Our Roots Are Showing

2008 Jan 28

I’ve recently noticed that games which require players to think strategically frequently annoy me, especially when the central goals of the game don’t require strategy. I can enjoy playing Warhammer 40K as much as the next person, but if I’m playing a roleplaying game about relationships or character growth, the strategic elements are probably going to be really bothersome, because they just don’t fit.

Chris Chinn just wrote a brilliant post about similar issues, related to the difficulty of finding a game to play with non-roleplayers, even one as accessible as a fairly complex video game. Sometimes, it’s really frustrated how little roleplaying has moved beyond its wargaming roots.

8 Responses to “Our Roots Are Showing”

  1. I dunno. Before I read Chris’ post, I’d like to point out that when I go to a Vampire: the Masquerade Live Action Role-Playing Game, it’s all about strategic play using nothing but relationships. Court intrigue is like that too.

    But I do take your meaning. I don’t think this is limited to strategic thinkers. Wouldn’t you find Warhammer 40K players who parley excessively (role-playing on the map) to be as annoying?

    Fang Langford

  2. Tommi Says:

    I’m fine as long as I can ignore the strategy part and think about how I would translate the actions of a character or the reactions of a setting, whichever is appropriate, into the game terms.

    Universalis fell flat for me due to the assumed level of conflict and the fact that it was just far too formal. It made me think in a way that GM must think (story level) while giving wrong tools for my style of game mastering. Strategy is not my tool.

  3. Buzz Says:

    The strategic/tactical play Chris is talking about is the bait-and-switch of ostensibly playing a game about, say, the drama of a teenage vampire slayer having to balance her commitments to her friends and family with her duty to save the world, and then finding out you need to make sure that her Str bonus is high enough to meet the prerq for the snap-kick ability so she cam maximize her average damage, blahdy, blahdy, blah.

    I.e., not quite what you’re talking about with the larp’ing, Fang.

  4. Troy_Costisick Says:

    Heya Jon,

    Do you think the coolness of raising and seeing and actually the dice thing in DitV is, to some extent, a culprit? Instead of looking at the hard, moral choices the game is pointing to, people are looking at how addictive and fun the dice rules are?



  5. Fang: I think the kind of strategic maneuvering required for most Vampire larps would probably annoy me as well. Inter-player competition is just not where I want the meat of my play to be coming from.

    Troy: I do think that people sometimes push to win Dogs’ conflicts even when they may not want to. Honestly, I think Vincent intends that, it’s part of the pressure to escalate and use violence with drives the story. Dogs, in my mind, is a game where Vincent has harnessed the strategy to generally enforce the themes he wants, but I think that’s pretty rare and difficult.

    I’m not sure if the fun dice game obscures the moral weight of choices, though. That hasn’t been my experience, I guess.

  6. Matthijs Says:

    Jon, in response to your first post: Me, too. Strategy is great when it’s part of what the game’s about. When the game’s about diffuse, open-ended, human, dynamic, non-competitive, cooperative stuff, however, hard strategy can easily cause emergent behavior that doesn’t support the game’s theme.

  7. John Harper Says:

    I wrote a post about this a few years ago when I was especially frustrated.


    I mention it because the comments are pretty hilarious. The unshakable assumptions! The defensiveness! Classic stuff.

  8. Tommi, Buzz, Matthijs: Yes, completely. My experience mirrors yours very closely.

    John: Amen. And that was a great post. The Serenity RPG makes baby Jesus cry.

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