Author Topic: if-how-what or The 3 stages of Roleplaying evolution  (Read 1183 times)

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Offline Drul Morbok

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if-how-what or The 3 stages of Roleplaying evolution
« on: July 16, 2019, 01:42:56 AM »
This is a theory I came up with recently, and I wanted to share it for discussion.
By using the word "evolution", I just mean that I see a temporal sequence, and I think the later stages would not be there this way without the earlier stages. I do not mean to imply any "tech tree"-reading, where newer stages are more sophisticated or "higher" on the ladder.

  • The if-stage of roleplaying is centerend around the questions if players succeed, i.e. survive. If a really unlucky accumumulations of natural 1s on a saving throw against cloudkill wipe out the party, so be it. I associate it with earliest D&D dungeon crawls with little to no social interaction beyond buying and selling goods, using gather information to find the way to treasure/enemies or to find weak spots of the enemies, or to convince enemies to surrender rather than fight.
  • The how-stage of roleplaying is centerend around the questions how players succeed. This implicitely assumes that the players will live through all challenges and finally reach the climax. Characters and parties only permanently die if they deliberately or grossly negligent ignore subtil hints when to retreat. This becomes a necessity as soon as campaigns enter the game, i.e. challenges do not occur in a vacuum, but as part of an ongoing story - preparing and foreshadowing the rise of a nemesis, or hinting at some ancient artefact, are wasted if the players never reach it.
  • The what-stage of roleplaying does away with the idea of success and failure, and centers around the question "what happens if...". It might reach the point where the term roleplaying might get inappropriate or at least inaccurate, as it centers around society rather than individual roles.

I think side quests in video games often incorporate traces of what-elements, and the term open game world in video games could be understand as being open in the sense of moving away from game mechanics defining success and defeat (though they still are far away from that point). Right now I think of rivaling factions in The Elder Scrolls game series, especially Skyrim.

I also read of a really generic gaming system that some players used for a scenario where the players play scientists that develop some genetic engeneering that allows for future children to grow up into beautiful or handsome individuals, as defined by some standard (talking about this standard would also by part of the game). There is now objective success or failure. There ist no predefined goal. It's all about roleplaying in the purest sense of the word: What kind of individuals could be part of the team that discovered the mothod, what are their motiviations? Do they really like what they discovered, or are they horrified by the implications? Do they sell it to the highest bidder, do they destroy all notes and vow to keep it secret? Do they believe that it should be accessible to anyone, because it "levels the playing field"? Do they have personal involvement, like a history of being mobbed due to a hooked nose, or does their promotion stand and fall with academic accolade for whatever project they are part of?
Of course this gaming system also includes failure and succes, but only relative: If said scientists decide to use their discovery to get rich, game mechanics decide if it goes as they plan (it rarely does). Failure could mean that a team member leaks the formula to an open source science platform...or to the the Chinese government that pays even better. The idea is that success and failure, as defined by the game mechanics, lead to equally intersting plots and twists.

I'm thinking about a similar setting where the Jaidor Talisman falls in the hands of the player characters (doing away with Khoras canon about it's whereabouts).
« Last Edit: July 16, 2019, 01:47:08 AM by Drul Morbok »

Offline David Roomes

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Re: if-how-what or The 3 stages of Roleplaying evolution
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2019, 09:10:44 PM »

First of all, your three stages seem spot on. I've seen both players and groups go through similar evolutions.

As for video games, there are more and more games out there that focus on an "open world" and survival/interaction with the world. No central plot at all. Some games have lots of small quests, but there is no central quest. I personally think that this will be more common in future games. I've seen several new games that get away from the whole idea that the player is special or the "chosen" and there is no central quest or narrative. But rather, it's just a huge open world to explore and be a part of.

Even in Skyrim, lots of players ignore the main quest and just go off and explore and live in the world. Speaking of which, I am really looking forward to the next Elder Scroll release. :)
David M. Roomes
Creator of the World of Khoras