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Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.

Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Post of Note: A Lesson from the Chatty DM

So, now that the New Year's kicking in, I realized that it's time to kick off a little more posting, however brief, just to pad out the week. So, every Saturday, I'll be alternating between two different things: RPG reviews and "posts of note". For the former, I'll be picking out a system, usually a free system, that I've located in my RPG browsing, and talking about it, its strengths and weaknesses, and how it tackles the idea of storytelling. As far as the "posts of note" go, I'll be pulling a recent RPG blog post (out of the blogs that I follow regularly), and posting about it, to give some diversity to my writing.

In Which the Backdrop is Set
So, with that being said, I'm opening up with a Post of Note, this one coming from the Chatty DM: Nico's LEGO RPG. (Note: it's actually a 2-part post, but both parts are well worth reading) It's an account of how the blog author initiated and played through what would probably be best-termed as a "proto-RPG" with his young son, adjusting rules to be much simpler and easier to understand.

What I loved about this post was that it accomplished everything that an RPG ruleset, in my mind, is supposed to accomplish, with some dirt-simple (is that even a legitimate adjective? If not, I now declare it to officially be in the English lexicon) rules. I believe that any good RPG ruleset should take care of the following grounds: 1) Help everyone to have a good time, 2) Help the players to participate in the story, 3) Provide some level of gaming. Note that I didn't actually include randomness...that's factored into "gaming", for me. I appreciate interesting game mechanics, but I don't view randomness as essential to interesting mechanics. See, for instance, Diplomacy or Chess, which incorporate no randomness yet are at the same time very interesting to play.

Within those three categories, there's lots of different ways that a system can accomplish them, according to the likes of the players. Helping everyone to have a good time, for example, could mean providing a sense of challenge for the players, or it could mean giving the players free reign to roundhouse kick doors in with the power of Awesome. Participation in the story could range from letting the players completely define the story to confining their input to character customization (although I think both of those extremes are rife with problems, and should be seen as only extremes), and there's all sorts of things you can do to provide an interesting game.

On to the Game!
Probably the coolest feature of the Post of Note was the simplicity with which it accomplished its objectives. Using a very, very simple gameplay system, Chatty was able to deliver on all three points that I listed above. Not only that, but he was able to use his son's ideas as the basis of the game, prompting him to flesh things out: a perfect example of GM/Player cooperation!

Everything was directed towards advancing the plot, but with an eye to giving the player control. The GM asked good prompt questions, such as "Why are you trying to beat King Crystal?", adding depth directed by the player. Here's an interesting thought: many players are perfectly willing and able to create depth for their game, but they just haven't been given reason to, or the correct prompting. It also illustrates something I'd refer to as the "Okay, but..." principle (OBP). Essentially? The GM okays something that the player wants, but at the same time adds a twist to make things more interesting. It helps to add depth. Check Principle 2: the player definitely has a significant input in the story...and at the same time, the GM retains control.

At the same time, you don't want to use the OBP all the time. You have to say no sometimes. This is where the concept of conflict comes in: a very simple combat scenario. Now, we can see Principle 1 (have fun) and Principle 3 (make it a game) coming into play. Chatty used a Rock-Paper-Scissors mechanic to provide a contest in the back-and-forth action, as a resolution mechanic. Not only did it make it a challenge to win a conflict, it also strongly immersed the player in the action, by giving direct control over the "random" event.

One Other Thing...
How did Principle 1 come into play? It was this very same rock-paper-scissors mechanic. One of the ways of making a game fun for the player is avoiding an unnecessary amount of detail in the mechanics. This has to be tailored to the audience, obviously: some people are right at home with a bucket of rolls to determine if a llama can spit in the eye of the Dark Demon Bl'axxq'h'lu, who is 10 feet away, at a -30 degree angle...and then some people are just fine with flipping a coin to decide. What is essential, though, is that the mechanics provide enough interest/variety to keep the players entertained, and that they not require so much work that the reason for the rolls (which would be the game) gets forgotten.

In Conclusion
This week's Post of Note provides a wonderful example of how even simple mechanics can provide a very rich and strong roleplaying experience. By the end of this session, even the Player was learning, as we see him invoking the "Okay, but..." principle against himself, with the result that the story became very interesting. ("We’ll say he got crushed on a wall somewhere but that Crystal King will make another one in the next room.") All in all, it goes to show many things that can enrich gameplay for even the more sophisticated of gamers.


  1. Hey! Thanks for the post and the analysis. I like to get Nico to play these little games as often as possible.

  2. You're quite welcome! Like I said, I thought it was a really, really cool example of roleplay...well done!


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