Game of Thrones > Le Morte D'Arthur

On the GOOGLE+ community Literary Role Playing Game Society, our Friend, Vb Wyrde from Ethos RPG made an interesting comment the other day in regards to Game of Thrones, I responded and have decided that I want to keep this response for future reference as I feel that this is a good summary of my current thoughts in regards to game design. Click here for direct quote.

The Gamemaster can write the past, but the players write the present. The future belongs to the dice and cause & effect. The Gamemaster can influence the present, just like the player can influence the past with good ideas but when a DM tries to write all of it then they aren't playing the game.

The story is a bi-product of play. Our brains just do that. We put stuff in order. We make order from chaos. With that said, I think that one of the game's strengths in regard to the medium is that one can lose, one can lose big! And while a computer would shut the game down, the movie would grind to a halt, the table-top RPG keeps going, and will probably be more interesting because of the loss.

Game of Thrones is a magnificent muse for a homebrewed setting. An excellent example of Feudalism at work, the mythology of the land, the cities, and the ruling houses . . . specifically the mythology of the noble houses. This isn't anything that I've ever thought of doing before!

Hell, I would say that how they present Knights is a game changer too. In the past, all of my knights were based on Lancelot, a knight who failed, betraying his king, his family, and himself.

Watching it, and marveling at the world they built. We can do that. Making our NPCs more effective, especially in terms of back ground movement.

I think that many of us base our games on the legends of King Arthur, but this was a cautionary tale. Arthur and everyone in it failed. The politics implied aren't all that well defined. I think that Game of Thrones provides a much stronger picture of life in a feudal society.


Brooser Bear said...

I disagree with the premise of the original quote. I get the difference between the novel and a role playing game adventure. I oppose railroading, and by chance an design came upon the solution long time ago. To write a novel, you need a NARRATOR and hence, at least one Character (implied narrator), to move the story forward. To develop a role-playing game session all you need is a SETTING and a Player. No need for NPC's, combat, or treasure. Think Robinson Crusoe as an single player role playing game adventure. Now move the setting to a single space pilot and the spacecraft in deep space. Now you can have one on one role playing without any combat or skill checks, and yet you can have meaningful encounters that can challenge your players. Read su Stalisaw Lem's Tales of Pirx the Pilot stories to get ideas of what to base your space encounters on. You can have RPG as a purely intellectual exercise without anything else the way some inmates can play chess without a board or chess pieces. My uncle was able to do that, and he had no need to. Now picture a DM and his players in a day room in some institutional setting without any papers, books, dice, or writing instruments. Can they run an rpg session? You bet! Of course, by necessity, the DM's adventure will have to be that much greater so as to be able to run it on story telling alone with outcomes determined based purely on players decisions and setting. But I digress. As a DM, you can't weave your players into the setting to a certain conclusion of a story (they can die), but what you CAN do, is WEAVE A SETTING that will SWALLOW players. Also, you can PROJECT the events of your SETTING without the players. King A will go to war with King B, King B will defeat King A on battlefield, but King B will take the King A's throne through treachery. Once you have the setting and the direction in which it's rolling, you now can have the PLAYERS immersed IN the SETTING and run the game to see in what way, if any, players will change the outcomes of events much greater than themselves. If the DM manipulates the outcomes and encounters to GET PLAYERS to change the outcomes, then DM is railroading. Otherwise, players can adventure, amass wealth, build strongholds, have their efforts frustrated or thwarted by one or another of the marauding armies, etc... You got a sandbox. Keep in mind that the minute some powerful NPC starts paying more attention and giving more due to players than situation warrants, DM unwittingly starts to interfere and railroad. This is not the same as WEAVING he players into the setting. You WEAVE the player by letting his players be one of the men-at-arms on the city watch. His father, of course, will have to be a merchant or a minor nobleman worthy of City Watch's attention, and then, Player Character HAS to do adventuring for the City Watch (or the Thieves Guild, whatever) at least part of the time, and the player also can involve his parents and other NPC's for help as need be. The choice of the player's non-weapon proficiencies can also depend on player character's position in the Setting. If the player is a desert horseman in the DM's unique setting, then he does not have a readily available access to swimming and fishing skills. Now you have an immersive campaign setting and players integrated into it. The rest is up the players buried in your sandbox.

RipperX said...

Welcome back Brooser! It's really good to hear from you again :)

By looking around the web I get the impression that few DMs play the long game anymore, it is kind of a lost art. There is more emphasis on preprogramed games with a definite finale. I've never gotten much out of that style of play, and tend to get bored of them.

That said, exploring the setting IS the game. If you have 7 players at the table, you actually have 7 different games going on at one time, the trick is to do your best to allow everyone to play their game in a fun and cooperative way and get them interested in each other's little story-lines that they got going on.

Get everybody invested in the game, and in each other, and you are playing the game. I think that each table should be different, I know for a fact that many players would rather hang themselves then play my pokey style that speeds up combat and focuses on problem solving.

At the end of the day, my table does focus on character driven story heavy games, but they are OUR stories, not somebody else's. I've found a happy balance, my goal is to allow each player to feel like this game is about them, that they are the hero of the whole story. That is my goal, and it is a lofty one.

That said, I have started to experiment with cut scenes that are not interactive but seek to increase immersion in the long term. There are things in the game which can be done live and at the table, but there are things that are best handled in transition scenes.

This can be seen as railroading, as I am doing my best to write for the characters, however I make few choices during these scenes. Typically they are consequences that have been triggered by the events of live games, I just speed the process along in a way that they can feel it, and look forward to the next session.

I can introduce characters and give them dialog that I can't in live games because somebody is always going to try to shoot the dude in the face. I can focus on PC skills that don't necessary work well live, or just move the players to the place that they decided upon during live games in a way that feels like they actually moved there themselves. It is a bit tricky, but it has worked pretty well and everybody seems to enjoy it.

Brooser Bear said...

You are right about there being as many games as there are players. It's called a player agency, I think, when players overcome this inertia and start playing as a team showing interest in the events of the game. In writing fiction, there is a moment, called Flow, when the reader is able to absorb and understand the written text, and when they get engrossed in the story itself, forgetting about the act of reading. It is the best achievement that a writer can accomplish, two readers talking about the events of the story that engrossed them, as if they witnessed it themselves. One effects of this type of successful writing is that graphic details and descriptive paragraphs are often missing from a story that works like that, and that readers tend to unconsciously fill in the details, and when a prof or moderator asks to give a description of this or that character there will be heated arguments about the appearance and nature of such and such, and only later, when the readers' attention will be directed to the text itself, there will be forehead slapping a-ha! moments when the readers discover the details omitted for the sake of the flow and how they did the work creative of the imagination themselves.

There are as many ways of playing D&D as there are DM's, one constant remains is whether the game FLOWS or not. What makes the game session a CRAWL, is the periodic and methodic necessity to make every roll. Implementation of game mechanics is what makes a role playing game unlike a story session with multiple storytellers or actors, if it is an LRP game. Of course, if the game mechanics are poorly implemented or incompetently, then the game sessions suffers and the players become bored. Rules and game mechanics provide realism to the game and allow the player choice to have the in-game consequence, but the bigger question is - how keen are your players on tactical realism? Are they warriors in search of a fray or are the looking for something else? In the final analysis, it's okay to railroad or skip the boring parts if it makes the game flow better, it is even okay for the players to have a choose-your-own adventure book style game session, with a scripted beginning, middle, and a DM scripted ending, a good DN can make that game flow and make it engrossing for the players, and a skilled DM can give players important decisions and choices to make in the game that will offer meaningful and profound consequences even within the confines of a heavily scripted railroad adventure. BTW, OSR vs story game is a smoke from another fire entirely.

RipperX said...

I recently read Rob Kuntz's book about Dave Arneson and his principles as applied to the game and have changed my mind in regards to DM agency as they apply to the rules.

In a nutshell, there are those ideas which are fixed, and those ideas which are mutable. The perfect system is one that is both.

Gygax published a very static set of rules that he himself never used. When a player does something strange, you can either stop the game and see what the book says about it (if anything), or you can just make up a mechanic and move on. Call it rulings over rules or whatever you want to, this system is much much better.

If a medium has potential for game management, why not use it? I still have to allow the AD&D Player's Handbook to function like it should, but as far as my DMing goes, I've been playing OD&D and the players have really loved it.

Brooser Bear said...

There you go, improvising like a competent jazz musician! Are you saying that Gygax never used his own DMG? His DMG is my favorite D&D reference book. I heavily modified and internalized its game mechanics to a point where I don't refer to it while DMing. What system DID Gygax use? Also, did Kuntz mention, what was Arneson'e DMing style besides his Blackmoor campaign?

RipperX said...

Gygax didn't use any system, Arneson's method was so intuitive and easy that Kuntz was able to run a game for Gygax with no prep. It is just a game of consequences & logic. Gygax used his Chainmail rules to help manage combat.

Arneson's role in D&D has been systematically covered up. Arneson did write down notes for Gygax, but these were called gibberish and conveniently lost. Kuntz said that he did read them, and they weren't gibberish at all. "True Genius" does not paint a pretty picture of Gygax, but it does explain what happened during Arneson's time working for TSR, and why he left.

The book does go a long way in presenting his methods, but it is very short. This is just one section of a bigger project which Kuntz wanted to get out now so that he could present a case that would prove that Arneson was the first person in the common era to actually invent a new and unique game.

Brooser Bear said...

Rip, which Tim Kask book are you reading? Dave Arneson DID publish his version of D&D in 1978/1979. It was called Adventures In Fantasy (authored with Richard Snyder, who went on to write the Powers and Perils for the Avalon Hill, before it went bankrupt. Game seems to have been a commercial flop.) Arneson's game seems to have been a take off on the White Box OD&D set, except that the three booklets with similar titles were printed one in red, one in blue, and one in green ink. Regarding Arneson getting purged out of the TSR and all of his work obliterated. Is that the claim that Tim Kask is making? Playing at the World history of fantasy RPG's claims that Arneson had a desk at TSR in charge of developing a Napoleonic-Era game and over months he failed to produce anything on the subject. If you remember, the first transition from miniatures wargame to fantasy role playing that Gygax had witnessed, was the duel between the Prussian Colonel and the Alsatian anarchist university student. So, that has a ring of probability to it, though a purge is also possible.

RipperX said...

Not Kask, Kuntz wrote the book. you can read my review of it, as well as find a link to purchase a copy at

I believe that this book was sparked by Playing At the World getting it wrong. True Genius is controversial, but Kuntz makes a solid case, or at least gives you enough evidence that you can form your own conclusion.

Brooser Bear said...

Thanks, Rip, I will check this book out. I am reading a little number called Through Dungeons Deep: A Fantasy Gamer's Handbook. A reprint from 1982. Beginning is dreadfully obvious to experienced players, but it reads better than Gygax's guide to TSR role playing games.

RipperX said...

You'll have to let us know how it is when you're done. The game book that I am currently reading, very slowly, is Tony Bath's Ancients Wargame Rules,or something like that . . . it's upstairs. Fantastic so far!

Brooser Bear said...

I will let you know when I am done. Hoping it will have useful DM advice I will pass right along.

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