The concept of a GM is the root of everything that is wrong with RPG games.

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  • The idea of a human referee that could interpret and adjudicate unusual or unforseen situations in refereed wargames (as opposed to games like Advanced Squad Leader that has tons and tons of rules for everything so that less adjudication and subjectivity is needed) is what created roleplaying games in the first place.

    So of course all problems can also be traced there.

    This is like saying that breathing oxygen is the root of all disease.

    That said, GM-less and GM-full games were an important further development of that concept and can address or sidestep a lot of (but not all) of the problems associated with GM:ed games.

    However, some examples of problems with RPGs that do arise (not necessarily exclusively) in GM-less/full games include:

    • Traumatic or triggering content
    • Gonzo or non-serious content
    • Lack of buy-in
    • Lack of engagement
    • Social pressure and problems
    • “Spotlight” tension
    • Rejection & heartbreak over crushed creativity
    • Boring or overly exciting ideas
    • Racist, sexist or otherwise kyriarchal/patriarchal content
    • Rules mistakes and arguments
    • Scheduling conflicts
    • Out-of-game problems, abuse, or bad behavior, bullying
    • Debates & flamewars online

    And more.

  • edited July 2018
    Tangentially, when it comes to the words "GM-less" vs "GM-full" I personally think "GM-less" makes the most sense for most of the games — there's an absense of the traditional GM role, the master.

    That said, I've vowed to never argue semantics so that's why I used both terms above. So that those who strongly prefer one or the other terms would be appeased and not try to start trouble♥

    I'm not particularly invested in either word
  • edited July 2018
    I subscribe to the idea that roleplaying games are shamanistic rituals. Everything wrong with RPGs can be traced to failure of this ritual and the skill with which the GM reads and leads the participants. Of course an untrained teen leading his peer will do a bad job most of the time.

    "Story games" which are usually but not always GM-less take steps to move the activity away from shamanistic rite and into something else. I think this explains why some people don't feel like "story games" are "real" roleplaying games, more than challenge vs collaboration or adhering to traditional forms.

    As with religion I think people experience ritual activity with different intensity, some are attracted to it and some repulsed. I think this is also why roleplaying games sometimes create moral panics, because religious people do recognize them as ritual activity even when the players themselves do not.
  • That's an awesome observation. I love religion♥
    I agree with your description of the games as having a ritual component
  • @stefoid: What problems do you have specifically in mind?

    My root problem with 99% of all roleplaying games are that they are badly designed with flawed focus.

    Examples
    Badly designed: all combat systems.
    Flawed focus: XP as reward for anything else than mechanical achievements (like combat).

    Badly designed with flawed focus: The Storytelling System that has a simulationistic rule system.

    I blame the root of roleplaying games for that. Those first roleplaying games that set the mark, and provided the guidelines in how to think when either writing or designing a roleplaying game. This is, for example, why people scratched their heads, and had to refer to obscure blog or forum posts to play Forge games in the beginning, because people were stuck in how to play roleplaying games and, mostly, in how to write them.
  • D&D has an awesome combat system♥♥♥
  • edited July 2018
    I'm with Rickard: the root of all evil is not the GM, it's bad design. Technically, it's bad design combined with the human flaw of desire. If people didn't demand so much of their games, those games would not fail them so badly.

    I think it's understandable to blame the GM, as that design element is so prominent in D&D, the original roleplaying game. However, one should not forget that D&D is also a remarkably shitty design (with a powerful premise, I'll grant that). It set the bar quite low for everything that followed.

    Although, yes: the combat system is awesome. No contradiction there.
  • To be explicit in case it wasn't clear from my post, I hold a pomo approach that there isn't a single root common to all problems
  • edited July 2018
    The messy, murky overload of distinct game functions and social roles all onto a single person uninformatively called "a GM" - overload which possibly started with the very shift from refereed wargames (probably the most efficient way to achieve a deep and detailed simulation) to various experimental uses of D&D to achieve different ends - is the root of several things which are wrong with RPGs, both in terms of design and the social "scene" surrounding them. I do believe so.
    I'm afraid just doing away with "the GM" in a naive way can't magically fix any of those problems, though - we've had to start dissecting "the GM" into its tiniest constituent bits and we must keep doing so.
  • edited July 2018
    Blackmoor was the first game with both AC and HP♥ that's pretty awesome
    now 10000 games use it including video games such as Cave Noir

    (Edit: uh well it came from boat fightin games!)
  • edited July 2018
    I agree with the ritualistic aspect but I think that not all ritual have to be strictly lead and directed. I participated in psychodynamic sessions where we only had a faciliator and it was a blast. I tried it with my students who had zero experience with it and it worked the same way.

    What I mean is that the role of the shaman is less hierarchical than the GM's. But I agree that traditionally both tend to have a mystery cult thing lingering around it.
  • The root of all problems is cognitive biases. Each person has their particular experience, tastes and mental associations. So, when we design games we tend to consider only our experience as players and GMs; we know which things work for our group and know how to make them work, but rarely see how these things can be misused or broke by players and other GMs, often leaving too many holes in the rules.

    When it comes to explaining our games we assume players know lots of things we consider common sense, and we end up neglecting important steps needed to play our games properly.

    When it comes to reading other people's games we rely on our experience and rarely read all the explanations in detail, assuming we already know how most of the game is played and that the only things that change are character creation, the setting, which dice we roll, how many and maybe some other procedure here and there. Even worse, we relate specific procedures with previous bad experiences with a similar procedure and think the design is flawed before even trying to test it.

    When it comes to GMing a lot more of disasters happen. When describing scenes we make even more assumptions and consider that if the player can't infere our line of thought it's their fault, so rocks fall and everyone dies. When adjudicating the rules we assume our judgement and knowledge of our group is always better than any assumptions the designer could have made about their game and how it should work. We could even end up assuming that something the players did was fully intentional and a personal attack against us or our work and end up reacting to it, even subconsiously.

    As we play we end up assuming the GM has prepped in full detail so anything described hints more content. Even that peasant carelessly added in a scene because it made sense, the one which the GM obviously named on the spot, must have a really interesting secret, because it makes sense for us in narrative terms! And if he doesn't speak then we must kill him because he must be the final boss in disguise!

    And so on and on, it's wonderful that admist all of this we get to make some games and groups click and work wonders, even if we often have to houserule or hack them into something the creator could never recognize.
  • I agree with the ritualistic aspect but I think that not all ritual have to be strictly lead and directed. I participated in psychodynamic sessions where we only had a faciliator and it was a blast. I tried it with my students who had zero experience with it and it worked the same way.

    What I mean is that the role of the shaman is less hierarchical than the GM's. But I agree that traditionally both tend to have a mystery cult thing lingering around it.
    I think shamans can have a lot or a little authority but having one at all is the important dividing line between "role-playing games" and "story games". Either you're using augury to explore a fictional reality, taking on roles separate from your normal identity, or you're trying to tell the best story together with your friend. It's not about the strictness of the form either, compare the shaman-less Fiasco with the shaman-lead D&D. In the first you have discrete scenes, endings, components and you're not allowed to or supposed to veer away from it. In D&D leaving the beaten path happens all the time because even if it's not designed for it the players are allowed to stop adventuring and start running a monster zoo.
  • I do think the provocative subject line is at least a plausible explanation for the historically high barrier to entry for grown-up play-pretend. Supposing the first-ever RPG had been structured like Fiasco, how different would the cultural niche of RPGs be today? They might be viewed more like writers' workshops or small group theater.

    ...actually, maybe I'm just fine with the way it is. :)
  • I very much agree with this. The concept of a GM is terribly unintuitive (I've seen so many new players have huge amounts of difficulty wrapping their heads around how it works and how to interact with it), it creates an easily exploitable hierarchy, the practices of it are littered with things that are terrible practice as far as the way to treat people, and the role is horribly contradictory to the point that even a lot of people who have been playing for years can't wrap their minds around how to do it.

    There's also the fact that there's nothing a GM does that couldn't be handled by group collaboration, so a GM prevents that level of collaboration, and basically prevents players from having to put in work, which then sets up those players to not be able to play anything but GMed games, and which places waaaaaay to much work on the GM to this ridiculous disproportionate level.

    Basically, GMing is filled with shitty social practices, way too confusing and contradictory of a thing, and it places too much strain on one participant.
    In my eyes, the hobby would be much better off if the GM role had never been created in the first place.
  • The root of everything that is wrong with RPG games is the feel of rolling a d4.

    Also ATM machines.

    Snark is really poisonous, too.
  • edited July 2018
    I think most of Sandra's list can actually happen just fine (as in "pretty unpleasantly") in a game without a GM, and that a group that is capable of avoiding them without a GM is probably just as capable of avoiding them with a GM.

    I don't think the concept of the GM is as uninituitive as it is painted either - many people these days have experience with computerized RPGs where you control "Your guy" and "the game" controls everything else. That maps pretty easily onto GM'd games, where you control "your guy" and the GM controls everything else. If people are legitimately approaching the hobby with no CRPG experience and are just looking for a "shared storytelling" format, then yes, it can be (but isn't necessarily) a bad fit. I'm not really convinced that it "makes people incapable of playing anything but GM'd games" either -- though it certainly may create a predisposition towards doing so, moreso from the perspective of "I really like Italian food because it has tomato sauce!" "Thai food is really good too!" "Yes, but I want something with tomato sauce" perspective. It's not that the people are incapable of finding themselves some Thai food, it's that they've found a specific thing that they like and they want more of that.

    There are other questions of "is being a GM too damn much work" to which there are varying answers, and certainly, there are some problems here, but I feel like a large part of them circle around something closer to what Rickard was driving at -- that even games to which the GM is CRUCIAL and is functionally the "load bearing boss" of the game do a TERRIBLE DAMN JOB of teaching people how to actually do it.
  • Re: the existence of GMs.

    Somebody needs to herd the cats.
  • Great post, Airk (you meant that you saw that I wrote do arise, right? They were all problems that we've had without GM, just as you say)
    There are GM-less games I love and GM:d games I love.
  • @ri
    @stefoid: What problems do you have specifically in mind?

    My root problem with 99% of all roleplaying games are that they are badly designed with flawed focus.
    Maybe the concept of the GM is the reason behind that. The GM is a big cloud of 'magic happens' that a game designer can delegate nearly any design decision to with a bit of hand waving.
  • Mostly, I'm just annoyed that I don't get to play when I GM. And being a player in GMed games is no good either because most of the systems are run in this super boring, roleplaying 101 style - probably because of the teaching issues mentioned above and the way they're designed. There are some good ones, nonetheless. In general I stick to GMless rpgs. In any case, wrong seems unnecessarily moralizing.
  • Maybe the concept of the GM is the reason behind that. The GM is a big cloud of 'magic happens' that a game designer can delegate nearly any design decision to with a bit of hand waving.
    But how does who is doing the magic change the fact that it's a problem? How is "Everybody decides who the monsters attack?" meaningfully different from "One person decides how the monsters attack" as far as the actual problem of having to decide who the monsters attack?

    And how does "the GM follows the procedure described in the rules for deciding who the monsters attack" more problematic than there not being a procedure at all, just because there's a GM doing it?
  • The only rule you need is 'the GM decides who the monsters attack' job done!

    I mean, if there was a set of procedures to follow to decide who the monsters attack, we wouldnt need a GM, would we?

  • edited July 2018
    I think one of the most fundamental appeals of roleplaying is "imagine you're someone else, somewhere else". Many players prefer to emphasize this aspect to the extent that it's incompatible with also deciding what the environment does. This may be the biggest reason why RPGs are neither writer's workshops nor small group theater nor strategy games (at least not entirely).

    "Never ask the GM, always ask the system," would be great if it were practical, but it isn't practical. To cover every relevant word that comes out of a traditional GM's mouth, you'd need hundred-page modules, or thousand-page modules if it's not a straight railroad.

    I mean, there probably are a lot of groups out there that would be happier playing GMless, but it's certainly not all. I doubt it's even the majority.

    That said, I think reducing the GM role to the point where it can be shared while minimally intruding on any given player's "just play my character" experience is a very worthy project. Module flavor text, group situation prep, rules for NPC/monster behavior, branching decision trees -- I think our toolkit for this is still growing and developing.
  • Exactly everything David_Berg just said! The concept of a GM arises as a response to questions like, "How do we adjudicate issues not covered by the rules?" and "How do we create meaningful experiences that rely on separation of the players from the things they're interacting with?" (and honestly, the first of those questions might very well be just a subset of the second).

    I don't think you can throw away the concept of a GM without invalidating whole styles of play that the concept was created to support. You can try distributing the responsibility for answering those questions in different ways but (and this is, as I understand it, the origin of the phrase "GM-full") you can't actually eliminate the concept and keep the style of play the same.

    Unless you want to suggest that meaningful separation of the players from what they interact with is what's wrong with RPGs (and I think that for a lot of people the main appeal of RPGs actually stems from that)... I think that the concept is so deeply embedded into a significant portion of RPG play that, like Sandra suggests, it borders on the tautological to lay blame on it.
  • I think there's a level where I would say that that separation is a big part of the problem. There's no other creative medium I can think of where some of the co-creators are disallowed from creating and declaring information about, so it makes little sense (to me at least) why RPGs force that separation.
  • I'm not so sure that it should be taken as a given that roleplaying games are a "creative medium," or at least that they are analogous to other media which earn that title. To resurrect another recent discussion, this is a good example of why I like referring to RPGs as "toys"; the toy designer may have free reign to create the toy however she wishes, but the people who play with it are then restricted by some aspect of the toy in how they play.

    Play itself can still be creative, but when you pick a specific toy to play with aren't you essentially agreeing to be bound in some way by it? I don't think that's a "problem" in and of itself, though, unless you're being told by a bunch of people that you're actually supposed to be using the toy for something outside the scope of its reasonable functions. If someone hands you some legos and says to play catch, or gives you a bunch of rubber balls and tells you to build a house out of them. Wasn't that disconnect between form and stated function what basically set Ron Edwards off all those years ago? Being told that you can create stories with this book when the book didn't actually offer anything of the sort.
  • Yeah, some RPGs are about story creation.

    Others are about experiencing a world and instigating, causing, or managing trouble in that world.

    When I was a child I loved a game where you hid an object — we used a big old housekey — and then the other searched for it, and you'd say "hot" if it's close and "cold" if it's far away, and "bird" if it's high, "fish" if it's low, and "inbetween" otherwise.

    That was a game with very separate roles. (The game Zendo, which I talk about often, also has very different roles.)

    Now, I'm with you in hating RPGs where the player role is passive and constrained — "paths". I favor sandbox play, not "find the key" or "find the hidden rule" play in RPGs.

    But hidden information enables discovery.
  • edited July 2018
    If a creative medium becomes a toy by having constraints, then I suppose music turns from a creative medium into a toy when you add a piano, which is clearly a constraint. Therefore piano music is better characterized as an activity of play than as art. Music is only a real creative medium when it's composed for and performed without constraints like tonality or physical instruments.

    Storytelling similarly becomes a play practice by adding pen and paper, and the conventions of written word - not to speak of a specific language. Even more insidiously, poetry is playing with verbal toys: very constrained by similar rules of order and form as rpgs are. To be a true creative medium, poetry needs to have no toy-like rules created by an external authority and referenced by the poet.

    Let's also think a bit about what Emma said: because no known creative medium requires the co-creators to limit and structure their inputs according to rules, we can say that the proper way to create e.g. a movie is to begin by having every member of the production staff write their own script drafts, which are then amalgamated together in a script meeting (which is, of course, not chairmanned by anybody). After all, doing otherwise would be something we've never heard of happening outside roleplaying games: distribution of tasks between co-creators in a creative medium.

    Fun with reductio ad absurdum, the one argument of logic that probably has never convinced a single human being of anything despite being technically speaking valid logic. Probably something to do with our wiring.
  • Obviously I am going to disagree largely with the premise here. I think anything like this has advantages and disadvantages. But the criticisms people who want GMless often make of games with a GM game, are frequently around the thing proponents of a solid referee see as important to enjoying play. I unfortunately don’t have time to get in depth here as I am on my way out the door. But I will say I don’t think the problem is the presence of a GM, the design of the majority of GM heavy games, etc. I think it comes down to things like expectations of play, the quality of the GMs and players, and the social atmosphere at the table. I can honestly say, I think games where the GM has the ability to properly adjudicate and act as a referee pulls me into the game more than anything else. For me it is the best way to play an RPG.
  • After all, doing otherwise would be something we've never heard of happening outside roleplaying games: distribution of tasks between co-creators in a creative medium.
    There's no need to be sarcastic, Eero

  • I know, I'm sorry. The elevated height of the discourse seized me for a moment there.
  • edited July 2018
    I like sarcastic-Eero :)
    I think all of your responses should be written this way from now on.
  • No way! It is (or comes across as) cruel, patronizing and mean. Not only was everyone disagreeing with that statement of Emma's, the sarcasm comes across as making fun of it. That's adding insult to injury T_T
  • I do think that Eero has a point though. Emma, can you cite other creative media that allow for multiple contributors that DON'T restrict them to roles? Because when I think about it:

    Movie creation CLEARLY does this. There are script writers, directors, etc.
    Video Game creation clearly does the same thing - artists, writers, etc.
    Writing a book, insofar as it involves more people than the author, also restricts the additional participants to roles like "editor"
    Musical composition, as far as I know, is pretty much entirely a solo activity, so isn't relevant here.
    Musicaly performance, on the other hand, definitely sorts people by role.

    Maybe I'm misunderstanding where you are going with this, but I don't think this is as unique as you make it out to be. Pretty much the only thing I can think of where "everyone is an equal participant" is improv comedy, which makes THAT the exception, rather than RPGs.
  • Everyone is an equal participant: Jazz (and I like it if my games are jazzy).

    But to be true: There is more great music than jazz!
  • There are wonderfully asymmetric GMless rpgs like Dog Eat Dog or Kagematsu. So yeah for distribution/separation.
  • Everyone is an equal participant: Jazz (and I like it if my games are jazzy).

    But to be true: There is more great music than jazz!
    Equal isn't "undefined by roles" though. You're still ONLY playing Saxophone that song. ;)
  • edited July 2018
    The rpg tradition does have a lot to answer for when it comes to the player role's legitimacy, though - in that sense I couldn't agree more with the idea that there's something wrong. Not with the GM per se, but the other players!

    The big, fat question that every game should be answerable for is this: does the game actually establish player roles that are worthwhile to perform in the act of play, and does it support those roles?

    That question might seem simplistic, but it is actually something that I have been wrestling with for years, far beyond the simple concern of what the pages of a given game book might claim. How does the individual player understand the purpose of the game? How do they understand their own role in playing it? Does the game as it is played actually enable the player to perform that role?

    This is something that constantly causes minor and major issues with roleplaying games, the nature of the player role. For a simple example, consider our recently started 4th edition D&D railroad princess play epic fantasy campaign: I am crystal clear on what the player roles are, and have done my utmost to ease the players into those roles. Despite this, only two players out of five are fully acclimated. The rest essentially participate only partially because the game's activity interface is still unfamiliar to them, and because their skills are incomplete and they are thus unable to perform every aspect of the player's role that this kind of game has to offer.

    The first and foremost question that absolutely must be addressed every time we have players participating incompletely (and I'd argue that this is almost every session of play ever) is whether the player role the game offers them is even meaningful, or if it is actually a sham. This is what I mean by role legitimacy: would the GM be happy to participate in the game as one of the character players himself? Does the game's process provide the players with satisfying and meaningful responsibilities? Or is the very idea that "it is fun to be a player in a roleplaying game" something that is only conditionally true, and might not apply to you or me or him or her? Can you be confident that the role you are offering the other player in your game is a meaningful one?

    If I had to point at a single flaw in the role-assignments of a traditional rpg, it wouldn't necessarily be the GM's role. Sure, it's frustratingly vague and laden with responsibilities. However, the player's role is much worse: the tradition offers the player no responsibility whatsoever, and no rights. If I had to fix just one of these it would be the player side of the equation, because I know full well that the traditional all-powerful GM can work well, which is not something that I can say about the traditional player role. I have only ever had fun as a character player when I have played a game where either the game hands me a real creative role, or I invent one for myself. When neither of those happens I might as well be a footstool for all the significance I have for the game's process.
  • Equal isn't "undefined by roles" though. You're still ONLY playing Saxophone that song. ;)
    I agree with this... but what´s the point? In improv comedy you too engage in different roles.

    The key question is: Do you need a leader, conductor, organisator, games master, presenter or something like that? Or is every player on a par with the others? You can do different things, but they are of equal importance. In Jazz, in improv theatre and in some roleplaying games.

  • edited July 2018
    I think one of the most fundamental appeals of roleplaying is "imagine you're someone else, somewhere else". Many players prefer to emphasize this aspect to the extent that it's incompatible with also deciding what the environment does. .
    Agreed, but players certainly do imagine what the environment does in response to their intentions. When I declare myself to be swinging my +1 sword at the dragon, my 'head movie' accompanies that act with the hoped for consequences of that intention. Its not a green screen in there!

    However, 100% scripting = no interesting decisions. so yeah. It is an issue - the major issue - to deal with.

    "Never ask the GM, always ask the system," would be great if it were practical, but it isn't practical. To cover every relevant word that comes out of a traditional GM's mouth, you'd need hundred-page modules, or thousand-page modules if it's not a straight railroad.
    How do you know that?
  • The key question is: Do you need a leader, conductor, organisator, games master, presenter or something like that? Or is every player on a par with the others? You can do different things, but they are of equal importance. In Jazz, in improv theatre and in some roleplaying games.

    Even jazz bands (tend to) have bandleaders, though, and they often have responsibilities that go beyond those of the other members, including outlining performances, setting pacing, signaling transitions, and generally they need to have more generalized knowledge of what the other participants can and should be doing in order to make the performance work. They may not tell the players what notes to play, but their job is still to set them up to do so.

    Rather not unlike a traditional gamemaster, frankly!
  • The key question is: Do you need a leader, conductor, organisator, games master, presenter or something like that? Or is every player on a par with the others? You can do different things, but they are of equal importance. In Jazz, in improv theatre and in some roleplaying games.

    Even jazz bands (tend to) have bandleaders, though, and they often have responsibilities that go beyond those of the other members, including outlining performances, setting pacing, signaling transitions, and generally they need to have more generalized knowledge of what the other participants can and should be doing in order to make the performance work. They may not tell the players what notes to play, but their job is still to set them up to do so.

    Rather not unlike a traditional gamemaster, frankly!
    It is also worth pointing out, RPGs are not jazz and they are not movies, they are their own thing. Can you make more clearly defined roles? Yes. For some games that may be a good fit. But roles can also be constricting. And I think one of the strengths of an RPG is allowing you to engage the setting freely. I am not saying it is the only way to do things. But I do think the basic set up going back to things like D&D of a GM running the game, and players playing their characters, is a tried and true method that just works. My first experience with RPGs was very striking for this reason, and it has continued to be the thing that draws me to RPGs.
  • edited July 2018
    I beg for well-intentioned reading. Of course there are bandleaders in Jazz. And if you take a standard BigBand my example is rather bad.

    But if you´re listening to smaller Jazz ensembles in Bebop style or later, you can often detect the idea of balancing the roles of the individual musicians. Everybody has to contribute a part of equal importance. If someone would be absent, the whole issue suffers.

    By the way: to my mind, traditional gamemasters do more than only set up the players to play... but maybe this could be up to different experiences by you and me.
  • edited July 2018
    Exactly everything David_Berg just said! The concept of a GM arises as a response to questions like, "How do we adjudicate issues not covered by the rules?" and "How do we create meaningful experiences that rely on separation of the players from the things they're interacting with?" (and honestly, the first of those questions might very well be just a subset of the second).

    I don't think you can throw away the concept of a GM without invalidating whole styles of play that the concept was created to support. You can try distributing the responsibility for answering those questions in different ways but (and this is, as I understand it, the origin of the phrase "GM-full") you can't actually eliminate the concept and keep the style of play the same.
    .
    I am trying not to reply to everything!

    I think a "distributed GM role" is a different concept from THE GM. "the Game Master". Certainly for the purposes of this discussion, that is a distinction that I am making...

    If everyone at the table has the same options and responsibilities then they are all just players, AFAIC. I hope that doesnt derail the discussion
  • I do think that Eero has a point though. Emma, can you cite other creative media that allow for multiple contributors that DON'T restrict them to roles?
    Everyone's already made that point but I'm not happy about sarcasm (which Eero already apologized for) and dogpiling. I even disagree with Emma here and did so right away, but, seeing the chorus makes me feel bad about that

    And obviously: writing together. Remember, she comes from fandom/forum roleplay culture where the focus is more on story creation.
    The big, fat question that every game should be answerable for is this: does the game actually establish player roles that are worthwhile to perform in the act of play, and does it support those roles?
    I agree, yeah.
  • Collaborative writing is the big example, like Sandra pointed out.
    Freeform roleplaying. Co-writing novels and short stories. Workshopping your writing as a group. Songwriting sessions with your band. Improv theatre. etc, etc, etc.
    I know there's more examples I'm not thinking of, but it's late and I'm a bit emotionally exhausted at this time of night.
    And yes, I know that those things are often only a few collaborators, but that's why I'm personally a big believer in really small groups. 3 players is the size of the group I play in, and 4 players is the largest group I would play with (and playing with four would require one of those players doing something other than playing a PC, for instance something world-playing but not GM-ly like the HG role in Chuubo's, for instance). My ideal size for a campaign (and the paradigm I'm most used to in my play practice) is 2 PCs in a campaign, thus a really small number of collaborators. Not so many that you'd be surprised to see a novel or screenplay that that number of people had co-written, since like, media written by 2-3 people together as collaborators is pretty common.
  • edited July 2018
    Mind to drop the music analogy for a bit? I think it's actually obscuring the discussion. Try this instead:

    This is my personal experience: When we write comics at our workshop there's a moment where roles are undefined and each step of the story is a discovery. Whatever we don't know yet about the story is a challenge -Even if we start from the end and go to the beginning. We start talking about a story and everyone contributes in a way that feels natural for a conversation.

    That is, somebody leads until that person doubts and either someone in the group reads it and gives their input or the first person asks the group for it. The new input should follow /it's judged based on a couple axioms: Is it cool? Does it make sense in the shared space?

    That's my experience on collaborative writing. Let's borrow that and put it into the RPG definition for a moment.

    Add the toy. The toy brings boundaries that help us focus, like roles, like specific procedures to do things, like simulationism. Now we have to think a bit more about how things get done, which adds depth and credibility to the story.

    Add other media as in reference, inspiration material, prep, background music, the group's background (shared culture, inside jokes, etc)

    Basically you could say that that's the game. A conversation, an exchange of ideas, information and emotions, limited by a bunch of tools.

    Focus or complicate any part, like the GM role, the player role, the toy, the modules, the prep, the rules. You get a good game as long as everyone playing can handle it. That's why sometimes GMed games work, or why we ditch the encumbrance rules, or prefer using a grid instead of theather of the mind. Limits in RPGs are good as long as they help us to make a better experience, keep us from falling into arguments or derrailing the fun, -even if that means derrailing the plot.

    Simplify any part, you can't get less than a exchange of information (I mean, technically there's no conversation in a solo game) a bunch of tools and somebody making decisions based on what's more cool and makes sense.

    If any part of this system feels lacking, the natural player response would be to patch it: Ignore/disregard/alter rules, ignore GM cues, focus on something else, find your own fun, reduce the GM's role, use illusionism, hack and redo the toy, etc etc.

    Perhaps a more balanced game is the answer some people are looking for. Personally I like this idea, but I realize that what I consider balanced isn't everyone's cup of tea.

    Again, I'd say the problem it's not the concept of the GM, but how each person's mind understands it, the bad experiences we relate to it but that not everyone else shares, and how we let our good experiences blind us from realizing how bad things can go
  • I have some experience with the fandom/fiction freeform space myself, and my experience is that oftentimes, someone is, as the trite saying goes "more equal than others." It might or might not be 'official' but it's often true. Regardless though, I think the statement "RPGs are the only medium in which this happens" has been proven incorrect at this point. They're not unique that way. There are other media that do it, and there are other media that don't. As a result, we might want to consider dispensing with comparisons to other media entirely.

    I think Eero's assertion that there is something wrong with the "player" role is interesting, but I feel like there are problems with how he's looking for the problems. The metric of "would the GM be happy to participate in the game as one of the character players himself?" is a problematic one in my mind. I've never, ever heard of a situation where an RPG group/community (community in the sense of "a bunch of people who player together and may be too numerous to form a single 'group' in the way that term is often used) where the problem was "We have too many people who want to GM and not enough who are willing to play." This is just not a thing that happens, in my experience, which leads me to believe that questioning whether the GM would be willing to play is either trivial ("The GM is basically always willing to play") or irrelevant ("It doesn't really matter, because there are far more people who are willing to play than who aren't.")

    I also struggle with the next question: "Does the game's process provide the players with satisfying and meaningful responsibilities?" -- I have a strong suspicion that for most people engaging in RPGs, the lack of "responsibilities" is a feature, not a bug. This is why it's often so damn hard to get people who aren't the GM to engage with the game outside of a session. Many times, I hear players railing against too much "responsibility" for stuff even during the session.

    I also feel like "Or is the very idea that "it is fun to be a player in a roleplaying game" something that is only conditionally true?" is a flawed question - I have many activities that I enjoy, but the number of them that are always fun and cannot be screwed up in some way by other people (or even myself) is a much, much smaller number. Indeed, it might be restricted to "reading a good book." So I think this needs to be refined in some way, but I'm not super sure what the 'right' question is.

    I don't think it's really a problem for most people that the player role has no responsibilities; Maybe there's an issue that it has no rights, but those two things are tied together, and I suspect that for every person who'd be pleased to have more rights at the table, there's a person who'd be annoyed by the added responsibilities.
  • The metric of "would the GM be happy to participate in the game as one of the character players himself?" is a problematic one in my mind. I've never, ever heard of a situation where an RPG group/community (community in the sense of "a bunch of people who player together and may be too numerous to form a single 'group' in the way that term is often used) where the problem was "We have too many people who want to GM and not enough who are willing to play." This is just not a thing that happens, in my experience
    I feel like what Eero was getting at was not a general "desire to be a player," but for GMs to look critically at instances of games they've run and think, "How much would I actually enjoy being on the other side of what I'm doing (and what would I have to do to enjoy it)?" Presuming of course that they can climb down off their high and mighty GM thrones long enough to assume the mindset of a player, that is ;P

    The problem, at least as I read him to be saying, is not a question of whether player rights and responsibilities (and how much of either is desired), but the extent to which those are ever actually made clear, and how that lack of clarity affects games.

    Historically, for all the opinions and advice columns and books that have been written on GMing, there's been comparatively less written about how to be a player. I feel like the "storygaming movement" did a lot to upend this trend, at least for the games those people were interested in, but I think that there's still a lot left unsaid particularly for more trad-leaning playstyles.
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