Personal insight concerning player goals and the blame of 'playing it wrong'

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  • My point isn't that you should see it as a feature. But that if you don't understand that people who like traditional games see it as one, you won't understand why people play them.

    We'll just have to agree to disagree on implicit player goals in traditional RPGs. Just because there isn't a rule for RP, doesn't mean RP isn't part of the game, for example. To go back to Ravenloft, the only time I had trouble running the RP Investigative focused style was when we switched to 3E. I played that system for years, but I always noticed my Ravenloft games never quite felt the same. I figured we had just changed and it wasn't the game. Then I switched back to 2e for a bit and the feeling we had before was back. I realized the issue was the introduction of things like Bluff and Diplomacy. In 2E there is an etiquette NWP, but that is a knowledge skill, it doesn't replace RP. Obviously people use bluff and still role-play. But my experience was, these things were frequently being used like action buttons and when I took them out, things went back to how we played before. By the same token, having a skill like Perception, can lead to players interacting less directly with the environment you describe. So I do take your point about mechanics mattering, but I also think it is a mistake to assume just because there isn't a rule for a thing, that the game isn't about that thing. If you look at D&D it appears to be a game all about combat, but that is just because you need combat rules. You don't necessarily need RP rules to have great RP (and in fact RP rules can get in the way of good RP*).It is also fairly easy and painless to do something like remove Bluff from a game (or to approach it in a way that is less intrusive).

    *Not knocking these kinds of skills in games--I use them myself, but I can see the problems they sometimes introduce to play.
    I used to play mainstream traditional games that way too and had loads of fun doing it. But to me, there always seemed to be a conflict between our playing style and the actual ruleset. Either the rules got in the way of RP, or RP got in the way of the game.

    And when I started playing in other groups, I noticed that others might not place any focus on RP at all — many would just use everything as "action buttons".

    I then realized that the systems didn't actually encourage RP. It was just something that we tried to force into the game, because we enjoyed that element. And once I started using systems the way they seemed to be meant to be played, I felt a lot less chafing.

    That being said, I think you make a very good point — along with the OP. Games that are lacking in focus might actually encourage players to do their own thing with them. And that might, in a way, make them more flexible.

    As you were saying, I think it might just be a matter of definition. To me, if it's not part of the rules, it's not really part of the game — it's added by the players. And I completely respect that you might have a different way of seeing it. Now I see your take a lot more clearly, so thanks for sharing!

  • edited May 2018
    Many interesting points in this thread.
    I read in OP a confirmation that at the root of the enchantment of Roleplaying games is the infinite power of pretend play. To me the whole "exploration, RP & intrigue in D&D" really is pretend play with D&D clothes.

    Why insist on calling it D&D then ? Sometimes big RPG rulebooks are just a pretext for players to distinguish themselves from kids. "We're not playing pretend, we're role playing".

    So, there's no playing it wrong, only playing something else. Not arguing about the point at which grain of sands make a heap, I agree with ceruleanfive : sparkling water and cucumber don't make a sandwich (try with mint and lemon).
  • So I guess what we're all saying then is that System Matters?
  • Maybe a useful word here is 'toolkit'? Just brainstorming. :)
    Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but I like 'toy' because of the open ended nature of play it implies.
    Yes, this is the aspect of the word 'toy' which was illuminating for me! This is the way I've read the word too. Toolkit is not bad either!

    Since geek culture became mainstream, I think games and toys are not as pejorative in popular culture as they were before. I mean a lot of people treat them as childish things anyway but hey, I dont think that their opinion is important for us :)

    And a lot of people talk about playing D&D as if they are considering it to be not an unique RPG or specific ruleset, but a whole activity. To me this sounds like they love playing with D&D (the toy) and not playing it (a game). Maybe this is why they are more popular than niche games. Of course it's just a word trying to illustrate a relationship.

    If someone is not familiar with the toy / game distinction than (s)he can check out the book 'Rules of Play' or the Gamification course on Coursera (2nd lesson I think). I had thought that this is a somewhat wide-spread notion here but I've already realized it's not.

    Also a few important academic quotations regarding this topic:
    Pen and paper role-playing games are not normal games because with a human game master, their rules are not fixed beyond discussion.
    Juul wrote this in 2003 so it's 99% about trad RPGs.

    Many definitions of a game include the need for some defined goal or outcome, including those of Parlett (1999), Abt (1970), Suits (1990), Costikyan (1994) and Salen and Zimmerman (2004)
    Also I want to clarify something
    I still believe that most (all?) traditional games have a quite clear player goal, even though it's not explicitly stated.
    I agree. I think that every RPG has implicit player goals and win conditions, but they are not easy to identify and the mainstream culture treat these RPGs as they are more versatile then they really are.
    But the reason saying traditional games are 'toys' isn't productive is two-fold and obvious: they are not toys (they are obviously games), adults don't want to play with toys. It is pretty clearly a form of analysis that places traditional games below other types of games, to make them less desirable. But like I said, we've had that discussion here before. If your description in your analysis of the kinds of games you don't play or don't like to play, is pejorative, it isn't a good faith effort to understand.
    I find it very hard to have a meaninful conversation with you. Your arguments are good but I feel that you are still offended even after I tried to clarify that my intention's are in good faith. Why?

    Maybe it's because I'm not native in English, I don't know. I love D&D and I think that trad RPGs are good. I'm just using the academic literatue and try to figure out why and how people differentiate between trad RPGs and Forgites. But I have the feeling that you are distrusftful of me and you dont really try to understand the positive side of toyness at all.



  • Maybe it's because I'm not native in English, I don't know. I love D&D and I think that trad RPGs are good. I'm just using the academic literatue and try to figure out why and how people differentiate between trad RPGs and Forgites. But I have the feeling that you are distrusftful of me and you dont really try to understand the positive side of toyness at all.
    I am not distrustful of you, nor am I offended. I reject the label toy, but I don't take moral umbrage at it. I've just been around long enough to see how this kind of control of the terminology gets used to advance play styles in the name of analysis. And in the end, I think that really doesn't help anyone. 'Toy' is a label I've seen applied here to traditional RPGs, and I think the connotations of that word are strong enough that it just isn't a useful descriptor (it certainly doesn't resemble what most traditional players would describe in my mind). It just has the clear connotation of 'that is just a toy'. There is also a history in online gaming communities of antagonism between styles of play (especially when you are looking at the divide between trad games and story).

    I am happy to have a conversation with you, but you got to understand I come here from a very different point of view. I see that as a good thing. There are too many bubbles in online discussion forums these days, and I think it leads to unexamined ideas that get reinforced over time. These days, when I do post, it is usually in places where I feel the least amount of comfort or consensus around my opinions. So if you feel frustrated about the conversation, realize there is frustration with it on my end as well.

    But I am not trying to be a jerk to you Hamnacb. If that is how I am coming across, that isn't my intention. I am mainly just trying to add another viewpoint to things.
  • edited May 2018
    So if you feel frustrated about the conversation, realize there is frustration with it on my end as well.
    A great self-reflecting observation, thanks. How could we find a common ground? I try to find a pair of words which summarize and characterize the difference between how trad culture and Forgite culture view RPGs without hurting anybody.

    What could we use instead of 'toy' and 'game'? I think this dichotomy (even if it's generalizing things too much) is real and useful (explains the difference of expectations).
  • edited May 2018

    Why insist on calling it D&D then ? Sometimes big RPG rulebooks are just a pretext for players to distinguish themselves from kids. "We're not playing pretend, we're role playing".
    A similar question could be asked of people who house rule Monopoly because it's too long otherwise or (insert some reason here). Is it still monopoly?
  • So if you feel frustrated about the conversation, realize there is frustration with it on my end as well.
    A great self-reflecting observation, thanks. How could we find a common ground? I try to find a pair of words which summarize and characterize the difference between how trad culture and Forgite culture view RPGs without hurting anybody.

    What could we use instead of 'toy' and 'game'? I think this dichotomy (even if it's generalizing things too much) is real and useful (explains the difference of expectations).
    Personally, I don't think we need to build up a new vocabulary (in fact I think building up these vocabularies is one of the things that hinders communication between play styles and sub-communities in the hobby). Every once in a while, sure you need a clear term for a powerful concept, but there are not hundreds of powerful concepts in gaming. So my approach would be to simply describe things rather than reduce them to a label like toy. And if you are going to use a label, go with one that is clear and obvious like Traditional games or traditional RPGs. I think if your understanding of traditional games, hinges on a metaphor like 'toy', you are probably not going to understand what is really going on when people play them.

    Look at it this way, you are trying to understand how traditional games operate. So why begin by coming up with a label like that and defining it. I don't even see the value in it. "Toy" hasn't added anything to the conversation that I can see. This always seems to be how these things go ("hey guys, I have an idea, games that do X are really like Y" and a new piece of jargon is created that someone gets to tie their name to). That is all speculative in nature. Why not take an actual survey of traditional games and people who play them? Why not dive in and play among them with sincerity.

    Part of the core problem is people are routinely mischaracterizing how people in other groups play games (and this a problem all around, not just a problem here). You can't understand how people play games, why they play, and what they are trying to do when they play them, by speculating from afar. The only way is to try playing games with people on their own terms, without bringing in preconceived notions. If you start with ideas about what people are doing wrong, some think piece or post you want to write when you are done, or some other notion, you'll find all the things you are looking for and likely still not understand what is going on.

    By the same token, if you are focused on player goals in your analysis, that is all you are going to be seeing in everything. But 'player goals' isn't something I see many people who play traditional games talk about. It is either just something that is understood and never needs dealing with, or it is a small part of the puzzle. If you read the 1E DMG and think it resonates with people because it has clearly defined player goals, to me that is completely missing the point. I know what aspects of the 1E DMG struck a chord with me when I went back to it in the early 2000s. It is very subjective, but the stuff that hit me had nothing to do with player goals. It had more to do with realizing at some point, the baby had been thrown out with the bathwater, and a lot of stuff that got derided by people in the hobby during the 90s and early 2000s was actually quite useful. Also, the realization that danger and the unexpected can add tremendously to the excitement of play (rather than say perfectly balanced encounters or perfectly dramatic scenarios). But I wasn't thinking that the key was making everything the players do point in the direction of dungeon crawls or exploration. If anything, I realized campaigns need to balance more. There should be room for that stuff, but room for other things as well. And if you look at the 1E DMG, one of the striking things about it, is how all over the place so many of the tools are. You get the sense that part of the point of the game. Being allowed to go in all kinds of directions. Happy to share my thoughts with you by PM if you'll find that information helpful.


  • I used to play mainstream traditional games that way too and had loads of fun doing it. But to me, there always seemed to be a conflict between our playing style and the actual ruleset. Either the rules got in the way of RP, or RP got in the way of the game.

    And when I started playing in other groups, I noticed that others might not place any focus on RP at all — many would just use everything as "action buttons".

    I then realized that the systems didn't actually encourage RP. It was just something that we tried to force into the game, because we enjoyed that element. And once I started using systems the way they seemed to be meant to be played, I felt a lot less chafing.

    That being said, I think you make a very good point — along with the OP. Games that are lacking in focus might actually encourage players to do their own thing with them. And that might, in a way, make them more flexible.

    As you were saying, I think it might just be a matter of definition. To me, if it's not part of the rules, it's not really part of the game — it's added by the players. And I completely respect that you might have a different way of seeing it. Now I see your take a lot more clearly, so thanks for sharing!

    This is exactly how I feel, and very much in some big ways sums up my experience. My group and I spent a long time trying to play traditional games, to tell our cool and creative stories in the chassis of trad games because we thought that was our only choice. But we weren't really using the system much at all. Most of our sessions had no usage of the mechanics and just had us sitting there freeform roleplaying with the idea that if we needed to, we'd interact with the mechanics, pick up our character sheets, roll some dice, etc.
    Which like, isn't by any definition playing the game. It's freeform roleplay while the game sits there and is allegedly involved. But at the time we thought that was how playing the game worked for RP styles like ours (very acting-based, character arc focused stuff where we don't do "play to find out" because we pre-determined the plot beforehand, where the primary focus is long scenes of the characters talking to each other).
    We thought this was what engagement with the game meant.
    Then as we got into Chuubo's, we really started to realize that the game we had been playing hadn't been useful tools, and the mechanics had been at best just getting out of our way instead of actually facilitating our roleplay and storytelling and being used in play, like the rules in Chuubo's do. And that was just this huge eye-opener for us that led directly to us dropping trad games permanently, because they hadn't been at all doing what we wanted out of games, and games existed out there that actually did things that are useful to us.
  • Yes. It's been my experience that understanding how games work, how the various pieces influence play, and then consciously communicating that or discussing it with my fellow players, has reliably and dramatically improved my play.

    Bedrockbrendan,

    You are right that the term "toy" could be used (or taken) in a disparaging way. Perhaps it is worth looking for a better term, but that's not an easy quest. I think that the synonyms used in this thread (e.g. "Toolkit") clarify the spirit in which the word I said being used. Is your concern that the term will then be taken elsewhere, where it will get used outside of that context of understanding? (If so, I share your concern; it's a reasonable one, given the history of such talks.)

    However, I think you do the conversation a disservice by assuming that other posters are not familiar with "traditional games". As far as I can see, that's unwarranted. Many of the people here have read, played, and designed traditional RPGs, and continue to do so. (Although I'll grant that the name of the forum may suggest otherwise! Still, as far as I can see, there is a lot more crossover than there used to be.)

    I do like hearing minority opinions and new ideas, so I enjoy your input here. I think the topic of "how can we enjoy the benefits of games without explicit objects of play" is a really fruitful one, for instance.
  • I don't even see the value in it. "Toy" hasn't added anything to the conversation that I can see. This always seems to be how these things go ("hey guys, I have an idea, games that do X are really like Y" and a new piece of jargon is created that someone gets to tie their name to). That is all speculative in nature. Why not take an actual survey of traditional games and people who play them? Why not dive in and play among them with sincerity.
    I've found lots of value in referring to RPGs as toys, and I assume that other people here do so because they also think it's valuable. A toy in this sense is an object upon which to project relatively unstructured play; it informs the play but it has a relatively lax role in actually guiding it.

    It's not "speculative" because (I assume) the people using that term are the ones who are treating/have treated RPGs like toys. The suggestions that it's either inherently disparaging or meant as a fanciful, speculative dig at ways "other people" play doesn't pan out with how I've traditionally seen it used on SG.
  • All of that, yukamichi, is pretty much how I use the term in reference to RPGs.
  • edited May 2018
    @Paul_T & @yukamichi , thank you for trying to communicate what I meant by RPGs as toys. (And I loved the OSR, I don't know why people think I don't know or enjoy any trad RPGs)

    Actually, I think that 'toolset' better describes Forgite RPG culture where people tend to treat the RAW more seriously than in trad culture. I had thought that MLwM is only good for the one thing that it try to achieve (like a tool in a platonic way), but the commenters made me realize that every RPG/every 'tool', even MLwM could be used in other alternative ways (maybe less effectively, but sometimes in a thought-provoking way!)

    So maybe the dichotomy is better articulated as 'seeing RPGs as toys vs tools' and not 'toys vs games'. Hence now it's not about 'your RPG is not a real game!' but about 'D&D is usually treated as a toy, and MLwM is treated as a tool by the majority (and you can definitely do it in the other way, it's just perception')
  • A good summary, I think. I'd sign off on that last paragraph, gladly.
    I had thought that MLwM is only good for the one thing that it try to achieve (like a tool in a platonic way), but the commenters made me realize that every RPG/every 'tool', even MLwM could be used in other alternative ways (maybe less effectively, but sometimes in a thought-provoking way!)
    This comparison is not easy to make, note. D&D has seen dozens of editions with different rules and goals of play, and decades of people trying to do all kinds of different things with the rules. (For instance, the hypothetical "generic task resolution RPG" can't even easily be derived from early editions of D&D; those ideas and those tools were developed later, by trial and error.)

    I think that it's entirely conceivable that hundreds or thousands of gaming groups, given decades to fool around with My Life with Master, might come up with a "toolkit" or "toy" which encompasses a huge range of playstyles and approaches to gaming.

    Just imagine that for a second: doing all of your gaming, for a decade or more, using just the My Life with Master rules. How long would it take you to come up with a way to adapt those bonus dice and those rolls to a variety of different playstyles? After having done all that, now imagine how flexible the game appears to you: "Hey, I can sit down with this and do anything!"

    Sure, because you already have.

  • edited May 2018
    @Paul_T, spot on! Comparing MLwM with Savage Worlds (both published in 2003) would be more balanced I think.

    Going back to my original question, a lot of people tried to find ways to reconcilate expectations. Thus the desire for clear and explicit player goals / win conditions was born. Maybe this intention influenced people to look at RPGs more as tools ('it's good for X') than as toys.

    Also, it's negative consequence is when you look at an RPG as a tool, and someone is using it differently than you, there's a bigger chance that you will think 'they use this RPG (tool!) wrong' than if you treat it like a toy ('sure, that's okay too, I just dont like that').

    The moral of this topic for me is that originally I had thought that the dichotomy is about games but you made me realize that it's more about culture than the RAW.

    What do you think?
  • I don't even see the value in it. "Toy" hasn't added anything to the conversation that I can see. This always seems to be how these things go ("hey guys, I have an idea, games that do X are really like Y" and a new piece of jargon is created that someone gets to tie their name to). That is all speculative in nature. Why not take an actual survey of traditional games and people who play them? Why not dive in and play among them with sincerity.
    I've found lots of value in referring to RPGs as toys, and I assume that other people here do so because they also think it's valuable. A toy in this sense is an object upon which to project relatively unstructured play; it informs the play but it has a relatively lax role in actually guiding it.

    It's not "speculative" because (I assume) the people using that term are the ones who are treating/have treated RPGs like toys. The suggestions that it's either inherently disparaging or meant as a fanciful, speculative dig at ways "other people" play doesn't pan out with how I've traditionally seen it used on SG.
    There was a very lengthy discussion on the topic (maybe 1-2 years ago or more). Again, I am not going to rehash it. But I do think it was used to dismiss traditional games and I also think it is inherently going to create problems in communication about games. Just look at it from the point of view from an outsider here. There has traditionally been antagonism between people who are into story games and people who are into traditional games. On a forum dedicated to Story games, the chosen metaphor for traditional games is toys (because they are apparently about 'play'). And in the course of this conversation, the much more serious metaphor of toolkit has been applied to the SG and Forge approach (which is odd because toolkit is how Traditional and OSR gamers often describe their rulesets). I'll take my comments off the air at this point, but what I am trying to explain to folks is if the aim here is to understand traditional games, and you are coming up with 'traditional games are like toys', I really think you are missing mark. That just isn't how I've come to understand traditional games after decades of play and conversation about them. And I think my point of view is probably going to be something close to the norm among traditional gamers. Similar things happen on traditional RP forums when they talk about story games.
  • edited May 2018
    Yes. I think culture is a huge part of it, but so also is presentation, marketing, and expectations (based on experiences, sure, but also commercial products like adventures, magazines, online play, and even streaming shows).

    It would be hyperbole to say that design doesn't play *some* role in this, but I think it's much smaller than people make it out to be. Sure, Dogs in the Vineyard, instead of saying "do anything!", tells you how to make a Town and to take the Dogs through it, bearing down justice. But early editions of D&D explain how to draw and stock a dungeon and create a 1st-level bunch of adventurers who go there to collect treasure and escape alive.

    Getting a roleplaying-heavy "political intrigue and romance" game out of the original D&D booklets isn't any less of a stretch, I think, than people using Polaris to play "Angry Birds"
  • Yes. It's been my experience that understanding how games work, how the various pieces influence play, and then consciously communicating that or discussing it with my fellow players, has reliably and dramatically improved my play.

    Bedrockbrendan,

    You are right that the term "toy" could be used (or taken) in a disparaging way. Perhaps it is worth looking for a better term, but that's not an easy quest. I think that the synonyms used in this thread (e.g. "Toolkit") clarify the spirit in which the word I said being used. Is your concern that the term will then be taken elsewhere, where it will get used outside of that context of understanding? (If so, I share your concern; it's a reasonable one, given the history of such talks.)

    However, I think you do the conversation a disservice by assuming that other posters are not familiar with "traditional games". As far as I can see, that's unwarranted. Many of the people here have read, played, and designed traditional RPGs, and continue to do so. (Although I'll grant that the name of the forum may suggest otherwise! Still, as far as I can see, there is a lot more crossover than there used to be.)

    I do like hearing minority opinions and new ideas, so I enjoy your input here. I think the topic of "how can we enjoy the benefits of games without explicit objects of play" is a really fruitful one, for instance.
    I don't doubt people have read and played them. What I am reaction to, is descriptions of the rules and of play experience that just don't match what I encounter on a regular basis. I do think people are interpreting traditional games through the lens of the Story Games forum. What I am trying to do is explain there is a whole other way of looking at these things that doesn't hinge on creating new terminology every step of the way. And creating new terms seems to be almost like a reflex here. My problem with 'toy' is two-fold: 1) I think it is a very inaccurate description of what is going on in traditional games and 2) I think it is unnecessary to create new terms all the time, and particularly in this instance, when the description of the thing itself is being hotly disputed. I think the problem here is SG has a very strong paradigm of thought about RPGS that seems rooted in Forge thought. And a lot of that thought doesn't work well when you apply it to traditional games because so much of the forge was a reaction to traditional play and the kind of play that evolved in the 90s. So what I am trying to say is, I think if you guys want to have a fruitful conversation about traditional games, you'll need to step out of that paradigm a little. At least from my point of view that seems like a needed step, because so many of our core assumptions are at odds when we try to communicate about this stuff.
  • I don't doubt people have read and played them. What I am reaction to, is descriptions of the rules and of play experience that just don't match what I encounter on a regular basis.
    Hi Bedrockbrendan, to be fair I could say the exact same thing about your comments on the first page in regards to D&D 4E. ;)

    ~ Trent
  • I don't doubt people have read and played them. What I am reaction to, is descriptions of the rules and of play experience that just don't match what I encounter on a regular basis.
    Hi Bedrockbrendan, to be fair I could say the exact same thing about your comments on the first page in regards to D&D 4E. ;)

    ~ Trent
    I am certainly not unbiased when it comes to 4E, and my dislike of the game is pretty deep. I honestly don't even remember what I said about 4E at the start of the discussion, if you remind me, I'll happily respond as honestly as possible. I will say, I do think I didn't give it a fair shake as a player, and I was probably inhibiting my own fun by not engaging it on its own terms. On the other hand, I was far from the only one who felt this way. And I think it is pretty hard to deny it was at least a divisive edition of D&D. I will say though, my old business partner and co-designer Bill, who was as traditional RPG as they come, loved 4E (in large part because he took a very heavy, rulings over rules approach to the game). And he used it for years alongside 1E and other editions. I also do think its powers based approach would work well for certain game concepts (I can imagine 4E making for an interesting wuxia system for instance).
  • I am certainly not unbiased when it comes to 4E, and my dislike of the game is pretty deep. I honestly don't even remember what I said about 4E at the start of the discussion, if you remind me, I'll happily respond as honestly as possible. I will say, I do think I didn't give it a fair shake as a player, and I was probably inhibiting my own fun by not engaging it on its own terms. On the other hand, I was far from the only one who felt this way. And I think it is pretty hard to deny it was at least a divisive edition of D&D. I will say though, my old business partner and co-designer Bill, who was as traditional RPG as they come, loved 4E (in large part because he took a very heavy, rulings over rules approach to the game). And he used it for years alongside 1E and other editions. I also do think its powers based approach would work well for certain game concepts (I can imagine 4E making for an interesting wuxia system for instance).
    You maintained it had a more "narrow focus" than other versions of D&D, most notably 5E. That doesn't gel with my understanding and experience of the game. Like, at all.

    I just thought the parallels between this and your last post was interesting, is all. ;)

    ~Trent

  • I would definitely argue that it has a narrower focus than most editions. DnD 4e very much makes a declarative statement about what DnD is (a tactical combat minis game, in the context of 4e) and then designs specifically and solely for that, whereas most other editions starting with 3e go around and around about what DnD even is, and go for trying to do a lot of different things at once instead of just doing one thing and doing it really well.
  • I am certainly not unbiased when it comes to 4E, and my dislike of the game is pretty deep. I honestly don't even remember what I said about 4E at the start of the discussion, if you remind me, I'll happily respond as honestly as possible. I will say, I do think I didn't give it a fair shake as a player, and I was probably inhibiting my own fun by not engaging it on its own terms. On the other hand, I was far from the only one who felt this way. And I think it is pretty hard to deny it was at least a divisive edition of D&D. I will say though, my old business partner and co-designer Bill, who was as traditional RPG as they come, loved 4E (in large part because he took a very heavy, rulings over rules approach to the game). And he used it for years alongside 1E and other editions. I also do think its powers based approach would work well for certain game concepts (I can imagine 4E making for an interesting wuxia system for instance).
    You maintained it had a more "narrow focus" than other versions of D&D, most notably 5E. That doesn't gel with my understanding and experience of the game. Like, at all.

    I just thought the parallels between this and your last post was interesting, is all. ;)

    ~Trent

    It has been a long time since I played it, so I am very open to being wrong on this one. But my memory of trying to play 4E was there was enormous focus on the encounter, and it always felt like everything was leading into that (and into a style of play that emphasized tactics). Obviously that can be overcome in any system by a suitable GM. Like I mentioned my friend Bill did that and he had a blast with 4E. So to me, it seemed like a more narrowly focused version of D&D. I also personally found it hardest to deviate from the core rules on. Maybe that was because they were new and I didn't grasp how to do it. But I felt very tethered to what the designers seemed to want.

    I guess what I found frustrating with 4E when it came out, was it felt like it doubled down on some of the tactical encounter focus in 3E and simultaneously broke away from the core D&D structure in a way that just made it feel too far outside D&D for my tastes.

    With any other game, this wouldn't be a problem at all. I just would not play it, or only play it when that particular style was something I wanted. The issue with that kind of development happening to D&D is, it was 'the game'. That is what most people played. So it was like a bomb went off when it came out (among the people I was gaming with it was something like 5 to 1 against the new edition--and these were folks who adopted each new edition that came out up to that point).
  • I would definitely argue that it has a narrower focus than most editions. DnD 4e very much makes a declarative statement about what DnD is (a tactical combat minis game, in the context of 4e) and then designs specifically and solely for that, whereas most other editions starting with 3e go around and around about what DnD even is, and go for trying to do a lot of different things at once instead of just doing one thing and doing it really well.
    And I think if it wasn't D&D, this wouldn't have been a problem for them, as there is a market for tightly focused games that do one thing well. The issue is, D&D is the mainstream RPG played by the largest number of people. So if you have a D&D campaign, chances are you have some people in the group who want a tactical combat mini-game, but also have a mix of people who want other things (or actively despise the tactical miniature aspect of play). D&D has always in part, been about finding the right approach for a given group or GM. Especially by the time of 3E, when a wide variety of play styles and approaches were being used. I don't play 5E, so I cannot comment very concretely on it. But from what I've read of the rules, and what I've heard from people I know who do play it regularly, it seems more in a middle ground, where people with different tastes can meet. Looking forward to playing it and seeing for myself if this is the case, I've just been busy with other things and haven't had an opportunity yet.
  • I would definitely argue that it has a narrower focus than most editions. DnD 4e very much makes a declarative statement about what DnD is (a tactical combat minis game, in the context of 4e) and then designs specifically and solely for that, whereas most other editions starting with 3e go around and around about what DnD even is, and go for trying to do a lot of different things at once instead of just doing one thing and doing it really well.
    Hi EmmatheExcrucian, tactical combat definitely got a lot of attention in 4E but the idea that it was designed exclusively around that, again, does not gel with my experience of the game at all. And I ran and played 4E for years.

    As a perfectly good example of what I'm talking about, 4E is the only edition of D&D with a working conflict resolution system (skill challenges) alongside its typical task resolution system. It is also the only version of D&D where you can potentially earn 100% of your character's xp (although its probably unlikely at most tables) without once making an attack roll because of how hazards, skill challenges, and quests interface with the xp rules --- quests for that matter are their own kettle of fish, given both the PHB and DMG encourage players to create their own quests so will pretty closely resemble Keys depending on how the table handles that. The DMG2 actually has an entire chapter on collaborative storytelling written by Robin Laws that expounds on a lot of this stuff (including rules for roleplaying vignettes and creating Hx-like relationships between the PCs during character creation).

    For my own games, I found about half of my "encounters" (which in 4E are not synonymous with "combat") were skill challenges. I only engaged with the tactical combat rules for big setpiece showdowns and very little else.

    ~ Trent
  • Ah, that makes sense.
    That's tbh how I engaged with DnD 4e during the period where my group and I played it, but from what I knew, what we were doing was very much outside of the design intent by a huge mile.
    (I should note, I actually haven't read the DMG. I never actually owned either of them, because I'd come over from earlier editions, where the DMG just flat-out wasn't useful, and I remember skimming a friend's copy of the DMG and thinking it mostly looked like GMing 101.
  • It has been a long time since I played it, so I am very open to being wrong on this one. But my memory of trying to play 4E was there was enormous focus on the encounter, and it always felt like everything was leading into that (and into a style of play that emphasized tactics). Obviously that can be overcome in any system by a suitable GM. Like I mentioned my friend Bill did that and he had a blast with 4E. So to me, it seemed like a more narrowly focused version of D&D. I also personally found it hardest to deviate from the core rules on. Maybe that was because they were new and I didn't grasp how to do it. But I felt very tethered to what the designers seemed to want.

    I guess what I found frustrating with 4E when it came out, was it felt like it doubled down on some of the tactical encounter focus in 3E and simultaneously broke away from the core D&D structure in a way that just made it feel too far outside D&D for my tastes.

    With any other game, this wouldn't be a problem at all. I just would not play it, or only play it when that particular style was something I wanted. The issue with that kind of development happening to D&D is, it was 'the game'. That is what most people played. So it was like a bomb went off when it came out (among the people I was gaming with it was something like 5 to 1 against the new edition--and these were folks who adopted each new edition that came out up to that point).
    Hi Bedrockbrendan, I absolutely agree that 4E changed the focus of D&D but, and here's the crucial point, "different" is not synonymous with "more narrow" or "less flexible". It just means different. Especially since some of the stuff people have talked about on this thread --- investigations, political intrigue, etc --- 4E actually has tech for supporting moreso than other versions of D&D via its conflict resolution and xp rules.

    What 4E did change was the emphasis away from attrition-based strategic wargame play (what usually gets called "the adventuring day or week") to fictionally-charged conflict scenes (what usually gets called "encounters" with the caveat this may or may not involve combat). A lot of people tried to use 4E to do the former, with predictable results: its combat engine isn't really intended for random encounters or "4 orcs in a room" battles.

    I actually quite agree with your last paragraph. Ron Edwards recently compared D&D to a folk religion and I think that's pretty spot on. 4E was committing blasphemy to a lot of folks and they responded in kind. Had it been released under any other intellectual property, I have no doubt it would have been overwhelmingly positively received.

    ~ Trent
  • Ah, that makes sense.
    That's tbh how I engaged with DnD 4e during the period where my group and I played it, but from what I knew, what we were doing was very much outside of the design intent by a huge mile.
    (I should note, I actually haven't read the DMG. I never actually owned either of them, because I'd come over from earlier editions, where the DMG just flat-out wasn't useful, and I remember skimming a friend's copy of the DMG and thinking it mostly looked like GMing 101.
    Hi Emma, yes unfortunately the 4E designers for whatever reasons "hid" a lot of this stuff in the DMGs (along with 4E's "rulings not rules" engine via Rule 42) away from the players. The DMG2 is actually were a lot of this stuff shines through most clearly.

    Its pretty obvious 4E's design team was conversant with Forge ideas when they were writing the game. This does not seem to be the case with 5E's design team.

    ~ Trent
  • That's really weird that it's all hidden in there. The fact that it has that stuff is pretty cool.
    And yeah, 5e has a lot that feels really unfortunately backwards and dated, whereas 4e really felt like something modern and well put-together.
  • I would argue 5E was pretty well put together, all things considered, and I definitely borrow ideas from it for my own D&D home game. It just had different design priorities and influences than 4E did.

    ~ Trent
  • edited May 2018
    FWIW I like "toolkit" as a description for RPGs in general and open-ended RPGs in particular.

  • Hi Bedrockbrendan, I absolutely agree that 4E changed the focus of D&D but, and here's the crucial point, "different" is not synonymous with "more narrow" or "less flexible". It just means different. Especially since some of the stuff people have talked about on this thread --- investigations, political intrigue, etc --- 4E actually has tech for supporting moreso than other versions of D&D via its conflict resolution and xp rules.

    What 4E did change was the emphasis away from attrition-based strategic wargame play (what usually gets called "the adventuring day or week") to fictionally-charged conflict scenes (what usually gets called "encounters" with the caveat this may or may not involve combat). A lot of people tried to use 4E to do the former, with predictable results: its combat engine isn't really intended for random encounters or "4 orcs in a room" battles.

    I actually quite agree with your last paragraph. Ron Edwards recently compared D&D to a folk religion and I think that's pretty spot on. 4E was committing blasphemy to a lot of folks and they responded in kind. Had it been released under any other intellectual property, I have no doubt it would have been overwhelmingly positively received.

    ~ Trent
    I would agree different isn't equal to more narrow. However I was stuffing in two complaints into one post. What I found narrow about it was the overall "gaminess". The skill tests felt especially gamey. There was definitely a large emphasis on the tactical combat of the grid, as well as an extreme focus on balance, and the skill challenge thing, to me, felt very gamey. It was narrowly focused on the interest of a smaller group of players. But so did the whole powers structure thing. I know there were lots of people who that struck a chord with. For me, it felt like a version of the game tailored to a quarter of the overall D&D player base. I would still describe it as pretty narrow.

    I've heard the '4E as narrative engine' and I am sure people have found a way to make that work. I can say though, when it first came out, I saw no sign that it was such a thing from reading the PHB or DMG, or playing it (our groups tried to play it many times before it became too contentious). The arguments I've seen from proponents of this on En World, have been pretty obtuse to my eyes (I am sure they get this experience from it, but I don't think I could replicate it if I tried). Still, if it was about 'fictionally charged conflict scenes' that is also pretty narrow in interest. Certainly wasn't what I wanted from D&D.

    I still maintain that it would make a really cool wuxia engine or work for similar goals. However I think the comparison to folk religion by Edwards recently was pretty off the mark. They put out a game that a large portion of their customers didn't like. That isn't folk religion, that is not understanding your audience. People were not outraged because their god had been violated, they were angry because it wasn't what they looked for in D&D. Dungeons and Dragons has a particular feel, and particular conceits. These things keep people coming back to it. If you change the overall feel, people who come to it for those reasons, aren't going to play. At the time that 4E game out, I was playing all kinds of RPGs, not just D&D. It was the main game everyone agreed on, but it wasn't like we were strictly devoted to it. We cycled GMs, and cycled games. When we played D&D, we were looking for the experience D&D offered that other games didn't. When 4E came out, the issue was it didn't match our play style for pretty much any game, and the things it did well, seemed a whole lot better suited to other genres. Like I said, it made total sense for something like wuxia, where the genre physics match the powers and the healing rates. But the physics of 4E, didn't match our D&D worlds at all (at least how we had been approaching them). That said, I think it is well designed game in a lot of ways. I just think the argument that it was not well received because people were behaving like religious zealots doesn't hold water (and it sounds like an excuse). My view of 4E is it is successful design in some respects, but a complete failure on the part of the designers to understand their customers (and not a failure of marketing or a failure on the part of customers to appreciate its genius).


  • You are right that the term "toy" could be used (or taken) in a disparaging way. Perhaps it is worth looking for a better term, but that's not an easy quest. I think that the synonyms used in this thread (e.g. "Toolkit") clarify the spirit in which the word I said being used. Is your concern that the term will then be taken elsewhere, where it will get used outside of that context of understanding? (If so, I share your concern; it's a reasonable one, given the history of such talks.)

    .
    I am trying to help people on the forum communicate with traditional gamers and I am also concerned about the accuracy of the term (assuming they want their ideas to be taken seriously outside forums like this one). I think if you use the term 'toy' to describe traditional play or OSR play, you are 1) missing the point of both and 2) dooming your ability to communicate with typical fans of both. So my concern is both about the ability of the term to communicate anything meaningful and about its accuracy. People keep mentioning there is an understanding here around the term. But again, based on my participation in the last discussion on it, I am not so sure. I think before you go around coining a term, you really need to assess whether the points the term represents are accurate, because I don't think traditional play has been accurately described here (at the very least, there is a strong reductive quality to the description of it). I guess what I am saying is the conception offered of traditional play really needs to be tested beyond the boundaries of this forum, among more traditional gamers. Do that before you settle on new jargon loaded with meaning.
  • edited May 2018
    FWIW, when I say Toy, I mean Toy, not Tool Kit.

    As in, I don't see much difference between the way the vast majority of people use say, Boot Hill RPG rules, and the way most kids would use a bag of plastic cowboys and Indians or a box of Old West themed costumes.

    ETA:
    Personally, I think being afraid to use the word toy for fear of offending someone automatically limits the space we have to design in. By denying that most RPGs are toys in actual use, we severely limit the possibility of making them better toys.

    I suspect that most adults have already clued to the fact that RPGs are mostly toys. If there is a fear of being seen playing with a toy*, well, that may well be one of the already exiting limitations on RPGs being adopted by a greater % of the population, so why worry about it?


    (* I'm pretty sure there is)
  • edited May 2018
    NM.
  • edited May 2018
    I really hate the tribal friction between traditional and story game RPG players. I think like 99% of it is baseless.

    Anyone here who wants to do your part in minimizing that friction, check out Brendan's last post above.

    Using the term "toy" runs a risk of making trad gamers think "oh those story gamers are talking about me, and in a way that's not very nice." So when we have an easy alternative term, let's use that.

    @komradebob I think we'll have to agree to disagree here. I mean, I agree with your points on design, just not on the necessity of using the term "toy" instead of "toolkit". Given an RPG with various subsystems and moving parts, I think the singular "toy" isn't actually the most precise description of what's provided.

    @Bedrockbrendan , I think you're entirely incorrect about the way the term has been used on this website. For every one poster who's said "toy" to express dissatisfaction with a trad game, there are many, many more who've used "toy" in a positive way or to describe all RPGs equally.

    I'm gonna do what I can, and I'll try to remember to say "toolkit" instead of "toy" from now on (as that's usually what I mean anyway).

    On your end, I hope you drop this idea that S-G is full of story gamers who don't like trad games and talk shit about them by calling them toys. None of that is correct. I know you don't harbor the same hate for S-G users that RPG Pundit spews, but I do worry that you've soaked up this idea that S-G represents an "other" when it comes to traditional play -- that S-G is full of people who don't understand or like traditional play. That just isn't true. Sure, S-G includes some people in that camp, but I am quite confident that they are in the minority, and anyone who has any ill will toward traditional play is in the vast minority. Most of us love D&D and some '80s-'90s sci-fi games and White Wolf or Shadowrun and have played some combo of them for decades. The difference in how we talk about these games (vs elsewhere on the 'net) is not a matter of experience or respect, it's just a matter of independent evolution of community jargon. I appreciate you sharing with us how that jargon sounds elsewhere, and I aim to be considerate of that. At the same time, I think the only reason it sounds that way to you is because of the conflict-mongers you're more familiar with. Without this idea that S-G users are the "other", then "toy" becomes merely a potentially useful perspective on how RPGs function, rather than any sort of loaded statement.
  • David:

    I really do mean toy. Toy set? Play set? Whatever.

    What I mean is RPGs are generally toys the same way a big matchbox car set with a parking garage and some of those orange flexi tracks is a toy/toy set.

    I don't mean tool kit.

    I mean toy.
  • Well put, Dave.

    I agree that avoiding "toy" as potentially inflammatory is a good idea, and it's only a very limited metaphor in any case. As I've repeatedly argued, it has more to do with the attitudes and assumptions of the people playing than the games themselves. I often pick up and dismantle "story games", treating them as toys or toolkits myself, for example.

    We can choose to use a "toy/game" metaphor at times, but I don't think it accurately describes important things about actual, real games which almost always straddle the divide meaningfully. For instance, most editions of D&D solidly present themselves as "games", while many "story game" materials present themselves as "toys or toolboxes" (e.g. Levi Kornelsen's Schema materials on DriveThru) - but we can, case by case, decide to treat them in all kinds of nuanced ways. Maybe we take the information in the Player's Handbook literally, but pick and choose at will from the DMG, for a stupid and simple example.

    For me, it's a mindset the user adopts, not a feature of the game itself (although the text and the design can inform that somewhat, of course). I can play the same game on two separate weeks, and treat it as a toolkit the first time and a game the second time, or vice-versa. Most of the time, though, our approach won't fall neatly into those two camps, but cross over in messy and complex ways ("Hey, let's throw in these Critical Hit tables from Pendragon, but only roll on them when an attack is accompanied by an insult! Cool?").
  • edited May 2018
    K-Bob,

    Well, I don't claim that anyone's obligated to care about offending the rest of the RPG internet. Just, if you do care, maybe find another word, or if not, just make it clear which RPGs you're referring to as toys.
  • Other possible words: "Playset"? "Toy box"?
  • edited May 2018
    If I use other words, then people are unlikely to think of them as toys.

    And I want people to think of them as toys.

    So we can get around to making better toys

    A boring story to explain:
    A few years back, I was at a gaming convention, playing miniatures games. I met a really old fella, who talked about how he was using miniatures, some of which he'd bought as a boy in the 1940s.

    He was notably insistent that he didn't play war games, that he played toy soldier games.

    And he was right.

    I've met all sorts of minis-gaming grognards who'd be absolutely appalled by someone calling their hobby "playing with toy soldiers", I mean, get seriously upset about it.

    Yet, by recognizing that it is indeed playing with toy soldiers, possibilities for design are opened up.

    So those upset people? Unless what they're doing is more useful for expanding the possibilities of the hobby, they can get over it.
  • Airk, I saw your post before the NVM, and was just waiting till I got to my computer to respond. I think you raised a fair question and I'm happy to respond to it if you want to repost (I don't necessarily agree, but I think it is an interesting point of discussion).
  • Paul, I think the modular/customizable perspective is useful for looking at both play/use (as you write) and design (as K-Bob writes).

    Toy box, toy set, and play set are all in the same verbal set as "toy", I'd think, with their childhood connotations. So I don't see any advantage there. :(
  • edited May 2018

    On your end, I hope you drop this idea that S-G is full of story gamers who don't like trad games and talk shit about them by calling them toys. None of that is correct. I know you don't harbor the same hate for S-G users that RPG Pundit spews, but I do worry that you've soaked up this idea that S-G represents an "other" when it comes to traditional play -- that S-G is full of people who don't understand or like traditional play. That just isn't true. Sure, S-G includes some people in that camp, but I am quite confident that they are in the minority, and anyone who has any ill will toward traditional play is in the vast minority. Most of us love D&D and some '80s-'90s sci-fi games and White Wolf or Shadowrun and have played some combo of them for decades. The difference in how we talk about these games (vs elsewhere on the 'net) is not a matter of experience or respect, it's just a matter of independent evolution of community jargon. I appreciate you sharing with us how that jargon sounds elsewhere, and I aim to be considerate of that. At the same time, I think the only reason it sounds that way to you is because of the conflict-mongers you're more familiar with. Without this idea that S-G users are the "other", then "toy" becomes merely a potentially useful perspective on how RPGs function, rather than any sort of loaded statement.
    If you have an issue with Pundit, that is between you and him. My view on this has long been the majority of people into story games and the majority of people into traditional games, are not bad actors. But I do think there has been a history of antagonism between the camps, and even though it may involve a small number, when people encounter such folk, it leaves a strong impression. Part of the reason why I post here, is to get a clear sense of what the community is really about rather than relying on second-hand information. Most of my interactions have been engaging and respectful (though certainly contentious). In fact my more negative experiences with people advocating for SG or the Forge, have actually been away from this forum in other communities. When that happens though, it is extremely infuriating because some of the forge stuff can be hugely dismissive of the kinds of approaches a lot of traditional people like.

    But if I am being honest, the original thread on traditional games as toys, is a thread I remember very differently than some of the others here. That is fine. I don't want to beat a dead horse here. We can agree to disagree on that point. Just to be clear here, it isn't simply about the term 'toy'. As a matter of communication between the sides, it seems like it used to suggest there is something less serious, more child-like, about traditional play. It isn't that I am personally offended by the word, I just think it is so counterproductive and leads us further from an understanding of the dynamics at work in traditional games. And I think it resurrects thoughts of 'brain damage'. My main complaint is that I think what the term was trying to encapsulate is a questionable reduction of traditional and old school play. Traditional play isn't just license to play pretend. That is why the GM is such an important role in traditional RPGs. That is why 'rulings over rules' has become so crucial.

    And I do understand people here play and read traditional RPGs. In fact, I found it interesting that there was such an interest here when I first started posting. But I do think there is a huge difference in how folks here tend to examine these games and think about them, and how a lot other traditional players tend to. And I guess I feel like one of the things that sometimes gets in the way of a clearer understanding of the difference, is this impulse to create new jargon for every little concept.
  • @Bedrockbrendan I can't speak for The Internet, or for A Side (which I doubt actually exists in any degree of unity). I can only speak for myself and for what I've seen on this website as a regular participant. So, from that angle:

    1) The purpose of referring to any RPG, trad or otherwise, as a "toy" is to acknowledge and discuss two things:
    a) Unlike a board game, not all participation consists of choosing between specified, finite options.
    b) The specific play group in question needs to make some decisions about how they're going to use the RPG.

    If you have other language besides "toy" or "toolkit" which you feel is more useful for acknowledging and discussing those things, could you please share?

    2) Ron Edwards said some crazy shit back in the day about some traditional play/games brain-damaging or infantilizing players. No one I know actually agreed with him, but many people did soak up some of his personal taste in the course of learning his theories. Since then, some takeaways from the theories have been retained, but no one here has held onto Ron's personal taste or crazy statements. Sure, S-G welcomes gamers of all sorts, including those who don't like traditional games/play, but there is no correlation in the conversation here between (a) traditional play and (b) child-like or otherwise bad/inferior play.
  • edited May 2018
    I used "Play pretend". I don't know how it sounds to the outside world, but I really like it.

    "open ended games" or "infinite games" are old terms that could be used again. "Infinite" is a bit bloated. "Open ended" goes nicely with the idea of player input but is already recycled by video games for "sandbox". The idea of a game "being more open ended" would be the positive for a game "lacking a clear goal". The size of a funnel is, after all, objectivable.
  • Play Pretend is fine by me.

    So is Verbal-Only Fancy Dress Party.
  • But you guys are talking about RPGs in general, right?

    Not specifically traditional RPGs?
  • @Bedrockbrendan I don't think I ever got your take on this. Any thoughts?
    image
  • edited May 2018
    But you guys are talking about RPGs in general, right?

    Not specifically traditional RPGs?
    Yes, RPGs in general, although I think trad ones tend to get used as toys more often.

    That's likely because there are a zillion times more trad RPGs and most are more readily accessible to the public commercially.

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