thread: 2008-09-29 : Creative Tension

On 2008-09-29, Valamir wrote:

I find the point at which everybody disagrees on these issues to be exactly where the game gets interesting on a meta level.

This very issue is actually something I believe is foundational to good design.  When there are disagreements as to whether the tough trait applies, does the game have effective procedures for making that decision.  If the answer to that is no (and for many games…especially many indie-gm-less games…the answer is no) IMO that’s a bad design.  Asking players to make a judgement without providing any framework to make the judgement in I find to be sloppy design.

Admonitions to just “talk it out” or “reach consensus” are nothing more than a cop out.  All such decisions require system, and such declarations merely punt the issue.  Instead of the game providing a system, the players have to provide their own social system with all the pitfalls and dangers that such entails.

That’s not to say players shouldn’t be expected to render judgement.  Just that I think such judgements are most effective when they’re made within a specific, understood, and mutually accepted framework.

In this sense “The GM is always right” is such a framework.  A fairly boring, inflexible framework…but IMO a darn sight better than “players should reach consensus” (without any other system provided).

The Challenge rules in Universalis, and the Appeal rules in Dirty Secrets are both ways to systematize the application of social judgement.  I think that tension is where a huge source of fun comes from…especially for players who find the social bonding experience of roleplaying to a big part of why roleplaying is fun.

But from a design perspective, I think each and every time the game calls for a judgement to be made, it should also provide the framework for making that judgement.  Whether that framework is to invest all authority in a GM with guidelines as to what good judgement looks like, whether its putting it to vote, whether its allowing fate to decide with a random roll…the framework should be provided for within the text of the game.

Not doing so means that the only people who could possibly have the same game experience playing the game as the designer are those who wind up using the same framework as the designer…by shear coincidentally or by prior exposure.  Everyone else will struggle to make the game work, and may well declare the game to be “broken”...when really its not broken, its just incomplete…missing that vital framework.


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