Most of the roleplaying game theory out on the intertubes that originated on the Forge is part of the Big Model. You won’t have heard me talk about the Big Model before, because frankly I don’t get it — I talk about small parts of the Big Model, because I feel like (a) I get those, or (b) I possibly CAN get those, if I work at it.
Over at Knife Fight, someone posted a friends summary of the Big Model that pretty much boils it all down into a nice simple glaze I can pour over whatever food I happen to be cooking. It’s tasty, it’s basic, and it’s (in my head) straightforward. I have appended that post, with notes, below the cut, because i would always like to be able to find it.
Via Gaerik, on the “Knife Fight” forums:
The best Big Model Breakdown I’ve seen to date. This is me saying that it isn’t mine. It’s Frank Tarcikowski’s.
Role-playing is a social activity.
Any sensible analysis of role-playing must start with the players as real persons and not with the characters, the setting, or other fictional elements. Why? Because the characters, setting, and whatnot don’t actually exist. They’re fictional. The players do exist. It is the social interaction between the actual players that forms the context of role-playing. This context is called the Social Contract. If the Social Contract of a role-playing group is screwed up then the foundation of their play is rotten and they are pretty much doomed in terms of having reliable fun. Having reliable fun is a basic definition of functional role-playing.
Role-playing is creating fiction together.
The participants of an RPG are creating imaginary events through play. The pictures in everyone’s head of what happens need to match. If one player is imagining a gritty modern fantasy while the other players are imagining a My Little Ponies adventure, you’re going to run into problems. These matching pictures is called the Shared Imagined Space (SIS), or sometimes simply “The Fiction”.
The Shared Imagined Space is created through negotiation.
This is key. The SIS isn’t created by some sourcebook or anything else. It is created via negotiation between the players. Now the negotiation may just be the players all agreeing to certain source materials to start but the fact remains that it was a negotiated and agreed upon by all the players.
Interaction between players at the gaming table is directed toward including certain situations or events into the SIS. The back and forth dialogue that develops during play, to include making statements of intent, rolling dice, appealing to the authority of the rules, and all the other game discussion that goes on, is the process of negotiation. Only if all players agree, explictly or implicitly, to a new piece of fictional content can play continue on that basis. This process, when described in this way, is sometimes called the “Lumpley Principle”.
System does matter.
“System” is the rules by which the negotiation process is organized. These rules may be written or not. Some groups play by a set of rules that differ in significant ways from the actual game text. Therefore, if someone tells you that system doesn’t matter, he is referring to the rules in the game text and he is saying so because his group is not playing by those rules anyway. The actual rules they play by are mainly their own, and those rules, the unwritten ones, do matter. Those actual rules influence two important things:
1. The fictional content shaping the Shared Imagined Space.
2. How players act at the table to create that content.
In short, the Lumpley Principle circles around this conversation: “I cast a fireball!” “No you don’t.” “I – what? I do too!” “Nope.” However the players resolve this; however you decide in your game who gets to say what about what, and when, that your game’s “system.” “System” is usually a mix of established rules (like from a rulebook), principled rules (extrapolated from a rulebook), ad-hoc rules, and winging it, in some proportion or other. System always matters, and always has an impact on the resulting Fiction.
There is role-playing, and then there is role-playing.
The process people use to role-play may vary widely from group to group. That’s because different people have differing priorities — things that they “want” — when playing RPGs. A gaming group has the best chance for sustained fun when all the players have the same or similar priorities. The shared group priority is called the group’s Creative Agenda.
“Having fun” is not in itself a priority. How the fun is had is the priority. Simply having fun is always a goal, so it is useless as an analytical tool.
Note: Creative Agenda is the full picture! It is not individual moments in play or individual parts of the System. It is only recognized when watching a group play for a longer period of time, with special attention to moments where specific priorities may conflict with each other. Creative Agenda does NOT say that any action by a player at any time during play needs to fit a scheme or something.
The following three general categories of Creative Agenda have been identified in the The Big Model:
1. Gamism: The players accept the challenges of the Shared Imagined Space, taking risks and showing performance as players and reaching or missing a certain goal. Sometimes all players may work together to a goal. Sometimes they may compete. The social reward for Gamism is gained by the player stepping up and meeting challenges.
Note: Gamism is not the same as Powergaming, which is a sub-species of Gamist play and sometimes dysfunctional.
2. Narrativism: The players engage in the moral and human issues of the Shared Imagined Space, taking a position as players and making a statement about their characters, the game world, and/or themselves. The social reward for Narrativism is gained when the player makes and interesting thematic statement through play. (It is worth noting that, if said statement or recurring theme is predetermined before play begins, it’s not really Narr play, which depends somewhat on it emerging organically in the middle of play.)
Note: This is not what is commonly called Storytelling or Cinematic play. If functional, both are usually in there somewhere.
3. Simulationism: The players experience the Shared Imagined Space as something worthwhile for its own sake. Something which they do not fully control because it follows its own laws. Experiencing the Shared Imagined Space and contributing to it is part of any role-playing, but in this mode, it is the top priority. The social reward for Simulationist play is generally gained through skillful celebration of the subject matter or source material.
Note: Complex “realistic” rules are only one style of Simulationist role-playing. More frequently you’ll find features like style, atmosphere, acting, or dramaturgy to be more important that complex physics mechanics.
Dunno if any of this will be of much use to anyone but me, but it’s here if you want it.