Monday, January 20, 2014


An excerpt from the book, How to Run: An Advanced Guide to Managing Role-playing Games, 2nd Draft.

"At the outset, the fundamentals of the role-playing game seem fairly obvious. The DM conveys information to the party about the setting and the things that are encountered, and the party responds to those things by declaring their actions. A degree of excitement is obtained through combat or discourse with those wishing to coerce the party, this being the essential conflict. Finally, the DM provides compensation to the characters for success with wealth, power upgrades or status.

"Much of the principle information to be given seems related to mechanics and dimensions—how large is the room, how wide is the setting, how powerful are the enemies, how much distance separates the party from said enemies and so on. Many of the rules, particularly the combat rules, exist in order to supply bearings, giving the players perspective that enables them to make judgements so that they can move or react within the space of the system.

"It soon becomes plain that there is a difficulty in the potential repetitiveness of the game, which must be overcome. The players cannot only encounter the same enemies over and over again, nor compete for the same materials endlessly. Coin becomes meaningless as everything that can be used against conflicts is soon acquired. The meaning of compensation in the campaign diminishes.

"To provide a solution, games propose a multiplicity of opponents, each with different combative skills or abilities, on the range from easily removed to those enemies who potentially may never be removed. In order to deal with or defeat these enemies, the party is adjusts their strategies accordingly. Much of the game embraces the identification of what is being faced, so that the correct response can be put in place, and quickly. Added to this are adjustments for the setting, which becomes a dangerous, non-sentient opponent.

"In addition, the characters are given upgrades, allowing them a greater versatility in strategy. First, these upgrades are presented as a series of posts that must be passed in order to improve, but this is later adjusted so the upgrades themselves can be chosen according to the proclivity of the player. The game’s strategy is increased in structure so that the correct upgrades must be chosen in the right combinations in order to produce the widest possible range of responses when met with a threat. Finally, other upgrades, in the form of tools, are incorporated, to allow everyone the potential for improving their strengths or options, and as a meaningful contribution to those things that are provided when success occurs. Coin becomes a means of purchasing upgrades, allowing even greater player flexibility in tactics.

"Handling the complexity of these variables, as well as providing a narrative structure that rationally and effectively draws the instances of confrontation into a comprehensive whole, would seem to be the definition of good role-playing game management. The DM must be a front for a considerable number of antagonists, detractors, long-term adversaries and assorted critters, demanding a strong grasp of the rules and the ability to hold authority at table. It would seem, in order to reach this degree of virtuosity, that one must be a very good DM.

"However, once again, the difficulty in producing a well-mastered game asserts itself. Despite the apparent advantages of diversity provided by long lists of upgrades, tools and opponents, the system—whatever system it might be—asserts itself as a homogenizing influence. Over time, the the tactics sort themselves out in importance, so that the most useful become universal to all the players. The distinction between enemies diminishes, as—in truth—contrasts between designed enemy cultures or attack styles prove to be cosmetic rather than intrinsic. Once the players have experienced a fair selection of the existing repertoire, the game is again reduced to the weary process of overcoming the enemy in order to collect compensation.

"A possible solution would seem to imply intensifying the quality of the narration, in lieu of further modifications to conflict resolution. The difficulty lies in the method of creating a complex, intensive narration to which the party will willingly adhere without coercion. While the DM may be very creative in the development of complicated story lines that swing out in novel, profound directions, until they culminate into a singular resolution intended to produce a resounding crash of triumph at its end, this is a difficult presentation to carry forward into the game unless the players are somehow given the power to know what part they will play in this elaboration, and how best to play it. On some level, of course, it is possible to enable the protagonists to possess a strong hint as to the entire framework, but then we have merely imposed the three-act structure once again onto the players, reducing the immersive qualities of the game. The actor upon the stage, aware of the play, may appear to be angry or distressed, but this does not describe the true emotional presence of the actor during the performance—which is, it must be understood, that of a crafter producing a craft. Crafting is an excellent past time, and certainly both engrossing and fulfilling, but it is not role-play in the sense of playing a game."

Then I go on to chatter about nuance and things. Further context withheld.


Dave said...

I suppose the issue is context, but it seems this text is abstracted to the point that it may not be helpful. If the target reader is already a longtime dungeon master, or if preceding text provides some background about the forms various rulesets take to solve these problems, this is probably not a issue...

Alexis Smolensk said...

It is to some degree a context issue, Dave, but it's also clear you're reading it too fast.

At each point, the key word is "SEEM" ... That which is given seems ... Handling complexity would seem ... A possible solution would seem and so on.

What looks like the answer in not necessarily the answer; but so long as it LOOKS like the answer, many people willing to embrace it anyway, only to leave them wondering why their game just flattens from session to session, and year to year ...

Dave said...

LOL... hence, your title. Guess I spend too much time proofing govt documents. Never any subtleties there. It appears I'm out of practice for real writing.

kimbo said...

very interesting here how you describe an evolutionary process in the DM - Player interraction over time (months and years). This a a very long term perspective. The solutions for early problems (player motivation) are the seeds of discontent later on, inflationary effects, and the attempts to keep the game interesting in this way are perhaps doomed in the long term.

It ties in with what you have written in other posts about the pursuit of novelty: people trying many different new game systems and settings, genres and play methods, gimmicks etc anything to recapture player interest. To find The One Solution.

Your "Seems" implies a better way exists that sidesteps this standard evolutionary DM process.

Looking forward to reading it.

Scarbrow said...

These few paragraphs seem to be to be just what a novice DM would need to dramatically improve her concept and execution of her craft.

Seemingly :)

I love how you weave suggestion upon suggestion, never once saying "this is how you do it". Keep it coming!