Thursday, November 16, 2017

Look! There's a challenge! (rules vs. story ... again)

Hey folks. Long time no post. I have been around but busy. Anyway, just saw this while having my tea and thought "Finally! Someone is starting to take this whole "story vs. rules"-problem serious!". And I somewhat agree with the result. However, this being a challenge, I'll fight it with the scheme I had posted some time ago and connect it with some of the ideas and concepts I came up with. Let's rumble!

First of all, I do not disagree with the +Jack Shear's proposal. I think it illustrates a crucial part of the dynamic between rules and story quite well and I applaud that. That said, I think it is lacking one very important aspect: "story" as a result of playing role playing games is always focused on what the players make of the encounters their characters had. In other words, the elements presented in the post linked above are incomplete as they lack (or merely imply as given?) the sender-receiver relationship necessary for every communication and how that correlates to gaming.

I'm using "encounters" here in a very broad sense, as in, "a story they hear from a peasant in the street is an encounter"-kind of way ... everything in the game is filtered through that lens. There might be other stories (like, what the DM had in mind, for instance), but that is yet another layer in that everyone brings his own story to the table ("Goals" in the scheme below), each feeding into how the story in the game shapes up or what story for the characters is agreed upon.

Here is the version I came up with. It actually applies to all stories, but it sets the rules into perspective and involves how stories are structured or experienced (depending on where the story emerges):

Open in new tab to see it in all it's glory ...

[From the post linked below]: "The CHARACTERS are the center piece and everything resolves around them as ENCOUNTERS in the established WORLD (could be the DM in the moment of play, the world described in a novel or tv series or the world as you see it, to name a couple of examples, narrative would be another good word for it). A WORLD could be defined now by (at least) 4 corner stones:
  • STRUCTURE: or patterns. Structure lets you recognize and work with established patterns in a world. Is it a comedy or a tragedy? Is it magic or technology? English or French? All those patterns will shape everything around them and, in the end, the story.
  • THEMES: or labels. It's the selection you chose to describe your surroundings. Easy example would be the description of a game by the winning side compared to that by the losing side ("best referee ever!" vs. "cheating bastard of a referee!"). Fake news is another good example of labeling to influence a story.
  • RULES: or consistency. It's the rules we play by. Could be laws, could be D&D or a social contract, could be grammar ... They are always there to one degree or another and shape how we behave or judge behavior, for instance.
  • GOALS: or motivation. This is what propels the action. You want world domination? That's what you work towards. You are lonely? There you go, you'd want to meet someone. You want xp? Do what you have to do to get them and advance in levels ...
ALL THAT cumulates to STORY, every time, again and again. Depending on the story you tell, the parameters might shift and change in prominence, but they are always in effect. So if you are in the story about a couple of friends meeting to play a game of D&D it will have different parameters than the story the characters of those friends will encounter in the campaign they are playing. While the motivation in the first story might be, for instance, to have FUN, the story in the campaign and what the characters experience might just as well be a tragedy. Those things can happen simultaneously, even without conflicting with each other."

There is more and here's my attempt to collect some of it (including the explanation of the scheme above). I hope this helps giving the whole discussion a bit more fodder as I strongly believe that we are way behind in exploring this. Compare this to how they put some serious research into this for computer games, to give just one example. We need to get out of our comfort zones to see what's possible ...


  1. I'm reminded of my own 3D plotfield illustration, which demonstrates a similar trouble with adequately capturing three dimensions in two. You can find it here:

    1. Yeah, that's a nice one! What did you use making it? Inkscape?

    2. FYI, in that diagram, X and Y dimensions represent space and time, respectively, and the Z dimension represents narrative tension.

    3. Come on! Word?! Nice :D So you have layers of space and time (different locations in a progressing time line) with corresponding narrative tension? Actually looks like (or very close to) the classic five-stage story structure?


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