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The Win-Scenario:

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John Arcadian

on 5 October 2013

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Transcript of The Win-Scenario:

An Exploration of How Collaboration and Malleable Story Structure Affects Engagement in Tabletop Role-Playing Games
By John Arcadian
Write tabletop RPG content for as a freelancer and for my own company (Engine, Victoriana, Silvervine Games)
Author at Gnome Stew (GMing Advice)
I will write about tabletop RPGs for anyone who will give me a few thousand words of space.
Not currently engaged in academic study or work, but one of my key areas of interest is the social situation at the table and how that affects the game & how the game affects the social situation.
6 Elements Of Collaboration
1. Collaboration is an underlying part of the social contract.
2. The participants know they can affect the situation.
3. There is a leader who fosters engagement. That leader is open to change.
4. Accessible rules govern some part of the social situation.
5. There are implicit and explicit ways to manage participation.
6. Everyone has a different style and needs different engagement techniques.

Tabletop Role-playing games have a unique social aspect that fosters a collaborative environment for creating narratives. By picking out and determining what elements create this unique environment, we can develop models of engagement that can be utilized in other disciplines.

The Win-Scenario
Tabletop Role-Playing Games Are Uniquely Collaborative
One Way Media:
Created by content producer, consumed by audience
Novels - Video Games - Board Games - Movies - Radio Programs - Plays - many other media forms
Tabletop Role-Playing Games
Created by a designer, run by a "Game Master" for players who provide Instance Audience Feedback to the "Game Master" that affects how the game and narrative play out.
“In a culture increasingly driven towards passive consumption of exhaustively researched mass market entertainments, gamers take part in a form that not only rewards, but demands, active participation. ”
-Robin Laws, Robin's Laws Of Good Game Mastering – Page 2
John Arcadian
Social Contracts
“All interactions and relationships among the role-playing group, including emotional connections, logistic arrangements, and expectations.” - Ron Edwards, The Big Model
The unspoken rules that govern the social interaction and are not based on the game rules.
1. Collaboration Is An Underlying Part Of The Social Contract
Tabletop game participants are informed up-front that the situation is a collaborative. This is done in what is considered the social contract and is a foundation for collaboration.
Collaboration Expressed In Game Rules
Collaboration is also expressed within first few pages of many gaming rulebooks.
Although the Game Master is the final arbiter of the rules, the Pathfinder RPG is a shared experience, and all of the players should contribute their thoughts when the rules are in doubt.
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game – Page 9
In roleplaying, the “audience” joins in the creation. The GM is the chief storyteller, but the players are responsible for portraying their characters. If they want something to happen in the story, they make it happen, because they are in the story.
- Gurps, 4th Edition – Page 7
Fiasco is a highly collaborative game in which every player should always be engaged – either actively playing a character or throwing out suggestions, brainstorming scene ideas, and listening for ways to make each scene hit harder than the last.
- Fiasco – Page 9
Dread is a game of horror and hope. Those who play will participate in a mutual telling of an original macabre tale.
- Dread - Page 5
3. There Is A Leader Who Fosters Engagement. That Leader Is Open To Change.
Dungeon Master, Game Master, Storyteller, Producer, Referee, and many other names refer to a person with more control and more authority over the game and the social situation.
This person's responsibility is to keep game (and social situation) moving along.
The leader is given authority to do this, but they must be open to participant input and most create structures withing the game/social situation that are malleable so that they can capitalize on participant momentum.
4. Accessible Rules Govern Some Part Of The Social Situation
There are rules to govern the game being played, which is a part of the social situation.
The rules are accessible to everyone through rulebooks that can be referenced throughout the game.
Having part of the situation governed by commonly accessible rules creates an environment where participants feel more agency in contributing to other parts of the social situation and helps guide how people interact.
5. There Are Implicit And Explicit Methods To Manage Participation
Participation in tabletop role-playing game is managed in many ways to allow everyone a chance to participate.
Game Roles (Classes, Skills, Character Concepts And Goals) and help participants take turns within the situation.
The "leader" controls the spotlight and who he focuses on during segments of the game that are less detailed and more narrative.
Initiative systems handle whose turn it is when very detailed sections of the game are being played.
Having multiple ways to manage participation helps provide structure when participants are looking for what next.
A player who creates a rogue in a D&D game wants to sneak around stabbing people in the back, disarm traps, fast-talk NPCs and so forth; a player who rolls up a hard-drinking, hard-hitting musclebound galoot for your Call of Cthulhu game wants to slug cultists, smash down doors and tote a Tommy gun under his trenchcoat.
- Martin Ralya , GMing 142: Spotlight Moments
6. Everyone Has A Different Style And Needs Different Engagement Techniques
Everybody at the gaming table has a different gaming style that must be understood to achieve a collaborative environment.
It is one of the game master's responsibilities to create a game that engages these different types of players.
Types Of Players
If at least 70% of the success or failure of a gaming session depends on interactions between participants, any preparation to improve your GMing style must begin with a look at the people you’ll be playing with.

- Robin Laws, Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering
- Page 3
The Power Gamer wants to make his character bigger, tougher, buffer, and richer.
The Butt-Kicker wants to let off steam with a little old-fashioned vicarious mayhem.
The Tactician wants chances to think her way through complex, realistic problems.
The Specialist favors a particular character type, which he always plays.
The Method Actor strongly identifies with the character she plays and gets inside their head.
The Storyteller is more inclined to the role-playing side of the equation and less interested in numbers.
The Casual Gamer tend to be low key folks who are uncomfortable taking center stage even in a small group.
- Paraphrased from Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering
- Page 4
2. The Participants Know That They Can Affect The Situation
Players in a game know that what they do will affect the game and that the “leader” of the game will fold their actions into the overarching story. This might be subject to some success/failure mechanic, but they know they have agency in modifying the situation.
Players Must Be Empowered
Role-playing games are about making choices. If players cannot make choices, or those choices seem meaningless, you aren't really role-playing. Players don't need to be all powerful, but their decisions need to be important. Even hopeless situations can be empowering for the right group of players, so long as they can chose what they die for.

The source of many empowerment problems is a GM falling in love with his story, his plot, his scene, or his NPCs. Role-playing games are not a book, it is not enough to show the players neat things. Typical symptoms of players being sidelined are "railroaded" games, invincible enemies, and any scene in which all the players can do is watch.
- Alan De Smet - High Programmer Tips For Game Masters
http://www.highprogrammer.com/alan/gaming/gmtips.html Game Mastering
Creating a Model Of Engagement With Elements That Foster Collaboration In Tabletop Role-Playing Games
1. Make it innately understand in the social contract that collaboration is allowed and will be rewarded.
2. Make it explicitly known that every participant has some agency to affect the situation.
3. There is a social leader who has the power and responsibility to foster the collaborative environment . He or she is open to the agency of the participants to affect the social situation.
4. Provide a set of rules to every participant to govern some part of the social situation.
5. Manage participation through the social leader, the rules, relevant roles, or implicit rules.
6. Determine the ways that participants can be engaged and provide multiple forms of engagement
Personal Observations
Elements of Collaboration are necessarily interconnected. In the tabletop role-playing game situation, none are near as effective when taken independently.
The entertainment factor provides a strong emphasis for collaboration that is not easily driftable.
The rules of the game, and the implicit rules in the social contract surrounding gaming in general, are a strong foundation for the other elements of collaboration.
There is only one way to roleplay: the way that achieves the best balance between the various desires of your particular group.
So, you are the mad creative genius who decided to run the game. What on earth were you thinking? There are all these rules, you have to created a story that players will do their best to make a mess of and you have a cast of thousands to turn into believable characters. Why would you want to put yourself through that?

- Victoriana 3rd ed. - Page 255

Different Expectations Of Play/Different Social Situations
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