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.

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