In the last post, I brainstormed some of the features I want my system to have. In the next post I’ll examine those a bit more closely in terms of RPG theory, but for now I wanted to pick out two that particularly struck me – “Immersive” and “Strategic”.
I guess this is a bit of an aside, really, but they are both things I really enjoy about roleplaying, so I wanted to examine them a bit more closely.
First, I think the terms are a bit woolly, so let me clarify exactly what I mean.
- Immersive: Providing the experience of “being” a different character. Perceiving the game world as if through that character’s perceptions, reacting to those inputs as if you were that character, and acting on the world according to the capabilities of that character.
- Strategic: Requiring the players to take a limited amount of information, come up with the best possible plan of action to achieve whatever goals they have, and then perhaps change that plan on-the-fly as the game plays out.
I enjoy both of these a great deal, but it immediately jumped out at me that these two are not compatible, at least not completely. By definition, a strategic game is not about acting “in character” like immersive play is – it’s about making the best plan.
To clarify this with an example… If my character has (using some hypothetical system mechanics), a mediocre intelligence and no points in the “strategy” skill, then immersing myself in a strategic game is going to be very dull because my character is not capable of contributing to a strategy. But as a player, I like strategic games because they challenge my strategic thinking, regardless of what it says on my character sheet.
Another example… If I come up with an excellent plan (objectively) but roll low on my “strategy” test, why does my plan suddenly fail? (Or indeed the reverse – a high roll mysteriously saving an objectively rubbish plan.) Not only does this not make sense (and so it’s not satisfying), but it also requires a lot of work from the GM who has to invent reasons why despite the objective value of the plan, the actual outcome was wildly different.
I guess, in short, I like my strategic play to be very game-focussed, whereas immersion is (by my definition) character-focussed. For strategic play I like a strict set of rules for whatever situation I’m planning, so that I can ensure I’m making the best use of those rules – I don’t care what the rules are governing the character in the planning room. For immersive play I like a believable simulation of the world around the character, and I like to play to that character’s traits, which may or may not include “good at strategy”. The two styles of play are very different – and they therefore require very different systems.
So what does this mean for the system I’m currently working on? Well, it means I need either to pick which of Immersive and Strategic play I want to focus on and build a system appropriate to that, or to build systems for both and find some way to interrelate them.
For now, I think I’m going to focus on the Immersive play. I feel like I’ve done quite a lot of strategic play in my recent roleplaying, and there are plenty of games beyond roleplay that are also heavily strategic – for example, I’ve just started playing Middle Earth Play-By-Mail. Immersion is something that’s a lot harder to come by, at least in my personal experience.
I can always come back later and develop a system for Strategic play – and at that point I could even see if there is a sensible way to combine the two! But for the rest of this series, the system I’m developing will be aiming at Immersive play. In the next post, I’ll examine what that means in RPG theory terms.