Thursday, 26 July 2018

OSR Witchfinder

DO NOT TALK THEORY TO ME, I AM THE WITCHFINDER

WHOEVER FIRST SPEAKETH IN THE FORKED WORDS OF GAME THEORY - THEY SHALL BE BURNT

Seriously, please comment and please comment with actual comprehensible situations describes in natural language and without use of game theory jargon. Brendan, you can say 'orthogonal' once, because I know you need that.

And me calling myself a Witchfinder is me being ironic and edgy, the fact that I have to explicitly say this is slowly killing me inside. Please do not actually witch-hunt anyone.


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Scrap ran this thread about assumed OSR game elements and that, along with Ben Miltons discussion of the new 40k game a bunch of other things, made me start, or continue, to think about Storygames and what they are.

Everyone has a good idea about what storygames are and none of those ideas are the same ideas.

So here are my thoughts. If you add your thoughts then we can start to agree about what we disagree about.

(Clearly, as I read back through this, I am describing a pattern of thought and a culture that goes way beyond just 'story games' and also clearly I can't defend most of this on rational grounds. This is not me making an argument that all of these things are story gaming but describing the idea cluster in my head that comes up in relation to that phrase.)



NARRATIVE CONTROL

If it has has narrative control elements where, to paraphrase Zedeck, 'you play as a screenwriter writing your character, instead of as your character', then that's a story game.

In D&D my OSR witch-finder brain will allow this only through occasional magical effects, only in an alienating and slightly upsetting fashion and only in an irregular and unpredictable way.

Anything where this kind of thing is regularised is storygamey to me.

Apocalypse World, in my mind, must absolutely be a storygame, and if it is, then is seems impossible that anything drawn from its engine might not be.



IT TELLS YOU

If a game outright says that a *primary* purpose is to produce a story then that increases the storygameness.

However, a lot of modern D&D language, especially post critical-roll (role?), is about adventures as a 'story' and that the purpose is 'storytelling'. But under the hood it is very much the same old structure with a complex arrangement of character, challenge based, narrative and other elements all jammed together and which you can play in a variety of ways.

So perhaps the gaming 'culture' is storygamy but the actual system, and much of the play, is not.

I would say self-declared statements in the game text about being a story-generation machine are not themselves enough.



CHARACTER BASED

You begin the game caring a lot about your character in a very particular way. Identification is immediate, or quick. They are special now. They have a role and a meaning in the 'story'.

Their emotions matter directly now and very often their emotions are directly mirrored or described or measured in the ruleset.



PERSON TO PERSON

They tend to be good at, and focused on, modelling complex person-to-person interactions. More so than modelling peson-to-space or person-to-world reactions.

If a game has a large cast of PC's largely interacting with each other more than with the world around them and if it has rules governing those interactions, then I am likely to think 'storygame'.



LAW OVER CHAOS

The players have to be protected from power abuses and that protection must come though explicit rules that make it almost impossible for the GM to be 'abusive' (however the designer defines that) if they are running by the written rules.

The benefits from strong protective rules are considered much more imporant than the possible benefits of unpredictable, and potentially unproductive chaos.

This can be extended into the political/social realm as well. That Baker-influenced lego robots game has, I think, a bit that explicitly tells you not to play if you are Fascist. Since everything is political, and since Fascists might like the game, then failing to explicitly tell them not to play is the same as writing a potentially Fascist game.



PLAY & DESIGN CULTURE IS CENTRE-LEFT TO FAR-LEFT

So far as I know there is absolutely no-one associated with storygames in any way who could be described as 'conservative' or right wing in their political leanings.

Conversely the OSR has a wide range from lefty nutters to right-wing whackjobs to whatever the fuck Pundit is.

So this entirely left/liberal and usually metropolitan play culture is something else I associate with something being 'storygamy'.



CHALLENGE

'Because I want you to feel successful'

You might not be able to absolutely win, but you can lose. You can die. You be unable to solve a problem. Not every problem exists 'to be solved. If you fail to solve something then the world doesn't necessarily push back, morph to provide another option or to provoke a response.

All of these are strong suggestions to me of 'not a storygame'.

Storygames to me are anxious that nothing too bad can happen to your character or you. [EDIT - see comments below & on G+ for view on how storygames actually really like some 'bad' things.] Challenges will almost always be solvable or something you can go around. You will be given many chances.



BENDY WORLDS

I imagine OSR-iy games to minimise the extent to which things are moved around 'behind the scenes' and, though they both use complex and somewhat flowing world-generation techniques, I think of storygames and being bent *towards* a flowing or shifting world behind the scenes more than OSR-ish games.



SOMEHOW ASSOCIATED WITH THE FORGE

I barely ever got through a thread on there because it was written in Crazy but something being from the Forge, or a designer being from there or someone referencing the Forge, always makes me think of storygameishness.



AGREEABLENESS

So, from Wikipedia; "Agreeableness is a personality trait manifesting itself in individual behavioural characteristics that are perceived as kind, sympathetic, cooperative, warm and considerate."

......

"The lower level traits, or facets, grouped under agreeableness are: trust, strightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness."

To me this fits almost exactly the personality type I personally most associate with the cluster of ideas around 'Storygames'. Except for trust, because they seem to prefer strong rules to interpersonal power arrangements, and for strightforwardness, because they tend to back away from and skirt around arguments.

So when I meet people like this, I think 'storygames', and when I think 'storygames', I imagine people like this.

And this personality cluster is very different from the people I tend to be drawn towards, get along with and who's work I am interested in, who very often are difficult, spiky, awkward, disagreeable, antisocial, strange and very straightforward with it.

47 comments:

  1. "storygames to me are anxious that nothing too bad can happen to your character or you. "

    There's numerous games where the game is about/allows/encourages bad things (including death) happening to your character, sometimes inexorably so.

    It's always meant to be in a way that's appropriate for
    the narrative and genre however and that I think is major split.

    As one of the top complaints about trad d&d is "my character just fucking died for no reason" and it's often what is prompted about non-trad games.

    Which is completely fair and understandable and something that worries me when anyone talks about d&d being about "story creation", as a popular belief/preference is that arbitrary protagonist death makes a bad story.


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    1. I agree with your thoughts on the nature of 'unpleasant' content. I find that overall storygames tend to always take a "yes...and" approach from improvisational comedy. Where even if dark or unpleasant stuff happens to your character or in the game, you're supposed to accept the scenario and contribute to it and let the next person contribute to it and overall be non-judgmental towards ideas.

      I find in this manner everything in story games becomes 'meaningful'. If a character dies it becomes part of some grand character arc. If unpleasant things happens it becomes about righting the wrong, fighting the evil.

      I find OSR games are more about simulation of a setting or world so there is no "yes...and". Where there are simply some actions or things that the players cannot do or achieve. Full stop. Not because the GM is being unfair or actively trying to limit them, but because the characters are living in a simulated world that has it's own internal set of rules. Additionally because of this the players might die or suffer with very little meaning attached to their deaths or actions.

      I feel like the preference of storygames vs OSR comes down to what kind of stories you enjoy in general in film, literature, etc. If you like stories that tend to be provide a sense of obvious meaning you'll probably enjoy storygames. If you like ones where meaning isn't always apparent, or obvious, or even there at all, then you'll probably like OSR games.

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    2. I'm gonna quote myself because I was recently thinking about it, trying to make my design philosophy and decision-making as transparent to my players as possible:

      "There is no plot in the sense that no encounters are planned to take place in a given order (or at all, sometimes). The events of a session will naturally form a narrative, in the sense that each day or lifetime of a person forms a narrative. Some of it makes sense immediately, some of it never will. Some of it would make a good movie, while some will be a chaotic mess. Importance is not inherent but recognised either retroactively or spontaneously."

      This is one of the areas in which most storygames deviate noticeably from traditional games.

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    3. I globally agree with what is said. I feel there is a matter of "resistance" vs "collaboration" here - what I like in regular games and OSR is the fact that I must fight against something (possibly even the DM, on some level of course, in the sense that they will resist and force me to be imaginative or lucky or something else) ; the universe feel more real because of that, which is something considering the fact that it's only based on words and imagination.

      Whereas storygames are based on the collaboration between all participants. Which seems a wonderful thing, except that I've sometimes the impression that it makes events and successes too easy, and failures tasteless (bad things can happen because we've decided it would be interesting, or because there was a 50% chance -whatever my PC might have done to change the situation - but it's ok, it will be meaningful thanks to the system. In AW, you have globally the same chances against all ennemies, until the DM decides it's just impossible. It's kind of a on/off deal.

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    4. So I'm currently running Keep on the Borderlands as a first time DM, and I've been encouraging my players (some of whom are first time players, some of whom are familiar with contemporary DnD) to think of the gameplay as the kind of story where a certain amount of character death is a narrative necessity—something like a horror movie, or the intro to an episode of Buffy or the X-files or something like that.

      I have a lingering feeling that this isn't quite adequate though.

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  2. Infact I can think of more games that have bad shit happening to your character regardless of your wishes. Like Velvet Glove, Night Witches, Dog Eat Dog (unless you are the colonists) , Psyrun, Grey Ranks, infact the core Apocalypse World is constantly making bad things happen to the character.
    However yeah the bad things escalate before death (to generalize) allowing it to be narratively appropriate etc

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    1. Ya, "bad" is kind of subjective, but I think it's a matter of "does this serve the narrative / the character's narrative arc; is it the type of thing that would happen to this character in a story" vs. "does this feel like dying/getting stuck in a videogame", or at least that's how I think of it.

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  3. Some of these things seem to be more about incidental/coincidental things that aren't about story-gaming per se but about the people who happen to play them, without necessarily trying to explain how or why that's the case. I think you're already aware of that, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. I guess it's a matter of whether you're trying to explain the type of game per se, or explain features associated with it, which may ultimately be more useful or relevant anyway.

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  4. ..should put these all in one comment but I keep thinking of additions.
    To refute this again "storygames to me are anxious that nothing too bad can happen to your character or you. "

    The implication here that story games are generally nicer and safer, when a lot of them seem to be deliberate wanting to create/explore dark, uncomfortable or unpleasant content.

    Infact I often find myself disinclined to play or play again them because of how they do this.

    If my character in trad d&d gets eaten by dogs trying to steal a bone it feels fair. It's the world doing it , not another player.

    However when briefly playing Apocalypse World , the g.m making hard situations happen to the character felt more adversarial and "unfair" .

    Paradoxically the system and the g.m felt like they were out to get me!

    It's also possibly because of a stated aim of a lot of these games is to have an emotional resonance with what is happening in play. As , like in a lot of student performance art, the easiest emotions to trigger are negative ones that seems to be a go to for games.

    (not to say people don't enjoy that)

    However because I can "feel" the mechanics and another player trying to provoke me in this way , I find it unpleasant

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    1. I find this point of view very interesting, since it is the complete opposite of what I'm used to read about storygames - basically, they are the places where you expect to see tons of rules to make sure everyone is ok, X cards, veils, and stuff.

      Plus, each time they joke about classical rpgs, people that are into storygames talk about the overpowering DM that no rule can constrain, and who is trying to manipulate their audience to make them feel what they want them to fee.

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    2. The idea is that storygames should allow players and GMs equal control over the bad things that happen to their characters.

      In D&D, you have random moments like "failed a save, now you're dead", or you have "killer dungeons" like the Tomb of Horrors where, in order to win, you basically have to be able to read the GM's mind. (This is an exaggeration, but not a huge one.) In either case, character death is out of the control of the player.

      By giving players narrative control, storygames let the players choose what bad things happen to their characters in concert with the GM. So the group of players might collectively decide that one of their members should have some tragic sendoff death or whatever.

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  5. I'm not saying this to be a dick, but you spelled "fascist" wrong.

    Other than that, it's a good blog post. It's probably more relevant to game designers than GMs or players. I forget who wrote this originally, but "the game isn't what happens in the book, the game is what happens at the table".

    I think of storytelling/OSR as a spectrum, with most people in the middle. Every GM and player projects their own preferences into the game as it happens, and the common language that emerges is organic. As a GM, I'm always making adjustments to optimize the experience for all the players.

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  6. I still think that the sentence 'Because I want you to feel successful' is probably contextual to the game session being a demo or a playtest.

    And maybe relevant also to the power level of the characters if they were inquisitors and space marines or other powerful characters of the WH40K setting. Maybe the game aimed toward something more heroic than gritty misery crawl. So it was maybe a question of genre emulation (If we consider the more heroic aspect of WH40K vs it more miserable aspects).

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    1. We will have to see when the game comes out.

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  7. One defining feature of many story games which runs contrasty to how I like my games, is the ones which have a built in story arch. You see games which exclaim that, ' This game will come to a dramatic climax between PC1 and NPC2' If the specific conflict is pre-chosen, doesn't that remove a lot of the excitement inherent in playing RPGs?

    I would also like to say that I don't see RPGs as a spectrum from OSR-to-storygame. Both branches grew out of a resistance to the dominance of 3rd Ed D&D and the d20 system which for five years was bolted on to every new game. This has left some common ground between them, for example Apocalypse World's core conceit, "Play to see what happens" which is just as important in every OSR game I know.

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    1. As an example of a game that could be considered on a spectrum between these two poles, there's Blades in the Dark. Which while first and foremost being a storygame that emulates heists and criminal stories also has elements that are similar to OSR play. Well, there are deliberately placed points of interpretation in the game that allow you to play it in a fairly OSRy fashion. The longer I write this, the less I'm convinced of this point.

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    2. The Blade in the Dark SRD is interesting to assess some of the differences:

      "* Which actions are reasonable as a solution to a problem? Can this person be swayed? Must we get out the tools and tinker with this old rusty lock, or could it also be quietly finessed? The players have final say.
      * How dangerous and how effective is a given action in this circumstance? How risky is this? Can this person be swayed very little or a whole lot? The GM has final say.
      * Which consequences are inflicted to manifest the dangers in a given circumstance? Does this fall from the roof break your leg? Do the constables merely become suspicious or do they already have you trapped? The GM has final say.
      * Does this situation call for a dice roll, and which one? Is your character in position to make an action roll or must they first make a resistance roll to gain initiative? The GM has final say.
      * Which events in the story match the experience triggers for character and crew advancement? Did you express your character’s beliefs, drives, heritage, or background? You tell us. The players have final say."

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    3. Yeah, that's a pretty good summary.

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    4. Having played Blades in the Dark for a number of sessions (and about 25 total hours) my opinion on it has gradually shifted from viewing it as a true intermediary between storygaming and OSR and more of a slight divergence from storygaming.

      Others have covered some of their main issues with storygames elsewhere in the thread, and I feel that a few of these, which are directly in opposition to OSR, hold true for Blades. Mainly 2 things.

      1. From Scrap's post above, the resolution system has the same adversarial tone as most storygames. You were doing the thing, you failed, even though you initiated the thing something bad happens to you as a result of failing. There's may be no initiative on the part of the adversaries to harm you but instead your failure results in it, which can often feel like punishment. I feel that this goes hand in hand with Blades' primary way of dealing damage to the players, Wounds. Wounds are incredibly easy to get and the effects of minor ones can be very bad. And they're quite hard to get rid of. Overall it feels almost unfair when your one, often not that risky move results in a debilitating multi-session injury.

      2. As Mangelune said above, success can often feel too easy. If you prepare well, it's hard to fail as long as you're doing things that are mostly logical and make sense. Tie this in with the face that enemies don't really logically have any way of scaling without breaking the game rules and things get very samey very fast. You have to purposely put yourselves in risky situations to fail oftentimes. And as above, because of how lasting the consequences are, the game discourages that heavily.

      As a result the game gets samey and boring (and the progression is really slow but I digress) and even though I loved it to begin with, after some time, I honestly don't believe it's different enough from other PbtA games to make me stick with it. Maybe someone else will find that happy medium.

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    5. Interesting that you bring it up, because I think OSR games are extremely punishing, and sometimes seemingly for no particular reason, too!

      Most of the things in an adventure that you can interact with will or the very least tries to harm you as a player. And dungeon explorations, for exactly this reason, can sometimes feel sluggish, unless the players are willing to take more risks and play a little recklessly.

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  8. I agree about the agreeableness thing, but those people can also be extremely unagreeable when it comes to their out-group (e.g. Zak, "neckbeards", anybody who doesn't comform absolutely to the crushing political correctness boa constrictor they've taken on their shoulders, etc.).

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    1. Yes, its curious that neither the agreeable or the disagreeable can rule alone. With the Disagreeable you just end up with a handful of hooting alpha dogs gesturing at each other and when the agreeable are left alone they end up forming into a giant ball of consensus, even more frightened than they were before of an thoughts that come from beyond the ball.

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  9. The storygames/OSR split is dumb because people should always have just taken the best from everywhere. Unless you're doing something special with it, it's dumb to keep track of money and XP in any more detail than White Wolf games do. Detail that doesn't matter should be abstracted away. Players should be able to lose or else winning doesn't mean anything. Narrative control is gay when it amounts to an "I win" button, just like rolling Int to solve a puzzle. The problem in each case is the designers think winning is fun, when in fact what's fun is overcoming challenges.

    The storygame kru you're pointing at aren't so much agreeable as they are cowards. There's always been "mild-mannered" types who turn to vicious puritans as soon as they've got a gang to hide behind. This is why they love authority, strong social conventions and rules, because they feel themselves unable to stand on their own two feet, mostly because they're terrified of putting a foot wrong. It also gives them a clear and navigable status ladder. Many of them are hypocrites, eg. the spate of vocal male feminists who turn out to be sex pests, and we all know how much hypocrites love moralising, both to assuage their guilty consciences and to divert attention from themselves. They build these insane puritan hothouses and then set themselves on permanent witchhunt mode to maintain the vain illusion that they're not flawed, fallible human beings like the rest of us (with regard to upholding their mores at least - the broadly leftoid ones maintain a weird post-Christian resentment-driven worship of weakness and of the confession thereof, so the flaw is not in confessing but in failing to confess. Humblebragging, prolier than thou, cry-bullies, etc.). They need scapegoats so they can point at the sinful thing and say "It's not me!" It's how they vent the moral pressure their systems inevitably generate. To clarify, this is not all storygamers or people who design storygames or whatever - you know who I'm talking about.

    Anyway, anyone who aims at pleasing their clique or sticking to convention rather than producing the best work possible will tumble into mediocrity, as they always have. Thoughtless conservatism is as bad as thoughtless "experimentation", ie. Indiscipline.

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    1. Holy shit this post turned crazy fast.

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    2. I've been jokingly called a 'born again' type of OSR fan and my old/bad(?) tastes shine through since generally I quite like taking materials from decidedly non-OSR games and adapting the ideas for something well suited to slightly more sandbox-ey to very sandbox-ey.

      Partially because, when the writers don't have their heads so far up their ass they can smell their own neck, many younger RPG have either amazing settings or horrible settings with good ideas which deserve a better chance.

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  10. I think I've said this before on one of our posts, but I think that the "story games" community does not have a unified design aesthetic. I think that you're struggling a bit to point at what story games are because you're trying to define three or four overlapping design processes that share much more social space than they do design space.

    AW (and the designers who work with the space it created) largely aren't interested in making sure that you're protected from GM abuses. The MC decides many outcomes by fiat, and I've personally designed a few PbtA games that even put death on the table in a way that's inconsistent with some of the notes you listed above (Cartel & Zombie World).

    There appear to me to be four movements within the community that deserve calling out as individual clusters of games, featuring a set of designers who are broadly aligned socially:

    1) PbtA = Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts, Dungeon World

    2) Fiction & Grind = Burning Wheel, Blades in the Dark, Mouse Guard

    3) Story Games = Dog Eat Dog, Polaris, Fiasco

    4) Near-Trad = Fate. And probably some other stuff?

    These four categories aren't strict types, but I think they seem to exhibit some similarities in the way they handle the relationships between the GM/players/fiction/characters. Frex: Fiasco and Dog Eat Dog both assume that you will orient the actions of your character to the genre instead of pursuing goals in an intelligent way.

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    1. Could you tell me more about 'Fiction and Grind' and what that means?

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    2. I like these categories. They are consistent with my experience as a player and with my understanding of the people involved and the the flows of influence through their design.

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    3. Fiction and Grind fits my experience with Blades in the Dark very well.

      The progression rules-as-written in that game is painfully slow and the consequences of failure so dire that it encourages slow, safe play.

      I haven't played and Burning Wheel derivatives so maybe I'm completely off the mark for what you meant the category to be.

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    4. My experience with apoc-world systems is that they aren't actually all that story-focussed. The underlying assumptions are much closer to the OSR assumptions than people think.
      They have some ideas in common with the 'storygame' blob, and their player bases overlap, but mechanically... ehh.

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    5. I have similar experiences as Emmy. I've found that this blog post makes a good job describing where to limit player influence over the narrative: http://mightyatom.blogspot.com/2010/10/apocalypse-world-crossing-line.html

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  11. I agree with most of the ideas here. Though I tend to think of it as a little more of a continuum than on/off setting. A couple of edge cases here:


    CHARACTER BASED

    I think there can be two elements at play here which can be involved to different degrees:

    1) Your Character (!) as a key element around which a story warps itself. Implies a strongly bendy world, with your character as the fulcrum and you (sort of the unmoved mover) pulling the levers. This is strongly storygamey by my lights.

    2) Your character as someone with different abilities than you. Of course all games tend to have this to some extent. But aside from fighting and magic, OSR mindset often leans toward player ability rather than character ability for problem solving.

    That said, I don't think the mindset of, "I can't do it, but my character can," when it comes to, say, social rolls, necessarily shifts the slider way up toward the storygame end of things. It doesn't necessarily give the player out-of-character control over the situation, imbue the character's existence with greater meaning, or make them immune to casual death.


    BENDY WORLDS & NARRATIVE CONTROL

    Depending on what direction these are taken in, I can see some middle ground here as well:

    * A rare few games posit a world where the PCs do actually influence the nature of reality on a fundamental level in certain situations. In this instance, the world is bendy and player narrative control is strong, though maybe not in the 'behind the scenes' sense. This I don't really feel is storygamish, since, despite the fact that the player might be directly inserting narrative elements into the universe, they are doing it through in-setting character abilities.

    * Also, tying into the aspect of 'character abilities ≠ player abilities', there's the idea of player foresight being worse than character foresight. This is sometimes handled through spending of resource points, or rolling against skills to see if you brought the right object, called the right guy before hand, etc.

    These kinds of elements are a nod toward storygaming. But I feel that, on their own, they don't necessarily shift player focus away from the character-perspective enough to really make it a full on storygame.


    AGREEABLENESS

    I tend to agree about agreeableness as it pertains to *proponents* of storygames.

    But, anecdotally, I find a lot of players of non-storygames end up unofficially promoting these traits, at least during play. Otherwise they're often viewed as jerks and either grudgingly tolerated or not asked back.

    I know I'm not a big fan of storygames for various reasons related to problem solving and the so-called "immersion" issue; but I really like it when all the PCs in a non-storygame have reasons to avoid mutual antagonism and all the players are considerate of each others' preferences.

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    1. 'Unofficially' would seem to be the key difference between a culture propounded *as* a culture and a culture that a bunch of people that hang out together happen to exhibit, most of the time.

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    2. I think what I am trying to say is that "This is what we are about" can be, or feel, very different to "This is what we usually do".

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    3. Well put. The latest post on Goblin Punch seems relevant; it touches on player agency and informed consent in a very OSR context. http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2018/07/youre-doing-surprise-rounds-wrong.html

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    4. Having ran in the past extremely roleplay-heavy, character-based games I can safely say that as with any 'story-heavy' element it is a double edged sword. With an excellent player and an equally excellent group these characters can drive entire campaigns.

      Unfortunately their implied plot armor can more often than not make tension moot.

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  12. Actually I like considering how much of a game it is that you are playing. If the game is essentially an adversarial contest (either against other players [directly or indirectly] or against a challenge set by the gamemaster) then it is probably not a story game. This doesn't mean that stories can't develop out of it the actions, but they generally won't have a good structure. They are often tales of what the players did, rather than what their characters' did.

    Some rules [note that game and rules are two different things - you can often play may different games with the same set of rules] support this sort of play better than others. For example in the early days of D&D it was not uncommon to find people boasting of the level of their characters - a form of indirect competition between players.

    These games also tend to have settings that are player independent - they can be set up as sandboxes in which the characters will play without any reference to the characters themselves.

    On the other hand when there is a more cooperative approach (especially between player and gamemsaters) then the obstacles in the game serve a different purpose than being things that must be defeated or overcome. Instead they serve as challenges to the character and the important aspect is how they deal with that challenge, not whether they succeed or fail. [And failure is often good because it can teach us more about the character than success can, which is something a lot of self-professed story games tend to forget.] The tales they tend to create are expressly designed to be the tales of the characters.

    These games often incorporate direct feedback mechanisms that change the campaign world/setting in response to the events in the game play. In a trad game this would only happen due to the direct actions of the character.

    The matter is often complicated by the fact that many adventures are linear in nature with a distinct beginning (the players discover there is a problem) and an end (the players defeat the problem). You could consider it a story that the gamemaster wants to tell (and sometimes will insist on it). But this actually is more in line with the traditional approach. There is even an explicit win condition (they defeat the Big Bad). Even games that attempt to emulate an authorial narrative beat structure still are very traditional in this regard - the objective is still to get to the end of the planned story.

    On the other hand in a story game the adventure is much more mutable and would change according to the actions of the character within it. Only when the characters are actually "ready" would the specific denouement occur. [Although it is possible that this will never happen.]

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  13. I think this part is interesting, and don't necessarily agree: "The players have to be protected from power abuses and that protection must come though explicit rules that make it almost impossible for the GM to be 'abusive' (however the designer defines that) if they are running by the written rules."

    Many "trad" games such as D&D have many rules around how interactions should work (combat, skill checks) that explicitly protect the players from the GM, rules-wise.

    OSR has the "rulings not rules" mantra, which subverts this, but many of the games you'd define as storygames also allow the GM much of the controls. In Dungeon World, if a player tries to climb a tall cliff or succumbs to an opponent trying to slash their throat, and rolls a 6-, it could be that next they are rolling for the black gates (effectively a death save), hit points be damned. This is entirely up to the GM as far as how hard and how fast death comes, without reference to a set of codified rules.

    Many of the rules are based on "trust" at the table, which is just a sort of "rulings" that everyone believes will be made in good faith. I find many of the lines between OSR and storygames extremely blurry, and I venture that most players and GMs wouldn't even be aware of these distinct categories if it wasn't for external forces driving their definition games.

    (But hey, we're humans, and I guess that's what we do.)

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  15. The thing that I find most strange about the story games/trad games split is how some people on both sides get super emotional about the other one, insist that it's ruining gaming somehow, etc. It's like XBox vs. PlayStation for erudite tabletop nerds.

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  16. I really hesitate to enter this - b/c I may misunderstand the dichotomy and I am not a game designer or wannabe game designer...but I often feel like the OSR has an implicit Dogma 95 quality to it and that the distinction between storygame and OSR flows out of adherence to the OSR version of the Vow of Chastity that the filmmakers made. It feels more important to the director/game designer than the audience/players.

    For me the storygame/OSR split as experienced at the table feels like a function of GMing more than system. I think. (at least this feels true for the ones I play - I've never played Burning Wheel). And I kind of think both tendencies are at present when I play...as a GM at least. So I do include strong narrative direction (railroadishness) in the games I GM, and that narrative direction does sometimes bend the world around the PC's. And there is usually underlying mystery and nuance in the game world that the Players slowly uncover as in CofC.

    Even more storygamey I allow the players some narrative "yes and..." style power. If they describe something they do well then it pretty much succeeds a la the rule of cool.

    But these things (narrative village/world saving stories and players stunts) are not common in the games I run which mostly are more open ended sandboxish treasure hunts. Nevertheless the meta plots I run make the world feel deeper, and the player stunting or player background statements feel like they make the whole mileau of play more vibrant.

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  18. You list several independent parameters, most of which are a matter of degree (like, the amount of "narrative control" is very different in Apocalypse World and Fiasco). Just another illustration of the simple fact that "storygame" is not a useful term.

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  19. I agree with the list apart from the last two. Never heard of the forge. Well done.

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  20. To me the damning thing about 'storygames' is that, after a brief honeymoon period with the idea, there never really seemed to me like there was any coherent and tangible....hmmm how to put it....functionality? FATE was something I tried to read but after sleepless nights and headaches it seemed as if the damn thing might as well be Chinese backward.

    The mistake I made was to assume storygames would address my issues which plagued the then-current tabletop groups. Ultimately storygames were not the cure I was promised and with the most vocal supporters of storygame being people I increasingly disagreed with meant there wasn't really any appeal left to it. It all seemed like incoherent, self-wanking hogwash. Like the same bad D&D 3e games but with less 'build' obsession.

    Retroclones, who went back to the roots of RPG answered my questions. The answer was simple: the games I were running weren't working because people had forgotten many core tenent which, even more damning, had not even been taught to me when I got into RPG. People like me were being lied to that older RPG were these boring grindfest ran by tyrannical DM who murdered 6d10 player characters per dungeon. People like me and those who came after me had been misled: was it willingly? Or was it just because my generation got into RPG without any continuation from past generations?

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