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  #1  
Old Jan 26th, 2023, 11:28 PM
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game vs narrative vs simulation

I was chatting with some writer friends about the idea that there are three main aspects of roleplaying games (both ttrpg and pbp rpg) that participants enjoy to varying degrees, and that draw them to certain styles of play.

Game-style can emphasize a competitive aspect to rpgs, and the aspect of winning - beating the GM's NPC/monsters or out-maneuvering other players, the 'thrill' that comes from the possibility PCs could die in an encounter, etc. A clear system of game mechanics with dice rolls etc. is important to maintain the feeling of fairness.

Narrative-style is more about creating a shared narrative, with player collaboration an essential element. Formal game mechanics, dice rolls, etc. might not even be relevant, or might even get in the way of creating an interesting story that emphasizes character growth and meaningful consequences and plot.

Simulation-style pbp rpg leans more toward realistic roleplay, with PCs acting in a realistic way in a fantasy or SciFi setting. I'm most familiar with Star Trek pbp rpgs (not on rpgX) like this, called 'sims.'

Of course most pbp rpgs include all three aspects to varying degrees. It seems to me that many of the adverts I see on rpgX are slanted toward game-style, since the designated systems ([D&D-5e], [PF-1e], etc.) play such a definitive role in game adverts and character creation.

I'm interested in other people's thoughts about this. I'm also curious if a pbp rpg that was all narrative - no formal system - would work here on rpgX. Thoughts?
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Old Jan 27th, 2023, 07:03 AM
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I've seen variations of this question type around a lot on the boards, and I will take a discourse view...

I honestly don't think it's the type of game, or the rules, or... any part of the game system, that makes something "work" (here or in real life). We have rules-lite games, rule-less games, free form games, high rule games, etc. here on the boards.

The issue isn't so much with the game (although, there are contributing factors involved). The issue is the players.

DnD, very popular. 3.5, Pathfinder, 5e... hugely popular. And yet, dozens of games every month die, quite, go silent, fade away? Why? Is it the system? Rules? Popularity? I don't think so. It's the gamers.

Shadowrun, Star Wars, Vampire the gathering... Not as popular (in sheer numbers of fans). Fewer games, but there are some that have lasted ages here, and others die in weeks, months, years... Why? It's the gamers.

Having more people "like" your system/game/style is good, but honestly... you only need two, three, four or so. You could have a game that only 5 people in the entire world like... but if those five were good posters, it would work... forever. Conversely, you can go to games with thousands of people who like them... but if they fade out, go away, fall off, fail to post, does it matter that there are "thousands"? No... the game failed.

Do your odds of finding those 5 unicorn players improve if there are millions? Yes. But, I think, a bit like the lottery, the odds of winning between one ticket and a hundred tickets isn't as great as you think they are.

Tug of war: simplest game ever on RPGX. Barely any rules, barely any narrative, no simulation, just "win", I suppose (and you don't even win anything). But... it's still here, still being played with fervor. Why? The gamers.

I think an all narrative game would work here, and last for a decade: if the players in it would continue to play.

I think a hack and slash dungeon crawl game would work here, and last for a decade: if the players in it would continue to play.

I think a once a month "Every player writes a short story as a post" writing game would work here, and last for a decade: if the players in it would continue to play.


TLR It's the gamers, not the game.
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Old Jan 27th, 2023, 08:44 AM
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Ron Edwards' GNS Theory is making a comeback! Ok.

I think the gamism and simulationism aren't as easy to separate in PbP than it is in Tabletop. In-person, it's easier to see the map as a board game you're all playing and the GM as the simulationist rules expert that can be entreated. You look down for the game and look around you for the simulation

In PbP, this is all happening in the same space. The GM presenting the conundrum and the GM answering/deciding how things will work look identical, even if one is in the in-game thread and the other is in the OOC.

Oops, and look, the Narrative is sharing the same format as the other two. There's no poorly executed accents or sudden affectation of mannerism to delineate a player's words from a character's words or actions. There's just it being in the in-game thread and "the dialogue is bolded."

Part of this comes down to the simple dynamic of social interaction as part of gameplay, something not accounted for in GNS Theory. I've lingered in in-person campaigns for years after my enjoyment of the campaign and interest in my character had waned, because I still wanted to spend time with my friends. I know people that play RPGs exclusively for the camaraderie.

It takes time to get that in PbP because those friendships have to build up from basically nothing. And then, because of the format, there's no challenge to achieving that same level of social interaction when not in a campaign together. It's just not a problem.



This is to say that a 20+ year-old theory on TTRPG gameplay might not super-duper apply to our niche of the hobby. But, it does have some value for a framework of analysis. GNS Theory is about gameplay experience. Ron was talking about designing RPGs to appeal to different types of players and adjusting gameplay focus as player preferences emerge.

I think another important element of this, and one that super-specifically applies to PbP, is the matter of the expectation of the gameplay experience vs. the reality of the gameplay experience.

I think a big part of the reason game abandonment is so high is because the players and the GMs are starting off with an expectation that is then not fulfilled. There are likely a lot of reasons for this.

Maybe the game is advertised as being about epic action sequences or horrific eldritch mysteries... but then it's a month later and people are still explaining their backstories at each other in-character while nobody is reacting to each other. Suddenly players realize joining this campaign was a terrible mistake.

Maybe the game is advertised as being heavily RP-focused with only occasional combat when appropriate, but then it's a roll dice for every social interaction game and the other players' ideas of RP is to intrude their characters' weirdness onto yours, and since they have been rolling better at almost every social interaction, you suddenly realize you've made a terrible mistake in joining this campaign.

Maybe it's your campaign and you advertised everything the way you saw it in your head, and then you picked the 6 best applications, based on your own judgement, and then can't figure out why the in-game writing of the players isn't as enjoyable as their character applications, or they're not engaging with your story like you thought they would, and then one drops out, and then you try to keep up enthusiasm for it, and then another drops out and you can't even remember why you thought this would be fun to begin with and you realize starting this campaign was a terrible mistake.

Or maybe it's as simple as you recently joined with the hope of recapturing the magic of bygone RPGs with your friends from a nostalgic era of your life, and then it turns out that reading walls of text doesn't really have the same appeal as making jokes about how Matt and Stephen both have a crush on the same girl between bouts of making smashy swordy sound effects with your mouth when you roll a nat 20 on your Power Attack vs the orc. Maybe joining a PbP campaign was a terrible mistake.

None of these are actually because PbP RPGs are a terrible mistake, it's just that they're entered into with the wrong expectations.


I think an analysis of the PbP campaigns that last, the players that last in them, and the style of play would prove to be highly valuable to creating healthier gameplay expectations and even starting campaigns on the firmer foundation of "these are the things I need to do to make my PbP campaign successful" and "these are the things I need to communicate to applicants to improve my chances of reaching the right audience."

This won't make a campaign fail-proof. Real life happens, and communication is a very difficult thing to do. Writing something doesn't mean people will read it, or read it correctly if they do read it. But, you can set up for more success and improve the average game's lifespan... maybe?


Back to GNS Theory, I think it can be an important topic for delineation in setting up a campaign. Some players want to roll dice a break stuff, some players want to write 3,000 words on how their character feels (today) about the homeland they're exiled from. Both are valid game desires and have a place in PbP, but maybe they don't both belong in the same party.

I think purely narrative games can work. There are challenges unique to our format. In other threads, we've discussed the problem of the in-character response puzzle, where character A said X in post 1, character B said Y in post 4, character C said Z in post 7, and now you feel you need to have character D respond to X, Y, and Z. I don't know the solution to this problem, but I'm certain it's out there. I know, for me, the fewer players/characters there are, the more inter-character engagement I'm comfortable exploring. Me and 2 other players and a GM? Let's interact! Me and 5 other players and a GM? My character will likely avoid conversation and just declare and act.

OK, well... [/madravings]
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Old Jan 28th, 2023, 03:37 AM
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Thank you to Admin Dirk and orcbane, you both gave me a lot to think about.

I had not heard of Ron Edwards' GNS Theory, so that was interesting to look up.

When I asked my question I was thinking more in terms of the expectations and interest of rpgX players. I was (kinda still am) under the impression that on rpgX a game's system is quite important since that is prominent in advert titles, and also how games are organized on the site.

I love how Admin Dirk pointed out that the viability and longevity of a pbp rpg is all about the players. A lot of luck is involved in pulling together the right mix of players and GM. Even more luck to keep the pbp rpg going. I really like how orcbane brings up how important it is to set clear expectations from the start.

The 'joining this pbp campaign was a terrible mistake' experience orcbane mentions is one I've had, but rarely, and not because the pbp featured too much or too little combat or backstories. Fair to say that disparate expectation was a main factor.

I've been doing play-by-post rpg for twelve years, starting with pbem via yahoo groups, then google groups and groups(dot)io, occasionally by shared google doc, and via Anodyne's Nova web app (by far my favorite format). I've been GMing a pbp rpg in Nova format for over two years. All of it Narrative only, except for the games I've played on rpgX.

I stumbled across rpgX two years ago, then about a year ago I signed up for a NPSG. To me, pbp rpg in forum format using game mechanics designed for in-person ttrpg still feels super clunky. But worth the effort as a player. Though at the point when I try GMing on rpgX, it'll probably be a pbp without formal game mechanics. So I'm really glad to know that's not a requirement.
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Old Jan 28th, 2023, 06:50 AM
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social interaction as part of gameplay

I think this is a key to it (thanks orcbane... wish I had said this). If the social interaction is valued by the players highly, they will participate. If not... they will fade away. Rules, style, friendships, fun, drama, expectations, etc. are all factors that contribute to their social interaction value, for sure. How much of each we are willing to have, in order to have the social interaction value we want.
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Old Jan 29th, 2023, 02:16 PM
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I like your division of three role-playing worlds, Sprite.

I think the first one, the rule-system gaming, doesn't have to be for competitive gaming. The rules and systems are also there to give a framework for the narrative (and in this case the posting), not so that the playing field is level for competition, but so that everyone accepts the limitations and possibilities that define the common playing field.

And I think that playing field (the world) is also an element in itself. (Which is maybe somewhat the same as your simulation-style game. But I think you can do that in different ways, with or without the system. For example, you could play the Broken Worlds Trilogy RPG in order to play in that world, or you can just set up that world using a generic system like FATE or GURPS--either way, the world is almost more important than the PCs or the "object" when playing/posting in some games.
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Old Jan 29th, 2023, 11:04 PM
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I'm not exactly sure how to tie it in, but I feel like Ysolde's War of the Spider Queen campaign is an interesting example worth exploring.

It's a 5e game with 20~24 simultaneous players (in 4 groups) that run the range of those who write to tell a story, and those who seem to just be killing time to roll some dice. There is an anticipated narrative arc, but character death is definitely on the table. By virtue of being so populated, it seems like it can afford to satisfy multiple playstyles simultaneously, even if that means some groups end up being more short lived than others. Separate from the game threads, there is also an Open RP thread, where players can cohabitate in a non-adventure setting, simply for the purpose of developing character dynamics. You can find your group within the Group.

It would be fascinating if the parties ended up reshuffling according to player styles and were encouraged to progress their parallel leg of the story according to that style. One group being purely narrative, while the next rocks their way through a dungeon crawl. As long as the ends are tied up nicely, they shouldn't have any issue blending together after each milestone. And, as an added perk, if someone ends up with a playstyle they don't care for, they can look forward to mixing things up in the relatively near future. The incompatibility would be temporary.

As an enthusiast of variety, being able to sample a buffet of playstyles within the same world would be very compelling.

Edit: Larger groups are obviously more work, but could be one solution for game failure. If people bleed away, then the most engaged members from two groups could be merged into one without skipping a beat.
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