The Game

This entry is part 5 of 11 in the series Understanding RPGs

I woke up at around 1 am local time for the most part to use the facilities, but with an idea rampaging through my head. The idea began first with a question, what are we doing in an RPG? And then the answer came to me. What are we doing? In part we are resolving conflicts during the course of play. Or, in fact, we are playing games of conflict resolution. That is, we are engaged in seeing if we can succeed in a task based on what our abilities are and the conditions we find ourselves in at the immediate moment.

That is the game we play, do we succeed or fail, and what happens should we succeed or fail? It isn’t the RPG as a whole that’s the game, the games occur as we play D&D, for example. It is while playing D&D or another RPG that we play a series of games of conflict resolution, and part of those games is how we handle success and failure.

And we don’t want balance. Not in the slightest. What we really want is to maximize our chance of success and we really don’t want to gamble. And we really don’t want to deal with the consequences of failure. For failure can complicate matters and make it harder for us the achieve our ultimate goal whatever that is.

But resolving the conflict doesn’t have to be a simple matter. It can be direct forward, a matter of a die roll to see if you did accomplish your immediate task. Or it could be a matter of negotiation, of bargaining to see if you and your opponent can come to an agreement. Die rolling can play a part, but just as often it can be a matter of your opponent and you coming to an agreement through talk, depending on how convincing either of you can be. Now your character could be skilled at bargaining, say a +2 on a d20 roll, but the other player or even guide must be willing to take your success or failure on the roll into account when deciding for his character the outcome.

This is where meta gaming as it is called plays a role. Is your opponent for or against your success? And if he is in favor of your succeeding your failure could mean his decision to let you succeed even though you failed. He just need what sounds like a good reason for letting you. So for the most part the play of an RPG is pretty much an occasion of bargaining and negotiation with the parties working out what happens between them when there are conflicts to be resolved.

When I speak of an RPG being a guide it is the play of an RPG as a whole that I’m speaking of. During the course of play you will have occasions of conflict resolution, and that is when and where the gaming comes into play. Establish the conditions, maximize your chance for success, roll the dice or pull the cards, deal with the consequences of failure or success. That is how you play the game, but the game is only a part of the adventure, only an incident that happens as you explore on your way to your goal.

And there is more I could say, but for the moment I’m drawing a blank. What more could I say? How could I say it? What are some of the things I need to consider. What I present here is not the whole of the matter just a part, how do I complete it?

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