Tuesday, November 01, 2005



Here's a big difference between other forms of media and roleplay. Accident. In literature and film (at least that made with some minimum amount of craft), nothing is accidental. Every word on the page or element of a scene is there for a reason. Even in live performance, accidents are things to be minimized – any change from one performance to the next is either purposeful on the part of the actor, made with the permission of a designer, or the fallout in the change in energy flow between audience and stage. Of course, in live performance there are fuckups, but thats what they are – accidents that should not have happened.

Roleplay, on the other hand, is extremely permissive of accidents. I'm thinking of Sim in particular here – there's definitely an argument to be made that if you screw up in a hardcore Gamist situation, thats your own damn fault. Nar, I'm not so sure. But in Sim – damn. One element of this is retconning.

“I kiss the girl”

“The townsfolk in the inn start grumbling and shooting you dark glares.”

“Oh, right, they don't like PDAs here. Can I hold her hand instead?”


Absolutely standard practice in roleplay. Or something more fundamental to Sim:

“Wow, we've been seeing snake symbols everywhere. Maybe the snake god is sending his cultists after us.”

GM Thinks: Snake symbols? Those were supposed to be runes. But a snake god would be pretty damn cool.

The taking of an accidental conclusion by other players and incorporating it into your input into the gamespace is something that happens all the time in Sim, and is a very important process to the way I understand it. This hooks into briocolage – “huh, I didn't know putting a pipe there would make it do this, but thats cool!” - and No-Myth. I can explain that more if need be, but I think its a pretty obvious corrolation.

In a different sense of the word (i.e. An accident of history, and accident of birth, etc), it is only an accident of the dice/cards/etc that any kind of fortune resolution resolves in any given way. While we, as designers, obviously want the outcomes of fortune to work within the larger framework of the game, it is still intrinsic to this form of mechanic that outcomes are accidental. In this sense, many games are based on accident, and only work as a chain of continuous accidents.

Can you imagine a different kind of form (theatre, film, literature) that progressed via die rolls? I mean, you can imagine one, but I doubt that it would really count as anything more than a fringe element of the form, like choose-your-own-adventure style stories.

Does this mean that theres a substantive difference between fortune and non-fortune based games? Maybe. Food for thought.

Don't forget improv, especially long-form (the kind where you put together a play, as opposed to short-form like Whose Line). Retconning isn't really a part of it, but misinterpretations like the rune/snake symbol thing you mentioned are definitely cues that shape the story.
At root I think it's just that RPGs are creativity in action as opposed to theater, novels, and stage music, which is a creative performance or creative product. The rewrites, retcons, and tangential plot lines all happen when you are writing a novel, they just don't happen when you're reading a novel.

Over on a Forge thread Bret came to the conclusion that using an RPG to create an artifact killed the sense of urgency and immediacy in play. I think that's just sort of corroboration that the point of RPGs is to create an experience for which you are the audience, rather than produce anything that an outside audience would appreciate.
It comes down to gamers being audience-participants. Oh man, brain-burst...
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