RPG-a-Day 29: System

We’re in the home stretch for this year’s RPG-a-Day! Today’s prompt is ‘System’.

Paulo, who has been doing RPG-a-Day too, had some interesting thoughts on my entry from yesterday and our differences in playstyle.
He is right in that I want the rules of a game to support its theme (I’ve written about that before this month), but our preference on how the rules interact with the narrative differs. I finished reading Floria, which is a Japanese RPG. Those games tend to be quite gamist: the scenario has to be finished in one session, so you need to get a move on and not dither and chew the scenery too much. So one thing that I noticed is that these games have tests that are part of a ‘procedure’. Like in Ryuutama: if you’re traveling, you roll for how you fare that day. If you miss your travel roll, you lose half your HPs. And while that is fine from a gamist point of view (you follow the procedures of the game to produce occurrences that turn into a narrative), it’s something I have trouble with — it just doesn’t sit right with me. Same with Torchbearer: you miss a roll, and as a result you become Angry.
As someone with a more narrativist preference, I want the rules to follow the narrative (“ok, so you try to cross the river? Roll a test to see if you make it.”) rather than the reverse (“ok, you missed your test, you lose half your HP. How did that happen?” “Oh, when crossing the river.”). It’s a subtle difference, but one that is (somehow) important to me.

As for Paulo’s apprehension for the Nobilis rules system, I don’t really have anything to re-assure him. The rules kick in in specific circumstances (when you want to perform a miracle), but that (probably) won’t be the focus of the campaign. That’s also why a diceless system works for Nobilis: You only engage with the rules in specific circumstances, and the setting is such that those circumstances will happen, but probably not that often. Most of the intrigue is social in nature: your relationships with your Familia, other Nobles and Imperators and with the various spirits are the true driver of the game. And your character talking to an NPC is just that: talk, no real rules needed. And you’re so competent/powerful that most actions simply don’t require any special action. Crossing a river is no challenge at all for a Noble with Aspect 1 and above, so there’s no rule to engage with.
It’s probably quite different from what he’s used to, but it’ll be fine. 🙂

2 thoughts on “RPG-a-Day 29: System

  1. I do wonder if a system like Torchbearer should be identified as gamist. It’s not numerically focused in the way that D&D is, for instance. Moreover, the consequences for failure should actually be discussed at the table a among all players rather than automatically assigned.

    Sure, it means the narrative is more restricted than complete player imagination, but to me that’s more like a prompt in improvisational theatre: still very much narrative focused rather than the numerical cause-and-effect of a to-hit + damage roll.

    1. I think I regard a system as definitely gamist when one of two things are true. One option is when a rules procedure is triggered by the game itself and not by the narrative, but does produce a result that affects the narrative. The second option is when the narrative triggers a rules procedure that has a narrative result unrelated to the action that triggered it.
      Ryuutama satisfies the first criterium: every day you roll a travel check, and if you fail, you get to narrate how you lost half of your HPs.
      From my exposure to it, I think Torchbearer satisfies the second criterium: you choose to do a test, and then the grind hits, and suddenly you’re angry — while that is the result of the rules, it is not the result of the narrative action that triggered it.
      I agree that D&D is a gamist system, but it doesn’t satisfy either criterium: you only engage with the rules as the result of a narrative action. You roll to hit when the player decides to attack, after all.
      PbtA is a narrative system: you only engage with the rules if some specific narrative conditions are met.

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