Nth Society update - fork to tabletop RPG

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In my last post on Nth Society 4 months ago I made the following promise:

[...] I pledge to get at least a minimally working distributed server multiplayer text adventure game running which attains at least some of the gameplay requirements set out in previous documents [...]

I will be able to keep this promise more or less but not quite as I described it. What we're going to do is...

Fork Nth Society as a tabletop RPG!

Why? You might ask. Let me explain. Firstly, I'll do my best to explain what a tabletop RPG actually is, skip this if you are already familiar.

Tabletop RPGs

The term tabletop RPG (without any Google / Wikipedia research I can claim) denotes a category of games which have historically been played on a ... tabletop. That is with maps, miniatures (called "minis" in the community), dice, and pen and paper. There is then another type called pen and paper RPGs, and the distinction is not clear to me, maybe I can be corrected on this. As far as I can tell they are almost interchangeable with tabletop being the more widely used term.

Probably the most famous of this type of game is Dungeons and Dragons, abbreviated to DnD or D&D. Now in it's 5th edition and with a very interesting and checkered past, it is gaining popularity every day. This is arguably due to references to it in popular TV such as Stranger Things, the ever increasing geek-cool factor thanks to high paying technology jobs and the decline of the "Satanic Panic".

I got into non-traditional RPGs thanks to @lextenebris from whom I first heard about Microscope, an epic storytelling game with no traditional "Games Master" or GM. You basically zoom in and out of history to create an huge narrative and fill in detail and various levels of zoom. I then tried out the older more traditional games such as DnD and Fate.

Summary of play

There are lots of styles but I find DnD the most fitting style for influence to the Nth Society game, so I'll summarize some game structures for DnD:

Super nerds, please forgive any errors, but also please do correct me 🤓

  1. Games Master / GM (AKA Dungeon Master / DM) does the heavily lifting to flesh out the world and give players challenges, delights and surprises in the form of non-player characters / NPCs, places to explore, things to kill, loot to get, intrigue to resolve, and generally a big baddy to stop.
  2. Player characters / PCs are the stars of the action and are generally adventurers. Think Lord of the Rings, to which DnD owes a huge debt of inspiration. All standard PCs are humanoids, and the most relevant aspects of a PC are race, class and background. Like many video game RPGs you have experience / XP, levels, abilities, equipment, weapons, stats conditions, magic, etc.
  3. Combat is a central focus, and is heavy on "mechanics". Mechanics are hard rules almost always involving chance in the form of specified dice rolls. Think World of Warcraft, but an overlapping turn based system, narratively embellished by the GM.
  4. There is no "winning" DnD, although a wise GM will make meaningful milestones in the game and make sure PCs can level up.
  5. The GMs word is law, they are the authority on reality. If they say you lose an arm, you lose an arm. The rules and mechanics are there to keep a bulk of play up front and known, but importantly the GM - player relationship is collaborative and in good faith. It's no fun if the people involve active work against each other or play favorites.

There is much more I could say but that's some of the most relevant stuff to get the discussion going on why we can make Nth Society a game inspired by these kinds of systems.

Nth as tabletop

Note: I'll be making reference to the original game requirements which can be found at the GitHub source page for the project. Also the best primer for the idea of Nth Society is still the ELI5 post.

I didn't know it one year ago when @the-ego-is-you and I developed the ideas for this game, but the tabletop RPG is perfect for an explorative game, though there are additional difficulties for our particular game. This is the stated goal of the project:

To design, develop and play a game which explores life in a voluntary society.

Pretty general, and that was intentional. We did not want to box ourselves in format, something I am not very happy about. We go on to say:

Voluntary and free relationships can be hard to practice within statist societies, where many practical avenues of action are tainted by the hand of the state. [...] Wouldn't it be beneficial to try out some of these ideas in a virtual world to get to know others who are interested in that life, to figure out the unique challenges it would pose, and to decide whether or not we would like to commit to this in the real world? We propose a game world to facilitate this discovery.

Again, if we take liberties with the term "virtual" this still fits.

Pros

  1. Big emphasis on talking to other people and developing, maintaining and negotiating social relations
  2. Ultra flexible style, relying on competent GMs and players instead of exceedingly exhaustive programming
  3. Can leverage a wealth of existing games, not just the classics
  4. Tabletop RPG rulesets are more concise than verbose computer game RPG programming, and more directly comprehendible by players
  5. Imagination based games can be more absorbing, allowing each player to tailor their experience to their tastes

Cons

  1. Narrative roleplaying generally more suited to fantastic adventures, will need other kinds of conflict
  2. High level of realism required, so will need a lot of mechanics (which can be optional) up front
  3. Choices will have to be made about simplifying the complexities of life, such as player physical characteristics, resources, etc
  4. Higher level of community commitment and organization required for play, not just loading a computer game any time.

A quick list of ideas to get you excited!

They certainly excite me 😄 I'll develop detail on these in a further post.

  1. Develop optional mechanics for things that players do not want to focus on (boring, tedious, etc.) or which are divisive (arguments, combat, external world events)
  2. Crypto-currency usage can still be required by the rules!
  3. Multiple / rotating GMing can be, as well as collaboration on a shared world between GMs. (I have an idea for this)
  4. Backgrounds will be important. In DnD most adventurers do not have strong links to a previous life or family, but we can go for realism here.
  5. Quick iterative process --- we can get a ruleset written and start play testing relatively in the blink of an eye compared with a full computer game. And in fact I would aim for a Christmas release of v0.1 to play with your family and friends during the holidays.
  6. Can utilitize existing online tools such as Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds to give a solid but flexible platform for play.

Feedback and call for help

I have started sketching out some ways to take inspiration from various existing RPGs to begin to redefine the set of rules and mechanics for Nth Society. At the point I'd like to renew my call for help with the project. We can a great team of people before who I won't name again in case they'd prefer to move on, but for anyone reading please check out the Discord again with this invite link: https://discord.gg/5uw2SHc

I will admit that this is a compromise as well as a cool new direction. I'm curious to see how people who were intrigued by the idea of Nth Society in the past react to this, as well as people more familiar with tabletop / paper and pencil RPGs react to this new idea. Personal shout to @grimjim and @loreshapergames who would be in this last category, maybe you're interested in commenting as a professional in the area.

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There is then another type called pen and paper RPGs, and the distinction is not clear to me

"Pen and paper RPGs" and "tabletop RPGs" are basically synonyms. There's not a universal term because originally these were the only kind of RPGs; computer RPGs were created later but got more popular than the tabletop kind and therefore many people's first encounter with RPGs is with the video-game type and they assume that's what the general category of "RPG" refers to.

If you're interested in exploring some other indie games that might be relevant to your project, Shock: Social Science Fiction might be something you want to look at. It's structured more around dramatic stories that highlight the issues of created settings rather than the "realism" focus you seem to be aiming for, but the way it tries to get the stories to explore "issues" related to a core premise seems a bit similar to what I think your goal is with your game so it might be of interest to you. (Personally I didn't enjoy it the one time I played it, but different people have different tastes). You might also find some things of interest in the Burning Wheel family of games. There are conflicts about things other than combat, and there's a focus on trying to make the situations revolve around the "Beliefs" of the players' characters. (I have some examples of some ways that can work if you scroll down to the "The GM’s mission-preparation procedures" in my Mouse Guard review).

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Thanks for clearing that up for me regarding terminology. I had thought of namedropping you too by the way but decided against it as I haven't had that much contact with you. Anyway thanks for your input here.

I definitely am interested in exploring relevant existing games. I was unable to find very much in the way of a voluntaryist tabletop RPG (or even "ancap", though I wouldn't find my the general goals there super aligned anyway).

Those games sound like interesting case studies. What I'm interested in is a system without much more than physical or historical restrictions on users. By physcial I mean strength, skills, dexterity, etc., and historical restrictions like people who may know you in the wider world and have a claim to you, etc.

This was a big point in the original computer game design, to not give PCs things like "beliefs" or non tangible attributes and let that come out in RP behavior. In some ways that's anti-RP, or at least it makes things perhaps too unmoored so I would perhaps replace them with goals, aspirations, etc. which might be secret for a player but they'd be encouraged to keep them and could even use something like "inspiration" feature, as in DnD 5e rules.

I know that players will be interested in violent conflict being sensible even if they choose to not engage in it too much. To make a lot of assumptions about where we'll end up, my ideal game would have some people take on antagonistic roles for the sake of testing some of the ideological positions the "good" characters might take.

I would be interested in commenting further, but it's a little bit past my bedtime.

On a more serious note, I've actually been thinking about how to run a more involved game on the blockchain. @simplegame has been doing some really interesting stuff in increasing the complexity of play-by-post, but there's been some lack of ability to do effective simultaneous play.

Discord works, but it's not sufficient for everyone's needs. I think that @v-entertainment may have been working on something like a virtual tabletop that could be used as an equivalent to Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds, but with some integration to the Steem blockchain.

Imagine having a roleplaying game where every important reference document is a post on the Steem blockchain, and anyone can upvote it to support the creators.

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Imagine having a roleplaying game where every important reference document is a post on the Steem blockchain, and anyone can upvote it to support the creators.

And down vote it so that it is almost never seen by anyone, and is unable to be rewarded via the interface provided by every client after seven days – because no one references a role-playing game document after a week, right?

Blockchain technology is not good if you pretend it is a replacement for a real database. Which is kind of a problem.

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Downvotes are a potential issue, but you typically don't see that happen so often that it's worth worrying about unless stuff goes really wrong.

You would, of course, probably need a database for some stuff.

However, a lot of content that people make for their games would be good for public consumption, or at least interesting to outside observers, and right now it just sort of gets locked away.

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First we need to identify a problem.

Is it actually true that people who want to make their game materials available for public consumption have a problem doing so?

I don't think that's the case. I think that if people want to make their content publicly accessible, they have more options right now than they ever have, whether it be online fora dedicated to that particular game, various social media platforms which accept longform content (farewell Google+, we are sad to see you go), a multitude of free blogging sites, many of which are highly customizable for personalization purposes, a pile of paid blog sites which are also extremely easy to maintain, tons of distributed storage solutions (Dropbox, Google Drive), and no shortage of places to talk about any or all of the above.

Including the steem blockchain.

So I don't think the real problem is that people don't have the ability to share their stuff publicly.

You might be able to make the argument that there is no sufficiently widely adopted micropayment system where interested individuals can reward others for having shared that content – and I would agree with you on that particular point, but I think a solution akin to Flattr or the BAT which doesn't require an individual to be on a particular platform in order to receive the rewards allocated by their consumers would be a far superior methodology to locking all creators into a single platform.

Now, if the problem is "people are locking away content that I want to see," that's a different problem. That's an issue of them making a conscious decision that you would prefer to override, and that's not a path I would be down for. Call me crazy.

Most game folk that I associate with outside of the industry are fiercely protective of the privacy of what they do. Some of them because they have an overblown belief in the idea that other people are constantly looking to steal their ideas, some of them because they are embarrassed about their past time or the kind of content they engage with, some of them just because they don't consider it anybody else's damn business. I'd say they have the right to any of those positions, although I ruthlessly mock the first.

The glass fishbowl is not necessarily a good place for development. It's definitely not the best place for casual individuals to necessarily pursue their entertainment. I am much more comfortable with the burden of discovery and reward falling on those interested in discovery and reward and far less so on those who are doing the creating.

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I've actually been thinking about how to run a more involved game on the blockchain.

That's cool, I'd love to hear your ideas. Steem posts are suited to the play-by-post style but I think that style would not be attractive to many. I'm going to review what @simplegame has done so far now.

I had a couple of ideas before which involved exploiting the 7 day editing window for a Steem post, that springs to mind as an effective way to craft a "scene" (or whatever appropriate game building block) without spamming the chain, and while commit data to record as it goes.

In terms of integration you cannot call external services in Roll20 even though you can write scripts, and I couldn't find anything similar for Fantasy Grounds. I'm doing a little research on some smaller scale open source tabletop platforms that might be applicable instead.

Regarding @v-entertainment are you talking about Way Finder?

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You do know that doing an edit to an existing post within the seven day window creates a relatively hefty blockchain transaction every time you do it, right? And every time that you do it, a client reading posts on the blockchain is required to go through all of the blocks which have been committed since the original post creation time looking for update transactions so that it can have an actual coherent view of a post to present to a reader.

Editing posts is one of the worst things that you can do if your interest is to keep the number of transactions and amount of data and which is needed to be transferred by the witness servers low. They hit hard not just when they change their committed, but for ever after whenever that post is read.

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As hefty as a new post, it's technically a rewrite. Clients do not piece edits together, the current version is stored in witness node DB and there is a particular endpoint which just serves that.

In terms of "blockchain spam" it could be pretty bad though, true. I am more thinking about client level spam though, take a look at @simplegame and you'll see what I mean.

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One of the things that goes into the blockchain is that you're subject to data bandwidth limits, so you probably want a hybrid on-off system.

Any software used would have to be designed more or less around Steem or whichever blockchain you want to use as your main method, though you could ostensibly have a client/server setup in which nodes only handle game-related content (which isolates you from general purpose networks and avoids spam).

IIRC it should be possible on Steem to make JSON entities that don't appear as posts but can be displayed in special ways; Steem Monsters does something like this, if I am thinking right.

Way Finder is what I was thinking of. I don't remember if that was the one I was looking for or not, but it's the one that I was able to recall today.

The term tabletop RPG (without any Google / Wikipedia research I can claim) denotes a category of games which have historically been played on a ... tabletop. That is with maps, miniatures (called "minis" in the community), dice, and pen and paper. There is then another type called pen and paper RPGs, and the distinction is not clear to me, maybe I can be corrected on this. As far as I can tell they are almost interchangeable with tabletop being the more widely used term.

While you may have been told that there is no distinction to be had between minis gaming and pen and paper gaming, in actuality there is a vast, vast difference.

Minis gaming focuses a lot of the time on very material conflicts. The representation of the relative position of characters and terrain on the table is an integral portion of not just gameplay but expected gameplay. It provides a very grounded experience where the concerns of the moment are very much manifest.

These games tend to borrow from the miniature wargaming lineage which gave rise to role-playing games in the first place and make expressing mastery of the mechanics of first-order part of the experience of play. Narrative tends to arise retrospectively after a situation has been introduced, characters and elements interact with a degree of randomness, and then meaning is described afterwards.

For example, if I were running THW's Nuts!, and this is a thing I have done, I may have an entire squad of men under my control in front of me on the table, and I will make decisions about what they do in accordance with not just purely moment to moment tactical situations but a knowledge of the history of these particular characters in front of me and the overall narrative of who and what they are. After the given tactical engagement, the results enter into the narrative history of who they are, and you may have a character who distinguish themselves on the battlefield for bravery as a result of some lucky rolls but that becomes part of who he is and how everyone else reacts to him.

D&D Fourth Edition, which had a much stronger focus on miniature play than previous or the following editions, generally only gives you control of one player character, but the actual effects are very much the same.

Pen and paper RPGs tended to dispense with the miniature representation and as a result the conflicts which become part of gameplay are more abstracted and less directly grounded much of the time. Questions of relative positioning become literally relative, and in some cases abstracted out almost entirely, in favor of narrative description and interacting with the environment as a story element.

Wushu, as an example, is very much in that space, with no miniature or map representations of the actions of the players at all – just the mechanical operations which help resolve the question of what things happen and what things do not.

They are definitely not interchangeable terms.

I got into non-traditional RPGs thanks to @lextenebris from whom I first heard about Microscope, an epic storytelling game with no traditional "Games Master" or GM.

If anyone wants to know more about nontraditional RPG designs, I'm sure I can go on at great and disturbing length about them for days on end.

In fact, the designer of Microscope has put out a game recently called Union which expands on one of the play modes in Microscope Explorer focused on playing out stories about families and ancestry, bouncing back and forth in time to find out what made them tick, what things came together to create the situation they found themselves in, etc.

  1. Combat is a central focus, and is heavy on "mechanics". Mechanics are hard rules almost always involving chance in the form of specified dice rolls. Think World of Warcraft, but an overlapping turn based system, narratively embellished by the GM.

Combat is not necessarily part of the core experience of D&D, but the odds are deeply in its favor. That is because that it evolved from Chainmail, a very particular type of tabletop miniature wargame where combat between things was sort of the point. It was the desire for more enter character interaction and means to resolve that which drove the development of D&D in the first place.

Also, players are just as welcome to narratively embellish the results of mechanical operations in D&D as the GM is. In fact, for most people's games, it's preferable that the player be responsible for describing how what they're doing is cool even if it's a failure. While there is a lot of traditional belief that D&D should be played with the GM as the core arbiter and creator of story and the players merely move their pawns around, modern play (as in the last couple of decades) definitely leans much harder on distributing responsibility for narrative. That in particular is one of the ways in which Fifth Edition differs from Third Edition, to its advantage in my opinion.

  1. The GMs word is law, they are the authority on reality. If they say you lose an arm, you lose an arm. The rules and mechanics are there to keep a bulk of play up front and known, but importantly the GM - player relationship is collaborative and in good faith. It's no fun if the people involve active work against each other or play favorites.

Not always the case. There is a long history of a far more aggressive, adversarial GMing style which goes back a long, long way and you can find rabid adherents to this very day. In their mind, the GM exists to create adversity in difficulty for the players (not just the characters), to give them an opportunity to demonstrate system mastery and good judgment. Anything less than full out making maximum use of the rules to challenge and oppose the intent of the players is thought of as cheating them out of a good game.

It is not a game style which I like, but it's definitely a game style which I've seen promoted and other people enjoying. Then again, I am no kind of D&D fan and never have been for the last four decades, in the interests of full disclosure.

  1. Narrative roleplaying generally more suited to fantastic adventures, will need other kinds of conflict

If that were true, you might have something here – but it's not. Not even vaguely or slightly true.

Role-playing in general has been largely directed at fantastic adventures because fantasy is what entertains people. But it certainly hasn't always or solely been. Role-playing games have tackled dark, personal, very un-fantastic stories more than once.

Consider the case of Gray Ranks, an RPG where the players assume the roles of young Polish partisans before, during, and after the disastrous 1944 uprising against the Germans. It is a game which is grounded purely in the real and the historical, while making use of of very strongly narrative mechanical architecture. Topics of abuse, violence, the horrors of war, the necessity of survival, and balancing what you believe to be right with what is required to continue are always at play.

Narratives are often more suited to fantasy, but we still tell stories about what actually happened. We just call them history.

Given the premises of your intent for this game design, perhaps you should reconsider whether it itself is not more fantastic than grounded. It's explicitly ahistorical, explicitly engaging in the play in the space of fantasy, so I don't think that you have a lot of room to suggest that narrative role-playing engages in too much of the fantastic for what you want to do.

In fact, since you bring in "realism" and connect that with "a lot of mechanics," I know that you don't actually know what you're doing. That's okay, but you're making a classic failure in RPG design in conflating more constraint on choice and action with "realism." You don't even really want "realism", because the real is unbelievable. You want "verisimilitude", which is an entirely different thing but requires you to actually understand what kind of stories you want to experience with the people playing the game.

I will admit that this is a compromise as well as a cool new direction. I'm curious to see how people who were intrigued by the idea of Nth Society in the past react to this, as well as people more familiar with tabletop / paper and pencil RPGs react to this new idea.

I'll be honest, at the time you started kicking this idea around, I asked out right why you didn't just want to create some sort of mechanized version of the already extant RPG Freemarket, and now with the drive toward creating some sort of tabletop RPG – I revisit that question.

Given the original premises of the setting, you don't really have a compelling core to build a game off of. Maybe, with a lot of work and a good chunk of paring down, you could have the beginnings of an inspiration for some sort of board game, but the semi-obsession with "realism", the lack of understanding of game spaces and the use of narrative, and a weird fetishization of the blockchain are all serious strikes against.

From my perspective, that's a problem.

You might have the seed of an interesting setting that could be played in with multiple already extant tabletop RPG systems, but at this point you don't actually have something that would be interesting to make into a game in and of itself.

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Thank you Lex for your well considered comment. I won't say that I baited you but I did allow myself to be careless with my lack of knowledge in the hope of correction. It's good to read your thoughts on it, sweet and sour.

In order:

That's interesting about the distinction between the types of games. In my experience the styles as you describe them are combined in usual DnD play, with tabletop miniatures used for combat and pen and paper style for exploration and conversation. I have a little more clarity on them now.

On your great and disturbing length of nontraditional RPG knowledge, I'll say for other readers that to discover more they can visit your Steem blog, I gained a lot from that myself.

Fair point on centrality of combat, I'll leave it at your comment which was good.

I'm glad to read there are other less collaborative styles of GMing and I'd love to hear more about that. I think that might be to the taste of some players of what I propose, though it's hard to say at this point. Also as a side note I'd like to hear why you're no DnD fan, or perhaps you could direct me to your previous writings on it.

On fantastic adventures, where you start to show your teeth. Touché. Arguably the pursuit of a voluntaryist community is fantastical, and it also makes for a good barb. That said you make some errors here which I chalk down to not knowing the proposal that well, which is fair, as who's got the time to commit that to memory. Let me correct you.

It is not ahistorical, though it does diverge from the present as soon as play begins, by definition. Perhaps the divergence begins when a group of well intentioned crypto-fanatics buys land in South America to build their private utopia (this actually happened in Chile involving our very own @dollarvigilante --- really), or attempts to claim land they already own as a sovereign state (as actually happened in Missouri as United Sovereign States of Maximillian and the Republic of Molossia for example), or living way out in the ocean somehow, or whatever players can think of, with existing precedent or not. But I accept your following point as it's good advice, that the fantastic elements of narrative roleplaying could be applicable.

Again I have to quibble with you about the requirement of realism. Only the most stubborn pedant would split hairs over verisimilitude vs realism. Either will do to describe the aims. Verisimilitude is a more accurate word, but really? In any case with concern to the game, it is important that the difficulty of life be simulated, consequences of sickness and injury, well modelled learning of skills, availability of resources, and so on. This is of course what is meant. It is in fact central to the game. That said I see a lot of this potentially being "zoomed out" to a single dice roll if it's not the focus of play for a particular group. This is an area I'm very interested in exploring.

I don't completely recall you bringing up the Freemarket RPG but that is super interesting. My initial research now suggests it's not really the same kind of game at all, the sci-fi setting not withstanding. It would genuinely be my hope that something exactly like what I'm looking for already exists, or something close enough to make a variant, so I am all ears on this one. I will definitely try this one out. I'm sure much could be learned from looking at it either way. Small point though: that something already exists is not a reason to not do it.

I know you're more one to comment than one to collaborate so I won't ask, but I would be very interested to continue to engage you as I develop things. In the interest of this I will empty my bag of ideas onto the table in the next post and won't draw that part out, you and other commenters could save me some time.

Know this: we are obsessed with realism and very much intend to include crypto in some way. These are characteristics. The relative lack of understanding of game spaces and narrative, I have to admit to that. You are an expert and you tower over me in experience. See me as someone starting out.

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Thank you Lex for your well considered comment. I won't say that I baited you but I did allow myself to be careless with my lack of knowledge in the hope of correction. It's good to read your thoughts on it, sweet and sour.

That the ritual method for summoning me involves laying down a circle of salt, placing a laptop in the center, lighting five human fat candles around the perimeter, inscribing the secret name of God in silver letters, slamming open the window and shouting, "someone is wrong on the Internet!" isn't exactly secret information.

Luckily for me, the binding rite is.

That's interesting about the distinction between the types of games. In my experience the styles as you describe them are combined in usual DnD play, with tabletop miniatures used for combat and pen and paper style for exploration and conversation. I have a little more clarity on them now.

Play styles have covered a wide swath of possibilities in the last 44 years since the game was introduced. That's part of why the edition wars for D&D have been so aggressive, by and large. Different players believe that their personal mix of play styles are the One True Way. That's why we have descriptive terms rather than proscriptive terms.

I'm glad to read there are other less collaborative styles of GMing and I'd love to hear more about that.

In this case, it generally depends what you mean by "collaborative." Are we talking about games which are more manifest through deliberate mechanics or games which are less manifest through deliberate mechanics? In a sense, all games depend on everyone coming to the table wanting much the same thing and thus requiring a certain level of collaboration.

Also as a side note I'd like to hear why you're no DnD fan, or perhaps you could direct me to your previous writings on it.

It's actually a surprisingly short explanation:

My introduction to gaming was in high school, which put it roughly in the 1987 to 1990 range. At the time, D&D was going through one of its really pyroclastic periods and had already established a historical reputation as a pillar of a form of entertainment I was interested in. Being a heavy user of USENET, I had already been exposed to the fan base.

Traditional fantasy just wasn't tickling my jimmies. I suppose it would be easiest to say that maybe I was a little bit more rebellious than my rebellious-yet-geeky compatriots. As a result, my RPG choices of the time were Call of Cthulhu and Robotech, which were the seed elements that eventually grew into a truly ridiculous collection.

These days if I really wanted to play something in the heroic fantasy vein, I have a billion choices, but for doing the things that D&D does I would much rather use Warrior Heroes: Legends and just start hacking on it in an old-school way. It's a much simpler toolset and thus much more consistent which makes it far more amenable to easy modification. Or just straight up play.

Arguably the pursuit of a voluntaryist community is fantastical, and it also makes for a good barb.

Or, more accurately, one does not exist. As it does not exist, it must be a fantasy. Moreover, stories about interacting with one likewise must be a fantasy. Ergo, fantastical, and as such should be thought of in game terms as seeking verisimilitude with types of stories and not as if one is building a model. That way lies more madness than usual.

It is not ahistorical, though it does diverge from the present as soon as play begins, by definition.

So -- inherently ahistorical. It literally cannot be a game designed to model so much as interpret.

Again I have to quibble with you about the requirement of realism. Only the most stubborn pedant would split hairs over verisimilitude vs realism.

Or someone who has spent more than 20 years in the role-playing game design industry, listing to what players say they want, looking at what designers say they want to do, and then paying very close attention to the way both of them fail – particularly when it comes to "realism." Because what people mean when they say "realism" is not "the state of being like reality." It's not even "the state of reacting as reality would." It ends up being "conveying this specific kind of narrative," where this is often to undefined to be useful but very much is verisimilitude and definitely not reality.

If you want to put together something that works effectively, either will not do to describe the aim. You want le mot juste. If you can't describe it effectively, you can't create it.

In any case with concern to the game, it is important that the difficulty of life be simulated, consequences of sickness and injury, well modelled learning of skills, availability of resources, and so on.

And here is why we differentiate "realism" and "verisimilitude." Because simulation of skill learning, availability of resources, and so on is impossible. Not unlikely, not quite hard, not quite a challenge – impossible. Worse, it's no fun at all. Simulation assumes that we know the process, the underlying real process, and all we need to do is create a sufficiently useful micro abstraction and it can be operated upon as if it were real. That just doesn't work, for the most part. It definitely doesn't work for issues which involve human interaction like learning or the consequences of sickness and injury in anything but the loosest of abstract terms.

I realize that the idea of fun is no longer as trendy as it was, but I think it really helps to keep people actually interested in and playing a game.

That said I see a lot of this potentially being "zoomed out" to a single dice roll if it's not the focus of play for a particular group. This is an area I'm very interested in exploring.

Then you definitely don't want realism. This is a straight up, without question, highly abstracted game interface. But it brings up another problem for the game as you envision it, you don't have a consistent theory of the level of operation or abstraction for the player.

You need an understanding of what it is that you want to achieve as the experience of playing the game, and you need to have the wisdom to look at the things that you want players to be able to do and recognize what is mechanically reasonable versus just an action that you want them to be able to take with some kind of repercussion.

The ironic connection between mechanism and "realism" is that everyone thinks that the more mechanics that you have, the more complex the rule set, the more "realistic," but the opposite is true. More rules constrain human choice. More rules conflict with each other. More rules constrain the scope of what you can imagine doing. The more rules that you have, the more likely that you are to induce a state which has no verisimilitude to what any given player expects their actions to be able to accomplish or might ultimately accomplish.

I know you're more one to comment than one to collaborate so I won't ask, but I would be very interested to continue to engage you as I develop things. In the interest of this I will empty my bag of ideas onto the table in the next post and won't draw that part out, you and other commenters could save me some time.

It's true. The demonic nature does not actually lend one to strong collaborative activity. However, I recently helped @greer184 work on his Totem game which I find to some degree fascinating. A set of mechanics and rules which are designed to be modified by the players every round hyper- dynamically and democratically. That's the sort of thing that I find more compelling to work on with other people, by and large.

Being "obsessed by realism" and simultaneously dazzled by mechanics, thinking that they create realism is a recipe for disaster and game design. Literal, complete disaster as you end up with something which is unplayable, overcomplicated, and unfortunately uninteresting. The design needs to have room for players to breathe if you want them to have real choice in action.

Once you've dug around sufficient to actually put eyes on the Freemarket rules, you'll want to look at a couple of rule sets that are minimalist, flexible in descriptors, and most importantly allow the players to set what is most interesting about themselves.

WaRP is one of my go-to games for prototyping and sometimes coring systems. It's free, not requiring any kind of system license to be given to Atlas Games. It describes characters using around three Traits which are free-form and selected by the players, keeping the complexity of possible interactions down into the area where humans can resolve "what this means." It has just enough crunch to keep people on the same page when it comes to direct conflicts. And it's had its rough edges knocked off for over 20 years. That it is traditionally architected with the GM and group of players – I try not to hold against it.

More in the economic theme of your game, Red Markets was a 2018 Best Game ENnie Award Nominee, which doesn't mean what use to in the field, but it's not nothing. While not specifically about volunteerist society, economic conflicts are at the heart of the player experience (when they aren't running away from zombies, which provide the fantastic element to cast the economic one into a much harsher light). A few tweaks here and there and it could be very much in the space you want it to be.

Then there is my heavy go to win traditional game architecture is definitely not what I want: Capes. Nothing about this design is intended to be realistic and the mechanics are absolutely orthogonal to any idea of mechanically enforced realism. The players interact through the architecture of setting Conflicts that they believe the other players at the table will be interested in and then having their characters interact through the medium of those Conflicts and the mechanical residue of previous Conflicts. Characters are composed of a list of Attributes which are not the same for everyone, and in fact can be completely free-form. He completely throws away the idea of GM-centric play, which is just a big bonus.

And then there's Follow. It's even more obscure than most of the things I tend to gesture at, but for a group which wants to engage with a series of conflicts architected to challenge them as people, Follow has an interesting potential for play. As written, it's intended to be a very loosely defined quest-story engine, and it does that very well. But if you were to take as your starting conditions being immersed in this setting that you want to create, but only descriptively, you could play as a set of explorations into the world, adding on a little bit as you go as these characters succeed, fail, or turn on each other.

You'll notice a common thread among these games: they're not boardgames. They are role-playing games. In them, players can inhabit various roles, make their own decisions, and in some sense create part of the world themselves. Distributing the least player authority is WaRP, while Capes delegates quite a lot of player authority (because it has no GM to assume that authority).

Listening to what you say you want, I have a strong suspicion that player autonomy is going to be a real problem. Maybe you don't want a role-playing game. Players are definitely going to challenge the status quo, they are going to seek out conflict and create it on a regular basis. They are going to thrust hard at the assumptive pillars which hold up the setting. That's what players do. I don't think that you are ready to deal with that part of role-playing; the obsession with "realism," the crypto-cultism – it doesn't feel like you want the players to help tell a story together but instead want them to be constrained within a setting-architecture which you don't want challenged.

That's a board game. If you want to design a board game, there is a vast and varied field of them, and multiple international conferences devoted to their creation and discussion. But you need to know that upfront, and you need to accept that it is a contextualized, compartmentalized set of rules to achieve one specific kind of play given a very limited palette of elements.

But maybe that's what you want.

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I'm very clear on what I want, but am not clear on how to get it. It's the last part which you are dismantling like the wings from a fly, but not the first.

In my opinion it is desirable to work within a process and accept learning along the way. I'm not willing to reject certain avenues of inquiry as you suggest, or to doubt that there is something worth doing here.

And yes, either word will do, I side with Wittgenstein. I used to have more time for your combative cynical style but I guess I'm getting less tolerant of demonic personalities. I'm not going to go tit for tat with you but rest assured I read every word and I'm happy there's some good advice there between the taunts. You can read where your assumptions on what I'm proposing are off in the ELI5 primer, specifically the expert level section.

Great recommendations too! I will definitely check them out and try to get a bit more educated on the subject.

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I'm going to eat some of my words now. While I stand by my statements on your salty approach (no pun intended) it is worth responding to your criticisms directly.

I have spent my free time in the last few days reading and reading and reading. I came across this quote on a DriveThruRPG publication:

100 Pathfinder Cantrips is a finely crafted list of mostly historically accurate and verisimilitudinous cantrips collected by our semi-professional 0-level wizards. Official Pathfinder Role Playing Game Compatable product!

I note that the say "verisimilitudinous" cantrips instead of "realistic" cantrips. It's better to be more accurate. I'm sure you would argue that realism is the wrong thing, as you have done, but no, it's just incomplete. What I do newly accept after some consideration is that following unexamined realism is likely a dead end.

You mention that a simulation is not possible or desirable. I disagree with this, but it may be a definitional disagreement, and I am sure you are incorrect here.

Simulation assumes that we know the process, the underlying real process, and all we need to do is create a sufficiently useful micro abstraction and it can be operated upon as if it were real. That just doesn't work, for the most part. It definitely doesn't work for issues which involve human interaction like learning or the consequences of sickness and injury in anything but the loosest of abstract terms.

Very wrong. Simulation assumes we can model something well enough for a purpose. It's impossible to not acknowledgement of the limitations of simulating real world events, but this does not make them unuseful. are I go into this in detail in the ELI5 doc as it was a lot more relevant when I considered the game as a computer game.

In the context of an RPG I would say that a simulated thing is mechanically bound. You said mechanics does not lead to verisimilitude, or as you put it:

The ironic connection between mechanism and "realism" is that everyone thinks that the more mechanics that you have, the more complex the rule set, the more "realistic," but the opposite is true. More rules constrain human choice. More rules conflict with each other. More rules constrain the scope of what you can imagine doing. The more rules that you have, the more likely that you are to induce a state which has no verisimilitude to what any given player expects their actions to be able to accomplish or might ultimately accomplish.

I can see your point. Say I want to model how a character is affected when if the contract the influenza virus. We can use real stats on incubation times, appearance of symptoms, deaths per age group, etc. but how does it interact with other ailments, how contagious are they, etc.? The level of verisimilitude must end somewhere and picking that point is hard.

The question of fun in this is important. Imagine 100 small paragraph rules for things like flu, sprained ankle, concussion, measles, gun shot wound (50 types), and so on. Is that fun? It's definitely where I'm headed. But it might not be fun. I would be willing to risk it in some play testing but how to balance so many small incomplete models.

You clearly favor the less is more approach of RPG specs. This would leave much of these 100 ways to experience bodily discomfort (up to death) up to the players to work with at will. That feels too loose for me, too much in their hands to - dare I say it - cheat.

I don't think that you are ready to deal with that part of role-playing; the obsession with "realism," the crypto-cultism – it doesn't feel like you want the players to help tell a story together but instead want them to be constrained within a setting-architecture which you don't want challenged.

Pejoratives aside, you might be right. I very much do want to support players to tell a story but I want that to be bound by some reasonable expectations about the setting which are non-negotiable.

The more I think about it the more it might suit a board game with some roleplaying aspects. I think it would be a valuable exercise to sketch out both and see what it looks like:

  1. Pick a good flexible "true" RPG core and write a scenario for it
  2. Modify a similar board game (or write a simple on from scratch)

I looked at all the referenced games except Capes. Follow seemed pretty cool, though so so flexible and more about stories (as is your jam right?) Not dissimilar to Microscope, same author (I think?). I enjoyed Microscope and so I will give this a whirl either way.

While I know what I want the game to be about I have a lot of different ideas for what the goal of play could be. I'll gather my thoughts on this, it deserves a post of its own.

In conclusion thanks again. Your disrespectful and ungenerous manner does your criticism, advice and suggestion a huge disservice, but I appreciate it none the less.

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As an addendum, this article on Story Games covers the D&D edition evolution pretty tightly.

(That Story Games, of all places, is one of the best places to talk and reason about D&D at the moment across the entire ecology of role-playing game fora hurts me deep in my black heart.)

Happy to see another Nth society post!

I've always wanted to try an old school tabletop rpg... but alas.. maybe my first chance will come sooner than later :D

Let me counter your proposal with an idea that, perhaps, you already considered.

what about creating a digital tabletop rpg?

otherwise how are we all gonna play together??

I imagine that, while still requiring some developing, it could be ultra simple to begin with, and still contain potential to gradually expand into some of the earlier vision?

either way I look forward to seeing where this goes

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I mentioned using Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds which is exactly a digital tabletop RPG platform, so while it is not an easy peasy out of the box thing it's still very possible to play together online using it. I can foresee people creating and sharing resources to use for it and stuff like that.

Thanks for your support again!

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I have so much to learn :)

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