Part One:Defining TabletopRoleplaying Games (For our purposes)
A Game Is: An activity governed by rules, which are meant for entertainment. Whist, Tag, Dungeons & Dragons,Fallout 3, Checkers and Chess; How To Host A Murder; these are all games.
A Roleplaying Game Is: An game which includes roleplaying acharacter whether by through performance, narration, or displaced action (tokens). Dungeons & Dragons, Fallout 3, How To Host A Murder, World Of Warcraft; These Are All Roleplaying Games.
A Tabletop Roleplaying Game Is:A roleplaying game in which the roleplayingis restricted to “around a table” forms, and has no digital dependencies. Dungeons & Dragons, Ars Magica, Vampire: The Masquerade, Fiasco, GURPS, Breaking The Ice; these are all tabletop roleplaying games.
TTRPGs Happen At Social Events: At a gathering, a barbecue, or other event,usually held specifically to “hold” the game. Event
Some Things Are “Playing”, Some Things Arent.A TTRPG group that doesnt agree on what play is, and what it isnt, in terms of acceptable methods and actions, has a serious problem. Rules cover this. Event Gameplay
Gameplay Creates And Uses Fiction. The imaginary “stuff” - characters, scenes,items, and so on - of a roleplaying game are the fiction of the game. Event Gameplay Fiction
The Fiction Can Be Altered With A Variety Of Methods.Three easy categories for these methods are Gaming, Roleplaying, and Authoring
Roleplaying: Altering the fiction by portrayal of acharacter, speaking as that character and narrating their actions. In general, roleplaying tends to the first person.
Gaming:Altering the fiction by manipulating tokens and abstractions covered by the rules. If you roll dice to hit an enemy, youre gaming when you do that.
Authoring:Altering the fiction by directly describingsaid fiction, without necessarily includingany mediation through rules. In general,authoring trends towards speaking in the third person.
Mixed Action: The above categories are handy! But they are not absolutes.For example, Improv-style play means using authorial power in a roleplaying voice. Describing stunts or detailing the environment as part of action mixes upauthoring and gaming. “Ritualized speech” rules, such as in Polaris and Wushu, can scramble all three.
Part Four:Motives For Action (A Partial Selection)
CATHARSIS is a feeling of release that follows an intense or overwhelming experience. Notnecessarily a tragic or traumatic experience, but usually an emotional one. Catharsis generally can only occur as a payoff to Roleplaying (and having author rights, as in Improv, can actually get in the way).
IMMERSION is the feeling of being deeply engaged in a character or in the reality of thefictional world. Players looking for this (especially really serious kinds) generally want to avoid gaming that strongly pushes one of the other kinds of enjoyment, and often want to avoid authoring (including creation-oriented Improv) completely.
AGON is the thrill of winning against another person at the table. When the GM takes on the role of some adversaries and plays to whup the players, that’s agon. When a couple of players engage in creative one-upmanship, trying to spout the coolest thing (in theatre terms, trying to upstage each other rather than collaborate),that’s agon again. Agon can be good, but only if it’s acknowledged, constrained, and used deliberately. Most Agon comes out of Gaming behaviours.
ALEA is the gambler’s thrill - the fun of taking a big risk, the tension that comes with it, win orlose. Games with dice rolls, and especially ones where big stakes are riding on that one throw of the dice, are good at giving alea. Alea is pursued through Gaming.
FIERO is the joy of beating a challengingencounter, or overcoming a difficult obstacle. A pushover task isnt a source of Fiero – a knock-down, drag-out fight that requires tactical know- how to merely survive? Thats where it lives.Gaming is where Fiero comes out most reliably,but not the only place; ask an Old School playerabout beating a bastard encounter with wits, and you may hear about some roleplayed Fiero.
LUDUS is the fun of pure mechanism, of exploring the game-as-rules-simulation.Character optimizers are often getting Ludus fun“offstage” when they build and refine characters, and merely “fulfilling” it when they use thosecharacters in action. Complex rules engines that model things are reliable sources for Ludus fun.
KAIROSIS is the feeling that of fulfilment that comes when an arc of fictional developmentcompletes – a character is tested and changes, a situation grows more complex, and is resolved. Actively seeking kairosis often means authoring, though it may only be authoring certain details relevant to you (revealing yourself from stunt- level disguise in Spirit Of The Century, pickingout character developments from Fallout in Dogs in the Vineyard).
THERE ARE many other kinds of enjoyment to be sought (at least a dozen more); the ones given were selected as the ones that mostcontrast with other theory, show how a drive for fun can push you towards a certain kind of action in play – If youre playing a heavy- authoring improv game, searching for Fiero is not likely to work out well.
Part Five: In Sharp Relief(Stuff Thats Especially Obvious In This Light)
“Roleplaying vs. Roll-Playing” Is snark directed from people who dig Immersion, Catharsis, and some kinds ofKairosis, at people who are chasing Gaming fun like Ludus, Fiero, or Alea.
“Traditional vs. Story-Gaming”Is a division of games that is mainly used todifferentiate games where only the GM hasany strong Authorial voice, and ones where players have some explicit and notable degree of access to Authoring.
ImmersionHas been getting weirdly short shrift from theorists for a bit now. Seriously, guys.
“Step On Up” or “Gamism” Usually just means Fiero-chasing, gaming-heavy play, in most casual discussions. (Though this isnt the original meaning.)
“Story Now” or “Narrativism” Usually just means Kairosis-chasing, authoring-heavy play, in most casual discussions. (Though this isnt the original meaning.)
“Simulation” When used casually, typically just meansLudus-seeking play thats aimed at the worldrather than the characters (GURPS wants to give you Ludus, baby. Hardcore.)