Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cooperation and Your Own Objectives (Part 4)

It's important (I think) to point out that none of the examples in my last post have any kind of conflict of creative agenda (in the gamist/narrativist/simulationist sense). While I have encountered CA conflicts in the past (notably with AD&D, Over the Edge, and various White Wolf games), in the examples listed all the players were on the same page with regard to what we were "playing for." The "disconnection" I'm writing about is one in which PC objectives get supplanted.

What do I mean by "supplanted?" Well, I mean the objectives are suppressed and replaced...and generally this is done in the name of fulfilling the cooperative spirit of the game:

In example #1 the GM is suppressing specific PC objectives in order to provide inclusive cooperative scenarios.

In example #2 the players are suppressing the PC objectives for acting against the group consensus of "right" behavior in-game.

In (hypothetical) example #3 the GM is suppressing the PC objectives for acting against the group's (out-of-game) moral considerations.

In example #4 the GM is suppressing all PC objectives in order to fulfill a campaign objective (in hopes this will lead to "cooperative play").

Why is this a big deal? Why do we care if specific objectives of an imaginary player character gets suppressed, or supplanted, or "put off for awhile?" Why does it matter.

Well, back in Part 1 of this series, I postulated that ROLE-PLAYING is:

Player objective (out of game) matching Character objective (in game)

And you may say, so what if it is?

Well...if role-playing is player objective matching character objective and you are halting this process, then you are halting role-playing. And if you do that, then what are you left with?

Or, to put it another way:

IF the main thing a role-playing game has over a computer game or a board game or a war game is its ability to provide a role-playing experience, THEN that experience needs to be encouraged and nurtured, not suppressed and supplanted.

Now let's go back to that original postulated theorem: that role-playing IS "character objective and player objective meeting." What the hell is this supposed to look like exactly? Are we talking play-acting with a funny voice? Are we talking about writing pages of backstory and background for a character?

Not at all.

If I say, "I'm a dwarven adventurer, I make my living scouring dark holes looking for treasure (because it pays better than working as a blacksmith)," you're on your way to role-playing. It's as simple as that.

And as hard as that...if during the game you can sit down at the table and say (to yourself):

Given that I'm a dwarf...what would I do in this situation?

...then you ARE role-playing.

And there are certainly different levels or qualities to role-playing...some people may have more specific objectives (as I stated originally) than others. And the more specific and concrete those objectives, the deeper or more "enriched" the role-playing experience. For example:

Given that I'm a dwarven exile who feels he has lost his honor and can only be redeemed through death in battle...what would I do in this situation?

OR

Given that I am a crippled dwarf who has never felt worthy of his beard and needs to prove himself useful, as a person and as a member of the Black Rock Clan...what would I do in this situation?

...can lead to a different quality of role-playing than simply, "I'm a dwarf...dig?"

Notice that role-playing (by MY definition) has nothing to do with finding a way to use tactical feats or "daily powers" or healing surges in order to defeat monsters. That's World of Warcraft stuff, not role-playing. Likewise, my definition of role-playing has nothing to do with considering "how can I make the overall story more interesting by using metagame mechanics to screw with this imaginary character?" That may be fun for collaborative story-telling, but it's not role-playing...not in my book anyway.

The challenge is this: given the cooperative nature of RPGs (that's "social contract," son...we're all in this together, playing a game), how does one reconcile disparate character objectives?

BECAUSE if you CANNOT reconcile those disparate objectives, then SOMEONE's opportunity to have an enriching role-playing experience is going to get stepped on and/or squashed.

And we don't want that.

Are you folks grokking my point here? Let me give you an example from my own waaaay back past:

I was a player in an AD&D campaign. I had specific, powerful objectives for my character. Other players in the campaign had their own objectives (as all role-players willing to invest some time in their characters/campaign are wont to do). However, for whatever reason, my character's particular "story arc" was pursued a bit more closely than others and ended up (more or less) taking over the entire campaign. We went from a cooperative game experience to "the JB show."

Not that it wasn't fun, not that it wasn't memorable, not that it wasn't interesting and had lots of role-playing opportunities for everyone. But the other players went from being protagonists in their own right to "supporting characters" of my own PC's story.

That's ugly. That's not what promotes long-term growth of the hobby. That's not what the game is supposed to be about. If it was, then there really would be "winners and losers." In this particular instance, I can say "I won." Because MY PC objectives (my role-playing goals) took precedence over everyone else's objectives.

In part 3 of this series, I closed by saying "here's what I'd like to see happen." Well, here it is:
  • I want to see players role-play to the extent that they feel comfortable.
  • I want to see player/character objectives (the heart if not definition of "role-playing") honored by both the game master and others.
  • I want to see a game system that reflects these values, rewarding players for role-playing, AND
  • I want to see a game system that does this while still allowing the players to proceed together, in cooperation, towards a consensus campaign/adventure/scenario goal.

In the game I'm currently writing (the fantasy cyberpunk RPG), I am including these ideas as priorities of design, specifically with regard to the development (aka "advancement") system. Personally, I think I've managed to make it consistent and coherent enough that it can work the way I want it (though it will need some strong instruction and examples). From now on, I intend to include these priorities in ALL future design projects.

Which may be slightly problematic for the space opera game (it will certainly require a lot of thought due to the scattered nature of a game spread out across a million million star systems).

10 comments:

  1. Brain still in overdrive, eh? Good stuff... :)

    > Notice that role-playing (by MY definition) has nothing to do with finding a way to use tactical feats or "daily powers" or healing surges in order to defeat monsters.

    Well, presuming we haven't /totally/ lost the semantic battle yet, let's continue and presume the potential for "roleplaying" to affect the outcome of a game doesn't just mean playing card x in situation y...

    > IF the main thing a role-playing game has over a computer game or a board game or a war game is its ability to provide a role-playing experience, THEN that experience needs to be encouraged and nurtured, not suppressed and supplanted.

    Touche! D&D has the *potential* to be a role-playing game: it isn't *inherently* one. :p

    Grendelwulf's observation on http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2011/02/terminology-question.html?showComment=1298668096043#c8295980324383908426 is at least in part true, IMHO, despite the fact that the huge focus on mechanics in the game-as-published was still in large part /not/ the game-as-experienced prior to publication.
    Curtis, Colwill and Blake seem to have recognized this "trap" and felt obliged to emphasize that there was more than "just mechanics" in their explanatory articles prior to D&D's publication: indeed, the fact that their "roleplaying" was NOT primarily player-vs-GM was actually an advantage given the "it is the duty of a referee to make any situation like that described as difficult as possible for the participants... this improves the play of the game... and makes it far easier for the referee" mentality (EGG; 6/75) that still pervaded D&D's design ethos even 1 1/2 years after its publication; which led to problem-solving being a /priority/, to at least the partial exclusion of "roleplaying".

    -
    If anything, PnP is actually on to a loser /because/ the potential for **simulated** social depth is actually greater in a well designed "MMORPG" (EVE Online perhaps is getting there? Dunno...).
    Even if that /is/ inherently reductionist in nature due to the limitations of game mechanics, the fact that it can engage social interaction amongst players within a game framework on a massive scale will inevitably bring out the concept of underlying /role/ within that "society" where even if the player is "playing themselves" they are doing so with eyes and mindset more fully immersed within their gameworld and they begin to take on that "role" (role-assumption vs. role-playing - remember that /old/ debate, eh?).
    The "roleplaying" hurdle for game designers (and players) in /that/ "MMORPG" context to overcome is to think outwith the mechanistic goal-driven approach...
    I'm waiting for someone to totally subvert the framework by, for example, becoming a missionary in EVE Online, converting the masses to their interstellar religion and overthrowing the game designers' universe design. That /will/ get a smile, here! :)
    (And shades of Arthur C. Clarke once again... ;)

    ---> cont.

    ReplyDelete
  2. (4,096 chara limit & verification word "sweat" *g*)

    cont. --->

    > In the game I'm currently writing (the fantasy cyberpunk RPG), I am including these ideas as priorities of design, specifically with regard to the development (aka "advancement") system.

    Sooooo.... how do you get over the problems of no "progression awards" for "'roleplaying' an approximation of the manner in which the character/rwle would act under its own latent desires/motivations/free will" or for the actions of the character/rwle in the *absence* of the player? (q.v. http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v316/harami2000/rct_odnd.gif once again).

    Personally, I overcame those to a degree by adopting an implicit sociopolitical treatment but the rewards/progressions in that context were in part unquantified: i.e. "XP" awards might be given for "roleplaying" - by our definition! - but also awards in terms of progression along the character/rwle's "path" /between/ sessions played within the "roleplaying contract" (RC).
    Thus, if it was obvious that a player's "character" was merely an extension of their own ego, that "character" had limited scope to "develop" in the gameworld in between RC sessions when the player was not present.

    "XP gain" being a function *only* of an active RC (i.e. "player & GM also present") is a fun issue to address in this context.
    What harm is there in having a character/rwle gain in "XP" in between RC sessions? Can you count within-RC/outwith-RC "XP" separately and how might this change the gaming paradigm by developing a focus on the satisfaction/fun of "roleplaying" within RC sessions (/as well/ as problem solving, "being the hero" and having the pleasure of killing things (erm...), etc.) rather than being more akin to a glorified pawn-pushing board wargame?
    ...Not that that can't be a huge amount of "fun" in its own right, of course. ;)

    02c/Cheers & Best wishes,
    David.

    ReplyDelete
  3. your "possible solutions" for the exmples you posted in part 3 were all unsatifactory. (or, as you put it...

    None of these possible resolutions are particularly satisfying.

    All of these resolutions suck...

    I'm not a fan of any of these resolutions.

    these are all pretty awful ideas,


    :D

    considering your examples were all pretty usual rpg-situations a group might find itself in, have you got any general advice to resolve them in a way that leaves noone (at least slightly) unhappy?

    in my experiece that happens only rarely and dming through such quandaries is usually just "choosing the lesser evil".

    and even if you don't, maybe a few examples how you would resolve them yourself? (or maybe both? ;))

    or is your answer simply "let them roleplay it and enjoy the show"?

    ps: i love your definition of roleplaying.

    a great series of posts!

    ReplyDelete
  4. @ David: On-line MUSHes and MMOs only allow role-playing to the extent that individuals honor the social contract...I wouldn't consider these RPGs as they aren't bound by "rules" of a "game." Still, when game rules fail a person, where else can they turn but to like-minded folks?

    You asked:
    Sooooo.... how do you get over the problems of no "progression awards" for "'roleplaying' an approximation of the manner in which the character/rwle would act under its own latent desires/motivations/free will" or for the actions of the character/rwle in the *absence* of the player?

    By including a simple "alignment" system that doesn't preclude party members being together and provides tangible rewards for specific role-playing actions.

    Hmmm...that should also provide an answer to your second question.


    @ shlominus:

    I'm not sure you CAN reconcile it (except in semi-unsatisfactory manners) without restructuring the game system to account for it. And I for one am not quite ready to "re-write D&D."

    Oh, wait...you can also "nip the problem in the bud" before it develops by being a heavy handed, draconian DM up-front (and before play begins) by setting down specific guidelines. For example:

    "All characters must have good or lawful neutral alignments,,.penalties for evil acts will be strictly enforced...your characters are all elvish refugees working to take back the goblin over-run forest...etc. etc."

    In other words, you can head it off by limiting player choice/creativity. This is similar to what many modern RPGs do when they say:

    "Check with your GM to make sure your character fits within the concept of the game being run."

    OH...THAT's why they do this.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This post went a far distance to stitch together your ideas into a more coherent and laudable essay.

    I dig where you are coming from, even though I am partial to what has been termed Role-Assumption as the height of RP, while learning to work co-operatively and accept what the dice give you is part of the Game, which, when coupled with the RP, equals an RPG.

    Truth is that the Game part is not the Rules, but the element of gambit in the proposition of consensual reality in the Setting where the Player (in Character perspective) makes a statement of intent and hopes that the dice give her that outcome or one near enough to it for the character to continue on to the next pivotal moment.

    Mechanical elements of the system that permit the PC to pay a price for extra effort and thus favouring (but not ensuring) success are one of my goals, and I think I have found my solution.

    I would love to see co-operative and competitive Domain level adventure-packs. Perhaps some UWoM-B/X Companion cross-pollination?

    Thanks for these posts. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. @JB:
    > By including a simple "alignment" system that doesn't preclude party members being together and provides tangible rewards for specific role-playing actions.

    *g* Next you'll be handing out luck points for coherent "roleplaying" as the universe is happier when its inhabitants aren't being tweaked far from their "natural path" by external forces (i.e. players). House rules (erm, guidelines) are fun... :)

    @Timeshadows:
    > I dig where you are coming from, even though I am partial to what has been termed Role-Assumption as the height of RP, while learning to work co-operatively and accept what the dice give you is part of the Game, which, when coupled with the RP, equals an RPG.

    Heh... poor ol' David Feldt getting dragged over the coals for "fancy phrases" like "second generation role assumption simulation" whereas in reality not only was he being too generous regarding the scope and content of rulesets/guidelines as-published but also with regards to how those were being played.

    In that context, I love EGG's definition underlying the "D&D ethos" which backs up the concept of XP awards for "roleplaying" in terms closer to pawn-pushing problem-solving (per RJK's recounted example) with relatively limited "role assumption";
    "I must say that you absolutely nailed the sense of what the term role-playing was meant to mean--a role in the game and role assumption in regards to problem solving."

    The authoritative "was meant to mean" gets a smile for retconning, too, of course.

    Thus harking back to JB's
    > I want to see players role-play to the extent that they feel comfortable.

    To which the most common answer, with which people are generally happy, would appear to be "as cardboard cutouts with the player's ego directing the action"; both for PnP RPGs *and* CRPGs/MMORPGs. The difference in "depth and quality" of "problem solving" between the two is perhaps more obvious than the difference in "depth and quality" of "roleplaying", IMHO.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @ Irbyz: When I say, "I want to see players role-play to the extent that they feel comfortable," I mean I don't want their objectives to be supplanted and suppressed. I want them to "play hard" not soft...but perhaps I didn't use strong enough phrasing.

    And no, it's not the "universe rewarding them for following a particular ethical path." This is more like playing themselves gives them a greater sense of themselves, hence fueling their own inner drive and affirming to themselves that they are who they think they are.

    "Universal karma" is a different (and present) aspect of the game system. Jeez, dude.
    ; )

    @ TS: You're welcome...and thank you for your comments!
    : )

    ReplyDelete
  8. Heh... where did "ethics" come from, JB? I thought we talking 'bout "roleplaying". :p
    (Or rather, tangible rewards for "good roleplaying" (by our definition)).

    ReplyDelete
  9. @ Irbyz:

    As I said, man...two completely different "reward" systems: "role-playing" is not tied to "universal law."

    ReplyDelete
  10. *nods* Never said it was, either. :)

    Attempting to approximate a "roleplay" a relatively "natural path" for the player's character /if/ they actually had "free will" within the gameworld (rather than focusing more on the RL problem solving and metagaming abilities of the players) certainly does not require invocation of "universal law".

    ReplyDelete