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Monday 19 January 2015

Pundit-Notes From The Great Forge Reunion Battle of 2015 Part 1

Pundit-Notes From the Great Forge Reunion Battle of 2015
Wherein Ron Edwards Complained That People Still Remembered "Brain Damage", and Were Still mad at him for it;
and Wherein Ron Edwards Tried to Take Credit for the OSR

Part 1
The Hobby is a Free Market: Why Constraining GMs Through Rules is Stupid and Useless

There is already a clearly-set limit on the GM: the Player controls his Character. That's it.  The GM is GOD in every other respect.
That's how you make it work.

Now, that's it, in terms of rules. Obviously, yes, you have the Social Contract; a GM who just does "rocks fall and everyone dies, bwah hah hah hah!" on his players isn't going to be a GM for long, because people will (in the free market this hobby is) move on to some other,  better GM.  But you can say the same about the GM who fills his world with monosyllabic totally bland NPCs, or the GM who regularly has his players slogging through hexes or 40' corridors without giving any life to them.
These are Bad GMs.  Specifically because they're shitty at being God.

But you don't fix that by creating rules that hamstring the GM, that say "the GM can't oppose a player if/when...".  You do that, and you only make the situation worse; first and foremost because suddenly the GM is constrained by the rules and will at times be unable to create an emulative environment BECAUSE of those rules.   But furthermore, because you will potentially have Primma Donna Players taking abusive advantage of those rules to ruin the fun for everyone else.

A GM who just cares about his own fun and not the other players is being a BAD GM.  A player who just cares about his own fun is not being a bad player (he might be a bad person, but not a bad player) because he's SUPPOSED to only care about his character.

But what this means is that if you turn around and give away the power to the players because of the "tyranny" of Bad GMs, you make the problem much worse.  Instead of one Dictator, you now have 4-6 Dictators, and whereas the former had a "noblesse oblige" duty to make the game fun for all, none of those 4-6 Little Stalins actually do.

So the answer is never something that's found in actual Rule Design. It can't be, because the GM has to be able to break any rule any time he wants to, and the constraint to that cannot be in the rules but in the right of the player to walk away from the table.

That's why Amber is a million times better than anything the Forge ever produced.  It deals with the problem by dedicating most of the book to the greatest GM advice ever put to paper.  It recognizes that the only answer to the problem of 'bad GMs' is to try to help people be better GMs.


Currently Smoking: Mastro De Paja Rhodesian + Image Perique


  1. Nice. I'm presently helping several newbie GMs get started, and one of the first things I tell them is, "You're going to stink at this to start with. Don't try to be perfect, just focus on getting better."

  2. Nicely written. I been saying for a while you can not fix bad referees with rules. You have to teach to be good referees.

  3. The Forge/storygamer/Theory crowd are trying to make cars safer by making the wheels square.

  4. I think it obvious that the very role of GM is shaped and defined by rules. There's no such thing as "GM per se", being a GM of system X may be significantly different from being a GM in system Y. So, this whole post seems to be rather off-point.

    Also, the claim that those modern game designers who "take power away from the GM" (Ron Edwards is not one of them, accidentally) do so as a reaction to "bad GMing" is a gross oversimplification at best.

  5. In regular RPGs, as opposed to storygames expressly designed to subvert the format of regular RPGs, the role of the GM is absolutely clear.

  6. "Regular RPGs" and "storygames" are nonsense labels only suitable to subvert the format of reasonable discussion.
    Whether the role of GM in any given RPG is clear or not is usually a matter of how clear and explicitly stated are the rules that define it.

    1. I really don't think there are. There are very clear, definable differences between how RPGs work in the mainstream versus how the people who self-labelled as Forge Theorists or Storygamers think RPGs work or want them to work.

  7. Replies
    1. To put it in very simple terms so as not to write a 40-page essay in a comment section: RPGs consist of a game where a GM creates and governs a virtual world, while Players create and try to Immerse themselves into individual characters interacting with that world.
      Storygames consist of a game where a group of people collaboratively create a Story (or address a narrative theme, if you prefer, because it's not really 'story' in the sense most people think of it as, necessarily), where they make use of characters and settings as mere vehicles for the creation of that Story, and where the GM role, if it exists, is given highly restricted authority in favor of "player agency" and strict adherence to the rules created by the Game Designer in accordance to 'theory' principles.

    2. I understand and appreciate your desire to restrain from writing a 40-page essay. :)

      But the classes as you define them here are hardly of any practical value. Your criteria are vague, not mutually exclusive and clearly do not cover the whole diversity of role-playing games.

      So, there are "regular RPG" that are simultaneously "storygames". There are RPGs that are neither. And, two "regular RPGs" may have less in common than either of them has with a certain "storygame". That's what follows from your definition.

    3. No, it's very simple, they are exclusive concepts. In an RPG, story is not a goal, in a storygame it is the entire goal. If the most important thing in the system is to collaboratively create a story/address a theme, then you have a storygame, and anything to do with Immersion, Setting as a Virtual Reality, etc. either are completely absent or when put up against Story THEY LOSE.
      Conversely, in an RPG "making a story" is NEVER the main goal. If someone says "it would be a better story if my guy didn't die at first level from a random goblin attack", you laugh in his face, because STORY DOESN'T MATTER.

    4. OK, this is much clearer and makes more sense. So, it's about goals, right?

      But then again, if we buy into the dichotomy, real-life examples undermine your claims. Sorcerer is very explicitly all about addressing a theme, but wrt to pretty much everything else you've written it patterns with "real RPGs". On the other side, there are lots of small funny games like Fiasco or Bacchanal, which do away with GM authority, do not imply deep immersion, treat the setting as everyone's toy to play with, etc., but do not address a theme.

    5. I haven't actually looked at "Bacchanal" but Fiasco very much 'addresses a theme'.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. I believe the author said that the theme is "high ambition and poor impulse control", framed in the setting backdrop of "capers gone wrong".

    8. Yes, but this is not a theme to be addressed during the game in the Lit 101 sense. There is no problematic issue to which a player presents an answer through the actions of their character. It is like saying that D&D has the theme of "obtaining gold and glory through violence and application of wits in dangerous situations" and then classifying it as a storygame on this basis.

    9. While "addressing a theme" can certainly sometimes be "lit 101" pretentious, and annoyingly many Storygames are like that, there's no reason why they HAVE to be that way. The point is still that the game is ABOUT creating that theme.

      To explain the difference: D&D is a game of adventuring in a virtual fantasy world, where players may or may not gain gold and glory. Those things may happen or may not, but when you play D&D the point is to create the adventurers and have them do things in the world, not to investigate and develop the theme/story of the adventurers getting gold and glory.
      STORY is a byproduct.

      In a Storygame, the theme is the point, the world and characters are a secondary means TO that goal.

  8. "A GM who just cares about his own fun and not the other players is being a BAD GM. A player who just cares about his own fun is not being a bad player (he might be a bad person, but not a bad player) because he's SUPPOSED to only care about his character."

    I'm not a proponent of tying the GM's hands, but over the past 40+ years I've found that it's just as easy to not play with bad people as it is to not play with bad GMs.

    1. Probably true, in most cases. Even so, it's not the player's job, regardless of whether they're good people or not, to have to be concerned with everyone's success.

  9. Hey, can't comment there, but FYI the link in your Everyjoe Tuesday: Islam Edition post is bad.

  10. Because they're shitty at being God. Indeed, sir!