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Armored Bears

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A member registered Mar 18, 2019

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Super into this idea, looking forward to contributing!

I think the really important piece of content like this is the suggestion of times and places to use a particular trope. Plenty of games stat up common character archetypes, to the point where it's almost expected GM content (assuming your game has NPC stats). Adding places your players will expect to see certain things conveys a lot more information about the genre you're working in in a much more condensed way than just listing the tropes themselves.

Fundamentally, the reason we play games instead of rolling dice and doing math with the results is because games are emotionally stimulating. That is, ttrpgs produce emotional responses (whether the emotion in question is fun, fear, sadness, etc.) and we play primarily for these responses. The challenge of working out how to get the enemy's hit points to 0 is, in contrast, intellectually stimulating; the part where you're an elf and the enemy is a dragon is the part that makes it fun or scary rather than simply challenging or interesting. Without the narrative, the game becomes "component one performs operation thirty-seven, decreasing component two's attribute eleven from one-hundred and sixty-two points to eighty-four points." So, the narrative provokes the key emotional response that makes the game worth playing. Metaphor, as you probably know, is the among the most important tools that narrative has for provoking emotional responses (possibly the most important, discounting base sentimentality). A game that ignores basic understandings of metaphor (or a DM who doesn't understand the metaphorical frameworks they're working in) produces narratives that are dissatisfying on a subconscious level. This isn't the worst thing in the world, and I honestly think that D&D's flavor text does a fantastic job of implying its metaphorical framework for players and DMs. But having an understanding of the essential narrative at the core of a game you're designing and the metaphorical framework you're working in lets you design your game so that your players are incapable of missing the particular emotional response you intend to provoke, and that's the idea at the center of this thread.

Hi, I'm Cole (he/him) and I'm something of a long-time lurker in RPGs generally. I love reading games and thinking about the theory behind good design (which I've been doing for about four years now), and I've just begun GMing my first ongoing game (Blades in the Dark) in the past month. Hoping to see this community grow and maybe find inspiration to design something of my own in the future!

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Game mechanics always imply a narrative, whether they're board games or ttrpgs or video games. Even something as simple as chess has the implied narrative (or ludonarrative, if you're feeling fancy) of the white army fighting the black army. The post that started this thread is about ways of making the expected narrative explicit. So, for example, your game of D&D will always have a plot. It might just be "we kill the dragon and take their stuff," but it's still a plot. When we talk about narrative tools, we mean ways for the game designer to make explicit their expectations for the game's implied plot, what Sandy Pug Games called the "platonic session".  Making these expectations explicit helps players (including the GM) get the most out of the game experience. So when someone who's completely unfamiliar with fantasy tropes decides they want to run D&D, laying out the platonic session for them would help them get the most enjoyment possible out of their own session. It isn't that drama and narrative are things we want more of in our games, it's that they're already there, and that not understanding them often makes play uncomfortable. If you had no picture in your head of a platonic session of Pathfinder, the story that "evolves through play" might be one of pastoral life and farming simulation. This would likely be confusing and not very fun because of the gulf between your game and the game that Paizo designed. Lots of things in the Pathfinder rulebook imply that this is not what your game's narrative should be, but the point of the post is that, because there are members of your audience who have never engaged with your type of story before, your game can only benefit from making these expectations explicit.


tl;dr Your characters already have drama and your game already has narrative construction: now let's talk about how to show your players how to match this drama and narrative to the game you've given them.