Sunday, January 29, 2006

Rules and background stories

Two treads on RPGnet have made me realize some important stuff about roleplaying.

- Maybe the main difference in how Forge-style games are designed and how I want to use rules is when the rules are used. Forge often makes a point in having rules for the things that matters most in the game, and makes sure that you use these rules. I personally mostly want to use the rules for unimportant stuff, when they help me get on with the roleplaying. Instead of playing out a long scene where the outcome is not crucial, I let the player use a skill. If is is really important, I want the full experience and having the outcome depend on what the characters do or say, not the dice roll. (RPGnet tread)

- When players write a background story for their characters, it is not primarily for me as a storyteller but for themselves. Many in the RPGnet tread argues that a long background story makes the player think he has managed to explain his wishes for the game in great detail, while the GM in reality do not get the important information. That may be correct, but as long as you do not use the background story instead of actually talking to each other, that problem should not arise. I find a well developed background, mostly describing the personality, to be of great help in making the character come to life. (RPGnet tread)

(And no, I haven't read everything in those two treads. Some RPGnet discussions have an ability to go on forever. There are rarely anything important being written after the first ten pages...)

3 Comments:

Blogger Adam Dray said...

When players write tons of backstory, it's because they want their characters to do really cool things. If the rules they were using for actual play guaranteed that their play would look like the backgrounds they wrote, would they bother? That is, I think players write complicated backgrounds because they are frustrated with the deprotagonization of the game system they use, which does not produce cool stories.

Then you end up with players writing up characters with super cool backgrounds, then they get to actual play and their characters look like chumps. They whiff at their pick locks roll or roll a 1 and get slaughtered by a kobold. Their cool background was meaningless.

Regarding rolling for just boring stuff, why roll for that at all? It's just boring stuff. When it matters -- when the players are fully engaged in the outcome of the scene -- that's when you want to roll. All the other crap that happens in a game is just glue to get you from one really cool scene to the next. The less glue the game requires, the more fun it is.

That is, the rules should make the unimportant stuff more or less unnecessary. If no unimportant stuff is happening in your game (or if it's minimal), then what is left to use rules for? The important stuff. If you don't use rules to handle the important stuff, and there's not a lot of unimportant stuff happening either, you don't have any rules at all.

There's also the old argument that dumb players and socially backward players want to be able to play smart and witty and suave characters, and that requires help from the rules.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

The opinions certainly do differ, there wouldn't have been hundreds of forum post about it otherwise.

The thing is that I do not expect the rules to allow me to do cool things. Cool background do not guarantee cool play, but if you also *talk* to the GM and the other players it certainly helps. For me and my players anyway.

Unimportant is not the same as boring or unnecessary. The unimportant stuff do not become boring unless you spend to much time on it. With a short description and a roll you can get a quick estimate of a fully played out scene.

"If you don't use rules to handle the important stuff, and there's not a lot of unimportant stuff happening either, you don't have any rules at all."

True, and I do aim for more or less ruleless play. But now and then a dice roll can help getting the game moving when it would otherwise have dragged on into boringness. Some types of games I play completely without rules, in other cases I like to use them as long as they do not get in the way. (And yes, I find forge style rules getting in the way even more.)

"There's also the old argument that dumb players and socially backward players want to be able to play smart and witty and suave characters, and that requires help from the rules."

I have to admit that I also use rules in that manner. But the effect of the roll is only used as a modifier on how good the play of the character needs to bee. As long as it is an important scene, that is.

11:16 PM  
Blogger Jonas Barkå said...

I do appreciate your comments, even if you do not agree on anything i write :)

11:20 PM  

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