Monday, January 30, 2012

Does. Not. Com. Pute.

Bart: Only geeks sit in the front seat. From now on you sit in the back row. And that's not just on the bus. It goes for school and church, too.
Martin Prince: Why?
Bart: So no one can see what you're doing.
Martin Prince: Oooh. I think I understand. The potential for mischief varies inversely to one's proximity to the authority figure. (He shows a note where he has written: MOC 1/PA)


Bart has something Martin does not. Social intelligence. Or what we might call, in this here D&Dish context, Charisma.

Bart intuitively grasps how to handle other human beings in such a way that he can accomplish his goal of fucking around on the bus.

Martin does not. Martin needs the rule written down.


People say "RPGing is a social activity" (by which they usually mean "Hey man, fuck you, I have a social life"). (And which is usually missing the point because they are arguing with someone who is not saying "you never talk to people" they're saying "you never meet new people".)(But that's a tangent.)

Yet, ironically, it is an often-overlooked fact that RPGing is a social activity as in, if you drew a big giant Venn Diagram circle called "social activities", pen-and-paper RPG GMing would be a circle entirely inside that circle (excluding maybe prep, but you get my point).

RPGing is a subset of social activities.

RPGing is a subset of social activities where people sit around talking to each other.

RPGing is a subset of social activities where people sit around talking to each other for like 2 hours or more.

Other activities in this category include: sitting at a big table at a wedding, going to a bar, having lunch with people, Thanksgiving dinner, Superbowl Sunday.

Which means: if you are with people who you wouldn't want to do any of these things with, there's no reason to assume it will be fun.

Counter example: Soccer.

I've played a lot of pickup soccer with a lot of people I don't know.
Me and 5 people pick up a ball. We go to a green field.

We meet total strangers, also five of them.

We play soccer together.

Soccer gets played. Easy.

There are few sources of potential conflict: if somebody fouls the other team, there could be trouble--we now have to start rolling charisma. If one team is more serious and competitive overall than the other, then we might have to resort to charisma rolls. But, in general, (19 times out of 20) the fun-ness of the game is not entirely dependent on how well we get on with the other team, since soccer isn't all about talking.
Usually it works fine.

An edge-case example:

Pac Man

It's just you and the electronic ghosts. You don't have to talk to them at all. Your fun is completely unrelated to how well you get on with people. However, as soon as you and the other person at the laundromat decide you are having a Pac Man Tournament and whoever gets furthest wins, part of your fun will depend on the chemistry between the two of you.


First point is: a huge part of what you do in an RPG is social interaction. If you get on with people and like them it can be a blast. If you don't, it can be ok, too--you can just concentrate on you versus the "ghosts"--but a part that could be fun is less so.


So alright, moving on:

A few days ago I have this conversation. This is with someone of a GameForgey/4e-fan bent who thinks D&D doesn't have enough rules:
(We are discussing the issue of Clever Plans That Fall Outside The Rules)

Forgey Guy:
It's really great when my coin idea works and it warns us of the tree elf's approach, but that relies on the DM (1) noticing the flag we're sending and (2) responding to it properly. That's a skill that takes years and years to develop, and even for a DM who has those skills, they still have off nights. So that approach means that the experience is unreliable. With an experienced DM at his best, it's a great game. With an inexperienced DM, or even an experienced DM who's tired or off his game, it's an exercise in frustration...
SomeForgeygame is a good example of how you can do this, actually. You don't need years of experience to play the ___ well. Even if you're inexperienced or having an off-night, the game's rules make sure that the game is reliably fun

It seems again like you're trying to insulate from bad GMing. This always makes a more restrictive game that attracts dumber people.

Someone Else Forgey:
He's not talking about bad DMing, he's talking about a difference of expectation between two players of a game. Neither one is being unreasonable.

Forgey Guy:
I'm asking for a reliably fun game experience. My experience with D&D prior to 4E was showing up each week hoping that this would be the week that it was good, and usually being disappointed. When it was good, it was so good I'd even put up with the 90% of the time that it was just frustrating. There are games that provide a reliably fun experience.

A good gm manages expectations. A good group thinks up adult ways to negotiate them

You said: a good gm manages expectations. a good group thinks up adult ways to negotiate them Why does it take so much skill to have fun playing this game that we need a good GM and a good group? Isn't that kind of the sign of a poorly designed game? Surely a good group and a good GM could turn even the worst game into a fun experience. The real test of a good game is whether or not it can deliver a fun experience, reliably, even with new players or poor players....

I'm saying that having to accept that a game might or might not be fun, depending on who shows up to play it, is an unnecessary evil.


Ok, Martin.

Do the math. Take people out of the equation. It can be done. Soccer is soccer even if I have no possible brand of communication with the other team.

And yes, there are very focused indie games (and, arguably, versions of D&D) which reduce the RPG experience down to "This game is About (huge word in dissatisfied-with-D&D circles) you being yellow and eating dots while ghosts try in turn to eat you. The other players may not jostle you while you eat ghosts, they may not place their quarters on the rim of the screen to indicate their turn is next, they may not hum The Bear Went Over The Mountain in your ear while you play though they may hum Row Your Boat, they may not declare they are 'going for fruits and not boards'."

In other words, they carve the social element of the game down to a reasonable little chunk and tell everyone what it's About so that nobody who doesn't know exactly what they are in for shows up at this party.

Which is fine. Which makes sense. I guess. If you're Martin.

The rest of us can play a wide open game where nobody at the table is sure what it will be about and just follow the Don't Be A Dick rule until you all decide what you want it to be about.


Ron Edwards calls this "Ouija board play". And disdains it. (Or did when he wrote whatever essay I'm remembering) He claims (and I believe him) to know a lot of folks--in real life--who regularly play D&D and don't have fun. I don't know any.

His old theory that each kind of player has one of a number of Goals and these determine what kind of games they can play seems to fly in the face of everything anyone who isn't Martin has noticed about people. They change what they wanna do all the time.

Some players show up ready to hit things--this is their to-themself justification for why they play this socially crippling game. But any player, given the smack and wobble of human interaction, can decide s/he wants to just sit and listen to someone else do a funny voice--or suddenly become intrigued by a puzzle, or suddenly decide they want to build a castle, or become enamored of the sound of their own silly voice.
Porn star tip!
Did you know?: People in social situations often do things they didn't come in intending to do and like it.
People who throw parties all the time know this. They have to clean up after it every 2nd friday.

This is because there has never been an illusion in anyone's mind about whether parties are a social activity.


I think, essentially, this social dimension terrifies a lot of people.

So there are all these games designed to route around the social dimension.

People who actually have a decent social circuit between them don't need a focused ruleset to tell them what to do:

When Kimberly Kane has realized that the group's Exploration of Setting is maybe interfering with her Metagame Goal of Exploring Goblin Guts you go:

"Well left or right, KK?"
"Uh..."(vague hand wave, eye roll)
..and everyone knows where KK is at.

Whereas Craigie T, experiencing the same frustration, might say

"Hurry up with the Harry Potter business, McCormick, I wanna kill shit!"

And we laugh and the players Ouija the game around and it works fine and everybody plays whenever they're off work and have 2 spare hours forever and we are happy.

That is the key here: Successful DIY D&D requires that internal conflict be resolved--or avoided--by at least a few people at the table being able to organically divide their attention between What they wanna do right now and What their friends want. This may sound exhausting, but it is also the basis of almost all successful human social interactions up to and including all the most fun ones, like going to the zoo or bowling or banging mad crazy hot sluts.
So, Martin, yes, you can chop down an RPG until it is like a pick-up soccer game and nobody has anything they have to do but get the ball in the box and nobody has to deal with anybody not being exactly into their kind of fun because if they weren't they would not have showed up to play Bianco: The Game About Being A Llama Who Attempts To Nuzzle Mice Using An Innovative Social Combat Mechanic Based On Wicker in the first place.

And it will be as reliably fun as darts or checkers. You play with your eye on the board and not ever worry about what the other human being wants.

When it is over, it will have been about what you expected it was going to be about and everyone will have been creative in the direction they were expecting to be creative and the game will totally have been satisfyingly About the desired Theme.

Or you can open the game up a little into the realm of WTF Will Happen Tonight that people have been profitably enjoying for 40 years--but then--I'm warning you now--the game becomes more of a social activity.

Will it be fun?

If you are good with your peoples, yes.

Will it be fun with strangers?

Well would you engage in any social activity requiring 2 hours of sustained conversation with strangers and assume it'll be fun?

It's a crapshoot:

Like those tables full of weirdoes at weddings, the first day of school, the first day at work, the bar on the corner and like going outside in general. Scary, I know.

Rereading this before posting it, it seems like I might be suggesting the only reason people play Forgey games is out of fear of social negotiation. Obviously that isn't true. A lot of people like just playing a different kind of game. All the stuff in this could be said of 4E as well--it is a focused design made to simplify the social interaction--but people who want to play it don't necessarily want to just because they are socially inept. I myself have played and enjoyed 4e on occasion, as I repeatedly remind very stupid people. (I see you linking to this page, dude, I see you pretending it says something it does not say.)

The point is just: any critique (from any party) of Old School games on the score that they don't have enough rules (for social combat, for DM adjudication of outside-the-box contingencies, for regular combat) is bullshit. They may not have enough rules for you. But you're you. We aren't.


R Parker said...

Right on.

Holmentzer said...

Nailin' it

Anonymous said...

reading this is the perfect accompaniment to what i'm doing.

which is the somewhat wonderful/boring process of waiting for debian packages to install after a dist-upgrade... after the millions of little preparing/unpacking lines stop flooding the terminal window, i will stop reading this post...

because then i can render 72 gigabytes of raw footage to 10 minutes of film with kdenlive, which is sorta what i've been trying to do for 3 hours now...

but until then, i'm gonna reread it. again. and again.

to stop myself falling asleep.

Fonkin said...

Which brings us right back around to personal taste. I dabble in both worlds - uh... errrr... well 2 of the 3 available worlds, I should say; I play in a slightly modified 1st/2nd homebrew game and run a Pathfinder game of my own. I like both. I can handle both. Both tickle different parts of my brain. I read 4E and did not grok the appeal, so I just don't play it.

Each version has its strengths and weakness. The rules light version can be more grueling to run because play produces so many more 'soft options' than those found in a 3.5 based system such as Pathfinder. That said, the 3.5 system presents its own challenges due to the increased need for rules-lookup.

I find myself less willing to extemporize running 3.5, and so I am missing out on some of the fun; it is replaced with the kind of enjoyment I get out of doing crossword puzzles and messing with legos, where the fun comes from playing with the available structure. Wow look how long I rambled on!

Anonymous said...

"This may sound exhausting, but it is also the basis of almost all successful human social interactions up to and including all the most fun ones, like going to the zoo or bowling or banging mad crazy hot sluts."

i missed those lines during my first read...

Anonymous said...

ok, just finished third read... computer is on 'k' now (the packages install a-z) so there's enough time to write some comments.

first, thank you for writing this. the open-ended method of game design has been on my mind lately, mostly due to making an in-depth study of this guy's three nintendo RPGs.

(he writes that he used a completely open-ended method to design his games. they spent years and years making graphics, then just sort of ad-libbed dialogue and story around the art. the only things he knew in advance were roughly who his characters were.)

so, that's been on my mind lately because after reading this blog for a while i decided to try playing indie RPGs. i still don't have vornheim, unfortunately. but because i want to play stuff that makes too many rules, i'm sticking to indie games until i can find a group in london that plays OSR/DIY DND...

ah, anyway, that's what i took from this post. i always had a sort of feeling that i didn't like the look of the 4th edition groups, and now after i read this i concluded that it's not really about the game system per se but about a deep feeling within myself that i want to explore the feeling that was used to create the video games that basically shaped my developing imagination and aesthetic sensibilities.

ah, time to render that film and finally go to sleep.

mordicai said...

That is a canny way of looking at it. I often find myself saying "Well, yes, a good group & a good Narrator can make ANYTHING good, but..." but maybe there is no but. Or maybe there is, but that but is sort of the whole point, isn't it?

Justin said...

I play indie games, traditional games, and everything in between. I totally get where you are coming from, different games have different social restrictions. Some are super focused, regulating decisions into a narrow path, others just place restrictions in different parts, some leave it in the Old School model, etc.

Frankly, its all cool! D&D should be D&D, Sorcerer should be Sorcerer, Burning Wheel should be Burning Wheel, Polaris should be Polaris etc.

I'll never get understand the intense, your game should be like ours, mindset.

Also...if your playing with bad players, the game will be subpar no matter what.

Zak Sabbath said...

"Sub par" backwards is "Rap bus"

Cole said...

who sits in the front seat on the rap bus, anyway?

Cole said...

answered: "the guy with the flute and the cape"

Justin said...

Haha, oh man, that is always going to come to mind whenever I use "subpar".

Talysman said...

Ron Edwards has probably criticized your style of play at some point, but the "Ouija board" style is something else he was criticizing. But I won't get into that because: boring irrelevant tangent.

Instead, what I want to point out is that when that one Forgey guy said "Surely a good group and a good GM could turn even the worst game into a fun experience," that translates into "System Doesn't Matter". Which is something I'm shocked to hear from one of the Forgeoisie.

And if he'd been arguing with me, I would have rubbed it in.

Mandramas said...

I think that there are social interactions, even in heavy rules games. Just that the social interactions don't affect the outcome of the game. Also, think on WoW. There are social interactions, just that they don't affect the heavy mechanical layer of the game.

Zak Sabbath said...


No one is disagreeing with you.

In fact, I'd take it farther and say the social interactions CAN affect the gameplay if the people involved make it so.

Jonathan said...

Along these lines, what D&D books, if anything, do you think do the best job of teaching people do be good DMs? It seems like 5e is an opportunity for WotC to promote DMing as a skill instead of making rules to automate the DMing process, so why not point them to things you (both specifically you and the collective you to any OSR readers here) think were good.

You can mention other sources too, but my guess is that going with things published by TSR/WotC will carry more weight.

Zak Sabbath said...


Most editions are full of good DMing advice _if you actually read them_.

But no-one does because they're boring.

The 1st ed DMG is probably the go-to awesome. Though the introductions to the TSR modules are good as well.

E.G.Palmer said...

I’m not interested in the reliability of the game experience myself. I’m interested in unexpectedness. I don’t want to go into a game knowing ahead of time that the play will be similar to the last time. I want to be surprised. I want to be astounded and exited by events I couldn’t have foreseen.
A sense of reliability would make the game uninteresting in a short time.

Seth S. said...

On a kind of unrelated not, I recently had the unfortunate experience of a GMing job so bad that even though the entire group was friends and enjoyed each other's company, the game was a frustratingly pointless endeavor.

Not sure what happened there, but this has only happened to us once so I'm not too worried about it.

RobChandler said...

To add to what Zak said, I'd also take a look at some of the stuff Gary wrote in the intro to Keep on the Borderlands. In fact, aside from the boring flavor of the module, the methodology behind its use is pretty much spot on how an open-ended game should be run. The module itself contains a lot of great DM advice, even though it says "for beginners" or whatever.

Cole said...

Most editions are full of good DMing advice _if you actually read them_.

I think post-80's editions of D&D are lacking in practical procedural advice for, 'this is how you make a dungeon, this is how you make a wilderness, this is how you make a city, this is how you DM your players through a dungeon, this is how you DM your players through a wilderness, this is how you DM your players through the city.

I'm not sure if it's within the scope of a DMG to really teach people-handling/throwing-a-party skills through advice, though obviously I don't want rules to try to protect people from the social side of RPGs.

RobChandler said...

Zak, to your point in this entry. The reason I have not yet engaged in any G+ games personally is because, as we all know (whether we want to admit it or not), our hobby attracts weirdos and social retards from time to time. I'm sure like 99% of the people playing on G+ are cool as shit, but that 1% chance of maybe playing with someone who is a social idiot has been enough to make me abstain. Although I'm trying to get over that.

Zak Sabbath said...


Entirely understandable.

The trick is to start as a player with Jeff's game or another GM who you are sure is good. Then meet people who you are your fellow players in those games

Spitting Trashcan said...

Hey. So, I'm a weird social retard and that's why I like 4e and the like. Because it lets me run games for my friends even though I am not good at people. Maybe I should get better at people, and I'm lucky because that's something I can probably do. Some other people can't, because of brain things, and I'm glad there are games for people like that.

But yeah: I don't criticize any rules system that people do manage to have fun with on the grounds that I can't get the same results. But at the same time I also care about how Martin-friendly a rules system is because I am Martin and I know it. I like how you do things but because I'm not like you I can't do things the same way.

I'm pretty sure I said something obvious, but I feel better for saying it.

Zak Sabbath said...

@spitting trashcan

No, i appreciate it. Many people are willing to admit they are bad at people, if this entry seems meaningful to them it might mean I'm on to something.

Jez said...

@ Jonathan

See if you can track down the original 1st version of D6 Star Wars. There's PDFs out there... but once you get your hands on copy flip over to p87 to p99, the sections on Running and Designing Adventures. That there is the best 13 pages you'll ever read on how to run a good and entertaining game. Short, succinct, and really well written. If what you find in there can't help you improve your game, nothing will. Shoot me an email if you can't find it.

trollsmyth said...

mordicai:... but it helps if we're all on the same page with some things. Like it's horribly awkward if you're throwing a birthday party for a nine-year-old and one of the guests starts to loudly demand to know where the booze is.

Thing is, these are not even opposite sides of the same coin, but settings on a dial. Sometimes it's great to turn up the rules and sometimes it's better to dial them back. But there are good, valid reasons to go either direction with it. We could just chunk all the rules and freeform it; lots of people do. When you understand why you don't, you'll be on the path to finding out what rules best support the game you want tonight.

Von said...


I have WoW'd with people I would never in a month of Sundays choose to spend time with* and funnily enough it does affect how those heavy mechanics are employed.

Players who are cross with each other make mistakes, don't try as hard, actively sabotage noisy douchebags by letting them die, give up and sit around the graveyard waiting for the battleground to end or fuck off to stand around Silvermoon doin' cybersex under the auction house.

Players who don't talk to each other tend to have either a monotonous (everyone has played this content before) or deeply frustrating (somebody hasn't and the polite, instructional conversation that's called for in such situations is not happening).

They don't affect the mechanics but they affect what is done with them. Which is the point of this conversation, right? [/Martin]

* - at least, if they behave in the same way in other contexts. Which, admittedly, they may not, everyone has bad days after all, but still, what walks like a duck and quacks obscenities is probably a Sinister Duck and should be avoided.

RobChandler said...

Yeah I guess I need to break down and just sign up for one of Jeff's early morning sessions to get a feel for it...or either catch one of your random ones sometime.

Gregor Vuga said...

Zak, I agree with pretty much everything you wrote here.

Now in the interest of trying to continue a sane dialogue between "forgey" and "OSR" I'd just like to add a couple of points.

First, you wrote: "People who actually have a decent social circuit between them don't need a focused ruleset to tell them what to do"

It's rather that in "forgey" context, the social circuitry is seen as part of the rules, and vice versa. This whole OSR blog thing and talking about what it means to be a good GM, discussing the quantum ogre and how to handle cheetos at the table, things like guys are building an effective social circuitry for D&D. You know, the things that were never explicitly explained in the books but you _need to be good at, socially, to run a good game of D&D_.

The post where you explain how to effectively start and run a sandbox? In it you're "insulating against bad GMing", the only difference is a "forgey" guy might say "oh, I'm going to turn this into a set of rules/guidelines/procedures/principles". You know, _systematize_ it.

I know you tried some forge games and they didn't fly with your group (the whole vegan sandwich thing), because they need different social circuitry, because different rules, because different games.

Second bit, where you go "When Kimberly Kane has realized that the group's Exploration of Setting is maybe interfering with her Metagame Goal of Exploring Goblin Guts...And we laugh and the players Ouija the game around and it works fine and everybody plays whenever they're off work and have 2 spare hours forever and we are happy."
Sometime ago we had a discussion over email about GNS/Creative Agenda that didn't go anywhere. I suspect mostly because of the vocabulary. I was trying to explain why or how you can't have two Creative Agendas at once and you kept rebuking. Now you've explained it in your own words. Kimberly's creative agenda of Exploring Goblin Guts can't be prioritized _at the same time_ than someone else's Creative Agenda about exploring This Nifty Setting the DM Made. The focus of play _needs_ to be Ouija'd around, moment to moment, minute to minute. And that's workable, and fine and fun! Nobody's saying it isn't. (There's the thing where with poor management, or too many different priorities at the table, you get to sit there for three hours and only get your slice of fun for 20 minutes and the game isn't super satisfying, but that's another discussion.)

The Forge was (besides authors owning their work, another thing you've discussed here) _all_ about groups effectively managing their priorities.

It's more a coincidence than anything else that the form in which this took place was to create lots of smaller, compact, "one-shot-y", focused games that zero in on doing one set of priorities really well. So if my goal is Exploring Goblin Guts, in an "Ouija" game I'd get to do that maybe 1/4 or 1/3 of the time, in a focused, indie game designed for that purpose, I'd reliably get to do it all the time.

It also needs to be said that Creative Agenda is not about categorizing players according to their priorities/goals. On the contrary, it assumes players are Ouija boards themselves, in a way.

Zak Sabbath said...


while all this sounds fine in the very vague terms you are currently putting forth I asked you some very direct questions during that discussion which you inexplicably have failed to answer so I can't really comment until you do that.

Gregor Vuga said...

(And what spitting trashcan said about there actually being Martins and needing Martin games is true as well.)

Gregor Vuga said...

@Zak, I can't remember not answering any specific questions but if I did it certainly wasn't intentional. I'm just kinda bad at it I guess.

We could do round two, if you'd be willing to put those questions forward again.

noisms said...

I get your point, but what puzzles me more is that, most people game with the same people, week in, week out.

Surely in doing so they get to know these people pretty well, at least in terms of play style, preferences and what not.

So why is it so hard to just, you know, work things out in a social way, rather than with rules? These people are your friends.

I honestly think that with my game group, one of whom I've known since I was about 6 years old but the others are relatively new acquaintances (of say a year-ish), we could probably fly with M. A. R. Barker's "Just roll a d6 and whoever wins gets to decide what happens" rules and make it work fine. Because we know each other reasonably well now and have lots of implicit social rules between us, like all groups of people do.

Zak Sabbath said...

i know what you mean, but that story-games thread we posted in apparently proves there's Millions of Martins out there.


Zak Sabbath said...


Verdancy said...

Forge games have a pretty strong presence in university roleplaying clubs and cons from what I can tell, both good places for idiotproof gaming.

Anyway this reminds me of an interview Fighting Fantasist posted recently with Rick Priestly, about how they tried to make the rules more explicit and strict than was popular in american games at the time (presumably D&D):

"One of the things about kids in their mid-teens is their fantastic ability to absorb and to learn, but their utter inability to make generalizations or compromises. It’s something you only learn in later life. If you talk to mid-teenagers about rights or wrongs, their attitudes are very black and white. They really have no facility to make judgments. They don’t like judgments, especially boys. They simply don’t have the ability to develop those soft skills.

..for a certain section of teenagers, the fact that you had wargames rules was part of your social life, because you’ve got no ability to have any other kind of social life. You don’t have the soft skills. So when mid teenage boys interact with one another, the fact that they can do it with a set of rules, enables them to have a conversation, and do something together. It gives some common ground. But the rules become really important. For a more mature kind of individual, and, ironically, for a much younger individual, the rules can be quite soft. Because when you’re very young, you know how to play, and when you’re much older, you feel faintly embarrassed that you might have taken this or that much too seriously."

Makes me wonder how the hobby would have looked if the likes of Sorcerer had come first, with more freeform games coming later. The adults who play them probably need that stuff less than a lot of teenage boys...

Zak Sabbath said...

if Rick Priestley says it, it's true.
Although I decided that whenI was a mid-teenager, I think it's still true

Jon G Hames said...

As a 1st year Sociologist PHD candidate, I'm at least moderately qualified to say that you've intuitively grasped a fair amount of social theory in what you're saying. I showed the blog to my professor yesterday and we were talking about it. Then I linked it over to and it got someone tossed out of the thread. Is there nothing your blog can't do?

Zak Sabbath said...

Everyone I know who's in therapy just goes "I fucking pay this woman 100$ an hour to repeat what I heard the friday night before from Zak".

I missed my calling, I suppose.

huth said...

Man, somehow you just convinced me to hate forgey games.

wrathofzombie said...

@R.W. Chandler- I concur with you. That's one of the reasons I have not gotten into a G+ game. I've met some cool folks on G+ but there is that fear of having to engage with the majorly socially inept and I find that bothersome.

The whole time issue is an all-together different matter as well.

wrathofzombie said...

Naw.. You didn't miss it Zak.. You just need to branch out is all. Imagine helping the people of the world through art, oratory, and sex.... The combination of the three would make you an unstoppable force.

Zak Sabbath said...

I really don't see "Cult Leader" as an appealing O.C.C.

Chris said...

It's a crapshoot: Like those tables full of weirdoes at weddings, the first day of school, the first day at work, the bar on the corner and like going outside in general. Scary, I know.


Games are (vastly simplified) microcosms of life. And - as they're *our* little worlds - we get to decide whether or not a dick player is invited back again next week in a way we don't IRL (I understand that the law frowns on dis-inviting people from Real Life).

That makes RPGs into happy hunting grounds for people not so at ease with the mess and complexity of negotiating in unmediated human interactions. Some consider kludged subsystems of resolution acceptable and are happy so long as they can be sure that there are rules; others demand a tight focus on the story at hand, or a set of Grand Unified Mechanics, or whatever the heck it is FATAL players want. (glue? meth?)

On a kind of unrelated not(e), I recently had the unfortunate experience of a GMing job so bad that even though the entire group was friends and enjoyed each other's company, the game was a frustratingly pointless endeavor.

@Cyrus: We've all been there mate. Sometimes - thankfully rarely - it all just goes to hell despite everyone's best intentions. It's the whole "messy humans and their stoopid opinions and feelings!" problem.

Spitting Trashcan said...

As feedback has been deemed useful I will note that a prior post about 4e's predictable flow supporting improv averse DMs also struck a chord. I have no confidence in my ability to produce something entertaining in a timely fashion while players are staring at me, so type IV's assurance that when in doubt I can just toss down one standard encounter's worth of monster and fun will result is very comforting.

My most pleasant and successful run as a DM was a type IV game run over the internet using the RPTools map sharing toolkit. My players were very forgiving and willing to make their own fun via party chat on the occasions where I needed to come up with something on the spot, and the nature of the rules made those occasions rare. Type IV has its faults but it was for better or worse the first RPG that I felt confident about being able to run. It's like training wheels, with all that implies.

Dave said...

Speaking for myself here: To be honest I don't think I have ever read any of those 'How to DM' screeds, yet somehow I manage it well enough to have players come back to my games week after week and have a few giggles along the way.

IMO what makes a good GM is practice and the examples of being in another GMs game more than reading anything in a book bar a few dead obvious pointers about not being personally adversarial, not railroading and suchlike.

It is a performance art, you learn it by trying to copy others until you gain the confidence to strike out with your own little tricks, which build up into a style.

If you want to improve your own game as a GM, play in a lot of other GM's games.

Dave said...

I'd agree it's a crapshoot that works because there are a sort of rules.

Taking Google+ games; we don't, generally, just e-mail a few vague acquaintances and total strangers and start a Hangout and just natter about random shit, but we will do so for RPGs.

Can you imagine trying to that? The very thought would give many folk the hives, even though if the worse happenedyou could just log out, shift said acquaintances into a circle titled 'Dickheads, pillocks and fuckwits' or banish them forever from your cybernetic court.

When I have played on G+ often pre-game conversation can be very awkward and artificial, yet you see and hear most people relax as the game gets underway and they start to express themselves through the medium of the game. And that is how you get to know people, and make friends maybe, and make shaking a few dice a social event.

My other hobby is politics - and by 'eck does that attract some nerds and misfits - yet the same thing applies, we sit around before a meeting trying to make a vague attempt at small talk, but once the debate is underway we're off, we're all on common ground and know the routine. Some people you meet later on in the pub for a more human mode discussion, others you avoid like the plague as you deem them incapable of speaking anything but econo-speak, but when the 'game' is on we're all in it on equal terms.

Fonkin said...

Agreed. If two players come to the table with BEEF between them, it's going to affect the tone of the game and the outcome. I've seen that happen, but I've also seen the opposite; grudges set aside for the sake of overcoming a common obstacle.

I've noticed that people with a more 'board game' or Forgey approach have more problems with this sort of scenario than the 'Ouija board' players.

Really comes down to the social unit doesn't it?

Uncle Matt said...

Zak said: "A good gm manages expectations. A good group thinks up adult ways to negotiate them"

I second that motion. A good GM manages player expectations, and also pays attention to any expectations that walked in with the players. A good player puts some expectations out there, and understands that they'll be fulfilled/subverted/ignored as needed. Everyone tries to have fun with everyone.

@Jez -- I second your motion too. Do we have a quorum yet?

gdbackus said...

Seconded. With feeling.

Kiel Chenier said...

Makes sense.

I've played most of my games with rooms of total strangers as a DM. It's always a bit of a challenge to manage their (often conflicting) expectations.

Because these are also often public events, we get all manner of people, many of whom have poor (read: fucking awful) social skills.

Does D&D invite a sub-set of people who struggle with social skills? Or is it just medieval fantasy that does this? I know most people who play the game are well adjusted adults, but so many of the people I DM for publicly are not.

wrathofzombie said...

Well when you put a negative spin on it... lol. What you could do is start a new blog called "Zak's Comfy Couch" and every day you let 5 socially awkward people tell you their woes and you impart advice. :)

Victor Raymond said...

This is a very good piece of social analysis, applied to gaming. I'd second what Jon G Hames said: part of OSR gaming is that it relies on gameplay as an activity itself as the context for social interaction and evaluation - which scares some people. By putting it into the context of game rules they are attempting to sublimate the social environment of gameplay into something with definable, "objective" boundaries. But precisely because it is role-playing, that's difficult to do: what players are doing is responding to each other and the secondary reality of the game world _as_if_it_were_socially_real_. Last time I checked, when you go out of the door of your house, your social environment does not come with guarantees and is subject to mutual negotiation or even complete outside intervention. (Yeah, I'm a working sociologist with the PhD to go with it.)

Anonymous said...

Humanity is a fairly irrational species overall. is a good talk on the subject.

Beyond that - George Lakoff's the Political Mind is a good example of how framing devices work.

So - the basic theory behind why we want social combat (I am a Burning Wheel/FATE type who has been near the forge, brushed it, and then never actually dived in) or rules for distracting someone, and so on is how options work.

As you increase rules, you also increase the ability to do actions, and also create the desire to do actions.

Let's say I am playing a game wherein if I were to stab someone, there were NO rules for fighting guards, but long and lengthy trial rules. I would be less likely to stab someone. If I have a game with no rules for bringing someone to my own side in an argument, then if the GM doesn't want me to convince the person - they wont be. Beyond that - firstly - I will never be able to play a character who is non-social, nor a character who is more social. I can play a character who is stronger, but not more friendly. Of course - then - in D&D Social rolls are simply an n in 20 chance of mind control - which aren't a system. Leading bad faith amongst the GM.

Of course - this means that the game should not be able to everything. In all seriousness, a set of rules to hit someone with a bunch of different tools and spells is a valid game - but it is not a "Generic Game". It is simply not honest about what it is. The guy who wants to by wanred of the tree elf - wants the rules to accept this plan. And - in theory - a Generic System would cover all cases. But D&D - and almost no other system is Generic (GURPS comes close).

Instead - the game will give the set of actions the game is designed to allow. D&D could say: Using specific powers you can hit things, and cause them pain, as well as maniuplate their position and future actions. This is pretty narrow. And there's a lot of outside the rules to do. Walking into a bar, saying hello, or even buying things. D&D has a set of prices, and also money, and how much money you get for killing something, and then says "these prices don't work most places".

Because of a lack of scope in rules, most games give the options available to people playing this game up front - so everyone beings in the game linguistical frame, and in the same place - so that expectations are the same.

When you walk into D&D your expectation is "hit thing with other thing" or "interact with DM and listen to the cool story he tells" or something else. But, why is that your expectation? And is a different one a bad thing?

Now - the worst part is actually D&D. D&D is a game which most people see to be generic, and, in earlier editions it was closer to generic, but, slowly, it has become a combat system (it has never been a generic system of course, not even close). But - players do come to your table with different expectations. And so it's not Soccer, instead its Sports. If you went out and said you were going to play Sports one afternoon, people would arrive in different gear, with different things, and with different expectations. Sure - when they found out they were going to play soccer, they could pretty easily fall into line, and not being able to do that is a problem, claiming "I wanted to play Hockey! SO WE SHOULD BE PLAYING HOCKEY!" is a problem. Saying "next time say we're playing soccer" is simply the basics of social interaction.

Victor Raymond said...

Additional note: something similar to this was talked about by Glenn Blacow in Different Worlds #10 in his article about different styles of gaming, which John C. Kim has been so good as to make available again, here.

Necropraxis said...


I think you are wrong and here is why:

The Cramp said...

I play Magic, which is the very definition of pac-man + swords and sorcery for those who want it to be, it has rules for EVERYTHING*. Frankly even there Martin runs into trouble. Any game with more moving parts than say, chess, requires you to play with your mouth. Charisma comes into it, for what its worth, every game.

(Even how Humility works. Which is a complicated affair, and frequently perplexing.)

Thomas M. said...

You honestly think that the more rules you have, the more options you have? I realize that often things that are counter-intuitive turn out to work out; however, I can't envision a case where this would be true.

It's only true if you can't conceive of actions taking place without having rules for them beforehand.

Or to put it another way: rules are always going to be a subset of whatever reasonable people can come up with on the fly.

Oberon the Fool said...

I like hanging out.
I like gaming.
I like *some* overlap between the two, but mostly when I am gaming I want to be primarily gaming (meaning the social interaction is mostly *through* the medium of the game, and less *around* the game. It's a ratio, not an absolute).
I prefer gaming with people I like to hang out with, but my schedule means that is not always possible. My schedule also means that I don't have time for 20 minutes of game-specific-fun packed into 2 hours of game. When I was younger and had more time it was totally cool to blow a day dicking around playing D&D or whatever, and I had lots of fun socializing *around* D&D. Nowadays I want to pack as much game-specific-fun into as short a time as possible. Therefore I prefer games with a more reliable and consistent output of (whatever type of fun we're trying to have that night). But I recognize that that's me. You guys (for any value of "you guys") have your thing that works for you (assuming it does- if it doesn't, that's a different matter, and it's up to you to seek out something that does work, not up to me to tell you to do so).

"Forgey" games, incidentally, aren't about whether there are more rules or less rules or even what whatever rules there are are about- the point is that whatever rules there are actually do what you want them to do. Seems like people lose track of that a lot of the time when discussing the ideas that came out of the Forge (including and especially a lot of self-identified-"Forgey" people themselves, who should know better).

The beauty of gaming is that there are games for every taste. People need to stop judging other people's fun. If I'm not enjoying my gaming, I'll find another game/group/situation. You don't have to point out to me why my gaming isn't your kind of fun, and vice versa. None of the folks who started the Forge ever wanted anybody to do that.

Jon G Hames said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon G Hames said...

Sociology, not psychology. We've got completely different ideas about what makes us all crazy.

Zak Sabbath said...

Yeah, what Brendan said below.

p.s. it is never healthy to assume people disagree with various Forgey articles of faith only because _they never heard them before_ .

We've all heard the "if thar's rules 'bout it then that thar is whut the game's about" a million times and it just happens to be that that's not true.

Jon G Hames said...

On the other end of the coin, I'm currently running a 4E game (Or is Type IV what you kids are calling it these days?) and once we all got comfortable with the various bits, I couldn't believe the amount of improv/sandboxing it allows me to do. It reminds me of my Type II game I ran by the tried and true style of smoking as much weed as I could possibly inhale washing it down with beer for 6 hours or so after which my players would run off of every rail they possibly could and I would frantically make crap up, usually having to handwave/fake combats and what not. I do the same sort of sandbox with the new game, but the ease of encounter building lets me do it quickly and without needing to fudge. Now granted, a great deal of that is because I learned it the old way and brought it with me, so to speak, but my point is, there's not as much about the system that inherently hinders that sort of thing as tends to be asserted

Zak Sabbath said...

Who are you talking to?

Zak Sabbath said...

I know the difference but my shocking theory is that they're related.

Zak Sabbath said...

I have several people a day tell me sandboxy 4E can't exist. I keep telling them they're wrong, but it's nice to have the evidence right here under the blog post.

Jon G Hames said...

@Zak Shh. We're aware. Academia likes its edition wars too.

Alex A. Biral said...

Maybe this comment is actually useless, as you seem to be discussing these matters with Mr. Gregor Vuga, but I think you misunderstand how creative agenda works and "Ouija board play" are.

First, it is important to understand that, whenever Forge people talk about "System", they usually don't mean whatever rules are written down in the game books, but all rules of play, whether written or not, whether conscious or unconscious. So, like, if you are playing a free-form game, there is still a system people use, even if the system is "The group figures out together the most interesting option for any conflict and chooses it".

So, it is fully possible that you have a group that plays all 3 agendas (not at the same time, though) using D&D, or Tunnels and Trolls, or GURPS, or whatever. It is just that you would probably be changing, even if very subtly, the system as you address different agendas.

The importance of the agendas them is to help understand what is going at the table, what the players are expecting and how we can better deliver it. Of course, you don't need all that stuffy theory to tell you what people in your table want. You don't need to formulate all that to know what you and your group want. But it is sometimes useful to put into words what was before only felt in your "guts". Yes, I am kind like Martin in that I like having this stuff explained rather than just assumed as obvious, but I also find that wording this kind of thing may also help you have insights you might not if you went simply by instinct.

Which brings me to another point, Rules. For me, the raison d'ĂȘtre of any rule should be helping the people around the table have an awesome conversation. Maybe some rules are really made for separating people, making the conversation more like a game board (in which case, I probably wouldn't care about them, as this isn't the kind of RPG I like). Maybe some end up doing that as a side effect. But the important thing is that it must help the players interact in an interesting way, not keeping them apart so they don't make each other's game crappy.

So, that is why I think creative agendas, all that talk about narrativism, simulationism or gamism, can be useful. Because they can help you see, when designing a game, how to make your rules actually useful, how to make them actually help the players have a good time. And I don't mean this as in "Well, if you aren't that good of a GM, or that good of a player, these rules can work like a crutch and help you get where you want". I mean it as in "Even if you have an awesome game group, these rules can help make your game even better, inflaming your mind with great possibilities."

In particular, good rules for me shouldn't so much define what happens, but help me do that. The responsibility to make the game awesome is still the player's, the rules working by giving them good ideas or telling them that something should be happening now. An example of a forge derived game that does it very clearly is Apocalypse World. Though your own tables in Vornheim would fall in this category too, I think.

Alex A. Biral said...

About the Ouija thing, what Ron was talking is about wanting one type of game, but playing another hoping things will go just right this time. For example, if I am playing D&D (at least as I usually play it), expecting the game on the table to go a lot like Howard's Conan stories, I am probably going to be disappointed. It is quite possible my character will die in a pretty unheroic way. And even if he doesn't, the game will focus on things that are just mentioned briefly on the stories, like actually figuring out mazes, or going into much more detail into combat. So, there isn't anything wrong with playing D&D this way (it is one of my favorite types of game), but if you and your whole game group get together to play like this for the rare cases where things make "literary sense", you are probably wasting your time.

Anyway, this is how I understand these things. It is of course possible I am the one misunderstanding them, not you. And, sorry for not being brief. Besides the time, I also lack the talent.

Zak Sabbath said...


nothing you wrote contradicts what I said in this post. I hope you know that. I never said "right to pretend to be like a vampire" , "try to win" and "collaboratively tell a story" are not useful ways to categorize goals (though the crappy names given to these desires in forge circles is an impediment to rational thought about them)

However the PARTICULAR (not you, not "all Forgeites") dipshit who I quote in the piece DOES say things that ARE wrong, that I refute.

As for my misuse of the term "ouija board play"--whether or not I used it exactly the way your or Ron understand it, my point is (sans term):

The idea that you can't satisfy multiple creative agendas simultaneously and regularly at a game table is bullshit and wrong.

Either you agree or disagree with that statement.

If you agree. Yay.

If you disagree. Explain how the character in the corner praying to Vorn for guidance and the player who is saying "Hey, can you give me a hand killing the fucking snakedog?" while ably using tactical brains to kill the snakedog are not having fun together.

Spitting Trashcan said...

One last thing as long as I'm stating the obvious. Sometimes, rules are there to simulate the experience of being a person who has abilities you don't have, or vice versa.

Like, some people are good at physical stuff and they roleplay by running around in the woods and hitting each other with pool noodles - no combat rules required (other than "don't hit people with things that aren't pool noodles" maybe). But for people who aren't good at physical stuff, there are rules that transform the experience of physical confrontation into moving tokens and adding up numbers and rolling dice. And for people who are good at physical stuff but want to try looking at situations from the perspective of someone who isn't, those rules can create that experience also.

Similarly, rules that transform the experience of social interaction into a different form can give people who are awkward the perspective of someone who is socially confident and vice versa; and the same for rules that transform the experience of mental acuity into a different form. Escapism can be a good time: not just the weak playing at strength but the shy playing at confidence and the slow playing at wisdom. And a system that supports escapism of this kind can also support experiences conducive to empathy where your interaction with a fictional world is hampered by inability to bring your own strengths to bear.

I'm not sure if I'm getting at the same stuff that the post is getting at, but I want to mention it because it gets right up my nose when people say "yes of course physical grace should be simulated through the rules but players must rely on their own social/mental capacity instead of rolling dice."

That said, because RPGs are inherently a social activity the players do have to have some minimal degree of non-dickery, which I guess was more the point here.

Zak Sabbath said...

I understand that some people's interest in playing games is primarily or largely pretending to have capacities they don't

However, it is also important to point out that many people (myself included) play them as a test of wits and so PC abilities (or lack thereof) are just gamelike restrictions like the way chess pieces move on a board.

The bishop moves diagonally, the fighter has an 18 strength, the monk has a 15 charisma, it's all the same to me.

I would also note here that I am miserable at role-playing (in the drama-school sense) a PC that is supposed to be tactically dumber than me. I may be dumb, but I have no fun if I have to pretend to be even dumber.

Your Mileage May Vary.

Alex A. Biral said...

If nothing I wrote contradicts anything, then really, sorry for the big time waster. I wanted to give a view from where forge people are coming from.

On the multiple agendas thing, this is kind of a tricky point, let me see if I can make myself understood.

Consider the game moment by moment. In your description, in one moment, a cleric offers a prayer. Maybe she is showing some aspect of the world of Vornheim, or maybe setting herself up for drama, or maybe doing both at the same time. That is what is being talked, on the table right at that moment. The following moment, the conversation shifts to a different kind of conversation, it is all about strategizing, all about overcoming a challenge, right? The thing is that it is easily possible to have all three of these kinds of conversation in the same narrative agenda. In fact, I think the default for any game, no matter the agenda, is to have all three kinds of conversation.

The place where the agendas become important isn't on the moment by the moment, but in game cycles. Each agenda implies a cycle that focus on one of these things. For example, in the narrativist agenda, the cycle is a rising creation of drama that ends in a climax where things are solved (I am trying to be brief here, if this isn't clear, we can talk about this too).

The thing is that every time I have seen people not collaborating on the same cycle, like creating tension together for a certain type of story, they were talking over each other, instead of to. It would be kind of like a film where half of the cast is making a drama and the other half is making a documentary.

Now, that is not to say you can't have a game where you change what type of agenda you have between cycles. Like, first you have some challenging dungeon bashing, where the problems you solve get more and more difficult and outrageous, and then have some Gone with the Wind drama back in town. The important thing is that, when you are playing one, everyone be on the same page, trying to strive for the same type of conversation, rather than each doing their own thing and drifting apart.

Zak Sabbath said...

1. I don't understand the word "cycle" as it is being used here. What time increment you are referring to?

2. If everyone is talking over everyone else then no matter what goals are being pursued (whether in terms of playstyle, genre or snack logistics), you are fucked. I fail to see why Creative Agenda is special.

3. I don't understand a precise meaning of "on the same page" that you are trying to lay down here.

Alex A. Biral said...

1. About cycles, I meant one interaction where you are able to get something cool of the game. They are different depending on the agenda. Like, in a simulationist Call of Cthulhu game, the cycle might consist of investigating and interact with phenomena more bizarre by the second until, finally, the mystery is revealed and everything makes sense... more or less. Think of At the Mountains of Madness, when the explorers finally find the Shoggoth.

In a narrativist game, the cycle might be the slow build up of tension of an untenable situation, until finally things come to a closure. A simple example of that would be the Back to the Future movie, where each character has different problems going on, and the situation becomes more and more disturbing, until the end solves all problems in a flurry of actions that makes sense and is pleasing to watch.

The gamist cycle is one where the player is presented rising, more difficult challenges until he is able to prove himself by solving them in some way.

2. Yeah, The thing about Agendas is that they may explain why perfectly reasonable people might fail to play together meaningfully, even though everyone appeared eager to play the same kind of game. Of course, there are other reasons people might not play well together. But more important, they can help us see how to play even better together, by giving us a clearer idea of what one did right or wrong.

3. What I meant was for everyone to be trying to achieve a common type of conversation. Like, if I and you were playing together, but we had different agendas, we might stumble on a situation where 20 goblin archer have their bows trained on you. You see this as a tactical challenge, the high point of the night, to be solved by teamwork. But I want to use the situation to show the coward heart of my character and run. If I have my way, it will crap all over your game, and vice versa, because we were both aiming to different things throughout the night.

But if we had been on the same page, not only would situations like this be avoided, but we could build on each other's contributions better. Like, when you told everyone to fall in to secure a better position, I wouldn't have had my character hesitate to build up his drama, but instead would have him cast web to delay the enemies and give us more time.

Zak Sabbath said...






























Quote you
"you see this as a tactical challenge, the high point of the night, to be solved by teamwork. But I want to use the situation to show the coward heart of my character and run. If I have my way, it will crap all over your game, and vice versa, because we were both aiming to different things throughout the night."

Not at all.

Not even slightly.

Not remotely.

Not in any way,



Your PC being a coward and running away is one of the elements of tactical challenge that I have to deal with (just as any general has to deal with troop morale)

My PC wanting to stay and fight is an interesting complication to your drama about being a coward ("Oh, he stayed and fought bravely and died/won handily despite the fact I ran away")

If, instead of realizing this, two players squabble or think the other person Not Being Like Them "craps on their game"--these people are not being adults.

Unknown said...

"...who regularly play D&D and don't have fun. I don't know any."

I am reminded of the William Gibson (I think it was him) saying about "being surrounded by assholes." Which also plays (no pun intended) into communicating.

Alex A. Biral said...

I am really sorry, the way I presented my example really misses the point. The thing is, when I have my character run off to show him losing his nerve, I expect an answer in kind of you (and all the other players). This is the big moment I have been driving toward throughout the whole play session. If your only response is to say "Oh, the big fight just got even more interesting.", I will feel like I was talking to myself the whole night.

Likewise, the point of your game isn't to strategize alone. I mean, if it was that, you would go play something like chess or a wargame. You want to have a meaningful conversation with the other players about overcoming challenges. You want to see other players showing off their best so you can meet them in kind. If they ignore this kind of thing, you will feel as stupid as I in the above example.

So, the people all talking together to bring about a high point of the creative agenda consist of a cycle. You could also have cycles of cycles, and so on, but let's leave this out, at least for now, ok? The important point is that RPGs are at their best when everyone in the table is contributing together to the kind of cycle at hand.

Now, I think the big disagreement here, the thing that is making you shake your head and say "This guy has no idea what he is talking about." is that you could do both things in the same play session. Like, we might have these two cycles going on together, where half of the time we are strategyzing together and half of the time we are building drama, together. Such game might be hard to run without making it feel schizophrenic, and it might be hard to make every agenda be fulfilled appropriately every game session. Still, it probably could be done, I think.

But at any one time in the game, at any "scene", the players (including the DM) should be on the same mode of conversation, so that everyone can meaningfully interact. For example, if I am having a little drama right now, we need to get to some kind of cliffhanger before we tart having an all out strategy talk.

By the way, I know how internet discussions can make one lose his cool sometimes. Maybe what I just typed looks like what I typed before. If you feel this conversation isn't going anywhere, feel free to tell me so, I will be happy to either drop the argument or try to approach it by another angle.

Spitting Trashcan said...

You say x happens and then I feel y. Other people do not feel y as a result of x and therefore do not need rules that prevent x from happening. I'm pretty sure that was the point here but I could be wrong.

It's hard for me to believe sometimes that people can be as different from me as they are but experience has taught me to trust their direct assertions over my guesses.

Necropraxis said...

@Alex A. Biral

This is the big moment I have been driving toward throughout the whole play session. If your only response is to say "Oh, the big fight just got even more interesting.", I will feel like I was talking to myself the whole night.

See, I find that odd. How could you possibly be driving towards such a specific outcome in a freeform and open scenario? If part of your fun is expressing your character's trait of cowardice there is always going to be a way to express that.

It kind of seems like you only want to play with people who all think the same thing is awesome.

I have seven players in my current game, and I can tell you they all have different motivations and all seem to have fun. Some just like getting loot, some love acting out their characters, some like engineering humorous situations, some like doing awesome things in combat and some like problem solving.

Alex A. Biral said...

Well, the x and y I am asserting is "When I try to build up a type of conversation and people ignore it and change to another, the game isn't as much fun". Did anyone say the contrary in this post? I mean this as an honest question (there are a lot of comments)! To me, the idea of being ignored in a social game sounds strange, like publishing a book and then hoping no one reads it. But if that is the case with someone, then great, I would love to hear about why he prefers to play like that!

Spitting Trashcan said...

Yeah you don't want rules that abstract away the experience you want to directly have. So rules that let you roll a die to solve the puzzle or talk to the guy are counterproductive. If I want the experience of having a different level of ability than I actually have then I do want those rules. It'd be pretty cool if we could play at the same table and both get what we want but I can't imagine the system to support that.

Alex A. Biral said...

No, look, when I say driving toward something, I don't mean an specific situation, like my character flees. I mean, like, I spent the whole night trying to make my character's cowardice seem important. He hesitated when the goblins appeared 3 rooms ago, he almost left the party to die once, but the problem solved itself. I made a point of mentioning how his sweetheart is important to him, but I also made a point of showing that even so, his friendship with the rest of the party is important.

Then, when we get to the climax of this whole cycle, maybe facing something he knows he can't escape whole from, I want everyone on the table feeling nervous, uncertain about what is going to happen now and wondering what they can do about that. If they couldn't care less about my PC's cowardice, then the game will suck somewhat. And I don't mean this as in "Hey you guys are not paying attention to me. You guys suck!". I mean it as "Hey, I failed to make this whole thing entertaining to you guys. I guess I just suck...".

It is not that everyone needs to like the exact same things either. It is just that they need to enjoy each other's things. I mean, wouldn't your game be crappy if everyone else kept a wooden, serious face when the guy trying to make humor made his jokes, or if when you got to a puzzle, everyone who doesn't like problem solving just got up and said "We are going to grab a bite. Tell us when you guys are done."?

Scott said...

I think that the big issue that is happening is the evangelizing is done in an aggressive manner. I know that when I play some Indie Games they help me with my GMing. When I GM D and D I need to invent the structure that my play flows around and sometimes I flounder with that.
I think that the argument that the Indie gamers are making that you are "Doing it Wrong" is very short sighted being that you are obviously having a heck of a good time.
I know that the tools that some of these game give are very useful for me but as a performer by trade you would be better at that than I am being a Computer Tech.
I see a lot of the play that you do to be very similar to the play that the Indie Gamers do. It's the Indie Gamers on the Internet that are the trouble.

Zak Sabbath said...

"When I try to build up a type of conversation and people ignore it and change to another, the game isn't as much fun".

See, I don't understand why the players (and DM) don't just _talk to each other_ (socially) and figure out how they are going to do that.

That is a HUGE part of what good GMing (or cooking or anything) is about.

Either people have different Kinds of Creative Agendas and are bad at talking to each other and it all falls apart. Not because they have different creative agendas but because they are bad at talking to each other.

....Or they have Different Creative Agendas and they are Good at talking to each other and it does not fall apart. Not because they don't have Different Creative Agendas but because they are good at talking to each other.

Zak Sabbath said...

every group produces some people who make good things (yay!) and some people who think anything other than what they make is bad (boo)

Alex A. Biral said...

Yes, yes! People can, and do, talk these things out sometimes. Other times they don't, and maybe they leave with the impression the other guys just "doesn't know how to play". Regardless, the important thing about these agendas is that they may help people play "closer together". The do this by helping you identify why some parts of a game were great where others weren't so hot. You can then deal with this by making rules, or just coming up with different types of ideas for games, or however you want.

What you do with this is up to you, however. Most Forge derived games have tried to stick with a single agenda, or possibly have sections (small cycles) of other agendas that connect into a dominating one. The idea being that by choosing one aspect of the game as the dominating one, we can make a different type of game than if we were trying to cater everyone at the same time.

But the same idea could be used to make games where various agendas are played out together. Maybe to find a way where the different cycles can talk with each other in a meaningful way, instead of getting on the way of each other.

Just a note, I must reiterate that using agendas doesn't mean making written rules that fit them well. Like, even if you are playing free-form, or say, playing OD&D where the DM makes heavy use of rulings, you could use the agendas to think what kind of structure to use on your games.

Zak Sabbath said...

The idea that the 3 Edwardian Creative Agendas (in some form) are among the 9 million things a group can disagree about is unarguable .

The idea that the diagnosed agendas cannot (and do not) coexist simultaneously and happily at many tables and in many game designs, and often make these games richer and better, is ignorant.

If you agree with both of those statements, we are done.

Alex A. Biral said...

I do agree. I wanted to go over my views again, trying to explain why our conversation wasn't waste of time, but I realized I would add nothing new to the discussion, and would result in me trying to get the last word in.

Instead, could you tell me what was the deal with the elf and the coin? Maybe it is something you mentioned earlier, but if so, I missed it.

Zak Sabbath said...


braindead fuck:
"There is a lack of clarity in D&D about how to adjudicate things not covered in the rules it's a problem"

me (citing a game I played earlier that day):
"Not there is not. For example: you are camping for the night and are being shadowed by a stealthy elf. In order to create and alarm system, you balance coins around you on the trees in the forest so if the elf comes they fall. DM decides whether this will work and whether the elf needs to roll to notice or avoid these coins and tells you or doesn't tell you and then you keep playing and either you are surprised by an elf or you aren't. Bam: outside-the-box-problem-solution-adjudicated."

Braindead fuck:
(now says the thing I quote in my post)

Zak Sabbath said...


You lost the right to be taken seriously long ago.

ravenconspiracy said...

There is a certain faction of players who want more codified rules because they feel they've been burned by abusive GMs and destructive players.

Do you have any thoughts on how these players can learn to trust/love/be-open-to-rules-lite again?

Zak Sabbath said...

There's no rules solution for having "abusive DMs and destructive players".

If D&D is the medium through which someone acts like a jerk to other people, then the only solution is to avoid that someone until they join the human race.

Anonymous said...

This is a case of human irrationality. If you frame the focus of the game, and give options around it - people tend to focus on those options.

The more options you put forward, the more people use them, and work with them.

You CANNOT run a game of social D&D and not be freeforming, or not having fun. Social rules in D&D are a simply binary Win/Lose one roll mess. So - you can either have people freeform - which is fine, but it means that you're not playing D&D, you have a charisma score, and a diplomacy skill, and you can roll them - you can even get into an argument then roll them. But at the end of the day - either the argument, or the dice, didn't matter *at all* expect for maybe a minor circumstance bonus.

Meaning - that until you try to stab someone (or someone tries to stab you) you are without any risk. Sure - there's disease, or poison, or enchantment. But really - that's all stabbing. A risk-free game is boring.

Perhaps when I say "rules" I really mean "methods of generating risk". The difference is really quite important I guess. Stories are about risks. Games are about challenges. If you want to freeform something - you can challenge someone however you want. If you want to go out and simply explore the world, that's cool, it's a guided myth. Which is also cool.

But if you want to actually have a challenge that can be overcome using a game system, and you want to make decisions in meaningful ways, then you need something else.

D&D is about combat - because that's how you challenge your players. A session of D&D can be fun without combat. But nothing is risked without it. (I am including anything that does some form of damage as combat. Including poison, or traps).

Please - look at my sources. At least the 15 minute talk about irrationality, and how framing changes how you think. Since - the basic thought is "it happens to gamers too!". I assumed you'd heard the argument, since well - you made it. And then tried to pull it apart by saying "everything you think must be socially maladjusted".

Zak Sabbath said...


1. you have to acknowledge and defend your position against natalie's argument, you can't simply ignore it,

2. many versions of D&D have no diplomacy skill or written rules of social negotiation

3. these rules have a charisma score which is used to settle disputes if--and only if--there is a question about whether a PC's attempt to charm someone is convincing.

4. please do not respond to this or any other post without seriously addressing and, when appropriate, quoting, the people who you are talking to.

Zak Sabbath said...

Also, for the role of rules in open-ended play , you should read this
that is still playing D&D.

Anonymous said...

So I just read this great post and the NINETY SEVEN COMMENTS (I must be #98 or higher?) and I have to say, first of all- thanks for having the best blog about DMing and D&D and roleplaying in general.. on the entire internet. Youask all the right questions, and you make the sanest observations I have ever seen. Anyhow.

Second, you are absolutely right- the "be an adult" part about plain old human to human communication and the influence of a DM (what I call 'group leadership') is invaluable. The idea of social gaming wherein you run a game and don't know who is going to show up (like the table full of wierdos at a wedding or whatever) can be terrifying, and jerks do exist out there in the wild (jerks are edition neutral, there are some jerks out there of all stripes, no lie) -- but I would really recommend at least taking a risk now and again and handling people as people and the game as a game, and not letting the game try to handle people.

Because I think a lot of people are nice, and funny, and I like to play D&D with nice, funny people (who doesn't)- I really think that now and again the risk is worth it- like more than worth it, I wouldn't have the ability to make 4 phone calls and have a game going in 30 minutes if I didn't mind meeting new people.

When I do find myself confronted with someone being a jerk/bad-player/ass- (and it's really not as common as some people might think) I make a grown up decision to either stay, just leave or (if I'm a DM) I stop the game and we all have a little person to person communication. Because, you know, that's what you do in any other situation in life that turns out like that.

The real poison of the forgey GNS thing is that it told people "oh, here's why you don't have to get along with everyone else.. you are a (blank)-ist, so here's what you like, and here's what you are supposed to oppose, and it's ok to reject and sabotage anything that isn't on your 'social agenda'"- Certainly people do have these more-or-less preferences but it isn't just a single letter thing, either, as you say. Anytime the party has to stop and decide (through co "do we kill the goblin prisoners? Do we interrogate them?" that's a fun roleplaying moment, but GNS and the like tells us, it would be always be a foregone conclusion. One party should always kill the prisoners and one party should always interrogate the prisoners to determine the location of the goblin lands, and one party should relate the prisoners to the social issue of torture and their feelings of guilt.

I'm saying the conversation about what do we do? itself is a fun one to have, and there could be a million other outcomes if it isn't constrained into this "that's my playstyle" box that some people seem to willingly want to seal themselves into.

Michael J Brisbois said...

I believe this adds some support.

When Schwartz argues that additional rules intended to prevent disaster, but only really create mediocrity has some bearing.

Jon Hendry said...

"In fact, I'd take it farther and say the social interactions CAN affect the gameplay if the people involved make it so."

In a way, the 4E combat 'roles' might be an effort to reduce this. If everyone has a defined role in combat, it might be a little harder for a real-world interpersonal clash to effect the gameplay. Without the roles, it might be easier for player A to decide he's going to do something that, whoops, doesn't help out player B who is being gnawed on by some monster.

Jon Hendry said...

That's kinda what I thought Mearls was getting at with his "go through the wardrobe and find yourself at McDonalds" comment. Some people seemed to take that as talking about low quality, but I thought it was more about predictability and uniformity.

Like you go to Moscow, and instead of eating local cuisine, you go to McDonalds, and get pretty much the same thing you get at any other McDonalds.

Denjiro said...

I would suggest that as it's a structured social interaction it may be attractive to those interested in a form of social interaction but are not terribly good at it.

Oberon the Fool said...

I wasn't responding to a specific person, just sort of summarizing my reaction/thoughts to the thread so far.

Sorry if that's not the standard M.O. here.

Zak Sabbath said...

I just literally do not know why you are stating the obvious or who you are stating it to:

""Forgey" games, incidentally, aren't about whether there are more rules or less rules or even what whatever rules there are are about- the point is that whatever rules there are actually do what you want them to do"

Is there someone here who is arguing with that? Is there anyone who sounds like they don't know that? If so I am unaware of it.

Which naturally leaves me wondering why you brought it up.

Oberon the Fool said...

Fair enough.

Unfortunately I don't have time right now to parse back through it all and see if I can recall what made me feel that was a necessary point to make.

Although, honestly, if the point doesn't need to be made and I just threw that in there out of reflex, I'm happy to just say "my bad" and call it good. I'm not always certain where the thoughts that spill out of my head originate.

Unknown said...

Not completely true. The worst game (a ruleset) can be turned into a good experience if the System (the rules the players actually use at the table) is good.

D&D does not tell the DM what to do to ensure the game is fun, Apocalypse World does. This does not mean a D&D DM can't have a good concept of "what is fun for a bunch of people".

On the contrary, a D&D GM is not forced by pre-written lists of what is fun, that might be unsuited to his current gaming group. The big problem is that the fine tuning is completely let in his own hands. If the manual suggested him how to find out these things, it would certainly be a better game (as written) and at least as good a system.

Unknown said...

So it's not a lack of clarity, but it certainly is something problematic.

Here, the DM is either deciding on his own if the elf gets to sneak at you or setting himself the probabilities.
In other words, if the DM wants to get the sneaky elf on me I can put all the coins I want and he can still say it does not work.

D&D has a veryprecise rule about "how to adjudicate things not ccovered in the rules" and it's "the DM does as he wishes".
Actually, one single rule of D&D (the Rule 0) covers all of the possible in-game situations to the point that the other rules are there just to provide the players the illusion they're playing a game where their actions could actually change the story. - Oh yes this can happen, but only if the DM wants to.

The other rules are there to whisper to the players they can have what they want from this game, from "playing a smarter character than I am" to "using the player's wits to overcome obstacles".

4th edition D&D is no exception.

It's someone telling a story to the players, be it pre-written (illusionism, partecipationism) or improvised (the so-called sandbox).
This can be fun, but you have to like it.

Like a friend of mine said, it's like watching a porn movie where you can change the camera position as you like.
Whichi is pretty funny, being this a discussion in a vlog about porn actresses playing D&D. XD

This does not mean it can't be fun, but you need a good DM to have a satisfying story, where "good" could as well include "who listens more to the needs of his players".
If he's really good it's even more enjoyable to me than a Forgite game!

Unfortunately, not everyone has this luck.
I'm not a good DM. I don't know any in my area that could DM me. DMing 3.x edition is so resource (mostly time) consuming that no-one else in my group wants to. If I refuse to DM, we don't even meet.

That's why I like Forgite games, but there are other reasons that make me hate them, so I still play D&D, trying to stick to every rule but Rule 0. Probably not as fun.

Unknown said...

The most common "evangelizing", at least here in Italy, is not on the "you're doing it wrong" rail, but on the "you could achieve the same (or better) results easily" one.
I don't know if this happens even on the american forums for I don't really follow them but maybe this is a communication issue that should be solved before going on with the discussion.

Unknown said...

I think you got a little carried by the whole GNS thing. I've been a game design nerd for four years now and still I can't grasp all the concepts but it looks to me you're disliking your own idea of what the GNS thing is and not what it really is.

Let's suppose I'm playing a D&D 4e game and our group is geared towards step-on-up (formerly gamism).
We're not forced to fight the goblins, because gamism isn't abut fighting. It's about making tactical decisions and luck important.
We could decide to spare them. We already won by making them prisoners, now we're just adding some roleplay to encase our combat in a realistic world.
We could try to convince the village chief to let them go, using a skill challenge. Still gamist.
We could interrogate them. Using a gamism-geared mechanic (the skill challenge again).

The core of the whole thing is not -what- the players (not their characters) do. It's -why- they do it.
Here, they want to test their ability and luck by rolling dice and strategizing, no matter what happens in the fiction.

Let's suppose I'm playing a conflict in Dogs in the Vineyards (narrativist). If I try to win by strategy and luck, the game is not even fun. You play a conflict to see what happens, to set some consequences, to have some structure under the description of what's happening that helps the moral choices of the characters become important in the fiction - even if the conflict's objective is to shot a man in the middle of a dusty road (and not to interrogate him).

Can you see how the two things are completely unrelated?
GNS does not tell you what to do, it tells you where you're looking for fun - and where a game that's coherent to that third of the GNS really shines.

PS: there's no such thing as "a gamist/narrativist/simulationist player". Everyone can look for fun in whichever aspect of the game they like and enjoy/hate different games independently from their "I promote a G/N/S play" classifications.
GNS just helps everyone be on the same wave lenght, so that you know in advance what kind of experience awaits you in any game, a thing you'd probably want to tell your players before a D&D campaign too.

Zak Sabbath said...

Thank you, Martin.

Zak Sabbath said...

"In other words, if the DM wants to get the sneaky elf on me I can put all the coins I want and he can still say it does not work."

If the DM *wants* to get the sneaky elf anywhere, then the DM is a bad DM.

Also, you ignored the obvious: the players have to agree to the defined spot rule. You can't just say "these are the rules"--the players can contest it.

Zak Sabbath said...

Yes, MArco, if you are a sucky DM and you can't find a good one, you will have to not play D&D. Go do that.

Zak Sabbath said...


It sounds like you have not read to any of the discussion here about GNS but rather repeated what you have already read about it like we are children and need it explained.

I am going to repeat what everyone but you already knows:
GNS is wrong about 2 things:

-The 3 categories of G, N, and S do not accurately summarize the range of metagame goals players have or can have. They do not. There are way more.

-Play with a range of players with divergent GNS goals in a game that does not support them is by no means "incoherent" or even bad. In fact, it is often the *best kind* of play.

See the discussion in this thread you posted in here for more details.