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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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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rules, Plot and Metagame: Part II

Part I

When examining the idea of metagaming, I noticed that there was an interesting continuum that developed. The presence of a metagame element seems to have a distinct pattern when it comes to various times of "roleplaying". What is it? Well, it seems best to simply demonstrate...

A Little Exercise in Observation

Alternate Reality Games, such as ilovebees, rank very low on the player-metagame scale. The players are literally immersed in the gameworld to some extent, and have almost no outside knowledge they can draw on. The only "ruleset" is the ruleset of the real world.

LARPs (Live-Action RolePlaying) also have immersion, but they tend to involve an external ruleset which the players are aware of, out-of-character. This may be a social conflict resolution system, such as in the World of Darkness LARPs, or a more sophisticated combat system, such as found in fantasy boffer LARPs. Still, the real world continues to influence the game, with players' perceptions and abilities partially dictated by their real-world capabilities. The more a LARP strays from using players' natural abilities (introducing rules to handle them), the harder immersion becomes, and the harder it is to mix immersion and gameplay. The rules are there to take care of details which aren't covered by the real-world aspects, such as supernatural powers.

Classic Tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons or World of Darkness make the players fully aware of the ruleset, with a strong emphasis on the distinction between in-character and out-of-character play. At the same time, they employ a "Game Master"/"Dungeon Master"/"Storyteller", a player whose sole job is to run the game. The GM controls the pacing of the adventure, and the challenges faced by the heroes. The rules stand as a framework to make the game feel real, and often imitate the real world. Or at least the world of the game.

Narrative Indie RPGs like Fiasco (I can't come up with a better term for them) tip the balance even farther towards metagame. The players control characters, but they have a sharp awareness of the context of the plot, and the role their characters play in it. It's more akin to directing an actor in a movie. Many of these games are run without a GM. The pacing and other details are arrived at through the interplay of the players. These rulesets tend to be very abstract and narrative-based.

Collaborative Storytelling, also known as freeform RP, features a bunch of players telling a story with one another's characters. The mix between in-character and out-of-character can vary, but there's generally a very large awareness of metagame: the plot. Interestingly, there are very few rules, save the courtesy rules of "don't over-control other people's characters" and "don't write all-powerful characters".

Rules? What Rules?
There's an interesting trend here. Down the spectrum, you start with low metagame and also a low level of rules. As you move down, the presence of rules increases drastically, until you reach classic tabletop RPGs. From there, the rules start getting less and less, and also more abstract. By the time you're at nigh-total metagame (freeform roleplaying), the rules have all but vanished again. Fascinating stuff, no?

Of course, then there's the question of exactly what this means. That'll come around in Part III...where I start to wax a tad philosophical about this whole "metagame" thing.

Part III

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