June 26th, 2008

What I Want in RPGs III (rewrite)

(What you are getting here is an example of the creative process. What follows is what folks in the business call a "second draft". A rewording or restatement of the premise to make language clearer. To better establish what is being said. This second draft is being posted in addition because the first draft was so grossly misunderstood. Misunderstood in that an example was focused on to the exclusion of the main point, and the example subject to a gross misapprehension itself. The purpose of this revision is to clarify matters, and to refocus attention on the main point. To get things back on topic. With that in mind we now proceed to the corrected post.)

Acknowledge and accept the fact that because an RPG is played on a world, and because a world is a place of great scope both in terms of physical size and in the enormous variety of possible events, that fairness and balance in any sense cannot be established or enforced.

First, let me explain what I'm talking about whereto balance. Balance in this case refers to the setting of boundaries in resources and/or victory conditions to give all players of a game an equal chance at winning. Balance is used in games where only one player or side can win, but not any other player or side. It is intended to make a competitive game fair for all players.

The fact a competitive game occurs on a small stage helps here. The field of play is limited, and the range of encounters and events is limited as well. What each piece can do, how capable each piece can be is set and does not vary. The physical bounds are set as well, and limited in extent. A few squares, a track on a pasteboard square. Thus the range of possible occurrences is limited and balance is made possible.

An RPG on the other hand takes place on a world. Most often an Earth sized orb, though it can range from as small as a specific location, to as expansive as an entire universe. Regardless of the physical size the typical RPG setting includes a huge multitude of possible encounters and events. Too huge really for any person or set of rules to account for adequately. Not where establishing balance in concerned in any case.

To help people comprehend what I'm talking about here, consider a square mile. An area 5,280 feet squared in size. Were one to start walking a mile, then take a step one foot right and walk back, one would wind up walking 5,280 miles before walking that square mile. The point here is, a square mile covers a lot of territory. Large enough, in medieval times for example, to contain a city of 50,000 to 100,000 people.

Now consider all the possible events possible in a world. The sheer potential variety available. What characters can meet, who characters can meet can't really be limited, unless the game moderator (GM) shades the encounter in some manner. In short, cheats. And by doing so cheats the players by limiting their choices in what they can do.

An RPG works best when the players' choices are not so limited. Each world offers limitations in how the world works, how the game's mechanics establish what a character or other inhabitant can do. But within those basic limitations choices are virtually limitless. To further limit choice in a quest for an unachievable balance denies the players many choices they would otherwise be able to pursue.

It is better to let things be. The typical RPG world is unbalanced and unfair. Make that clear to the players, and let them adjust as best they can. Let them use their wits and wiles to give them advantages in their dealings with the world. Encourage the recruitment of assistants, patrons, contacts, and other resources they can call upon when help is needed. Use scenarios that call for a range of talents and skills, and not just a limited repertoire.

By acknowledging and accepting the fact that RPGs are played on a world means acknowledging and accepting the fact that an RPG cannot be balanced in any meaningful way. This in turn means that play can be opened up to include possibilities no putatively balanced RPG could ever include. Well handled a richer and more rewarding experience.

(There you have it, a complete rewrite. Let's keep it on topic this time.)
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[AP] Vampire the Requiem: Movement Not Forward

I figured I'd start a series of Actual Play recaps from my new Vampire game. Not sure if I'll keep these up every week, but we'll see. I've rambled on about this chronicle before, back when I was planning it, but here are the players and where we are:

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Next post, the actual actual play!
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    dropkick murphy's "I'm shipping up to Boston"

[AP] Vampire the Requiem: Movement Not Forward

Final post on this today. I suppose I should have started these sooner, or I could have done the first one as some massively long post, but breaking them up seemed like a better idea. This one catches us up to the last game session, so after today these will only show up as one post every two weeks, fear not.

Walking After Midnight

Chapter Two

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And that's where we left off.

Damn, I need to figure out how to shorten these. There's all sorts of minor tidbits I left off too. Suppose I could narrow things to "and then they engaged in politics around Elysium" or something. Anyway, hopefully a few of you weren't like tl;dr. Any questions or comments, let me know.
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    NERD "Everybody Nose"