0) What's this fack thing? 1) What is "on topic" for this newsgroup? 2) What's with all the acronyms? 3) What is diceless role-playing? 4) What do you mean by "plot" and "plotting"? 5) What about all these other terms? 6) What are these "narrative stances" that people refer to? 7) What are the campaign "axes"? 8) What is the point of all this abstract discussion?
Part I of this FAQ explains the "threefold model," Part II deals with "plot", and Part III deals with "diceless roleplaying."
WARNING: Most of the content of the FAQ was written in 1997, and has not been significantly updated since that time. Thus, much of the material here might not be relevant for current discussion.
"FAQ" stands for "Frequently Asked Questions". This is a regularly posted document intended to introduce newcomers to common terminology and issues in this forum.
This newsgroup is about comparative discussion of various role-playing systems and styles -- their merits and flaws, how well they work in different situations, etc. Until there is consensus otherwise, this includes all styles of role-play, including live-action -- just make sure to label your posts clearly.
Thus, GURPS versus HERO would technically be on-topic. However, most of what has gone on is more detailed discussion of differing styles and features of games. For example: "Do you prefer to have rules and traits which govern a character's personality?" or "What are the consequences of timelining a plot in advance?"
You should try to avoid asking or stating that a game or technique is generically "better" or "worse". The one thing which is strikingly clear from discussion here is that different people prefer different things in their games. Try to keep this in mind.
The other thing is to be careful about is misunderstood generalizations. Someone might say that "plotted" games are restrictive, and you respond that he is wrong -- they are inherently more flexible. Most likely, he is referring to a different type of game when he says "plotted" than you think of when you say "plotted".
POV: "Point of View" IC: "In-Character Stance", i.e. the state of thinking from your character's POV OOC: "Out Of Character" SOD: "Suspension of Disbelief" DIP: "Develop-In-Play", referring to players who only have a rough character sketch which is only filled out during the campaign DAS: "Develop-At-Start", i.e. players who write a detailed character background/personality by the time the campaign begins d-b: "Description-Based", i.e. using qualitative verbal description rather than game mechanics PM: "Personality Mechanics," any mechanic with the aim to help simulate a character's personality (which can be advisory or coercive) plus more general ones like- PC: "Player Character" - usually handled by a player NPC: "Non-Player Character" - usually handled by the GM YMMV: "your mileage may vary" IMHO: "in my humble opinion" CF: "Castle Falkenstein", a card-using Victorian fantasy game OTE: "Over the Edge", a dice-using freeform conspiracy game RM: "Rolemaster"
Technically, diceless role-playing is simply any RPG which does not use any randomizers like dice or cards. There are currently four published diceless RPG "systems", including The _Amber_ DPRG, by Phage Press; _Theatrix_, by Backstage Press; _Persona_, by Tesarta Industries, Inc.; and _Epiphany_, by BTRC.
Some games use non-numerical randomizers, such as _Everway_'s Vision Cards, and are thus not "diceless" in this sense. These are also distinct from most "dice-using" games, however. Also, some dice-using games have notes on how to run the game in a diceless fashion, such as FUDGE by Grey Ghost Games and _Witchcraft_ by Myrmidon Press.
However, you should *not* assume that all diceless is like it is described in these games. "Diceless" encompasses a wide variety of playing styles, ranging from interactive storytelling to competitive simulation-style games.
For more information on this, see part III of this FAQ.
We don't. :-) By that, I mean that there are many different meanings of the term "plot" floating around: at least three and probably more. For more information, see Part II of this FAQ. For now, I will outline three common usages:
"group contract": The set of conventions the players and GM agree on: including rule system, but also issues like "The GM will fudge things so PCs won't die pointless deaths", or "Pulp genre conventions take precedence over common sense", or even "Don't let the cat in while we play: she bites legs." "metagame": dealing with concerns of the players and GM, as opposed to the characters in the gameworld. Examples of metagame concerns could include "spotlight time", plot scripting, and who brought the munchies. "intra-game": dealing solely with matters within the gameworld. This would include a character's plans and actions, the environment, etc. "three-fold": A model describing games as a balance of Dramatist, Simulationist, and Gamist concerns -- i.e. someone might describe themselves as mostly Gamist with some Dramatist influence, but not very Simulationist. Also known as the "triangle model" (for a pictorial diagram of this). See part I of this FAQ for more information on this topic. "dramatist": is the esthetic of games which try to make the action into a satisfying and coherent storyline. (See Part I.) "gamist": is the esthetic of games which try to set up a fair challenge for the *players* (as opposed to the PC's). The challenges may be tactical combat, intellectual mysteries, social manipulation, etc. (See Part I.) "simulationist": is the esthetic of games where effort is made to not let meta-game concerns during play affect in-game resolution of events. That is, a fully simulationist GM will not fudge results to save PC's or to save her plot. (See Part I.) "immersion": This is a term for trying to cut out all meta-game information and view things from the Point-of-View of your character (or for GM's just look at the game world facts). The player tries to feel what the PC is feeling, and develops a complex intuitive model of the PC. Some immersive players are "closed" to the GM or mechanics telling them what the PC is feeling, because that interferes with their internal model. Others are "open" to such external input. "mechanic": A formal method of resolution, which need not be numerical (i.e. Plot Points and Drama Deck cards are mechanics) but must be specific. A statement like "low roll good, lower roll better" is not considered a mechanic unless it is spelled out just how low is good. On the other hand, a statement like "a 02 or less is a critical" is a mechanic. There has been some discussion over what exactly constitutes a mechanic: until that is resolved I am keeping the above description, but direct people to ongoing discussion. "mechanics-light, mechanicless": Games which have very few to no mechanics (sometimes known as "freeform", but this term is less clear). _Over the Edge_ is mechanics-light, for example. A game using the rule of "GM Decides" is a "mechanicless" game. (Technically, one can say it has a single mechanic, but the term "mechanicless" still stands for this type of game.) "non-numerical": a game or game mechanic which does not use meta-game numbers. Non-numerical randomizers could be judging the result of an action by the theme of a tarot card drawn. Non-numerical stats would be text description without any associated game number. "spotlight time": The amount of time a player/PC is the center of attention in the group. "firewalling": This is the practice of not letting Out-of-Character information you know as a player affect your decisions in play, which can apply to both the GM and the player. "abstraction": This is substituting a simpler game handling for something that in the game-world is more complex. In other words, the GM might say - `You manage to pick the lock' rather than describing how each tumbler was handled. "script immunity": This is part of the group contract under which certain characters are protected from dying at a metagame level. For example, the GM might fudge so as not to kill PC's unless they do something stupid. This might also be handled by mechanics such as "Fortune Points" which players spend to save their PC's. This can also apply to important NPC's (such as villians in _James Bond_, who can use "Survival Points" to always get away.) "Fair Play": This is another group assumption -- that the GM will present problems which are challenging but solvable by the PC's. If the players act intelligently, it is expected that the PC's should succeed and be rewarded. This is often an integral part of "Gamist" contracts (see above). "assumption clash": When the GM's understanding of how the game- world works conflicts with a player's assumptions. For example, as a player you might think that your tough fighter can kill a charging boar with his sword with little fear of injury, while your GM thinks that a boar can easily ignore any sword swing and will break both his legs. You say "I crouch and prepare to meet its rush" and get severely mauled. It doesn't matter who is *right* in this case -- the problem is that their understanding differs. The player are not privy to information her character would know, and thus she made decisions which simply didn't make sense in the game world. "interactive literature": a term for various forms of Live Action Role-playing Games (LARP's), which involve the interactive creation of a story. Not everything the characters do is neccessarily acted out, but they share some qualities: There are almost never NPC's, so both protagonists and antagonists are run by players. The players generally wander around a large area -- a Judge/GM is not always on hand, and bulky rule are rarely carried. Thus, the resolution mechanics must be minimal.
This was first formulated by Kevin Hardwick and Sarah Kahn, and was so useful that it immediately became part of the jargon of the group. These stances are not precisely defined, but these are rough summaries: [A] Actor Stance The Actor Stance is the one in which the player contemplates what she can do to portray her character more effectively to the other participants in the game. That is, you use it when you have already fixed what your character is going to do -- and your concern is primarily portraying her to others. This is different from Author stance because it is not concerned with character development -- instead of writing the character or trying to think *as* the character, the player consciously trying to portray the character as defined. (i.e. "Michael has a weakness for women, so I'll say pick-up lines to this NPC.") [B] Audience Stance The position from which the player observes, enjoys, and evaluates the game or aspects of it as himself, rather than as his character. This is also a meta-game stance, as it refers to the *player's* viewing and interpretation of the game, which may be very different from the character's. This stance is the stance from which things like dramatic irony or historical accuracy are judged. It is also the stance adopted whenever the player witnesses an in-game event of which his character is utterly unaware. [C] Author Stance The position from which the player evaluates the game with an eye towards changing it or affecting its development -- either through her character or possibly through the world itself. The player adopts this when consciously writing new parts of her character's background, for example. Usually it is associated with the player watching the development of the game, and trying to spice it up by throwing in new twists (i.e. "Hey, we've just gotten involved with pirates -- why don't I write in that my character's ex-girlfriend was killed in a pirate attack!") Thus, the player is trying to stay consistent with the character as defined, but isn't thinking *as* the character. [D] In-Character Stance (IC) or Immersion Stance The view of the game from within the inside of the game world and its reality, usually from within the mind of a player character living within that reality. The player is thinking *as* the character -- he doesn't acknowledge Out-of-Character (OOC) information and tries to concentrate on what the character is experiencing. In theory, acting In-Character becomes second nature -- the player does not look at his character sheet and see "Weakness for Women". Rather, he hears the GM describe a woman and reacts by saying a pass at her. There are a lot of conflicting claims regarding this stance. Everyone agrees that it is difficult to get into. Once there, some people talk about having different emotional responses or different personality types (see below). In general, this is said to take much preparation effort to drop into -- making the character feel real in your mind. It also is fragile: distractions can drop you out, making you uncertain of what the character would "really" do. [?] ``Deep In-Character Stance'' (``Deep IC'') This is a possible deeper version of IC stance, where the player begins to "channel" her character and just *be* that person. In theory, this is likened to certain mask work or experiences of spiritual possession -- that is, even though the character is not an external entity, the player feels as though something else were taking over, and she is unable to control what the character is doing in the game. Of course, in any RPG, multiple stances may be taken. Often players will have a preference for one stance over another, but still a player will usually switch back and forth. Some claim that this is done quickly and effortlessly -- others claim that certain stances (mostly In-Character) require much time and effort to drop into. Much discussion hinges on how to encourage and facilitate people's preferences in these regards. For those who want to play in the "In-Character"(IC) stance, it is important not to have metagame distractions. They need to be able to get as close as possible to their character's Point-of-View (POV).
This is a concept for "campaign classification" developed by Leon von Stauber and Rodney Payne. From the initial concept, Leon had created a large number of axes on which campaigns could be classified: Plot, World, Drama, Realism, Romanticism, Conflict, Authorship, Direction, Mechanism. His article is on the web at:
A limitation of this approach is that it requires diametrically opposed tendencies. The opposites of drama or realism or such are contentious points under discussion. An important distinction concerns "direction"...
A *directed* GM is one who makes a conscious effort during game play to guide the campaign development. This doesn't mean that she has a fixed plot which she is sticking to, however. There is also purely off-the-cuff directing: guiding the campaign towards higher drama on the spur of the moment, or perhaps just keeping the action moving.
A *natural* GM is one who simply responds to players actions in a manner most consistent with his conception of the world, and perhaps his understanding of the group contract. He leaves dealing with meta-game issues like drama or pacing up to the group, rather than taking a leadership role.
Many times the discussion in .advocacy seems purely academic, unrelated to any practical issues of actually running or playing in a game. However, some of us feel that by some analysis of the techniques and styles which occur in RPG's, we can help improve actual game play. Some possibilities: