This Blog 2019, Goals and Grommets

Inspired by the 2019 goals post over at Charles's Dragons Never Forget Blog, I figured I would do the same thing. 2018 right around ...

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.


  1. Interesting stuff here. I think you are right about it not working in existing games. Those rule sets were based around skills and rolls, so adding narrative to that that would be just that: an addition. Like you mentioned, in a game like blood bowl this would make the game intolerably lengthy. Not to mention that sometimes it is nice to have a game without a narration. This allows the player to focus on strategy and skill.

    That being said, I do think that it is a mix that can work. If you have ever listened to John Sterling do a Yankees play by play over the radio, then you know how entertaining the story can be outside of the action that is actually happening on the field. I think the key would be to make the mechanics of such a game very simple; easy rolls and small skill lists for starters. This way the player or "coach" can focus more on the "how" than the "what" they are doing.

    Another aspect I think one should keep in mind would be to limit the investment and the potential loss of that investment. It is difficult to watch your BB MVP get carried off of the pitch , never to return. It would be infuriating to have to listen to an opponent describe at length how his player systematically dismembered my star player. I think this is where the party games get it right. During our recent play through of PNPT, I think there was a three-way tie for winner; and no one cared. I feel as though this is because those characters, though memorable, were created at the beginning of that game, and that game was the last time the player would ever use for Morgan Freeman, I definitely see him reprising his role as one of my minions in the future, but I digress. Once the game is done, so was that player. I think that helps when losing a game or player, especially in a PVP format. I think losing a career character to a GM or DM is accepted simply because of the one vs many nature of this relationship.

    I think that this could be pretty great though, and I'd love to help you work on it.

  2. Agree 100%, I hate to take Death out of an arena game that seems counter to the idea. However I would also hate to see a players character get whacked based on the whim of a role, when they are actually playing the character as opposed to just moving a piece.
    I was thinking more along the line of out for the game, injuries.
    Also for the making of teams I agree 100% again there should be a lot less investment than say you have in a “real” phase character. The time and thought that has to go into a phase RPG character is actually a design decision, it is meant to have the player invest more into the character so they don’t ever feel like throw away skins. A fantasy sports game will need to work the opposite way. One thing Blood Bowl gets very right is that, if your player is out you get a new one. It might not have all the skills, and it might not be the same, but it’s simply a matter of erasing one guy and writing in new one.
    Any fantasy sports game should be like that.
    I would want players to invest in the action not so much as the players.
    My thought for the game was this (I posted it elsewhere I think.)
    1. A small-ish arena.
    2. Circular arena.
    3. Goal is a hole in the center of the arena
    4. Ball can be dropped or thrown in. for 1 point (2 point line?)
    5. First team to 5 points wins.
    6. Five players per team,
    7. Three players on the “court” per team, at any given time.
    8. More than two teams can play at a time.

    Right now that’s really all I have for you but any ideas, thoughts, help, or etc, are welcome.

  3. The first thing that popped into my head was a Vegas style roulette table "launch" of the ball. This way the team with initial possession is determined at random and eliminates a kick off or a kick-off table. Maybe there is some kind of betting that takes place as well to see if you can steal it off of the track? Otherwise it drops on whatever is rolled. Say the perimiter is numbered in sections 1-52 draw a card out of standard playing cards to see where it falls.

    Also, movement in a circular arena could be tricky. Perhaps hexagons that form a larger hexagon might be they way to go.

  4. Actually, I think the perimeter (in hexes)would be 54 if you went 9 layers out from the center hex, so you would have to include jokers in order to use a standard deck of cards. Any more levels and you would have to come up with a different method; like two D10, perhaps.

    1. A tessellated hexagon will always have 6 sides, so a D6 could determine a "section" and another die could determine the exact perimeter hex the ball lands in. If you went that way.

  5. I think I have movement licked, I will tell you on Saturday, it's a really odd idea but I think you will like it. I think I can get way with actually not marking the field at all except for the ball entrance aspect. which I was thinking dividing the circle into 10 sections roll a section then roll a number of inches towards the center to get a random location for the ball to drop in.

  6. good stuff here. Hopefully after this weekend my head will be cleared enough to absorb it all and get in on the ideas