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Friday, June 21, 2013

What makes a game an RPG? Vs. some other type of game, and Blood Bowl, and stuff

I have been giving this some thought, what do players do in a game that makes the game a role-playing game?  And furthermore, how can narration be tied into fantasy sports games?

There is a ton of ways to look at this question, but I think for me the best way to approach it is to define games that are definitely not role playing games.
Board games like Blood bowl, Decent, or Zombiecide are not role playing games. In those game players move pieces, use some kind of tactics, to determine the outcome of the game either vs. the game or vs. other players. There is no attempt to force the perspective of the pieces on the player, and there is no attempt to weave and kind of narrative.
The new wave of group story telling games, are not role playing games. Games like “Once upon a time,” “Project Ninja Panda Taco (PNPT)” would fall into these categories nicely. These games make you take the stance of story creator more than of a character. Using (PNPT) for an example, it is a bang up good time of a game, but it is more of a party game in the company of Apples to Apples than a genuine RPG. There’s a character there (the mastermind), but it is so loosely defined, the mastermind is more of an excuse to create narratives than the engine of narratives.

So let me explain: Why the heck am I doing all this thinking about what is an RPG?
My last little bit of inspiration and hacking around in notepad, has been directed towards taking our Phase game and creating a “Blood Bowl”, “DreadBall” type miniatures game using that rules set.
I think I just heard everyone click away from this page … awesome.

So looking at it from that perspective I came to kind of a simple realization.
In a game like Blood Bowl / dread ball / ElfBall / Kaosball you might say what you are doing, but it’s from the gamers perspective not that of the “figure.” (Player on the field, character.)  A player might not tell his opponent what he is doing at all, until the opponent has to roll or resist in some way.
The game mechanics support this, as in if I say I am going to move a skink 5 squares I simply move the piece 5 squares. If I say I am going to pick up the ball, I roll I pick up the ball, or I fail. There is no Narrative to that, and really nothing holding one move together to the next as part of a story.

How could this change?  What makes it that way?  Does it have to be that way?
I think the simple changes of having smaller teams, players declare actions from the player’s perspective, rolling results that can be better or worse than expected, and narrating those results play by play style would change the way fantasy sports games are played.
To me there is a huge difference in both investment and fun between,
“Ok Jay I’m going to block this Orc with my dwarf, (rolls dice ) Ok I push him back 1.”
Mark: “ Jay Gimil Stouthearted is going to push your orc in front of him” Mark Rolls 3 dice, (2 successes and a 1) Jay rolls 4 dice, (1 success 3 failures)
Mark:“Gimil lunges forward and lays his shoulder into the orc, the orc stumbles and moves back under the assault, but in the Frey it looks like Gimil twisted his knee and is holding the much bigger orc back while favoring his leg!” Mark moves the orc back one space; Gimil takes his square and grimly holds it.

It is the same damn play, but at the  table I would totally want to do the second example.
Why not just narrate a game of Dredball, blood bowl etc?
In my opinion the rules don’t support it so it’s fluff. If you tried to play by play a Blood Bowl / Dreadball game it would be 4 hour game easy, and it would add nothing to the game mechanically.

In order for this kind of thing to work player narrations would have to be linked to rolls and if the narration can provide some boost to the player or some benefit if must be supported by and recognized in the rules. If continuing from the example above, Gimil the dwarf has a skill called grim defender, that gives him a +1 die defending on any play after he takes a described injury, then the player’s narration is supported by an extra die when defending next round.

Making players look for chances to swing the narration so that it matches their skills seems like a good way to reward creative narrations and support role-playing within the system. Another way to support  creative narration would be to reward payers with bonuses based on rolls that exceed the target number of success, but only if they can tell how they are using the extra successes. Giving the player some leeway on how these extra successes can be used would also help stir the pot. A simple rule could be” extra successes can be described on your next action.” This would forego mechanical bonuses written in stone. The player may describe a mechanical pay off (an extra bit of movement an extra die to catch with) a purely aesthetic bonus one depending on how they want to play the situation. Some bonus for just narrating cool things would also be nice but that is a bit harder to quantify in a competitive game.
For example, Bob throws a short pass to Ken he needs a success to make an accurate throw (the player rolls dice and rolls 3 successes)
“ Bob cranks back and fires a bullet pass to Ken,  Ken is at a full run and Bob leads him just enough  so that Ken will run right into the pass in stride.” The player gets to move the catching figure one space for ward before he catches the ball and gives him a bonus die for catching. Dread ball touches on this with their rule set, but it is in no way linked to narration.
A game like this would force players to rethink how they would play a fantasy sports game. It would be less about the minutiae of how you line up or where you place the ball and how many squares your player moved. And more about building the fantasy sports game experience from the players view up , and action experience more than a cerebral one. There is no way a narrative game of any kind could be  as exact as sat Blood Bowl, a debate about, “can you reroll an interception?” or “who helps on this block?”, would really have no place and only take away from the  “you muffed that roll and I rolled two 6’s you up, damn straight Burg the Deadly is going to leap into the air and snag that errant pass!”
So is this a mix that works, can it wok and would it be fun?
I think it might actually be something “New” which might make it the rarest beast of all.
Let me know what you think.