For the past year or so, I’ve become increasingly preoccupied with the theory of tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs).  That is, how do they work in practice.  Shut up, I’m obsessive.

Imagine if you will, that sitting around your gaming table, are people.  This is the real game that I’m interested in.  It’s the behaviour of people.  Let’s call it the MetaGame.  The System is the rules that we apply to the behaviour – it’s how the queen moves in chess along with the shape of the chessboard, the number of moves per turn (1), and the limit of time to contemplate your next move (varies).  Lastly, there is the Shared Imagined Space (SiS).  This is the gameworld that you are playing in, and telling stories about with your companions.  The actions you describe occur in the SiS.

So, people play a MetaGame, in which the people, from the comfort of their chairs, talk to each other and describe what is occurring in the SiS.  Whenever they need to resolve a conflict, the people consult the System, whether remembering rules or looking them up in the system reference document, which informs them on what dice to roll or otherwise how to resolve what occurs in the SiS.

So, next time you’re playing a TTRPG, consider, how do the rules (the System) alter the MetaGame, i.e., the behaviour at the table, which gets mapped into the SiS?

As to the MetaGame, or player behaviour, there are three or four styles of play.

1) Gamist.  Gamist players love the aspects of the game – making characters, choosing abilities, using those abilities to overcome game challenges.

2) Simulation or Immersive.  Simulationists love to immerse themselves in the Shared Imagination Space.  They like to get in the imagined world and stay in it.  To a simulationist, the rules of the world (the System) must support the imagination – incongruent rules break immersion.

3) Narrativists.  Narrativist play is mostly about character dilemnas.  Players want their characters to be challenged with emotional obstacles, and want their characters to make meaningful growth over the course of a story.  Narrativist players are usually the least focused on keeping true to the rules, and instead will prefer handwaving away rules that interfere with the core story.

To be fair, few people are wholely dedicated to one category at the expense of them all.  But I think that I am probably more Simulationist than the others.  Runeslinger has 19 videos on Youtube which explain it handily, if you’re interested.


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