Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been recuperating from having a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (surgery to remove one’s gallbladder) and that’s given me a bit of free time to mull over some roleplaying stuff again.
Not to mention the fact that the operation worked a treat and, though I’ve been feeling a bit tender, I’m finally getting back to my old self. The restricted diet, discomfort and painful, sleepless nights from the last six months are a thing of the past and I’m not missing my gallbladder, even slightly. Yay!
Anyway, a discussion with Bill White over at Consensus Games has led to the following thoughts, which seemed worth posting about here.
Cycle of Situation Generation and Resolution
In practice, a roleplaying game consists of a series of imaginary situations/scenes, each of which players are expected to react to and resolve (in some fashion) before moving on to the next.
Hence games are a repeating cycle of:
Pretty much without exception, RPGs provide extensive support to Situation Resolution, through mechanics that determine success or failure of imagined actions and/or arbitrate conflicts. However, aside from pre-scripted adventure modules and guidelines such as “threaten PC beliefs”, it’s largely down to the participants (typically the GM) to come up with interesting situations which advance the fiction.
This is usually done through a combination of preparation and improvisation, both of which have their problems; either railroading or the GMs version of writer’s block.
So, given that Situation Generation and Situation Resolution are both fundamental to play, why is all the mechanical support focused on Situation Resolution? And do effective ways to support Situation Generation actually exist?
I have some thoughts on why Situation Resolution gets all the attention but I think I’ll save those for another post as I want to focus on the second question, “Do effective ways to support Situation Generation exist?”
Well, certainly for me, I’ve realised that a major appeal of Bill White’s oracular approach to RPGs is that the techniques he employs do in fact support situation generation during play. In these games the participants aren’t asked to decide “what happens next?” they’re asked to interpret the cards, which is easier somehow. Switching the focus to reading the cards prompts the imagination, encourages collaboration and works surprisingly well considering there’s no overall ‘architect’ guiding the story. As Bill himself says:
People’s minds naturally want to impute meaning to patterns: random noise plus human perception equals deep significance.
Another approach, which has been employed in some games, is to mechanize aspects of GM play to the point where opposition to the PCs can be played to the hilt (within the limits of the rules) e.g. something like, if a PC blows a certain roll the GM is entitled to threaten the PC’s relationships or property, or to place them at a disadvantage but cannot actual do them any physical harm.
With this technique the players and GM “advocate” for their respective characters and situations are generated as a consequence of the conflicts arising between them. Once again there is a subtle shift of focus as the GM is being asked not “What happens next?” but “What’s your next move?”
For the time being these are the only techniques I have in mind but I’m wondering if there are others? And, if so, how effective they are? I’ll be giving it some more thought and will probably expand on this post at a later time.
Certainly I’ll be continuing to look out for oracular mechanics since, as anyone reading this blog will know, they are of great interest to me.
Anyway, any thoughts or comments are most welcome. Thanks for dropping by.