Is a role-playing game more than its mechanics?

edited December 2006 in Play Advice
As a software engineer by day, I like to look beyond a game's "flesh"/color/setting to the underlying "bones"/mechanics/system. Some recent games I've played seem to be all "bones" and no "flesh", i.e. the supposed role-playing aspects don't seem to add anything concrete to the game. You could play the same game without creating characters or a story.

Comments

  • edited December 2006

    Didja ever read Vincent's essay on the Fruitful Void?

    Edit for linky.

  • Chris, are you asking:
    a) if a roleplaying product needs to provide more than just a set of mechanics in order to qualify as a roleplaying game
    b) if a roleplaying game's mechanics needs to meaningfully engage with the story so that mechanics cannot operate without the story?
  • Posted By: Joshua BishopRobyChris, are you asking:
    a) if a roleplaying product needs to provide more than just a set of mechanics in order to qualify as a roleplaying game
    b) if a roleplaying game's mechanics needs to meaningfully engage with the story so that mechanics cannot operate without the story?
    I think I am asking "b". For example, what differentiates Contenders as a role-playing game from card games like Hearts and Poker?
  • Yes, just look at oWoD stuff. Damn near everything interesting about those games had nothing to do with the mechanics - intentionally.
  • Chris, we recently played Contenders at a convention. There was time pressure and, even hand-waving through a lot of the role-playing bits, it was clearly more than a card game. I don't want to get into the "what is a roleplaying game?" tar pit, but Contenders, even hamstrung, delivers a solid RP experience. I think the difference is that you don't have a personality, or connections, or goals, or pain when you play Hearts. Maybe pain.
  • Hi Chris,

    Could you name the games and give details of play?

    Without that I read your post and go, "Maybe!"

    Thanks,

    Christopher
  • edited December 2006
    Hi Chris,

    I thought I'd add my best guess at this point. To answer your base question, I'd say the answer is, "Yes, a role-playing game is more than it's mechanics."

    Levi actually summed up the point on another website:

    If I "game the system" in Dogs as hard as I possibly can, while still keeping to the letter of the rules, I will become unbeatable in short order. I do this by creating a list of dump traits, broadly useful, at 1d4. I deliberately eat as much low-end fallout as possible, driving added d4's onto those traits. When the first one hits 5d4, I start jumping up the die type and adding dice to the next one; I spend as much of my fallout as possible in this fashion. Within four or five high-conflict sessions (and I will call for conflict ALL THE TIME), I have a nice stack of six or so traits at 5d10 each.

    As a gamey-game, the rules do not stop me from doing this.

    I don't do this because that's boring as shit. See, Dogs mainly entertains me in ways that are not about being a gamey-game.


    So, I'd say that in most of the games I know (and love) the choices of game play are informed by matters BEYOND game mechanics.

    I might be able to have my Dog win a conflict mechanically in Dogs in the Vineyard -- but I still might back down because narratively or emotionally I might decide the cost of victory for my Dog is too much for me to bear.

    But you still need the mechanics to form the crucible within which those decisions are made.

    Now, I haven't played (or even read) Contender yet, but my guess is there's something "value-added" to some of the mechanical components. Something that sparks decisions or second guessing about which way to proceed that -- if you were playing Hearts -- wouldn't even occur to you to ask.

    Christopher
  • I do not think I know any role-playing games where the rule does not in some way interact with the role-playing. Interaction can of course go two way. You can have rules that affect something about your character and gaming world, and you can have rules that are affected by what you do in the game. You can of course also have rules that does not do very much, that just describe some static elements in the game.

    There are some game that are heavily based on static rules and on rules that affect the character and gamin world, but only have a few rules that work as a result of role-playing. In these game you have to more active engage in the role-playing, because the system does not motivate you (or force you) to do it. But if you do engage in the game I think you still could have some interesting role-playing and story telling.

    - Anders
  • Chris,

    How do you feel about, say, Breaking The Ice? That game has a cooperative mechanic (both players wants to succeed and gain attraction, but they only do that if the dice go their way). That mechanic reflects the theme of the game: it's a romance game, so it's all about co-operation.

    Graham
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