Thursday, January 12, 2006

Can a gamist, tactical combat game like Cold Iron be an RPG?

All of this discussion about Cold Iron has me thinking about what can be a role playing game. As I consider this post on Deep in the Game, I wonder. If Cold Iron play is stripped to what really matters for resolving combat situations, what distinguishes it from a war game? At one time, I would have said that part of what makes an RPG is that you can do things the rules don't cover. But that means there are floaty mechanics, and the ruleset is missing something. And if RPG play has creative agendas, then there is something being created. And this creativity, which in a system like Cold Iron falls outside the explicit rules, seems to be important.

My games aren't just a sequence of combats. The combats are linked, even if the connection is sometimes very tenuous.

I also wonder if all the CAs actually come into play.

In this week's session, we had two players make thematic statements, one through play, one through what he would have done had his character not gone down. The PCs were getting overwhelmed, and their guides turned on them. The player of the PC who went down stated that had he not gone down so quickly, he would have concentrated on killing the turncoat. The other player didn't flee when he had a perfect chance because he didn't want to give up the small amount of treasure he had on his mule (and the mule itself). Now the first player did make another statement. One NPC was able to escape. And in a fit of stupidity, I had her ambush the turncoats. And she took them out. I should have let the players set that up (with improvised weapons). But at the end of the session, the player who didn't get to make a statement with his character said the NPC should gain 2 renown for taking down the traitors.

Now these thematic statements are not at all the focus of the game, and don't indicate a narativist agenda, but somehow the ability to make those statements, and be affirmed for them (and not just be that "crazy minis gamer who always does XYZ, even if it doesn't really make sense for the current scenario") is important. And maybe in that wargame example, if the player really is making those kinds of thematic statements, maybe that wargame is actually an RPG.

On the simulationist angle, the campaign map, and the geographic relationships seems to have some importance. And that you need to go to a city to get the higher level magic items.

On the angle of a wargame actually becoming an RPG, when I run Evil Stevie's Pirate Game, I'm pretty sure that what I'm running is an RPG, not a pure wargame. Of course they way I've run it, there's lots of floaty mechanics, and I've become horribly disillusioned with the game because the rules don't actually produce the type of game I want.



At 10:20 AM, January 13, 2006, Blogger Bankuei said...

Hi Frank,

Musing on many issues, huh? Just because something is the focus of a game, doesn't mean the other stuff doesn't ever matter.

For example, Prime Time Adventures is all about personal issues, but I betcha half the games out there have tense action and combat scenes. The key is that the action is a decoration, a stage for the personal issues to play out.

On the other hand, it sounds like the thematic statements in your game are secondary to the action. Which is cool. It doesn't mean you should cut them out, but it also means that you shouldn't be pouring more effort into them than the action (or else you need some very different rules).

There is also a very simple way to avoid floaty rules- create a universal resolution system. Tunnels & Trolls and Castles & Crusades are two games that follow the fight monsters formula, and both use attribute rolls to solve everything outside of combat- which makes it easy to handle everything without having to make more and more sub-rules for sub-rules.

At 12:50 PM, January 13, 2006, Blogger Frank said...

Ok, that's what my feeling was.

Definitely agree on using simple attribute rolls to handle "other" stuff (and really that's what we did way back in the 1e days when there weren't any skills in D&D, the GM just picked a likely attribute and asked the player to roll 1d20 <= the attribute, possibly with a modifier - then the key is sticking to the roll as presented).

And mostly that's what I've been doing. I just need to codify things a bit better (of course I purposefully don't have a Charisma attribute, but I provide a mechanism for defining Charisma - I didn't want players to trade off Strength for Charisma, I also don't have an Intelligence attribute, but I don't think that's so necessary).

You've been a great help to me in convincing me to look at every aspect of the game with an eye towards how is it actually used, and if it's not really used, and especially if something else can serve in it's place, toss the mechanic out.

I may yet toss out the simple proficiencies I put in. We have yet to reference them at all. On the other hand, it's not like they take a lot of effort to pick.



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