Game Structures

edited May 2012 in General Discussion
I've been following the blog of a game designer named Justin Alexander for some time now. The guy has an incredibly keen eye when it comes to thinking about the way in which game mechanics impact the way we play a game. There is a wide spread myth in circulation today that holds that role playing is essentially just a matter of collective story telling, which, though it relies upon certain rules, is largely unaffected by which system of rules is used in conducting this collective story. I think part of the reason this myth is so popular is that allot of us got turned off by the whole Addition Wars of D&D, and figured "hey, we're all engaged in the same kind of activity here, we're just using different rule sets. What's the big deal? A good DM/Player ought to be able to role play well and tell a good story regardless of which set of rules are used." There is certainly some truth in this, but I think that Justin had done a great job over the years of exposing the fallacious assumption that the rules we use are really immaterial to what we are doing when we roll play.

He recently finished a rather helpful series of blogs on the topic of "Game Structures": that not only shows how the rules we use to structure our game shapes the way we play the game, but also offers invaluable advice to DMs on how to add new game structures to your campaign that will add depth and versatility to your game while at the same time lightening your load as a DM. Just thought I'd share this since I bet others here might find these useful.



  • RaseCidraen
    Posts: 890
    Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention Arsheesh! Very helpful and insightful.

    I have to admit that I subscribe to that myth, but I have found myself changing the way I tell stories when I switched over to the nWoD gaming system. Part of that has to do with the fact that there's so much different atmosphere with the rules.

    I find myself backsliding into the "screw the rules, I'm here to have fun!" mentality, but that's more of a function that there's sod all in terms of crossover mechanics between the different nWoD systems. It makes things headache inducing, although that could be the wisdom teeth...

    In response to Arsheesh's insightful blog-finding on games, I'd like to point out an insightful blog I've found on movies/culture, a writer who has actually changes the way I experience media. I direct you to "Film Crit Hulk": whose insightful commentary has actually helped me put into words why I like things. He's done numerous columns on "tactile details" - those bits of the movie that are all our brains hold onto when the tonality doesn't sit right with us. He's done a lot to help me unify the tone of my stories, because if something does not fit in, the brain sours the taste of the entire experience. I'm rambling a bit, but he opened my eyes when I realized that when I used to say "That film sucked because of X scene", that's only a tactile detail my brain fixed itself upon. Did the movie suck just because of one 3 minute scene? No. But that scene might have been a symptom of a larger tonal problem that exists in media today - a sort of inconsistency. I have a feeling that I've lost the point a bit here, but I wanted to put the ideas out there.

    I think that Arsheesh has stumbled onto something great - if the tone of the Game Structure is uniform, it gives the stories we weave an unparalleled cohesiveness.

    There. I knew I had a point somewhere.

  • GamingMegaverse
    Posts: 2,966
    "I think that Arsheesh has stumbled onto something great – if the tone of the Game Structure is uniform, it gives the stories we weave an unparalleled cohesiveness."

    Here here!
    I run a game in a system that has been attacked more often than the last dragon. If you are consistent, and your players accept the rules and play within the basic structure, you can tell an amazing story together.

    "A God...Rebuilt":
    "Duskreign's First Ever COTM":
    "OP's COTM April 2012":

    Just trying to help out.

  • RaseCidraen
    Posts: 890
    Aw man - I've never been able to get to the last dragon. :(
  • dlaporte7271
    Posts: 94
    Loved the blog...definitely stimulated some thought. As a sort of counterpoint...I have great memories of lot's of pre or in between session 'role' playing (Arsheesh I'm not sure but I think you meant 'role' when you typed 'roll')...anyway...I can remember role playing scenes while riding in the car, or talking on the phone. In fact, it was kind of a matter of pride that we could have a great gaming session with nothing but two people and maybe a couple of dice. The only purpose of the dice was to have a mechanism to resolve some hit, skill check and the like. For that kind of play I recall making up a system on the spot. I don't recall those types of 'on the fly' systems causing any inconsistencies in our overall story. I don't know that I have ever felt like Rase in that "screw the rules" mentality, but I will definitely alter or ignore a rule if it becomes an impediment to the fun, or to the story. (don't want to start a flame war over the various editions here) I think, as a guy who started with DnD basic and progressed up through the editions (lots of other systems as well) I think that I really enjoy the 'free form' feel of allowing your players to swing from chandeliers or whatever other crazy stunt they want to pull off, and being able to come up with a method of resolving/describing it when no written rule seems to cover the situation. I guess...when the rules seem to indicate that you have to say 'NO' to your players...then they may be getting in the way of the story, rather than advancing it. That is not to say that structure isn't important...for things like combat and skill checks and other baseline gaming need a consistent system...I would submit that those things are not 'role' playing in themselves...Isn't it the imaginative and creative (and often unexpected) actions of your players that you are trying to foster within the story?

    Incidentally, I find that the OP and the PBP format really allows for free form play. The only time the rules come into play is when we mover our game onto the Virtual Tabletop to resolve combat...then the system matters but pretty much only for the combat and skill resolution. Everything else seems to work 'rules free.' And with the OP as a resource for archiving information, it's not so difficult to ensure that the story remains consistent. In this format I feel completely free to allow my imagination to be my guide when writing up the response to a player post, or in describing a set of events.


  • magavendon
    Posts: 112
    Darn you Arsheesh! I've found myself reading pratically *everything* this man has to say...
  • arsheesh
    Posts: 850
    @Rase, when I get some free time tomorrow I'll have to check out the link, that sounds really interesting.

    @Killervp, consistency one's game structure certainly does provide a framework in which players can make informed choices. I think that is part of what Justin is saying here. The other point is that the mechanics we include (and make consistent use of) in our games also encourages certain kinds of role playing as well.

    @Dlaporte7271, ironically, the kind of free form role playing experience that you describe is exactly the kind of experience that Justin thinks can be facilitated by a good game structure. In his article on "open tables": Justin reminisces about the winsome days when we could just whip out our dice and our make-shift graph-paper dungeons during our lunch breaks at school and play a half hour session (no advance prep needed). His open table play style is meant to capture both the feel, and the ease of play of these more care-free days. However, for him, what makes these sessions work the way they are intended isn't the ability create or adjudicate rules on the spot, but rather to have certain game structures on hand which require very minimal prepping. In fact, a good set of game structures can decrease the need for such on the spot rule/creations and adjudications.

    @Magavendon, yeah you and me both.

Sign In or Register to comment.

August 2022
In Over Their Heads

Read the feature post on the blog
Return to Obsidian Portal

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!