Friday, September 28, 2007

Lesson: Forge Theory - Creative Agenda

Last week, I described the four different scopes of the Forge model: Social Contract, Exploration, Techniques, and Ephemera. But these are not the typical introduction to Forge theory, in spite of how fundamental they are to the theory. Instead, the most prominent feature of Forge theory is how it deals with agenda.

Creative agenda are a particular way to describe how people play RPGs, and in this theory they have several unique features. First, a creative agenda is similar to an aesthetic judgement and it can be seen at different scopes at the same time. Thus a creative agenda would affect the social contract of the game, the nature of the exploration, the techniques used, and even the ephemera happening during the game. For this reason they are sometimes visualized as skewers that cross through the different scopes.

Another feature of creative agendas is that they are properly a description of how a group plays, not the desires of an individual or design goals of a game. In this way, a creative agenda is an aesthetic for judging what happens in play, that comes to be shared during play by all of the players. If everyone is valuing the same things in play, then it is much easier for players to focus on them and make decisions with those values in mind.

As described by the Forge theory, creative agendas are not automatic, they will often not arise in play, something called incoherent play from the idea that multiple possible creative agendas are struggling for dominance in this case. The first major claim of this model is that coherent play is generally more reliable than incoherent play. The second major claim is that creative agendas come in three categories: Step on Up, Story Now, and Right to Dream (more recently called Constructive Denial).

Both of these claims have produced some controversy in RPG discussion circles, for a variety of technical and social reasons. One result of this controversy has been an understanding of the limits of the Forge theory. Specifically, the theory doesn't claim that play without creative agendas is less satisfying, merely that is is less reliable. In practice the Forge theory is used in a therapeutic sense, either to make games that better support certain creative agendas or to help players achieve their preferred creative agenda during play.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Weekly Review September 16th to September 22nd

This week has seen several advances in RPG theory, including the creation of a new exploratory theory focused forum, Theory Decides.


Over at Story Games, Tony Lower-Basch began a discussion on formulaic stories and the use of well known landmarks to communicate and pace the stories as they are played. The discussion continues with analysis of the ways these landmarks can be identified, as well as their relationship with conflicts and decisions.

Constructive Denial and Emulation

Over at I would knife fight a man is an examination of genre emulation and constructive denial (a creative agenda where players conspire to protect core elements of the fiction). This is expanded by an example, designing a game for such a type of play


Jonathon Walton describes an under-investigated type of RPG. Specifically, where quantitative mechanics are minimized or non-existent and strategic thinking is not required for effective play.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lesson: Forge Theory - Scoping of the Model

One of the more prominent theories of RPGs is that developed at The Forge. The present incarnation of this theory is built upon many past developments and ideas in RPG theory. Called variously Forge theory, the Big Model, or GNS, it is often a complex collection of ideas, some current, and some out-moded by later discussions.

At present the Forge theory is based on a way of breaking down play into four scopes, in a nested form. The largest scope is the Social Contract. Somewhat of a misnomer, this level includes all the social elements of play, making it essentially include everything going on during the game. As the name suggests this is the level were social agreements and understandings are built, but it is not limited to them.

The next scope is that of the Exploration. This is where the fiction of play starts to present itself. Exploration is typically broken into several categories: character, situation, system, setting, and color. These interact during the course of the game, but are considered to lie at this scope of the model.

The next scope is called Techniques, which is where practices of play are located. This can be everything from specific ways to resolve combat attacks to unstated rules on the importance of characters.

The lowest scope is Ephemera, where the actual events of play are considered.

These four scopes are a way of zooming in on play to help tease apart theoretical understanding. In a nut shell, they present four ways of looking at what happens during a RPG.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Weekly Review September 9th to September 15th

This week has been an active one for RPG theory and related developments.

Fanfic, Elites, and Story

Ginger discusses fandom inspired online play, including the how goals of players differ between engaging story and simulating fanfiction. Also, she describes the effect of structurelessness on such games, and how they produce elites who covertly enforce their preferred style of play.

Jeepform Introductions

At Story Games, Emily Care Boss and Tobias Wrigstad have begun a conversation on the nature of story focused freeform RPGs, called jeepform. Related to the Nordic larp communities, this form of RPG focuses on strong constraints and responsive, story focused play, while avoiding explicit mechanics.

Guarding Yourself

Graham Walmsley discusses dropping your guard as part of his series on improvisation. As part of this he describes blocking and accepting as ways people raise and lower their guard during play.

Spotlighting the Unknown

Fang Langford returns to his discussion on moving the spotlight within RPGs as an alternate view of how systems work. In this case, he discusses the unknown as one way to draw the spotlight to a specific player, including ways that players introduce unexpected or unforeseen elements during play.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Weekly Review September 2nd to September 8th

This week has several disparate developments in RPG theory and related areas.


J. Tuomas Harviainen offers several articles on historical re-enactment groups, including the SCA. He describes some of the results of that research, especially dealing with persona and the importance of social aspects within these groups.

Being Obvious

Graham Walmsley continues his discussion of improvisation for RPGs, by talking about the importance of not over-thinking one's improvisation. As such, he suggests that the first or most desired idea is often the best.

Design Conversation

Emily Care Boss describes how game design can serve the purposes of communicating specific ideas, and that progressing design can become a conversation in this way. She calls on a variety of examples based on gender roles, both for characters and players within the contexts of playing a RPG.

Specialization and Conflict

Chris Chinn talks about specialization in characters (especially with regards to point-buy systems), and the negative effect this has on conflicts. Typically the specialist will win their type of conflict and fail the rest, making the during play decisions less interesting.

Monthly Review August 2007

This month has seen several theory developments focusing on dissecting or emulating certain kinds of story genres. First, Brad Murray at Story Games described how focused game design can be seen as a dissection of a specific genre of stories. In this way, a RPG can be seen as a distillation of the essentials (or one view of those essentials) of a specific genre of stories.

Later on, Fang Langford discussed looking at RPGs in terms of the movement of the spotlight among the players. Later, Graham Walmsley brought up status changes, both as the foundation to some types of stories and as a method for improvisation within RPGs. Lastly, Rich Warren described how the rules of RPGs act as the physics of its fictional world and genre.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Weekly Review August 26th to September 1st

This week has seen a continuation of some ideas from last week, as well as other revisitations.

Fundamental Acts

Over at I would knife fight a man, there is a reprise in an earlier discussion about the fundamental act of roleplaying. That discussion centered on the relative importance of the social act versus the fictional one. Stemming from there are two other possible fundamental acts: imagination and choice.

Change in Status

Continuing his discussion on improvisation techniques, Graham Walmsley returns to the subject of status changes. In this case he illustrates how many different status situations can be actively enjoyable, including low status and drops in status.