Monday, 5 December 2011

Campaign models (pt.2)

If you've been waiting for part 2 of this, here we go.

First off, a recap:
1. Roleplaying as "just pretending" is a means to an end. We need to know what end we're (role)playing towards.
2. Roleplaying games are a social, creative endeavor. The group must collaborate on getting there.

Second of all:
1. When we know our common end, we can use various tools to get there. Tools include, but are not limited to: the ruleset we're using, the priorities that we set, the responsibilities and principles we adhere to, the choice of setting and characters.
2. Our purpose: We must figure out which tools are best for which ends. A selection of tools is a Campaign Model.

Addendum:
Don't forget! There are lots of aesthetic choices (like: "speaking in first person or third?", "gritty sci-fi or fantasy space opera?" etc.) that are absolutely essential to the question whether a person enjoys a game or not. But they aren't effectively connected to any specific toolset or end!

So "I can only enjoy a game where I'm immersed in my character." or "I don't like urban fantasy settings." is a completely legit thing to say that can make or break a game for a person. But it has nothing to do with any specific means (tools) and ends. Such choices are subjective and group-specific and don't belong to any Compaign Model.

That's the ground I want to build on.

Ends
I have tried to identify the Ends that I have come to recognize in my years of gaming (and thinking about it, and talking to and observing my friends and other gamers).

I believe there are three Ends that we can use roleplaying for:
-The facing of Challenges within the fictional content
-The creation of Drama within the fictional content
-The Experience of the fictional content

Challenges take on different forms, from resource management to puzzle solving and tactical and strategic choices. They are framed within the imaginary content because it gives them texture and context as well as making them possible in the first place, where no such challenges can possibly exist in reality. The fictional provides the parameters of the challenge, much like lines on the ground form the parameters of a ball game. It asks the question "can you?".

Drama is structured around these things: tense moments, situations that cannot be ignored, difficult questions, characters with motivations and their obstacles. They are framed within the imaginary content, because stories always are, because imaginary content is maleable and can be used to create these characters and situations, by cutting to the chase, getting to the meat. Drama for drama's sake is just like action for action's sake however (enjoyable but not sustainably satisfying) and thus needs meaningful resolutions.
It asks the question "what does it mean?".

Experience is of people, places and situations, it is predicated on verisimilitude, or correctness or adherence to form, because it requires suspension of disbelief. It is framed within the imaginary content, because it allows us to be and experience people and things and situations we otherwise couldn't. It can be escapism from the real or celebration of the fictional.
It asks the question "what is it like"?

All three of these ends are present in the activity of roleplaying as such, but this doesn't mean they are reliably met in any given group or game. I've been in plenty of games where there was no challenge whatsoever, or no drama whatsoever or no experiencing whatsoever. That's fine, as long as you don't come into it with the wrong expectations.

Reliably and functionally achieving those ends is what the Campaign Models are all about.

The Models
These are the ones I've managed to figure out, but I'm sure there can be others. The list is limited to games with fairly traditional GM+Players structure. GM-less games are not included as of now. I've given them stupid nicknames, to make them easily identifiable.

The Pinball  - Satisfies: Player-driven, Challenge-oriented play
The GM needs to be reactive and improvise a lot. Improvisational tools such as lists, random tables etc. are highly useful. The GM presents a setting, with various situations, places and so on without regard to outcomes or plans. The players create characters within the setting and seize upon opportunities within it, without regard as to what the GM expects. The goals and opportunities chosen by the players have options, challenges and obstacles to them, in accordance to the setting prep done by the GM. The challenges are thus chosen and realized by the players themselves, but resolved in play, through GM advocacy.

The Mountain - Satisfies: GM-driven, Challenge-oriented play
The GM creates a goal as well as the various challenges on the way to the goal. The players buy in by creating characters that have that goal. Unlike in The Pinball, the challenges are already tied to the goal, and are not chosen by the players, except as part of the strategic choices as to which path to take. Broadly speaking, the Mountain can be seen as a subset of the Pinball, or the Pinball can be understood as a collection of Mountains.

The Burning Rooms - Satisfies: GM-driven, Drama-oriented play
The players create characters that are situated in the setting, with positioning, relationships etc. The GM applies pressure to the situation, by creating moments of choice that the players can't ignore. Choices made by the characters generate material for further situations and choices.

The Faustian - Satisfies: Player-driven, Drama-oriented play
The players create characters that are explicitly motivated, the GM creates or presents a setting and situation that spurs those motivations in the first place. The players act on their character's motivations, pursuing their goals, but unlike in the Pinball, the question is not whether they can overcome the obstacles but rather what kinds of choices they will make on the way.

The Tapestry - Satisfies: Player-driven, Experience-oriented play
The players create characters that they want to play, the GM presents a setting for the characters to exist in. The GM's job is to create the sketch of the big picture, and keep on creating the tapestry, while leaving the right kind of room for the characters for them to embolden the whole. The player's job is to weave their characters into the big picture, completing and embellishing the tapestry.

The Ride - Satisfies: GM-driven, Experience-oriented play
The GM creates a tight, overarching story, while the players create the characters taking part in this plot. The GM unravels the story bit by bit, while the players participate, by experiencing the various situations that they find themselves in, acting their part and performing the right actions to advance the story.

--
Each of these has their own forms and examples. Each of them has potential problems and pitfalls. But out of the many games I've run and played, I think these are the ways that you can get your game to work the way you want it.

There are possible hybrids. The pairs sharing the same orientation (C, D, E), can be easily transferred from one to another most of the time and in fact they often blur the line. I've separated them more because of the organisational principles rather than difference in play.

There are broad similarities between The Tapestry, The Pinball and The Faustian as well as between The Ride, The Mountain and The Burning Rooms. In both cases they can drift from one another, but not without a price, which is why I'd personally very much advise against it where possible.

They can be layered. A game can be made to look like one thing, but actual play reveals it to be another. This is tricky. If the deeper layer is what you've been going for, then it's satisfying but otherwise it can feel like betrayal.

They can be all over the place, switching one moment to the next. That's cool, but in my experience you're going to feel like only short bits of the game were actually worth anything and you'll be stacking dice the rest of the session.

What else? Play games.
Identify which moments made you excited and felt good and satisfied your playing instinct. Figure how to get those moments again and again. Which itch were they scratching and how?
Identify the moments that made you yawn or kick the table, piss in the wind. Why were they a betrayal of your expectations?
Establish trust and understanding in your group, a shared enthusiasm to go for the first moments and steer clear of the other.

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