This has always been the most obvious thing to me:

"TTRPGs are a conversation; how you get people into the conversation is design. How you describe a particular place, how you’ve drawn a particular character are as important as mechanical rules."

"TTRPGs are a conversation", particularly-

It feels like a useless thing to point out; every instance of RPG play (that isn't solo play) is obviously "people, talking".

But I've come to realise that this simple observation underpins everything I want do, re: RPG design.

The idea that everything said at the table-

"They've left a key on the table. Do you take it?"
"My character hates dwarves ..."
"Yes, but what *direction* do we flee in?"

Is play. Is the heart of the game, working. Not just when conversation triggers resolution mechanics.

The more I listen to RPG Design Discourse, the more I am conscious of its hierarchies:

Generally, RPG designers privilege mechanical matters:

Weighted / flat probability?
What dice to use?
How much of a bonus to give, to encourage this action?
What resolution mechanic?

This is what we think the designer's role *is*:

Graphic designer does layout;
Illustrator does the art;
Writer does the fluff;

Mechanics are the purview of the game designer.

PS: the use of the word "fluff" intimates the hierarchy. "It's just fluff, what's the crunch?"

Of course, discourse around this has gotten quite sophisticated- but it's still there. It is present when we say:

"How do we design mechanics to make social interaction meaningful?"

Ie: how do we make PCs talking to imaginary people crunchy? Otherwise it's just fluff.


I *do* like thinking about mechanics. It's fun.

And they are great because they *do* help the conversation that is RPG play continue. Imagination is hard work; you want some abstracted handholds to lean on, for a breather.

But the crutch has become the whole tower.

You see this when some designers try to course-correct. Vincent Baker coined the term "fruitful void", yeah?

How the *hell* did our shared imagination, the beating heart of RPG play, come to be known as a void???

(Ron Edwards coined "fruitful void" -sorry for the mistake!)

To a hammer everything looks like a nail, yeah? That's how that truism goes?

RPG designers, because we think our role is to build the scaffold, have come to think of the scaffold as the whole building.

And folks can build stuff in whatever way they like.

But! When RPG designers make claims about designing rule systems and mechanics to incentivise pro-social behaviour / stop colonial narratives / prevent racism / etc

I get antsy.

These things are too important to me.

I'm not sure I'm explaining things well. Gonna try. Analogy time:

The temple is play. Rules are the scaffold. The gods of the temple are our ethics -the values inside us. We bring these to the table.

The scaffold does not carve the gods.

Sure, the scaffold may be necessary for us to physically reach the niches in the temple's face, where the gods are to be.

But *the scaffold does not carve the gods*.

Our biases as game designers incline us to seek mechanical solutions to problems. That's fine.

But when it comes to stuff like ethics / changing colonial narratives / not perpetuating racism / etc -things with immense weight outside play ...

I believe the focus on system solutions here is misplaced effort.

Rules systems are always abstractions. A rules system that penalises colonial behaviour or incentivises de-colonial behaviour abstracts this crushingly important subject into a ledger of bonuses and maluses.

You care about subjects like colonialism?

Make a game system where it is possible for colonialism to come up in play;
Create stories, places and characters touched by colonialism;
Encourage a play culture where you can imagine those places and people with empathy.

PS: if you are wondering where the OP sentiment is from, Mun Kao and I talk about how it guides our work for #AThousandThousandIslands :

I am *vaguely* aware that this might be simpatico with / the emphasis of the FKR school of RPGs, but I dunno much about it - @surcapitaine FKR is your wheelhouse isn't it?

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More from @zedecksiew

18 Mar

" Gul and others's mistrust [of vaccinations] stems from a much more sinister source ... hunting for Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, the CIA organized a fake hepatitis B vaccination program to aid in their search. "
" ... though the White House announced that the CIA would no longer use vaccination programs as cover for espionage, Pakistan moved from being a country that had almost eradicated polio to one whose polio cases accounted for a whopping 85 percent of the global share. "
Even if you expect a baseline of USian interventionist evil, this is *beyond the pale* HOLY SHIT
Read 4 tweets
18 Mar
To contextualise my thoughts re: incentivizing ethical decisions in RPGs:

Yesterday I played in a game, running through @DonnStroud 's "The Isle of the Plangent Mage". At the start of the adventure, a scene of townsfolk slaughtering beached whales.

The parent whale had already been killed; its three children were still on the beach, breathing.

The bulk of our session became: "How do we save these whale babies???"

We were playing with Old School Essentials. OSE's rules-sanctioned incentive for play is as old-school as it gets: gold for XP; monsters defeated for XP.

Read 13 tweets
18 Mar
This is my main problem with mechanically rewarding pro-social play: a character's ethical choice is rendered mercenary.

"Being good for a reward isn’t being good - it’s just optimal play. "
Bear in mind I'm not saying that pro-social play can't have "rewarding" outcomes for players:

Any decision should have (diegetic?) consequences in the fiction. The townsfolk are thankful; the goblins remember your mercy, etc.

But extra XP tickets for ethical decisions stinks.
If you give bonus XP for sparing goblins your players aren't making a decisions based on how much their value life. They are making a decision based on how much they want XP.

A subtle but *absolutely* essential distinction, when it comes to ethics.
Read 10 tweets
15 Mar
Tried reading Lancer RPG several times now. (It's been on my bedside table for a month.)

And it is *genuinely* difficult for me to see its setting's central polity, Union, as anything but an analogue to imperial US America.
* centralised polity with clear metropole worlds
* absolutely intertwined with megacorporations
* "safeguarded" by a secret intelligence bureau a la the CIA / KGB
* foreign policy against its "periphery" is expansionism / corpocratic brush war
* sure of its moral rectitude
The text uses the word "utopia" / "utopian" 18 times. (Not counting the phrase "Utopian Pillars", Union's charter.)

I kept looking to see whether it was using this world ironically. It does not.

I'm sorry, but secret police + centralised nation-state + MEGACORPS =/= utopia.
Read 19 tweets
15 Dec 20
Modern cyberpunk's problem isn't dystopia. Cyberpunk fiction has always had dystopia. Punks need a bad world to resist.

Modern cyberpunk's problem is tone. Feels like there's more stories of surrender / evil-ultimately-wins cynicism now. We've stopped resisting the bad world.
Maybe this is natural:

As we slip further into dystopia, cyberpunk begins to dress in the costume of realist fiction.

In real life, as we discover the insurmountability of the corpo-state; as we realise that evil wins not because it is ruthless but because it is convenient;

Creators working in the idiom of cyberpunk may feel like its their duty to reflect these realities:

"We live in a dystopia now. Turns out, we aren't the punks. We're the wage-slaves."

Read 13 tweets
4 Apr 20

Another weekend under quarantine. This morning there were sirens, where I am.

I'd like to leave the house for a bit. Come with me?

Drop me an object-themed emoji? I'll write you a place you've seen before, and long to see again.
1:⛽️At home, with your husband carrying your crying son; your mother on the phone, chattering-

You miss the rig.

It was no less of a pressure-cooker: sixty crew in a football field crammed with gear, crude, a gas flare.

But there, on the deck -wind on an open sea.

2:🔦The light on your suit casts a wavering disc. Hadal amphipods and jellies drift into its beam, then dart away.

You waddle up a dead driveway. Shine your light through the windows of a ruined house. You once lived here. Squid and spiderfish live in it, now.

Read 22 tweets

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