That Which Must Not Be Spoken
I wasn’t going to write about this today, but an RPG mailing list I’m on kind of took over my morning. A couple of fellows were talking about (I’m paraphrasing) the idea that after playing RPGs for a while it’s only natural that one’s play would evolve and one would seek better mechanics that rewarded one for more specific tactics, like having one’s PC target an enemy’s kneecap. I kid you not.
Of course, what I really should have done is put quote marks around “evolve” and “better” above, because to my way of thinking, this is all hogwash. I’m all for people following their bliss – if someone wants to play Risk (the boardgame), Call of Duty (on the Computer), or FATAL (a, er, unique RPG – which is not a recommendation!) and if that same person and their friends have fun, great. Don’t change a thing. But around these parts, we aim for roleplaying not as a game of tactics – certainly not the in-game tactics of the PCs, but roleplaying as a game of stories.
I think there are two main observations I can make. First, tactical gaming is about the player’s victories and defeats using the story as a backdrop. It’s about if the player be clever (and/or lucky) enough to “win” the victory of their PC. Story gaming is about the victories and defeats of the protagonists (not players) – more to the point, it’s about experiencing that story. That’s why it doesn’t always matter that we know the hero will probably wind up saving the day – we want to experience how that manifests.
So with tactical gaming, the player gets to point at their game session and say, “Look what I did!”. With story gaming, the player gets to point at the game session and say, “Look what I made.” – as in, story experiences.
The other observation is this: all games that have stories need to have mechanics for resolving outcome of scenes, tasks, attempt and doing stuff, etc. Tactical games are best served by employing a mechanically complex structure withf each action and circumstance having benefits and hindrances – a +1 bonus for having the sun at your back, a -1 penalty for hand to hand combat over uneven terrain, etc.
Story games still need mechanics to figure out if the protagonist can successfully do stuff – but instead of basing it on simulating the actual chances, some other measure is used instead, usually relating to what the players think *ought* to happen for dramatic and narrative purposes. Therefore, story games tend to use mechanics in the metagame, that (for example) gives a player a better chance at getting their way later by letting the GM have his way now.
Talk to some people, they would tell you that story games aren’t “real” RPGs. Talk to others (like me) you might hear tactical gaming being compared to little more than chess or Risk with story trappings.
I’m all about the story gaming. I have little interest in competition or proving myself to anyone (including myself) at this stage of my life – nor did I ever. No, for me, it’s all about the revelatory moments of drama, in television, cinema, and if done “right”, even in RPGs. It’s about fostering experiences of wonder and gripping drama – when we care more about the “why” than the “how”.
And that’s what made me create Dream Factory.