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Steve D [userpic]

Following on from the last post...

March 25th, 2008 (06:58 pm)

Something that was touched on in the last post is that the hobby of Roleplaying contains more than just the activity of Roleplaying, which may in fact not involve any roleplaying.

To clarify: 

John Wick finally realised in his recent blog entry about D&D 4E (http://wickedthought.livejournal.com/)  that not all roleplaying involves roleplaying.  Some of it is not far from Talisman-with-talking.  Some of it is only that kind of thing.  I made this point before in 2000 here: http://ptgptb.org/0012/terms.html  The hobby of roleplaying contains everything from skirmish wargaming to experimental theatre.

But there's an even more expansive definition, because that's the ACTIVE definition.  That's the definition of "what people do when sitting around the table attempting to play an RPG".  Although that also includes talking shit and making Python jokes.

But there are other parts of the roleplaying hobby.  Things like making up lots of characters, and writing their backstories and drawing pictures.  There's also posting about RPGs on forums.  And most importantly, of course, reading games.  

So here's a really useful and practical definition of what roleplaying is: it's EVERYTHING that people do that is associated with and surrounds and encourages buying and owning products which are labelled as RPGs.  Of course, that leaves us with an undefinied concept of "things which we call RPGs", but we'll leave that for now.

The point I'm desperately trying to make is that from a marketting point of view (which for me is the most important one), it's vital we be inclusive about what RPGs are used for.  Because the market is who defines that.  If more people who buy RPGs read them rather than play them then that is absolutely what RPGs must cater to.  Indeed, if more people who buy RPGs use them as doorstops rather than play them then RPGs better damn well come out with Unique Improved Door-Stopping Power and Adjustable Door-Catching Covers.  

Of course, the big games out there already know this.  White Wolf realised long ago that people want beautiful coffee-table books to look at when not gaming, and they succeeded because of it.  D&D is a bit like a CCG: part of the game is deck-building, or rather character building, to produce the toughest deck/character.  It's nice that the comparison to CCG design has already been mentioned re 4E.  It's also reassuring that 4E is focussing intensively on What Players Actually Do too, rather than trying to design from any other perspective.  

In short: customer focussed design is the most vital skill a game company can possess, along with good marketting.  And RPGs are whatever our market wants them to be - whatever sells the most copies.  And the more companies that think this way, the more likely we are to get more D&Ds and WoDs.

That perhaps, could be dubbed the Steve D Theory of Game Design: The Best Game Design is the Design that Sells the Most Copies.

Now let's hope I become notorious for that...


Posted by: Adrian Forest (dalziel_86)
Posted at: March 25th, 2008 09:47 am (UTC)

With this expanded definition, if you include tabletop RPGs played over OpenRPG or similar conferencing software, then the distinction between tabletop RPGs and MMOs disappears entirely.

Posted by: ash1977law (ash1977law)
Posted at: March 25th, 2008 12:12 pm (UTC)

Not entirely. Once you can use OpenRPG to share doritos with friends and throw dice at their heads then you can say that there is no distinction - but right now they are as far apart as novels are from films - completely different media entirely, which is what Steve is saying. OpenRPG and similar are useful for the on-the-table aspects of RPGs but there is so much more to RPGs than the on-the-table aspects - the around-the-table aspects are equally if not more important.

Posted by: ash1977law (ash1977law)
Posted at: March 25th, 2008 12:05 pm (UTC)

I am interested in yuor views and wish to subscribe to your newsletter

Posted by: ash1977law (ash1977law)
Posted at: March 25th, 2008 12:06 pm (UTC)

Your, not yuor. Damn post-larp tiredness.

Posted by: joedizzy (joedizzy)
Posted at: March 25th, 2008 12:32 pm (UTC)

If I understand you correctly, you're saying people know what they like and designers should listen to them. I think this is one of the little lies, gamers like to tell themselves: "I know what's fun for me. And by extension I can rule out what's not fun for me." I don't think that's true, or at least that simple.

It goes without saying of course, that when I sit down to play a game I'm the only authority when it comes to saying if I'm having fun or not. But that does not grant me any prophetic powers as to whether I will enjoy something radically different. I might make an educated guess, but even that is far from reliable.

That's why I think, that the biggest asset for a game company will be a willingness to experiment with what an RPG delivers, as opposed to fine-tuning what it already does. The next big thing - and I'm not talking about RPG.net darlings - will probably kick off a fundamental change in what to expect from RPGs. Much like Gygax and Arneson introduced fantastical elements and continuity (and by extension something resembling a story) to miniature wargaming, changing our understanding of what kind of fun can be had with those. It might be a push toward single player RPGs, although I hope not. One of the defining features of pen&paper RPGs has always been the social aspect of it. But who knows... maybe there's untapped fun hidden there, too.

Posted by: Steve D (d_fuses)
Posted at: March 29th, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)

Blue sky thinking can come from designers working in isolation. But anything that doesn't work on a customer basis at some point is doomed, and blue sky thinking can, and indeed often does come from the latter.

Posted by: Jerome Comeau (heronymus_waat)
Posted at: March 25th, 2008 03:59 pm (UTC)

I am totally going to start using the SteveD Law of Game Design in conversations.

Posted by: Femme and Proud (iceberg3k)
Posted at: March 25th, 2008 07:49 pm (UTC)

I don't much care for John Wick's definition. It feels like... well to be honest it IS... crafted to include "Deep" roleplaying but exclude "light" roleplaying. I agree with Mr. Gygax's opinion, Wick IS a wannabe community theater nerd. And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you're honest about it. Any definition of roleplaying that excludes "I waste it with my crossbow!" is IMO completely wrong.

Posted by: Steve D (d_fuses)
Posted at: March 29th, 2008 05:29 pm (UTC)

Agreed. But so is any definition that excludes "wannabe community theatre".

Although I dread the concept of wannabe community theatre. Community theatre is such a low bar already...

Posted by: KingLeonard (kingleonard)
Posted at: March 26th, 2008 05:54 am (UTC)

One of the things I notice with interest is that it's the "Steve D Theory of Game Design", not RPG design. And while in its current form it could be oversimplified as too populist, it begs the question "exactly where does RPG end and other games begin?" Moreover, is there a point making such a distinction?

A look at the emerging ARG world can find aspects almost indistinguishable from what we would call roleplaying, but heaven help you should mention this on an ARG forum or blog (they get a bit funny about being tainted with geek germs - the irony). Similarly, a mobile phone computer game that overlays a narrative and characterisation over a basic "line up three objects of the same shape" game starts to provoke similar questions of what's roleplaying as well. What's chess but a simulation of Persian military battles?

I think one of the best things RPGs can do for themselves is, as has been mentioned here already, to step outside what is a self-imposed structure and think of themselves as part of the larger world of games, whether that's cutting edge MMORPGs, the new world of ARGs, traditional RPGs, or even stuff you'd find in Hoyles. You can be damn sure that's how the wider non-RPG community views them.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: March 28th, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC)

What types of WFRP sourcebooks should FFG do, according to the SteveD Theory of Game Design?


Posted by: Steve D (d_fuses)
Posted at: March 29th, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)

That's trumped by the Steve D Theory of Game Management, which says that the best company strategy is the one which employs me the most.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: March 29th, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC)

Supposing hypothetically that both theories operated on the same principle? ;-) I'm genuinely curious about what sort of business plan you believe would maximise profits on WFRP, objectively speaking.

Dark Heresy will clearly sell no matter what, due to 40K's greater popularity and newness. But WFRP seems harder to milk for new, commercially viable supplements, unless the main audience really *is* made up of Warhammer setting junkies who read more than they play, and who'll drop $50 on a sourcebook to learn the hidden truth behind Goblinoid reproduction. :)


Posted by: erik_boielle (erik_boielle)
Posted at: March 30th, 2008 02:30 am (UTC)

D20/DnD4e compatable Complete Trollslayers handbooks.

Posted by: Steve D (d_fuses)
Posted at: March 30th, 2008 06:56 am (UTC)

I think there is a very large chunk of WFRP's audience that is, as you say, setting junikes. That's who we're writing the Estalia sourcebook for, after all.

I don't pretend to KNOW what makes the most money, of course. I'm just advocating that design considerations which ignore commercial realities are inherently flawed and incomplete.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: March 30th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)

There definitely seems to be a large portion of WFRP buyers who are setting junkies, judging by online fandom. I don't know if we're representative of the broader RPG customer base, though.

Skaven, Chaos and Undead were great choices for supplements, because those races intersect with humanity on so many levels.

The thing about niche supplements is the sometimes tenuous roleplaying value of Warhammer setting material. For example, while you'll get some crossover interest from the WFB/fiction crowd, there are many hardcore WFRP fans who have little interest in Greenskins for gaming purposes. Even if the Greenskin book was awesome and provided lots of useable game material, many people wouldn't spend $50 on it. Ditto for Ulthuan, Naggaroth, Lustria etc. Tilea/Estalia is really the only niche region book left that'll appeal on a wide scale, IMO.

My inner, myopic fanboy wants to see every square mile of the WH world developed in official suppplements someday, but I wonder if that's realistic.

Anyway, enough ramblings from me, this is your blog. :)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: March 30th, 2008 04:42 pm (UTC)

Oops, that was me.


Posted by: Steve D (d_fuses)
Posted at: March 30th, 2008 04:55 pm (UTC)

Good points, but I must argue two points:

- I don't have figures, but would a greenskin book really be unpopular?

- if the popularity of the skaven and undead books stems from their intersection with humanity, how does that not apply to orcs? The Empire is fundamentally defined by orc enemies. That's why it exists and why it has never fallen apart completely. Historically, they are as central to life in the Empire as commies are to the US.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: March 30th, 2008 05:23 pm (UTC)

I don't think a Greenskin book would be 'unpopopular' per se, but probably not as popular as Skaven, Chaos or Undead.

While Skaven, Chaos and Undead can weave through human society, corrupting and subverting it, Greenskins are like a punch in the nose - pretty much instant combat with no mystery or intrigue. And mystery and intrigue are considered essential parts of the 'WFRP experience' to a large portion of fans, I think.

To make it work, I think you'd have to focus on Greenskins as a playable race.


Posted by: Steve D (d_fuses)
Posted at: March 30th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC)

While I think it's important to acknowledge and respect the WFRP fan base, some of their ideas about what WFRP must be are limiting, and appeasing them is simply not good business, or even good for the game. I'm willing to bet that a lot of WFRP fans out there enjoy a good orc-crushing, and the hard-core fans who wouldn't like it will probably buy the book anyway.

Not to say that the hardcore fans can't also overlap with the people who enjoy orc-bashing. I fit in both groups.

Nor are orcs just about bashing. The society and stories formed by facing an enemy so completely alien - an enemy for whom words like "accetpable losses", "surrender" and "retreat" are nonsensical - this is the stuff of drama and indeed, intrigue (not to mention political satire). One of the ideas that got cut from NDM was an adventure outline based on PCs trying to ensure that a Strigoi general and an orc tribe never stopped killing each other long enough to be a threat to the Empire. We've got plenty of intrigue here.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: March 30th, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC)

Well, you could be right. I don't think there's anything wrong with a good orc-massacre; Doomstones even demonstrated that you can build entire campaigns around the Greenskins. However, enemies like Skaven allow for mystery, intrigue AND combat, whereas Orcs are pretty much focused on the latter. It's hard work making an Orc-based campaign with mystery and intrigue that doesn't feel forced.

Orcs are probably the next best 'enemy book' to make though, given the other options. And people who buy the books for reading moreso than playing would still buy it.


Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: March 31st, 2008 02:37 pm (UTC)

I've arrived at the conclusion - after hearing your points and having a debate with one of my collaborators yesterday - that a Greenskin book would in fact be very useful if done right. This might involve taking a creative look at combat with Greenskins (ambush techniques, Waargh logistics, camp & fort layouts, magic etc.), rather than trying to shoehorn a bunch of touchy-feely Orc culture fluff that'll rarely see actual play.

FFG could probably wrap Badlands and Darklands regional information into the same book.


Posted by: erik_boielle (erik_boielle)
Posted at: March 29th, 2008 03:09 am (UTC)


+++++Anyhow, I thought it would be sort of a lark to jump into one of the Dungeons & Dragons games that some of the less-awakened gamers were running. They had pregenerated characters, which I didn’t mind—I do so enjoy a challenge! I made sure to ask a lot of questions about my character’s background, motivation—I don’t think Greg the DM was used to such an outstanding, thoughtful gamer, because after about a half hour, he waved his hand and said, “Dude, your relative introspection level or whatever is whatever you want it to be. Or an 18. Let’s just start gaming”.

So, anyhow, we set off—I was the party’s dwarf fighter, and there was an elven cleric, a human ranger, and a gnome wizard, too, if I recall. Our party’s quest involved retrieving some rubies from a crypt under this large metropolis—lame, huh? I asked why he didn’t just include a big red dragon while he was at it lol! No one else said anything, but I think they were on my side.

We get into the bottom of the crypt, and the GM starts to describe the room we’re in. Once he paused, I started adding details, too, like a large acid pit in the middle of the room and shredded purple curtains on the wall and a large glowing battleaxe stuck in a giant dragon skull. The GM stopped the game and said, “What the hell are you doing, dude?”

I rolled my eyes at the poor schlub. “It’s called shared narrative control, and it helps build better stories!”

“Well stop it,” is all he said.

So after that, a large Ogre burst through the door and starts tearing apart our party. The cleric wanted to try a spell she’d been saving, but I had a better plan. “I take out my alchemy set and mix up a batch of Ogre Poison, put it in a flask, and throw it at him!”

The GM said, “What the hell? A) You’d didn’t take ANY of the skills or equipment to be able to do that, and B) it isn’t your turn!”

Exasperated at this 20-year veteran ignaramus, I said, “Who cares about skills? I’m adding it in to make the story better, or are you not aware of the Professor’s exhaustive papers on the matter? And don’t tell me you’re still using initiative! What are you people, 13?” (As it turns out, one of them was).

Well, that pretty much ended the game right there. Tim came over and suggested that I find a group more ready to receive advanced gaming theory. He suggested The Gamertopia on East 14th Street. I guess I’ll have to check it out.

I bet they didn’t get anywhere without my Ogre Poison.+++++

Posted by: erik_boielle (erik_boielle)
Posted at: March 29th, 2008 03:10 am (UTC)


+++++One of my adventures in the RPGA involved a first level thief. He was the son of a tavern keeper who had gambled himself into deep debt. My character learned how to be a theif because he was the bruiser at the tavern. He knew how to pick pockets because he had to look out for it. He knew how to hide in shadows to keep himself out of sight. And he knew how to backstab because he needed to move quietly up to a troublemaker and hit him hard enough to knock him out without starting a fight. That's my thief.

(I should note that the game itself demands I do none of this. There is no rule or mechanic that requires it and there is no rule nor mechanic that rewards me for it.)

I went on the adventure with my little thief. As we walked, I chatted with the other characters. I was chatty. They chastised me for slowing down the adventure. Not my character, but me. They chastised me for roleplaying. Obviously, I was playing the wrong game.

We killed some kobold bandits, gathered some treasure. The other players were not playing as a group well (despite my suggestions) and argued and bickered the whole time.

Meanwhile, I stole as much of it as I could. When I found something in private, I kept it. I was going to save my father's tavern and it didn't matter who stood in my way. Again, acting in character but against the group goal of sharing the treasure. As far as Tav saw it (his name was Tav), these people hired him to do a job. They were rude to him and did not go out of their way to protect him.

At the end of the adventure, I had a large chunk of silver, gold and treasure. I even got a +1 short sword. The fighter didn't want it. And when the adventure was done, I said, "I retire!"

They all looked at me with disbelief. I reminded them that the only reason I did this was to save my father's tavern. I got a bunch of gold and a magic sword worth thousands of gold pieces. I was set for life. A peasant sees 1 gold piece per year and I got a few thousand. I was done. I filled my role.+++++

Posted by: jiawen (jiawen)
Posted at: April 16th, 2008 07:33 am (UTC)

Late addition: This reminds me of Damon Knight's definition of science fiction: "...[Science Fiction] means what we point to when we say it."

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