Parlor Games - whuh?

edited October 2007 in Story Games
Wtf is a parlor game? =)

I've had a read of some posts on here and The Forge and still don't get it. Is it that the narration or activities of the player don't impact the game in some way?

Comments

  • I always thought parlor game implied that the mechanics were facile enough to play with a mixed group of people at least some of whom aren't gamers.
  • Well wouldn't that suck. :D
  • My impression is that you're right, Joe. In a parlor game as I understand it, the narration does not impact the mechanics. So you might have a fictional element to the game, but in the end the structure and outcome of the game are not affected by the content of the narration, even if the narration is required.
  • Posted By: tony dowlerI always thought parlor game implied that the mechanics were facile enough to play with a mixed group of people at least some of whom aren't gamers.
    That was sort of what I thought as well, but more specifically a smallish LARP-like game able to be played in one's living room without a lot of fuss in terms of prep.
  • Parlor Narration, perhaps? If so...

    Ah. I forget who first coined the term but Adam Dray used it expertly. Basically, it's a forge-style game where you roll dice or move chips or whatever, with lots of gamey aspects.

    So many gamey aspects, that narration doesn't really have to happen at all. You could play the game from end to end without really roleplaying. Roleplaying, then, is just "parlor narration". The rules say, "Now you have to roleplay!" but in reality, no, no you do not: You could completely get rfom one end of the game to the other without ever speaking once in character.

    There aren't any published games like this, I don't think. But a lot emerge in things like the Game Chef competition. It's one of the criticisms against fiddly nar games with lots of gamey elements: It can look fun as hell, but then you realize that roleplaying doesn't have to happen. That's "parlor narration".

    -Andy
  • Posted By: komradebobPosted By: tony dowlerI always thought parlor game implied that the mechanics were facile enough to play with a mixed group of people at least some of whom aren't gamers.
    That was sort of what I thought as well, but more specifically a smallish LARP-like game able to be played in one's living room without a lot of fuss in terms of prep.

    My understanding of the term was also in reference to the low prep Parlor LARP's.
  • Ah: Parlor games are the ones where you can play in a bar or wherever. You don't need lots of room, setup, fiddly coins/dice/sheets etc (maybe some prep materials, but not "full gaming table" amounts). If you can play it at a Bar Mitzvah, the lounge at a Gay Club, or in the cafeteria at Tomorrowland at Disney World, it's a Parlor Game.

    Parlor Narration, though, is different. It's what I have above. Narration that is just for show, doesn't really do anything and in fact doesn't even have to be there.

    -Andy
  • edited October 2007
    Thanks, guys.

    So how is a heavily tactical game like, say, D&D, not a parlor game?

    (apologies, I meant parlor narration game)
  • Didn't Ron Edwards invent the term for one of the sessions of the Ronnies?

    D&D would be a parlour narration game if, say, you rolled a D20, got a 19, looked on a table to see that meant "An orc dies", and then you had to narrate killing an orc. I think.

    Graham
  • edited October 2007
    Graham's sort of got it. My understanding of Ron's use of the term is this:

    There were a rash of games and proto-games, many during the Ronnies, that got so excited about narration techniques (like in PTA or Dust Devils, for examples) that they went out and did it themselves. The problem is, what they did was to create mechanics that, when you looked at everything boiled down, all they did was figure out who talks. That was it. There was no connection to the fictional events of the game. The characters were basically unchanged. The mechanics didn't force any significant choices upon the players via their characters. Etc.

    It was "narration trading" and that's about it in the case of these games. Ron viewed this as a great failure of design for these games. I did too, not least of all because I fell into the trap myself with Red Rain!

    I think Ron meant that these were like "Parlour Games" as in, games a bunch of old farts used to play in the parlour to entertain themselves, things like the Dictionary game or whatever. Sorta of like draw a piece of paper with words on it out of a hat and talk. Basically, simple games that didn't succeed as role playing games.
  • edited October 2007
    (Matt seems to have made my post meaningless, the sod)

    So the game makes you narrate stuff, but it's not meaningful?

    And/or you narrate stuff but it doesn't make a difference to the game?

    Reason I'm asking is that I've seen some games come out of Game Chef, and most recently Sight & Sound, and heard them referred to as parlor narration games. I'm not seeing the common link. Its less obvious than the excellent 'heartbreaker' terminology.

    Like, if I set out to deliberately design one, what would the specs be?
  • Posted By: Matt_SnyderI think Ron meant that these were like "Parlour Games" as in, games a bunch of old farts used to play in the parlour to entertain themselves, things like the Dictionary game or whatever. Sorta of like draw a piece of paper with words on it out of a hat and talk. Basically, simple games that didn't succeed asrole playing games.
    Wow- I've never seen a view quite so at odds with the stuff I actually like quite a bit.
  • In D&D, the DM can freely create fictional elements that have mechanical import, such as monsters or NPCs. Players can persuade the DM to give out a bonus for good narration, use fictional items to impact mechanics if they persuade the DM, etc. There's lots of other ways in which this works, and most of them are based on the DM's position within the game.
  • edited October 2007
    Reason I'm asking is that I've seen some games come out of Game Chef, and most recently Sight & Sound, and heard them referred to as parlor narration games. I'm not seeing the common link. Its less obvious than the excellent 'heartbreaker' terminology.
    Here's an example. I'll pick on my good friend Ben, and his game 100 Flowers. You can see it here:
    http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/Baihua.php

    Now, it's been like 2 years since I looked at it, and it may have changed since. Actually, I just opened it and I think it's the same. Give it a look, you'll understand at a glance what I'm talking about.

    But at the time, you played the game: You had a board. You moved to regions in China. You rolled on a chart to determine what the issue was. You had tokens, stands, more tokens, cards, etc. Thing is, all these cool gamey bits overshadowed any actual role-playing. It's like a really awesome board game where you're asked to, "Oh yeah, and roleplay!".

    It's as if we were playing Settlers of Catan, and asked to Roleplay when I put down a Soldier Card and Move the Thief. Or to Roleplay Year of Plenty, or getting The Longest Road.

    Unlike Jonathan Sny-darr!, I really dig this period of failure that me and others went through: If nothing else, some awesome board game-style developments came out of it.

    -Andy
  • Oh, I remember something Ron said, that was helpful to me.

    He said that you could play Monopoly while roleplaying your "character" moving from place to place, talking in a funny voice, and it still wouldn't be a roleplaying game.

    Graham
  • It is too bad that the phrase is exactly the same as the one used to describe things like charades, in the manner of the adverb and so on. These are functional, fun games that have nothing to do with rp, usually.

    It is also confusing since there is another term: parlor larp, which, I believe, is a short scenario larp which does not involve live action (boffer) resolution. (though I don't know how one would distinguish this from a theatre style larp, but this is certainly a tangent).
  • edited October 2007
    Posted By: AndyUnlike Jonathan, I really dig this period of failure that me and others went through...
    Andy, I know I post too much, but I'm not in this thread :)
  • I read the original post, got ready to post, then found that Andy had already channeled me. Cool!
  • Posted By: Jonathan Walton
    Andy, I know I post too much, but I'm not in this thread :)
    AH! I got you and Snyder confused AGAIN!

    I figured it out, too: Over on 1001, you used to have this "side profile" pic of you leaning back. It looks exactly like Snyder's "Malcolm" icon, but with an orange shirt and a boner. Sorry about the confusion, man!
  • Yeah guys.

    Parlor narration = disconnect between mechanics and effectiveness. You make a game where what the characters actually do has no meaning, or what the players do has no meaning, or some combination, all the while interfacing with (usually highly procedural and constrained) mechanics. See my games Terra Nova (GC 2006) and Xochitlcozamalatl (Ronnies).

    Parlor game = charades, yay! I love parlor games. Apples to Apples is a parlor game.

    Parlor Larp = short, highly constrained larp. There may be a better definition of this, but I have no experience with the form.

    None of these have the slightest thing to do with one another.
  • Hoo boy. Do I actually have to worry about offending the Parlour Game fans?

    Charades is cool. The Dictionary Game is cool. RPGs are cool. Etc.
  • Damn you to hell, Snyder!

    The man who hates twenty questions hates freedom!
  • Interestingly, I believe that, in England, a "Parlour LARP" is called a "freeform".

    We probably just do that to piss people off.

    Graham
  • Dewds,

    Thank you for all the excellent responses.

    I'm not yet convinced that it matters that in some games, the narration is meaningless (for whatever value of 'matters'). My entry to the Sight & Sound competition (kalma) drew a lot from Remi Treur's improv interviews on Have Games, Will Travel . One of the things I wanted to to was divorce player effectiveness from character effectivenes. The system will carry on and you will run out of steam no matter what it is you do as a player. It's a gloomy (but hopefully interesting) end.

    I still don't understand quite how some games (like D&D) aren't parlor games. My descriptions of a sword-swing don't change my effectivess. My motivations as a player don't matter in social mechanics. And battles can be played out like WH40K.

    But I'm a slow learner. =)
  • Posted By: Matt_SnyderHoo boy. Do I actually have to worry about offending the Parlour Game fans?

    Charades is cool. The Dictionary Game is cool. RPGs are cool. Etc.
    It's more like the fun of playing to play, if that makes sense. What you were describing as Parlor Narration seemed to me to be the storygame/roleplaying game equivalent of playing catch or playing frisbee. Those are fun time time wasters in themselves.

    Personally, I like that stuff.
  • edited October 2007
    "Parlor LARP" was a term used by a group of people who used to be at Stanford, who published a series of larp scenarios called "Parlor LARPs". The scenarios were distinctive in that they were made for 8 people, and playable entirely within a single room, and were ready-to-play out of the box (as it were) within a few hours, with detachable character sheets.

    cf. Parlor Game in Wikipedia, and also Party Game for comparison. Personally, I think that a parlor game or party game can also be a fully functional role-playing game. There's nothing incompatible in the definitions that I can see. The common features of a parlor game as I see it are: (1) played indoors in a single room; (2) play can be started up with an arbitrary group of people - i.e. you could gather some people together and pull out a parlor game; (3) the game is completed within a reasonably short time - 3-4 hours maximum, I'd say.

    So How to Host a Murder mysteries and Parlor LARPs are both workable parlor games. So would Best Friends or 1001 Nights.

    Edited to fix links
  • Hey Joe, maybe looking at the two games of mine that I name-checked would be instructive. In both cases you can play the whole thing without interacting at all. There's just "step 39a: roleplay" tucked in there. They'd also make really weak board games.

    Here's what Ron said when he coined the term (I think he coined it):

    "These games raise an interesting issue. They are essentially "I get to say what the dice tell me" procedures, organized into specific scenes and what-to-roll rituals. Unfortunately, this is not an SIS-generating procedure, any more than putting on a funny hat and voice when playing Monopoly is role-playing. These games are entirely too structured in terms of what a character "is," imaginatively speaking, and more generally, what "can happen" during play. In contrast with fairly ritualized games like My Life with Master and Polaris, I think these are marked by a complete inability for characters actually to do stuff outside the immediate instructions of the rules, up to and including making crucial choices about relationships with other characters.

    Which begs the question, however, of whether these games work. Mechanically, they well might, in the sense that gears will shift and cogs will revolve. Imaginatively and motivationally? That will be a very, very local question, and my judgment at this point is that all of these entries have gone over a crucial line, to the point where the role of human input is restricted only to the end-process of resolution, too much so for it to play a conflict-generating role.

    The good news is that none of them suck. I think all of them could well be brought back over that crucial boundary into the zone that I think yields successful play, with a conceptual modification, mostly affecting when Fortune is applied and how scenes may be constructed. I hope to be able to articulate how this might be done for each game in the feedback threads."
  • Here's a question: are games where the characters (at least, central PC-like characters) are naturally equally skilled at everything -- from washing a car to turning into a dragon to crushing a sun to, well, literally everything -- pre-disposed to parlor narration? Why or why not?
  • it's unfortunate that parlor narration has taken on negative connotations

    it's a good structure for a story game if an important goal of the game is to allow players to take turns adding pieces to a narrative. This kind of game is often the most direct route to shared creativity

    it's only a problem if you are primarily interested in some other goals- like role-playing the character in such as way as to identify with their {forge narrativist style} issues; or to highlight conflicts between characters. Then there may not be enough contact between players or feedback between the system and the story to nudge the game towards those latter goals

    as someone who likes these kinds of parlor narration structures I will say that they tend to be better in short to medium length doses. Successful play will depend on good inspirations/constraints getting players to think of cool narration. Once everyone has had a few turns, you'll tend to get a diminishing return on creativity
  • Posted By: Ryan MacklinHere's a question: are games where the characters (at least, central PC-like characters) are naturally equally skilled ateverything-- from washing a car to turning into a dragon to crushing a sun to, well,literally everything-- pre-disposed to parlor narration? Why or why not?
    There is no such game, because the parlor narration games also doubly are highly focused. You can't Do Everything. If you could do literally everything, then:

    1) The game has something that makes it not a parlor narration game (in other words, choice)
    2) The game is so vast that it really defies description.

    Please check either my or Jason's links for details. (oh wait, no link: Here's Terra Nova: http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/Terra_Nova.pdf )

    We're talking games where you do this:

    You have Discipline, Hope and Strength, which can become Madness Despair and Helplessness.
    Pull a card and give it to someone. Based on that card you either have:
    Exhaustion
    Frostbite, or
    Doubt.
    *Roleplay getting Exhaustion, Frostbite, or Doubt*
    Then you ahve a hardship or crisis. Pull another card. When you pull this card, you either
    succeed or
    break down or
    die
    ...in a very specific way. And the people involved in the crisis are determined by which cards are drawn.
    Also, the nature of the crisis is determined by the cards.
    * Roleplay your Set Crisis with the Set People, and then roleplay how you Succeeded or Died, all of which have been pretty much determined already*

    Now, the above is pretty accurate give-or-take, but it shows how basically the players control... jack and shit. They, as players, simply get to roleplay the above set-determined things that the cards decide.

    That's the equivalent of getting together with friends and reading out Shakespeare scripts. It can be fun! But there's really no room for that explorative roleplaying stuff (other than "acting out your part"): All the decisions, color, effects, etc are determined by the cards or dice. You just get to say how it happens in a funny accent.
    Posted By: Joe MurphyI still don't understandquitehow some games (like D&D) aren't parlor games.
    I'm assuming here that again you mean parlor narration, right?

    It's because the player has choices: They can go in the dungeon or they could dig around town (give or take railroads, illusionism, etc). They can gang up on the beholder first, or pick off its minions first. They can choose their tactics in combat, and when the adventure is over they get to decide what to do with their treasure.

    A D&D parlor narration game would look like this:

    "You are all in front of the dungeon. The dungeon is dark. You are going in because (roll the dice: on 1-2 you are an adventurer looking for gold, on 3-4 you are getting money to help someone you love, on 5-6 you are going in to ward off self doubt). Have one scene where all players describe the dungeon's entry room.

    Then count your Happiness chips. If you own 3+ happiness chips, you succeed. You get the gold. Roleplay getting the gold. Quickly.
    If you have less than 3 happiness chips, you fail. You don't get the gold. Because you didn't get the gold, you feel:
    1 Spiritual pain
    2-4 Ennui
    5 Mental anguish
    6 Confidence in the next adventure
    Have one quick scene where you roleplay the above feelings.

    Then you meet back in the tavern."
  • Ron'll probably jump down my throat for putting words in his mouth, but I don't think he was saying that these games aren't potentially fun. Just that there is a critical juncture that they've hopped over into becoming something else.

    As I've always said, Universalis is probably not a RPG in a substantive way. Doesn't mean it's not fun.

    For a contest like the Ronnies, you have to draw the line on what counts as an RPG in terms of judging, or somebody will enter something like Monopoly and insist that it's a RPG, because you could put on a funny hat and do a voice, and that's role-playing.

    Mike
  • edited October 2007
    I'm absolutely on board with decoupling "parlor narration" from "not fun". I love Terra Nova, but it's a different thing, maybe engaging and cool as an exercise, but if approached as a "conventional roleplaying game" it is a failure. That in itself raises some interesting questions. I guess as judges these structures were not what we were looking for. Maybe somebody ought to run a contest that encourages this sort of design in a challenging, productive way. I want to compete.

    I'm loving this thread, by the way - I think this is useful and important.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarHey Joe, maybe looking at the two games of mine that I name-checked would be instructive. In both cases you can play the whole thing without interacting at all. There's just "step 39a: roleplay" tucked in there. They'd also make really weak board games.

    Here's what Ron said when hecoined the term(I think he coined it)

    "These games raise an interesting issue..."
    The post that you linked to doesn't have that quote (and also doesn't mention the term "parlor game"), and I didn't find it by search. Any further links?
  • Let it be said: "Parlor game" is a very old term, from the time when people other than just the british had parlors in their homes. (silly british people with your precocious nostalgia, what with parlors and monarchy and northern ireland).

    Parlor games were things that wealthy adults played to occupy their time in the evenings. They explicitly didn't involve dice, cards, backgammon sets or any of that gamey bullshit. Often they were played with whatever was handy (namely: your friends, your voice, secrets, and repressed urges).
  • Sorry, John, that page links to many, many discussions of games on both sides of the line. Any of the monthly results links has that quote and pointers to games that fall into the category.

    Also please let us not have a discussion about what constitutes a roleplaying game.
  • Posted By: AndyThere is no such game, because the parlor narration games also doubly are highly focused. You can't Do Everything. If you could do literally everything, then:

    1) The game has something that makes it not a parlor narration game (in other words, choice)
    AH! Okay, now it's all clicked. I thought I understood it before, but evidently I had some wires crossed mentally. Thanks!
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