RPG Theory Primer

This is a collection of links to articles, essays and forum threads about RPG design theory. I’m aiming to collect together a “primer” of the most terminology-defining, explanatory, and generally useful material, aimed at someone new to RPG theory who wants to get up to speed on the main concepts without delving too deep into specific questions.

Of course, I don’t necessarily agree with anything and everything contained within these links – but I recommend them as ways to help develop your own understanding and insight into what makes a roleplaying game tick.

So, the links, yeah?

Links are divided by source – the sources themselves (and other good sources) are linked in more detail under “Further Reading” below. Each set of links is in what I consider to be a sensible reading order, but have put summaries to help people find the right stuff. Note that the summaries are my own – the original writers might not agree with them!

Also the below collection is very much a work in progress – there are several places I intend to go through and pick out some choice pieces to add here. If there’s anything specific you think should be on this list, drop me a line and let me know!

The Revelation

The three most fundamental articles on RPG theory, in my opinion, pulled from the below lists:

  • System Does Matter – why theory / design is important.
  • Roleplaying’s Fundamental Act (a couple of sections down on that page) – what roleplay is, at its core, and what part systems play in that.
  • Authority – breaking down what the “conversation” of a roleplaying game actually consists of.
The Forge

A collection of collections – some of these pages are themselves sets of links to anyway posts about a particular topic. In general, the first one will be enough to get the basic concept, but the rest flesh it out.

  • Roleplaying Theory, Hardcore – this is the “if I had to pick a single link… this would be it” page. 11 short articles showing different aspects of the “why theory is useful” argument. To my mind, “Roleplaying’s Fundamental Act” is the most useful nugget of RPG theory wisdom there is.
  • Resolution Systems – how the game fiction, the people playing, and the mechanical cues interact. With great diagrams!
  • Participant Resolution vs. Author Resolution – what conflicts are, in narrative terms, and therefore how to tie up resolution as a mechanical process with resolution as a narrative tool.
  • Currency – how the different bits of character mechanics interact with each other.
  • The Basics of RPG Design – a (very!) brief outline of Vincent’s views on game design, chock-full of links to more detailed explanations. Not an introductory text – more like reference material. Two of my particular favourites are:
    • Your 3 Insights – what you need in order to give a strong vision to your game;
    • The Fruitful Void – why the important bit of RPG design is the bit there aren’t any rules for. Caution: mind-bending.
Some Space To Think

SSTT has a bunch of great stuff, but a lot of it’s quite game-specific. One of my favourite generally-applicable articles is:

  • Pacing – how to stop your game dragging out or going too fast.
Further Reading

There are a bunch of good RPG blogs in the Blogroll to the right, but the ones I’d particularly recommend following for theory / design stuff are:

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