for having fun. So the real question is How is this game meant to be fun?

    Second, not all games are obvious about the answer to the question above until things are set in motion and the game starts. And people are able and eager to accept this because there's the fun of discovery there too. They let their curiosity lead them until they get what is all about, so the fun of learning gets amplified by the surprise.

    Think of it a bit, perhaps a better starting point is to think about boardgames; you see a boardgame, get curious about it, open it and try to understand what each piece of the contents is for. You compare the sum of that information to previous experiences and get an idea. Sooner or later you check the instructions and while the game can have an obvious goal, you certainly won't be able to see all the different possible events that would make you have fun until you've tried it at least once.

    But what do you need then?
    Well, all you need is the procedures. "First, setup: Everyone starts with $5, puts his character on the square marked with Go and takes turns rolling the dice and advancing that amount of spaces, then you can do whatever says on that space or use a card..."
    So you see, the procedures say nothing about how to have fun. It isn't needed, since how the game is fun will became obvious when you fall in the space marked wi the text "you can give a card to the player on your left", and you give that player the card that says "You can't win the game while you have this card" (well, at least, obvious to that players)

    Now, this may feel a bit too far from RPGs, but if you got my drift, you will see easily how it can be applied. RPGs are more complex of course, it's a game that actually includes a lot of smaller games that are interconnected and play at different levels. You can win at the resource-management game of your character's resources, but you also have to play the tactical game of battles. That chain of games can be interrupted if anyone can trigger the social confrontation, which in turn brings up the actoral stance and you'll see players compete for the best interpretation of a character, and the whole thing can switch focus if the GM introduces another event that again, changes the game everyone is playing.

    But are we actually conscious of all that while we play? Nope, we use a single line of thinking and let our intuition (narrative intuition, group sensitivity, common sense, etc) handle when and to what we switch the mechanics (smaller games). And that is "What's happening in the story?" (A.k.a. The Fiction)

    So well, yes, players do need to know the objective of the game first (You're X beings in Y world who need to do W to be able to Z) and since the game is so complex, you have to talk a bit more about how are the players going to have fun. By then it should be obvious that the purpose of all this activity is having fun. Perhaps now you see what I meant with the way I'm interpretating what I've readed so far, it's the term Purpose of the game that is nagging me a bit, I believe that it's either still too loaded and that's why I can't fully agree with it's importance.

    Okay, let me add a couple of thins that I believe are important here. Like, what are the key things that GMs and players actually need to know to play RPGs? IMHO, right after the objective of the game it's again, the procedures. How do we know when to switch from this mechanic to this other? Well, that's what the conversational Techniques are for. And right after that, you can expand all you want on as many mechanics you think your game should have.
  • edited August 2014
    Second, not all games are obvious about the answer to the question above until things are set in motion and the game starts. And people are able and eager to accept this because there's the fun of discovery there too. They let their curiosity lead them until they get what is all about, so the fun of learning gets amplified by the surprise.
    Extra Credit mentions a few examples of that. "Unfolding games" is what they call it. Usually no game objective are given, only tools to discover more.
    Think of it a bit, perhaps a better starting point is to think about boardgames; you see a boardgame, get curious about it, open it and try to understand what each piece of the contents is for. You compare the sum of that information to previous experiences and get an idea. Sooner or later you check the instructions and while the game can have an obvious goal, you certainly won't be able to see all the different possible events that would make you have fun until you've tried it at least once.
    If you're talking about the emergence of the game mechanics at the end, then I agree.

    I dunno how people take in a boardgame but ...
    But what do you need then?
    Well, all you need is the procedures. "First, setup: Everyone starts with $5, puts his character on the square marked with Go and takes turns rolling the dice and advancing that amount of spaces, then you can do whatever says on that space or use a card..."
    So you see, the procedures say nothing about how to have fun. It isn't needed, since how the game is fun will became obvious when you fall in the space marked wi the text "you can give a card to the player on your left", and you give that player the card that says "You can't win the game while you have this card" (well, at least, obvious to that players)
    ... I've been analyzing the structures of board game manuals, because I'm going to use their thinking in my next game, and they ALWAYS start with the game objective: how the game ends. Always.

    The procedures then enforce the game objective. That's why I talked about grokking the game mechanics. You wont probably understand the emergent behavior, but you will understand, or at least get a feeling for, the purpose of each game element when you're reading it.
    First, It's a Game. Everyone knows what's the purpose of a Game since we were little. It's meant to be an activity for having fun
    What a board game manual tells you is HOW to have fun. "Fun" doesn't mean anything by itself. It's a buzzword. To quote Twilight Imperium:
    Welcome to a galaxy of epic conquest, interstellar
    trade, and political intrigue. TWILIGHT IMPERIUM
    is an exciting board game in which 3-6 players seek
    to build a galactic empire by the cunning use of strategy,
    diplomacy, and resource management
    . By taking
    on the role
    of a great interstellar race, players will
    seek the ultimate goal: to claim the Imperial Throne
    on Mecatol Rex and lead the galaxy to a new age of
    glory.
    That's how you have fun with this game. (My emphases) Tight and to the point, in opposite to Earthdawn.
  • Yes, yes exactly to all you meant Rickard, as I poorly pointed in my post:

    So well, yes, players do need to know the objective of the game first (You're X beings in Y world who need to do W to be able to Z) and since the game is so complex, you have to talk a bit more about how are the players going to have fun. By then it should be obvious that the purpose of all this activity is having fun. Perhaps now you see what I meant with the way I'm interpretating what I've readed so far, it's the term Purpose of the game that is nagging me a bit, I believe that it's either still too loaded and that's why I can't fully agree with it's importance.

    Okay, let me add a couple of thins that I believe are important here. Like, what are the key things that GMs and players actually need to know to play RPGs? IMHO, right after the objective of the game it's again, the procedures. How do we know when to switch from this mechanic to this other? Well, that's what the conversational Techniques are for. And right after that, you can expand all you want on as many mechanics you think your game should have.
    (it was the last part of my post, that's why I started stating
    don't judge my answer until you have readed my whole attempt at explainig this
    But I agree that I wrote it poorly. At least now we're on the same page.
  • We attempt to draw general conclusions from subjective interpretations based on diverse idealist theories using a technically ambiguous lexicon.
    The blind men and the elephant.
    Gonna be the death of us all.

  • Yes, yes exactly to all you meant Rickard, as I poorly pointed in my post: /.../
    don't judge my answer until you have readed my whole attempt at explainig this
    And I assumed instead of asked, and if I've done the latter, I wouldn't have had to spend that much time on that post. :)
  • I kinda disagree about the importance of telling the players the purpose of a game. It's a bit hard hot explain for me and it may have more to do with the way I'm interpretating what I'm reading in this thread, so don't judge my answer until you have readed my whole attempt at explainig this. I may not even be able to explain it in a single post but I'll try my best.

    First, It's a Game. Everyone knows what's the purpose of a Game since we were little. It's meant to be an activity for having fun. So the real question is How is this game meant to be fun?

    Second, not all games are obvious about the answer to the question above until things are set in motion and the game starts. And people are able and eager to accept this because there's the fun of discovery there too. They let their curiosity lead them until they get what is all about, so the fun of learning gets amplified by the surprise.

    Think of it a bit, perhaps a better starting point is to think about boardgames; you see a boardgame, get curious about it, open it and try to understand what each piece of the contents is for. You compare the sum of that information to previous experiences and get an idea. Sooner or later you check the instructions and while the game can have an obvious goal, you certainly won't be able to see all the different possible events that would make you have fun until you've tried it at least once.

    But what do you need then?
    Well, all you need is the procedures. "First, setup: Everyone starts with $5, puts his character on the square marked with Go and takes turns rolling the dice and advancing that amount of spaces, then you can do whatever says on that space or use a card..."
    So you see, the procedures say nothing about how to have fun. It isn't needed, since how the game is fun will became obvious when you fall in the space marked wi the text "you can give a card to the player on your left", and you give that player the card that says "You can't win the game while you have this card" (well, at least, obvious to that players)

    Now, this may feel a bit too far from RPGs, but if you got my drift, you will see easily how it can be applied. RPGs are more complex of course, it's a game that actually includes a lot of smaller games that are interconnected and play at different levels. You can win at the resource-management game of your character's resources, but you also have to play the tactical game of battles. That chain of games can be interrupted if anyone can trigger the social confrontation, which in turn brings up the actoral stance and you'll see players compete for the best interpretation of a character, and the whole thing can switch focus if the GM introduces another event that again, changes the game everyone is playing.

    But are we actually conscious of all that while we play? Nope, we use a single line of thinking and let our intuition (narrative intuition, group sensitivity, common sense, etc) handle when and to what we switch the mechanics (smaller games). And that is "What's happening in the story?" (A.k.a. The Fiction)

    So well, yes, players do need to know the objective of the game first (You're X beings in Y world who need to do W to be able to Z) and since the game is so complex, you have to talk a bit more about how are the players going to have fun. By then it should be obvious that the purpose of all this activity is having fun. Perhaps now you see what I meant with the way I'm interpretating what I've readed so far, it's the term Purpose of the game that is nagging me a bit, I believe that it's either still too loaded and that's why I can't fully agree with it's importance.

    Okay, let me add a couple of thins that I believe are important here. Like, what are the key things that GMs and players actually need to know to play RPGs? IMHO, right after the objective of the game it's again, the procedures. How do we know when to switch from this mechanic to this other? Well, that's what the conversational Techniques are for. And right after that, you can expand all you want on as many mechanics you think your game should have.
    I found this a good post that came close to a lot that I was thinking, though it misses in some particulars for me.

    First and foremost if a game says 'rpg' anywhere then I go into it with two expectations based on the inherency of the name: first, it's a game, and the purpose is therefore to have fun, and second that the method of having that fun will be roleplaying (which generally means pretending to be a character in a story).

    I know some are disparaging on 'fun' being a descriptive goal, but I have to disagree. The 'fun' isn't in achieving a goal. Fun IS the goal. It's had through the process of participating, not from trying to achieve what someone else decides is the goal.

    For instance, In MtG the 'goal' is to reduce your opponent to 0 life, get them 10 poison counters, or make them run out of cards in their library before any of those things happen to you (at least in the old school game). Now, I can do that in my sleep. I can whip out the channel fireball deck and obliterate most players 75% of the time. But that's not fun to me (usually) and if it isn't fun then it's a failure of a game for me, because game requires fun before any other conditions or methods are dealt with.

    What's fun for me is collecting cards, creating interesting decks, pulling off clever combos, and hanging out with friends being who we are. Those are things I wouldn't have understood from reading the rulebook (which I always do immediately btw), but only from actively participating and discovering it for myself. While I try to achieve the explicit goal during play, I can lose 100% of games and have a great time...meaning I'm fulfilled by something other than the written goals of the game. I suppose you could say I'm fulfilled by the unwritten rules of the hobby, not the written rules of the game itself.

    So if we fiat that the over-arching purpose will always be 'fun', then all that's left is to determine the procedures and mechanics that will form the framework within which we seek to have our fun. I'd like that up front, and as simple as possible. Something like "Players portray their characters progressing through an ongoing story of the fantasy genre."

    As to what the individual players goal will be in any given session, or for any given character, that's subjective and up to them, not the game designers (usually). Game designers just provide mechanical frameworks, or tools such as settings. What players choose to do with that will be up to them. Some will want to game the meta. Some will want to pursue the perfect personification of their characters. Some just want to be social. Some want levels, or power, or money, or whatever. Some want a contest, and others a strategic or tactical exercises.

    It is true that some games will serve certain goals better than others, and it's very nice when designers realize this and state it up front. "This rpg is geared towards simulationist play, with a focus on explicit detail." No matter what designers MEAN for a game to be, however, it's almost guaranteed that players will take it in unexpected directions for their own reasons.

    It's also true that there are some games with EXTREMELY narrow and pre-defined purpose. This is especially true of many modern independents. While there's nothing inherently wrong with such games I personally find them so limited as to lack much replayability. Basically once someone tells me exactly how I'm supposed to have fun, I almost never can have fun with it.
  • "Fun" is such a vague word.

    There are so many games people play on a regular basis which are clearly not pleasurable or enjoyable in any direct sense.

    image
  • LOL... Funny as hell for the three dudes who get to watch him eat the stick!
  • edited August 2014
    The purpose of playing Apoclypse World -- at what scale do you answer that question? Is there any point to the book saying the more-specific "These are the character types and this is the world; what are you going to make of it?" rather than the less-specific "it is fun to pretend to be a character in a story, and it is fun to tell stories for those characters to be in"? Would there be any point to going even more or less specific than these two examples? "Can you trade off safety, plenty, and stability to make the most of your world?" for example? Is the difference between "discover what you can make of your world" and "discover what the characters do make of their world" important?

    Is what's best for AW also best for Earthdawn? Would the Earthdawn book be a better product if it slapped its own version of "what are you going to make of this world?" or "enjoy being these characters in this world" on the back cover?

  • Little link to this thread over here, for research purposes.

  • I actually find AW to be pretty thorough in answering this question, from the Agenda/Principles to the "Why You Play" (which is admittedly very lacking on its own) to the structure of the advanced moves and "Unwritten Future" chapter.

    Given the hint-rather-than-explicitly-describe nature of the entire text, this aspect is pretty much front-and-centre.
  • EarthDawn is mathematically the single best D&D heartbreaker ever created. The problem with it isn't in the vagueness of the text, it's that you don't get Legend Points for being more legendary, you get them for, like, killing shit. It's legacy nonsense that ruins an otherwise excellent design. Textual specifics aside, perhaps thinking more concretely about objectives would have helped the designers avoid that pitfall?

    Matt
  • My two cents... (and sorry for my english...)
    My answer, as yours, is: "It should always say what's the goal of the game."
    'Having fun' is not a goal "per-se", because it's a generic goal of every ludic activity.
    The answer should be more precise than that, such as "Having fun by..." (put here the goal of the game).

    These are the first lines of the new D&D free rules:
    "The Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game is about storytelling in worlds of swords and sorcery. It shares elements with childhood games of make-believe. Like those games, D&D is driven by imagination. It’s about picturing the towering castle beneath the stormy night sky and imagining how a fantasy adventurer might react to the challenges that scene presents."
    CUT
    "Unlike a game of make-believe, D&D gives structure to the stories, a way of determining the consequences of the adventurers’ action. Players roll dice to resolve whether their attacks hit or miss or whether their adventurers can scale a cliff, roll away from the strike of a magical lightning bolt, or pull off some other dangerous task. Anything is possible, but the dice makesome outcomes more probable than others."

    Do you believe that the goal of the game is clear? (a real question, to me it is but I've my mind somewhat biased by knowing d&d. It may be not so clear to a 'first time' reader)
    Rob
  • edited August 2014
    I see a functional description above, but not a goal. Also: This seems to be written for a Player to read. In D&D the goals of Players and GMs are different (except at the general ludic level of "fun" as you mentioned). No mention is made of that. (Why? Because the GM is part of the system!)

    Semantically, I don't think it should say the game is "about storytelling". The game IS a form of storytelling. I think if it was "about storytelling" it would be like a documentary or training for storytellers.

    Your English is clear, Rob. Theirs, I'm less sure of. What is meant by "structure to the stories"? That could mean a hundred things. And each of them is addressed by a different storygame :-)

  • edited August 2014
    Hi AsIf.
    What is meant by "structure to the stories"? That could mean a hundred things. And each of them is addressed by a different storygame :-)
    IMO, in the D&D-esque semantic "structuring a story" must be intended as: "Unlike childhood games of make-believe, you'll not be allowed to build a sequence of "potentially incoherent" events but each fragment of fiction (the consequences of the adventurers’ action) will be validated against a (sub)system based on dice rolling".
    Rob
  • Also, I was thinking about this yesterday.
    I once said that the real goal for a D&D player is to reach the 20th level of your character trying to survive in a world full of enemies and monsters.
    Anyone agrees with that?
    Rob
  • I once said that the real goal for a D&D player is to reach the 20th level of your character trying to survive in a world full of enemies and monsters.
    Anyone agrees with that?
    That has not been true in my D&D experience, but it does seem to be a popular construction nowadays. I have to admit to skepticism as to how much of a player's actual play can concern reaching 20th level, moment to moment. The sure-fire way to achieve that would seem to be to low-ball your challenges consistently, but perhaps the goal isn't merely to reach level 20, but do it quickly and in style?

    At our tables the player goal has been to select and resolve fictional challenges/missions/quests successfully, or fail gracefully like a sportsman. Level advancement is incidental to the matter.
  • edited August 2014
    At our tables the player goal has been to select and resolve fictional challenges/missions/quests successfully, or fail gracefully like a sportsman. Level advancement is incidental to the matter.
    According to the first lines of free 5th edition rules, then, you may have reached the game goal. (Even if my doubt is: "If level advancement is incidental, why spend so many pages over that?")
    Rob
  • I've never had players reach level 20 and never reached level 20 myself. I've still had plenty of fun playing and running D&D of all types.

    Mostly for me the goal of play has been "entertain ourselves for a few hours at a time, for about a dozen or two dozen sessions." Usually it works.
  • Our GM had us level up every two sessions for his last PF campaign, eliminating the "reach level 20" condition as a "goal". Proof that you can set your own "winning conditions" while keeping in mind the same goal: having fun; the rulebook, whatever toolset, advice, setting, etc. it brings to the table, doesn't define a goal for the game.
  • Do note that the player goal being to reach level 20 is different from the assumption of the game being that reaching level 20 is the reward of play. The former is just a goal that orients the players, while the latter is a statement about where the fun is. The fact that level 20 is never reached is not by itself a proof that reaching it is not the goal.

    Indeed, it is easy to imagine D&D in any combination of these three statements:
    1) Players reach level 20 regularly.
    2) Reaching level 20 is the goal of each individual player.
    3) Reaching level 20 is the ultimate payoff that makes the game fun.

    We've been consistently playing no-no-no, while yes-yes-yes seems like a common ethos, at least in the Internet discourse and rulebooks if not in real life. 4th edition GMing books used to consistently plot out campaign arcs in terms of "when the characters reach level X they will be having these types of adventures", so 4th edition was pretty much yes-yes-no about these propositions, I guess (even if level 30 was the cap there, not the AD&D-normal 20).
  • The first paragraph of the introduction of the 3e players guide made 'overcoming challenges' the central part of that edition of D&D.

    And only you, Eero, could quote a really solid description of what the goal of a game is, admit that it actually is pretty decent in setting forth a goal, then conclude that you've even "ambiguously" successfully shown traditional games have difficulty doing this. :)
  • I don't know, maybe "ambiguous" was the wrong word choice. What I attempted to convey was that I was hoisted on my own petard a little bit, insofar as you'd think that the only reason I could have for quoting chapter and verse from Earthdawn would be to prove how awful it is, and thus I was sadly surprised by how decent it was. (Which, I hasten to add, is not the case - I'd like to think that I'm not an unthinking zealot, and I may well crack open a book simply to see what's in there, rather than merely to confirm my own preconceptions.) What actually happened was, as I stated, that I found Earthdawn to have a pretty realistic understanding of its own nature and goals. Better than some texts I've seen, in which the tendency has been towards ambiguity and homilies. Not that Earthdawn is entirely free of those, but as stated, it's far from the bottom of the barrel.

    I guess I could've desisted from posting, but I'd already collected the quotes, thought that others would find a practical example interesting, and it seems like a good practice in intellectual honesty to report your findings even when they support your hypothesis less than dramatically. Not that Earthdawn proves anything one way or another about anything, of course, but it is one arbitrary data point about how rpgs go about communicating their goals. Perhaps we could read some other texts, too, to get even more practical grounding for critique?
  • This might be a good place to start. (Thanks for taking my teasing in good humor.)
  • I got inspired to look at another random game regarding this. The title this time is Fading Suns second edition (1999). (One might ask why I'm only paving at core trad games here - the reason is simply that a friend unloaded a few hundred rpgs he's lost interest in into my hands in the spring, and they're sitting in my kitchen waiting to take a trip to my library. Causes a certain uncharacteristic trad skew in my current rpg reading materials.)

    So, purpose and goals of play in Fading Suns. The book begins with an intro fiction, then explains roleplaying in general starting on p. 11. The description focuses on history, and is sparse of goals and purpose: playing rpgs started in the '70s, publishers put out complex game worlds for players to enjoy, games advanced into a wide variety of genres, etc. Then, about Fading Suns specifically:
    Fadings Suns is primarily a game about heroes and the dramatic conflicts they encounter, from palace intrigues to cliffhanging combats. It provides a frameworks for players to create games from any perspective they desire. If they want to play soldiers who fight evil with guns and fists, the rules are here. If they want to play merchants who prefer diplomacy to violence, or priests wrestling with metaphysical crisis, rules and helpful dramatic hints are also provided. Fading Suns is whatever the players want it to be.
    That's followed by a "How to Roleplay" section that outlines the auteuristic GM role and the immersionistic player role, basically the same as Earthdawn, earlier. This emphasizes the superior interactivity of rpgs compared to "computer games touted for their interactivity", interestingly enough :D

    The actual jackpot is in the next subchapter on page 13, "A Futuristic Passion Play". Here it is in its entirety:
    Fading Suns is primarily a science fiction game, which means that there are starships, blasters, powered armor, alien races, and weird science. But there are also many elements of traditional fantasy gaming: heroic characters and struggles, a feudal sociopolitical structure (noble lords, high priests and headstrong merchants), powerful artifacts and great mysteries. And there is horror: monsters and maddening discoveries revealing terrifying metaphysical truths.

    In short, Fading Suns is a game which has everything a roleplaying universe needs in order to tell strories of such varied and exotic themes as can be found anywhere - in our very own world here and now. Why should our created unverses be more restrictive than the real world? By making them so, we only rob ourselves of the enriching heritage of stories left to us by previous generations from all corners of the earth. We owe it to ourselves to make our worlds as rich, vivid and complex (even maddeningly so) as that outside our doors.

    Like all games, Fading Suns should be entertaining and fun to play. But roleplaying games can be more than mere pastimes. The players can strive for the same artistic goals as the author of a novel, a film or a play. Fading Suns is a passion play of sorts, a story about the triumphs and even tragies of its characters takes place in an imagined future. Many possible stories can be todl here, from galaxy-spanning epics to the most personal of tales.

    Like medieval passion plays, Fading Suns deals with grand themes universal to the human experience. Its main theme is the Seeking. This is the mythological role all heroes play: the knight on a quest, seeking power to vanquish his enemies or the secrets of self-discovery. Success or failure on this quest is not as important as the insights learned while on it.

    The atmosphere of the dramas played out in the Fading Suns is one of tragic ignorance. Civilization is in decline, and superstition and fear are everywhere. New ideas and frontiers are spurned by a nervous populace, fearful of change for the harm it brings. But it is just this sort of willful ignorance that keeps civilization from rising again. It is such fear that keeps hope buried and great challenges from being met. The player characters represent heroes who can break the bonds of this ignorance and bring something new and great to their culture, to reawaken and invigorate life.

    Without further ado, we give you a glimpse into the tumultous fate of humankind four millenia from now...
    After that we get a long, long setting chapter and all the rest of the game. I'm just going to assume that that's everything pertinent for now, given the bonanza we have above.
  • (Also, in case it's not clear: I got inspired to this extremely empiristic approach in delving into the subject by Jason. He's done this a few times in the past himself, and I've rather liked it when he's gone to the trouble of stripping unnecessary vagueness from discussion by showing exactly what a game text says. Not that this is the best approach to any topic at all, but when the topic of discussion is how game texts express games, it's more than appropriate.)

    So Fading Suns here, I have to say that it satisfies me with the clarity and commitment of its mission statement, which comes in early in the book and doesn't make any bones about the supposed differences between this game and those that have come before. I didn't quote the standard trad rpg model of player roles up there, but rest assured that it explains clearly how the GM is the scriptwriter and the players get to make character choices, so that stuff is all in there to provide context for the ambitious artistic declaration provided.

    I should note here that I consider Fading Suns a deeply mediocre game (never played it, but I've read it, and recently re-read), very much an emblem of the weaknesses (and some of the strengths) of the '90s tradition of design. That does not mean that the game cannot have a clear and useful statement of purpose, but in this particular case it does make me skeptical about the game's ability to actually fulfill its lofty goals: there is nothing much to Fading Suns the game that makes it do "futuristic passion play" except the gentle hopes and dreams of its creators - it's effectively one of those games that tells you to do it like this, and assumes that that's enough. For sure it is enough for the people who write and play games like this.

    For those keeping track at home, it doesn't look good for my hypothesis up there about "traditional homilies" - I've checked out two games where I would not have expected in advance to find particularly clear mission statements, but it happens that neither are extremely vague nor mistaken in the way I expected. Either I'm laboring under an unnecessarily pessimistic picture of what rpgs say about their purpose, or I'm just hitting solid texts by accident :D
  • [...] priests wrestling with metaphysical crisis, rules and helpful dramatic hints are also provided. Fading Suns is whatever the players want it to be.

    This quote caught my eye.

    How does this claim hold up?

    Are there rules and helpful dramatic hints for how to make a "futuristic passion play" about priests wrestling with metaphysical crises?

    That sounds interesting!

  • edited August 2014
    I do think you're (Eero) describing a real phenomenon with your memory of "traditional homilies" taking the place of clear instruction or objective-setting, but the place I've seen it happen most is when people skip the introductory parts of games, just assuming that they already know how to play games "in the tradition". They then tell the players (or themselves) just a general set of guidelines or ideas they've absorbed from other games or groups. Sometimes this works and sometimes it's a flop. Usually it's a mixture of both at various times. I definitely see people saying "who needs that 'what is a RPG?' section anyway!!! it's so dumb" very frequently.

    Wait, did I just come up with a definition of "Traditional RPG" that I'll, at long last, support?

    "A traditional RPG is one which people think, wrongly, they already know how to play."
  • edited August 2014
    That's a good point, Jason. I was just thinking that I don't really read these parts of rpg books myself usually - I divine a game's purpose from what it does, instead of looking at what the game states its purpose to be. I'm sure it's the same for many others as well. GMs particularly are very unlikely to be very precise and fronted about the purpose of a game. This environment would easily leave me with the impression that games don't explain their purpose honestly or clearly.

    I do remember a few rpgs that genuinely do have attrocious understanding of their own purpose, though. Perhaps I'll try digging up an intentionally bad example next...

    Incidentally that's pretty much the way I define "the tradition of traditional roleplaying" :D I've for the longest time held to an interpretation of rpg history that focuses on praxis, and how it cohered through the late '80s into just the phenomenon you mention: a heightened understanding of what roleplaying is, such that game texts and actual play practices all melded together into one big one-truth composite. (I do not mean by this that trad gaming is everything and anything; to the contrary, what roleplaying developed into during the '90s is a highly specific ideal, one that both Earthdawn and Fading Suns follow very closely.) Alternate traditions like the indies who allergically disclaim the received wisdom, or OSR people who disregard newer games, are notably different in important ways because of the assumptions they don't share with the main tradition.
    [...] priests wrestling with metaphysical crisis, rules and helpful dramatic hints are also provided. Fading Suns is whatever the players want it to be.
    This quote caught my eye.

    How does this claim hold up?

    Are there rules and helpful dramatic hints for how to make a "futuristic passion play" about priests wrestling with metaphysical crises?

    That sounds interesting!
    I recently reread Fading Suns (after having originally checked it out in the early '00s), and I did pay particular attention to the magic rules, because those are often interesting in rpgs. Despite the interesting way in which the introduction characterizes the matter, the actual rules left me cold: the religious institutions are generally abstract, the religious super-powers ordinary, and the metaphysical challenges are mostly "superpower throttles" of the type familiar from '90s games. So you use your religious superpowers too much you turn into a monster, stuff like that. Actually I find that I don't really remember much about the details despite having just read the book through this spring.

    Right, I just checked the book (still on hand here at the work station) to refresh my memory. The big mechanic for wizards/psions is called the Urge, which represents the animalistic side of the psion/wizard's psyche. As Urge rises, a Dark Twin awakens inside the psionicist, and when it gets sufficiently high, the Dark Twin detaches itself into an evil doppelganger. I'm pretty sure this is the sort of stuff the game means by "metaphysical crisis", because it doesn't exactly brim with metaphysics otherwise.

    (The cleric/priest version is similar, except it's called Hubris, and it leads to a sort of "grass wilts wherever you walk" effect of bringing hell to earth when a highly hubristic churchman strolls by.)

    Well, I guess the other facet of the matter are the various church doctrines - there's a bunch of different flavours of divine worship (with their own specific superpowers), sort of like Christian denominations or holy orders, and these could have political disagreements sort of like noble houses or merchant princes. I suppose this could be termed a "metaphysical crisis" within the church, too.

    And then there is the Antinomy, secret star-faring devil-worshipper bad guys.

    But yeah, no metaphysical struggles in the vein of Dogs in the Vineyard or such, no.
  • edited August 2014
    Science fantasy literalizes such struggles, so I'm confident the Dark Twin is what they're talking about there.
    I divine a game's purpose from what it does, instead of looking at what the game states its purpose to be. I'm sure it's the same for many others as well. GMs particularly are very unlikely to be very precise and fronted about the purpose of a game. This environment would easily leave me with the impression that games don't explain their purpose honestly or clearly.
    To put it another way, you (and many others) don't read the rules, and then blame the rules when things get off track.

    :) again

    I know I've used the example of 3e D&D before, but I didn't read the introductory or "here's how you play D&D" text, and ran at least one campaign off the cliff because I was trying to get it to do something it wasn't supposed to do and I wasn't doing the math right. My D&D3 play improved greatly from reading what it was about. I assume your Fading Suns play will benefit the next time that you try it!
  • "A traditional RPG is one which people think, wrongly, they already know how to play."
    I think you intended to post in the Devil's Dictionary thread, JD.

  • Thanks, Eero! That's pretty interesting stuff, I find it compelling.
  • edited August 2014
    I like what Eero said and that's the way I feel most of the time. I like to be intimately familiar with the way the mechanics operate on a functional level, which gives me a feel for what kind of instrument this is. (Note: I am speaking from the position of a "trad GM" right now). Admittedly when I'm less familiar with the system, I try to dutifully do what it tells me it's supposed to do, but this is not the ideal position to be in. Like a musician with an instrument, your ideal relationship with the system will be immediate, fluid and visceral, a two-way street with no traffic lights. Takes time to get there.

    Sometimes the text explains itself well, but typically it doesn't. That doesn't really surprise me since I'm also a programmer, and it's almost a truism that programmers are the last people to write a good user manual for their own programs. So I don't bank on the auto-explanation being particularly helpful. What makes more sense is grokking the way the system flows, the kinds of things it does well, and the spaces you're expected to fill in.

    "Don't ask for the meaning, ask for the use." - Ludwig Wittgenstein

  • Yes. Well said.

    Some of my favourite RPG texts are books or guides written *about* an existing game. An outside perspective on how and why a game works the way it does can be incredibly helpful and a powerful resource. (Of which Eero's "Solar System" is a good example!)
  • For those keeping track at home, it doesn't look good for my hypothesis up there about "traditional homilies" - I've checked out two games where I would not have expected in advance to find particularly clear mission statements, but it happens that neither are extremely vague nor mistaken in the way I expected. Either I'm laboring under an unnecessarily pessimistic picture of what rpgs say about their purpose, or I'm just hitting solid texts by accident :D
    Nah, 90's trad games had clear goals, they just didn't have anything in the way of mechanics that actually supported those goals, and in fact following the mechanics closely always undermined those goals.

    Note that 3E D&D isn't a 90's trad game; it was released in 2000. :-)
  • "Don't ask for the meaning, ask for the use." - Ludwig Wittgenstein
    "You need both." - Me
  • I appreciate the work you've done here, Eero, but I don't have to do that work to understand the goal of any non-RPG, and I don't enjoy doing it for RPGs. Corley, yes, players are guilty of playing games poorly after not reading their intros, but authors/designers/publishers/whoever are guilty of writing wordy intros that bury the lead and/or become a chore to read.

    Dear game-makers: if you know your game's purpose, please tell me (probably in one sentence) on the back cover. That'll leave plenty of room for the other awesome stuff you want to put there too.

    Eero, I'm curious -- what is the back cover text on Fading Suns and Earthdawn about? What about the cover -- any relevant info there? I can't believe that I'm the only one who doesn't always look at page 13 when trying to decide if a game is for me.
  • Let's see. Earthdawn's got a setting description in the back cover, under the caption "The Age of Legend". "Before science, before history, there was an Age of Legend..." and so on. Humanity has been huddling in underground kaers, Horrors reign on Earth, brave adventurers emerge to reclaim their world. Elfs, orcs, t'skrangs, humans and other wondrous critters. Strange creatures, unseen dangers, lost cities, long-forgotten treasures, indescribable wonders; a world of magic. "In this age of legend, heroes rekindle the glory days of past and become the legends of tomorrow. Join these brave souls and begin roleplaying in Earthdawn, the Age of Legend."

    You know, aside from the utter silence on concrete player roles, that's a relatively complete explanation in itself. Of course it suffers of the one thing I never quite understood about Earthdawn: when you have this cool premise of emergence and reclaiming a world that's been in the hands of gigerian aliens for centuries, why has the setting been fast-forwarded (by about a century) into one where the PCs, instead of reclaiming past glories and bringing first contact between isolated kaers, do fetch quests for the dwarven magnates of Throal. It's like playing a game about the wild west and setting it in the 1920s.

    As for Fading Suns:
    Nobles
    Priests
    Aliens
    Knights

    It is the dawn of the sixth millennium and the skies are darkening, for the suns themselves are fading. Humans reached the stars long ago, building a Republic of high technology and universal emancipation - and then squandered it, fought over it, and finally lost it. A new Dark Age has descended on humanity, for the greatest of civilizations has fallen and even the stars die. Now, feudal lords rule the Known Worlds, vying for power with the fanatic priests and scheming guilds.

    From the original developers of White Wolf's Vampire® and Werewolf® comes a saga of humanity's fate among the stars...

    Starships
    Psychics
    Lost Worlds
    Ancient Artifacts

    Fading Suns
    Second Edition
    You know, that Whitewolf connection explains so many things to me about how insipid the game's execution is :D As part of this summer's reading I've also read a few WoD games (old Werewolf and new Changeling, to be exact), which I'd never done before, having only messed a bit with Exalted. That's just gotta be the most boring single major rpg publishing company in the history of roleplaying :D

    Aside from that, one should note that this metaplot of suns being on the friz does not actually play any significant role in the procedure or content of the game, it's just sort of there, as an option for the GM to tap into if they feel like it.
  • Aside from that, one should note that this metaplot of suns being on the friz does not actually play any significant role in the procedure or content of the game, it's just sort of there, as an option for the GM to tap into if they feel like it.
    ...And we're done. I mean, honestly, how did anyone ever take this nonsense seriously? It's like if you tried to play basketball without a hoop!

    But it's not lack of goal-clarity that's the issue!
  • edited August 2014
    Let's see. Earthdawn's got a setting description in the back cover, under the caption "The Age of Legend". "Before science, before history, there was an Age of Legend..." and so on. Humanity has been huddling in underground kaers, Horrors reign on Earth, brave adventurers emerge to reclaim their world. Elfs, orcs, t'skrangs, humans and other wondrous critters. Strange creatures, unseen dangers, lost cities, long-forgotten treasures, indescribable wonders; a world of magic. "In this age of legend, heroes rekindle the glory days of past and become the legends of tomorrow. Join these brave souls and begin roleplaying in Earthdawn, the Age of Legend."

    You know, aside from the utter silence on concrete player roles, that's a relatively complete explanation in itself.
    Of what? How to play it? No!

    It's a lot of WHATs - components that you use. It doesn't tell anything about the purpose of the game or the "feel" that the game experience will tell you (WHY). It doesn't say anything about HOW you get that feeling. It's just an inventory list, just like if you were reading about what kind of tokens the game uses. You have to assume the rest, and assumptions comes from your previous experiences with a similar game. So why should anyone read "What is a roleplaying game" when the writers can't convey the WHYs and HOWs in a simple and clear way?

    I agree with @Deliverator. It's about lack of clarity.
  • Actually, what I'm saying is that the "why?" is perfectly clear, just not the "how".
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