Thursday, 24 June 2010

(4/4) Roleplaying tradition

This is the fourth part in a series of four. The previous posts have been on accepting tradition in cognitionidentity, and ethics.

Traditionally, designing roleplaying games have been based on writing simulations of a fantasy world. The setting is written in an effort to construct a complete and cohesive fantasy world, and the rules are written to arbitrate what the most probable (and thus realistic) course of events would be in a given case. For instance, the rules tell me whether my character succeeds or fails any given endeavour. They tell me if my character hurts hirself, and if so, how badly. (And that's basically it, really)

Just as there is a tendency to accept the norms of society, the norms of roleplaying design have for long gone unquestioned. This is enhanced by the striving towards realism in roleplaying games: Since the rules are based on reality, the design and focus of these rules can very easily be considered given by nature and thus right.

The last five or so years, this has changed. There are indie games with setting based on storytelling rather than world simulation, with rules to guide said story telling rather than provide realism. The design traditions of roleplaying games as a whole is changing, accomodating new perspectives.

Just as we need to scrutinize the traditions of our society and ask us what the effects of these traditions are, what it means to use these rules, even if they are justified by realism.

These are some of the traditions I'm thinking of:
- Failing a roll blocks your creative input.
- The game master and players' nfluence on the story is discussed from the perspective of authority and force, and not from the perspective of trust. This teaches the game master and players techniques that run counter to creativity.
- The game master is expected to pre-plan the scenario and lead the players through it, putting all the work on the GM and none of the creativity on the players. Players building little dice towers out of boredom, and forced combat encounters where not uncommon in my youth, simply because the story didn't feel relevant to the players and their characters.
- Communication between players and GMs are not adressed, players are supposed to accept what happens in the fiction, even if it isn't enjoyable fiction for them. Either that, or force the story their way through their characters.
- In short, there is no way of synchronizing the expectations of players.

Many of these, I've adressed in my posts an interplay model of roleplaying and creative roleplaying.

These problems do not need simple fixes, they are the symptoms of something fundamental missing in roleplaying design. What they need us as game designers to finally and fully do is to adress roleplaying as a creative interplay process, not only as a simulation.

Players has learnt to cope with these problems by their own intuition, but they need to be brought into design, tested and analyzed methodically. Tradition is not enough.

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