A Proposal for Campaign Classification

By Leon von Stauber <leonvs@ccwf.cc.utexas.edu>

Converted to HTML by John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>

         What follows is an actual attempt at a complete classfication of campaign styles based on axes. This is the second or third stab at this on my part, and certainly not the last. But I did first want to make some acknowledgments.

         This is pretty much entirely a summation of other people's ideas, hopefully presented in a manner that will clarify, rather than obscure, the issues. It draws especially heavily on Rodney's recent and not-so-recent ideas. The ol' plot/world business is still in here: I can't remember if that was yours, John, or if you were summarizing the "story/world" distinction. The Diagetic setting issues here were spurred by Mary's original "romantic/realistic" contrast. Also, I can't remember who recently suggested the "Conflictual/Mundane" distinction recently; speak up, so I can properly credit you on the upcoming Web page! (John Kim has inspired me!) And of course, all of the people engaged in the discussions here on r.g.f.a. have added immeasurably to the exposition and value of these ideas.

            Plot            (Light/Heavy Plot prep)
            World           (Light/Heavy World prep)
            Drama           (Light/Heavy Drama)
            Realism         (Realistic/Fantastic)
            Romanticism     (Romantic/Nihilistic)
            Conflict        (Conflictual/Mundane)
            Authorship      (Auteur/Troupe)
            Direction       (Directed/Natural)
            Mechanism       (Mechanical/Freeform)

         Some of these terms suck. "Mechanism", in particular. "Mundane" seems to imply boredom. Also, is "Diagesis" a word? Rodney, or somebody, help me out on this one. I couldn't find the def in an online Webster's, and I don't have a hardcopy dictionary handy.

         Another term for "Plot" might be "Story", and "World" might well be "Setting". "Romanticism" may be more clear if it's called "Heroism". I'll be taking votes on these names, so speak up!

         A note on choosing these terms: on the axes with clear duality (the Diagetic and Metagame axes), I chose the terms that seem easier to grasp. For example, from "Fantasy/Realism" I chose "Realism" as the term for the axis, since "Fantasy" doesn't seem to get the point across.

Preparatory issues

         These deal with the *kind* of preparation a GM does. They deal fairly directly with the motivations and limitations behind the preparation for a campaign.

Plot and World

         I still like setting up the Plot and World axes so as to define a plane, as below (again, my apologies to those using proportional fonts):

                World axis
                10-|                  /
                 9-| World          /
                 8-|  -oriented   / 
                 7-|            /
                 6-|          /
                 5-|        /
                 4-|      /  Plot
                 3-|    /     -oriented
                 2-|  /
                 0-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|   Plot axis
                   0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

         The origin (0,0) of this graph is pretty much meaningless -- it indicates no preparation of any kind. "10" on these axes might represent some sort of humanly achievable limit on the amount of preparation.

         With this, you would describe how much Plot prep and how much World prep went into the campaign, usually limited by the amount of time the GM has to spend. Campaigns with more time on world design than on plot design would fall into the "upper left" part of the graph, and would loosely be termed "World-oriented". Campaigns which fall into the "lower right" would be described as "Plot-oriented". (For those of you with a background in physics, this is analogous to the definition of spacelike and timelike events on a relativistic spacetime diagram.)

         (Rodney, your idea to do some basic statistical analysis on this sounded intriguing, but I often wonder if we're already taking things too far. ;-) )

        Drama   |-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|   Drama axis
                0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

         My ideas on this have changed, and I agree that this is better viewed as an issue in GM campaign preparation. (See the notes on the Direction axis for what happens in play.) It deals with the degree to which the plot or world hinges on the "dramatic necessities" of the PCs. This may still require some definition, but basically it describes how much the plot/world hooks into and is dependent upon elements of the PCs' personalities and backgrounds.

         A "0" on this axis means that the plot/world is designed completely without regard to the PCs that will be involved. A "10" describes a plot/world that is formed entirely from PC considerations. This, of course, means that a lightly Dramatic game would probably have the GM design world/plot long before the players make up characters, while the very heavily Dramatic game requires knowledge of already-made (or nearly so) PCs.

         Heavily Dramatic could also be called "character-oriented".

Diagetic issues

         These are also issues for campaign preparation, but they deal with *what* the GM prepares. They describe the internal characteristics of the campaign or setting.

        Realism         Fantastic <-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-> Realistic
                                    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

         This is a measure of the extent to which a setting abides by the same physical, sociological, and psychological rules that govern the real world. (Of course, we may not all completely agree on what those are!) A "0" on this axis represents an outlandishly fantastical setting which violates everything we know about how the world works (Lovecraft's stories set in the Dreamlands come close), while a "10" is a faithful model of reality (something scientists are still trying to achieve!).

        Romanticism     Nihilistic <-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-> Romantic
                                    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

         Will the PCs prevail against overwhelming odds (most supers campaigns?)? Or are the PCs doomed, and it's only a matter of time (Call of Cthulhu)?
0 - ``Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.''
10 - The PCs almost can't lose.

        Conflict        Mundane <-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-> Conflictual
                                  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

         Is the setting rife with conflict (war, political intrigue, etc.)? Or are things pretty quiet, and it's up to the PCs to find something interesting to do?
0 - Kansas.
10 - Bosnia, early 15th-century Europe

Metagame issues

         These deal with how a GM handles things on a level external to the game setting or story. Two of these axes are the only ones in this scheme that really deal with in-play decision-making.

        Authorship      Troupe <-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-> Auteur
                                  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

         This is a measure of how much authorial control is in the hands of one person. A ``0'' indicates equal control among all participants (perhaps no GM as such), a ``10'' disallows any meaningful player input (``control freak'' GMs).

        Direction       Natural <-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-> Directed
                                  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

         This is an important one. It measures the degree to which the GM will take a hand to keep things ``on track''. In a Directed game, the GM will make a conscious attempt to keep things Dramatic (i.e. especially relevant to PC backgrounds and personalities), to keep the Plot moving, to make sure the Conflict level stays high, etc., perhaps giving up some setting consistency to do so. In a Naturally-GMed campaign, the GM will interpret and respond to PC actions in the way that seems most likely and consistent, given the particular setting, even if some Drama is lost or the Plot is derailed.
0 - Any way the campaign goes is fine.
10 - Complete railroading.

        Mechanism       Freeform <-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-|-> Mechanical
                                  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

         This is a measure of how unwilling the GM is to bend or break the rules in favor of game considerations. Its sort of a game-mechanically-oriented form of the Direction axis. Note: "Mechanical" is a *terrible* term.
0 - ``Dice? What dice? And did you say something about a rule book?''
10 - The GM will beat rules lawyers to the punch. ``The dice are always right.''


         This scheme presumes in its descriptions a simplistic pattern of game design followed by game play, and never the twain shall meet. Of course, this doesn't actually exist, but I think the system is still valid for the normal routine of design/play/design-while-playing/design-some-more/ play/design/etc.

         Notice that I've been using this as a system to classify individual campaigns (or settings, or stories, pick your favorite). It could also be used to rate general GM tendencies and preferences, which is probably most of what we'll be doing in this group.

         Did I hear the word "simulation"? Not until now. While this term doesn't have an official place in this classification anymore, I think it's a GM style with which most of us are familiar and which we can comprehend. So here's what I think: Simulationism is primarily characterized by a strongly Natural style, usually associated with heavy World prep, light Plot prep, light Drama, and a healthy dose of Realism. (At least it's not typically strongly Fantastic.) It's middle of the road on the Romantic axis, and usually pretty true to the Mechanical side of things. I think this probably describes Mary pretty well.

         If this works, perhaps it would lead to some interesting discussion on the implications of various styles on SOD, type of gaming (tabletop, solo, one-on-one, PBM, PBeM, network, IL), and similar issues.

         If we can get a lot of this stuff on the campaign/GM side of things to shake out soon, then I think it's time to turn our attention back to the role-playing/player side. Some nuggets of ideas for RP classification:

        Narrative Stances
        Proactive/Reactive PCs
        PC (integration into)/(dependence upon) setting
        PCs with many/few dramatic hooks

John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Tue May 6 16:41:21 2003