RPGs and constraints

Via one of those tangents that happen when you start poking around on the web, I just spent a while looking at various articles and games and reviews related to (tabletop, not computer) roleplaying games, and I was struck yet again by something I've noticed before:

It seems like there are a lot of games in which there are a lot of aspects of game mechanics that exist primarily to prevent players from doing unreasonable things, things that would be out of character, or things that would disrupt the story.

And I would rather just play these games with people who are actively interested in working together to create a good story.

I guess this is sort of like saying "A lot of real-world laws exist primarily to prevent people from doing unreasonable things; I would rather just live in a society with people who are actively interested in promoting the common good." But unlike living in real-world society, in a game you can often pick who you play with.

(Okay, yeah, I do understand that there are sometimes social constraints that lead to the social necessity of including disruptive players in a game. But still.)

Of course, a lot of this comes down to what you're looking for in a game. My primary interests are character and story; in general (with some exceptions), the fewer trappings of gameness I can get away with, the better. Whereas for lots of people, the game aspects are the point, and character and story are subservient to the goal of making a good game.

These paradigms are apparently generally known as narratological and ludological, respectively. And if I had time right now, I would write an entry twice this length, full of links to all the pages I've just been looking at, that would expand on that distinction. But I don't. Perhaps later.

3 Responses to “RPGs and constraints”

  1. David Moles

    Links! Links!

    I don’t have any experience of the narrative-heavy systems like — I guess? — Vampire and whatnot, so I’d be curious to read anything discussing those systems and how they differ from more traditional systems that are mostly concerned with To Hit rolls.

    (My favorite system so far is still Amber Diceless, which I suppose you could call narrative-heavy, but it gets there by removing constraints instead of adding them. Of course, the setting helps.)

  2. Cheryl

    This argument was sounding old and tired when I stopped role-playing, which is about 20 years ago. I still think that the best way to have a narrative-heavy game is for the players to trust the GM to run the game and not bother about the rules.

  3. Aliette de Bodard

    My primary interests are character and story; in general (with some exceptions), the fewer trappings of gameness I can get away with, the better.
    Nod. I get bored when I have to throw dice (not to mention that I always lose 🙂 ). Seriously, though, I think Cheryl is right: if you have a good GM and the players trust him, then things won’t get wacky. If someone tries to do something unreasonable in my game, the GM makes up a reason why he can’t; and it’s mostly clear to everyone that it’s not arbitrary–but that it’s to keep us from levelling entire cities…


Join the Conversation