Omakase Amzn

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tabletop RPGs: Realism vs Game

In my mind's eye image, when I think about gaming, I keep coming back to when people argue realism or 'would/wouldn't' to a certain point, that puts extra strictures on opportunities given to characters, due to meta rules. While some might argue RPGs are "art" or "collaborative storytelling activities" and such, they're still GAMES.

I feel like when a GM or someone running things makes a "you wouldn't know that" or "you only have x seconds" and all those kind of restrictions, based on real world things, I have to take a step back and look at it because I feel like there is a fine line between moderating a game and trying to keep things consistent, but also remembering its a game and that things that make the game FUN should be encouraged, and things that actually deny or prevent FUN should be avoided.

Part of the fun for some people IS the deadline part of decision making in-game and that is valid. As is the 'thrill' of it being possible for your character to die - you have "stakes" in the game. On the other hand, how does it come across as entertaining if the GM says "Well, your character rolled bad/went down the wrong tunnel - you're DEAD and removed from play". That is beyond missing a goal or something, or passing your turn. It has no real equivalent because when someone "loses" in most games, the game ends, or rather, one person "wins" and the game ends.

I've seen many more recent games and game theory, especially rules-lite affairs, basically say "Never say NO". While the intent of this is appreciated, it really isn't a realistic (used in the appropriate sense of the word here) or practical guideline. But it is because the actual idea  that it is substituting for is: "Before saying NO, consider the benefits and drawbacks of doing so. WHY are you saying no? Is it purely for rules reasons, that may have no particular benefit or help to the game or session, just for the sake of following the rules? Does saying NO or YES significantly change something? If not, then is there really an issue?"

To me it is really a matter of "what is accomplished" when something is prevented, or a character dies or whatever. Whatever the outcome, that is negative in general - the question is, "Does this negative thing help promote or give entertainment value or fun to the session"? Like those oldschool one-hit-on-kill poison traps and stuff. Those were very adversarial, very "gotcha", of the GMs and the players outsmarting each other, but to me that sort of play, on a "serious" level, is dysfunctional, not "a challenge".

You are all playing a game. You don't want to PUNISH a player for their character simply not rolling high enough or them making a single wrong decision, by taking what they've created and used to interact in your shared imagination space, and crumpling it up and throwing it in the trash. Simply "killing" or especially "TPK"ing, is ugly, inelegant and lazy on the part of the GM. This doesn't mean character death shouldn't happen, but it should be for the right reasons and in keeping with the stakes and event at hand - missing an Agl roll to cross a bridge to get a gem that someone needs so they can sell it to make enough to feed their family, is not worthy of death, even on multiple fails. Injuries, possibly coma and being out of action, but death - that sort of denying a player his own vehicle that everyone else has, for a wrong turn, is just wrong, in itself.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Are RPGs Games? Part II: Conflict and Competition

I think comments and argument suggesting some games do not possess the same presence of competition or conflict that other games do, are somewhat tenuous, due to some arguments that divide the players up and trying to classify the GM as some other non-player entity.

Obviously the two words have SOME difference, or they wouldn't be different words; however, the interrelation and overlap of these two concepts are so dense that I am not sure one can truly divide one from the other in any practical way.

From this site:, I'll post this excerpt:

Conflict involves discord and disagreement whereas competition can take place without any clash or hard feelings. • A competition indicates a contest where participants vie for the top spot whereas a conflict indicates a scuffle or a skirmish.
• Competition is a healthy process that encourages intelligence, innovation, and entrepreneurship whereas conflict crushes all such concepts.
• In real life, conflict is inevitable because all people are different from one another and different viewpoints lead to conflict.
• Organizing a competition to choose the best painter, singer, or a player encourages excellence among individuals as participants want to beat others to get top honors.
• Conflict and competition are two different types of social interaction that are, in addition to cooperation and accommodation.

From these definitions, I would assert:

Conflict is a matter of fundamental agreement on an issue, opinion or course of action to be taken. At its most basic definition, conflict is really more a state of being or of a situation, rather than an environment or ongoing process.

Competition (and contest) is the actual process of resolving conflict, be it friendly rivalry to be the best, possibly while even participating in an event in a cooperative manner with others, while you are also competing against them to gain a secondary or alternate objective, such as a ball player being a member of the team but also qualifying for a recognition for excellence, such as MVP or other award.

Also I'd like to rebut a statement in an ongoing conversation I'm participating in, that "RPGs don't have competition between players". This is patently false. This may be referring to "the party" and not including the GM, but it is still a game, with a bunch of people all playing (though the GM role is different) - that means ALL players are "players", even the GM. To attempt to classify the GM as some non-player entity is both directly in opposition to the very nature of RPGs and merely redistributing the "where" or "who" of competition, not making it null and void. Chess is a good example. It is very much both competition and conflict, as it is a two-player competition between two players, and there is one main objective - to defeat the other player. This causes contextual conflict, and that conflict "I will win, instead of my opponent" is resolved through competition of play turns.

It is arguably possible to have Competition without direct or explicit Conflict, with the exception of opinions of the competitors: "I think I can win this, proving myself better than the others in this event"; this means there is no fundamental disagreement between all the competitors but the contest is held for goals of its own, a sort of transitory, temporary, even "artificial" conflict, a contest for its own sake, such as winning an amount of money. There may be no notable air or sense of disagreement between people until a contest is introduced, at which time they abstractly "come into conflict" with each other, regarding who will or should be seen as the victor of the competition, and will receive whatever the prize is.

Competing does not necessarily mean a participant think he will, or even should win - he may compete for the activity itself, to be seen by others, to take a chance and do something fun and the winning may be a secondary or even only vaguely acknowledged goal. In these cases, it is the player's deeds that makes the competition a conflict - he is participating, therefore from a purely objective standpoint, by virtue of the person involving themself, the default value of "attempting to win" is assigned to the person, whether he actually IS or not, which puts him in implicit conflict with the others, in a physically manifested sense, even if not of deliberate resolve.

On the other hand, can you have Conflict without Competition? In fact, like the very subtle nuances in the previous example, yes. Civilians caught in a warzone, or whose government is in military action against others, are "in conflict" with the opposing governments and militaries, being of the opinion the opposing forces should go away, but taking no direct steps to join in and resolve the conflict. In this way, that person is in conflict, or disagreement, with another, but is not in competition. He may even be in conflict with own government at the same time he supports it, for different reasons (I love our freedom/I hate our corruption, etc), and he may compete in some instances, trying to change things or "be the winner" in some way in the context of such a conflict.

In "games" (sports or hobby or video), the very act of participating puts you in competition with the other players or a computer AI if applicable. You play and although the rules do not require you "try your hardest", the objective of a game is to accomplish whatever the winning conditions are, so you are competing against the opponent(s), whoever they are, and at whatever effort you choose to give.

Also in "games", in the abstract sense of the definition, in any game you care to choose as an example, you are in conflict with the opponents, because you are endeavoring to accomplish a contextual goal and fulfill winning conditions, whatever those are, even if it is "don't die/get permanently imprisoned" in the case of an RPG, besides the more explicit "rescue the princess" plots - this is "in disagreement" with the GM or AI, or even random dice tables, whose are competing against you in a modified fashion of your own activity - providing you with sometimes very difficult challenge, and often the possibility of losing your character, which also falls under more conditions of both conflict and competition, a stake to be lost, even if it just the game itself.

But the GM also is cooperating with you, in that he is not taking every opportunity to try to make you fail or "kill your character", and in fact often fudges rolls and provides you with clues when appropriate or as a result of things you do, to succeed, and rewards you for doing so, as a coach or trainer (again, that fluid value of "how much effort"). In this way, you are both NOT in conflict, because you both agree that you want the game to be fair for the players, that the GM is trusted to be fair and creative, and the players are trusted to be genuine in their ideas and attempts to play, and to abide by and work with the GM on his rulings and moderating. I don't believe there is a final true black-or-white answer to this initial topic, because the answer to "are RPGs really games" and "is competition required for a game" is "yes and no", depending on which aspect you are referring to, from one second to the next. RPGs are and aren't games because they are both competitive against the other players, and cooperative with the same players, and they involve conflict between the players, and they also don't involve conflict, because everyone agrees they want to play a game and for it to be fun and fair. Ultimately, the answer depends on what you expect out of a game and how you play it, as to what it delivers or how it qualifies.