Example 2

Sam W

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My focus here is on adventure games, but I think some of this applies to other types of games. I don’t comment on them explicitly because I don’t have much experience and don’t feel qualified to speak on them.

I am a big fan of cooperative endeavours. I try to be cooperative in most things I do that do not call for explicit competition. I especially try to apply this with games and RPGs. How, why, and what are the consequences?

Being Cooperative

I see RPGs as a chance to collaborate on a shared imaginative world with a group of people in a way reminiscent of traditional oral storytelling. As you know, there aren’t any winners and losers in DnD, but there are proxies that many players and referees use. Defeating the ‘BBEG,’ or clearing the dungeon, or killing all the monsters. When these proxies are established, I think player-referee competition can take seed.

Many referees opt to put challenges in the way of the goals to make it satisfying to achieve goals. Then players see this, and depending on their suspension of disbelief, see the referee as impeding their goal. This only really happens when the impediments seem artificial in the game world, and suspension of disbelief is lost, but when it happens, a race is on. Can players outsmart the referee, and can the referee come up with enough caveats to players’ actions to sufficiently challenge them?

If this sounds appealing to you, have at it. It’s just not a play style I want.

I want to be cooperative and collaborative. I don’t want players’ and the referee’s ideas competing for who can outsmart the other, but the ideas building off of each other into something that everyone at the table finds cool. I, when I’m a referee, want to build up players’ ideas into something intriguing, adventurous, or exciting.

This may sounds like I’m saying I do exactly the same thing but somehow my way is better than those competitive referees, but it’s not. My goal is not explicitly impede players, but instead complicate the situation in a way players can build off with their actions. Let’s take a look at an example.

In an adventure game, a thief and magic-user are on a stealth mission under a castle. They mentioned they wanted to sneak around and do your typical stealth mission stuff. After some overland travel, they descend into the dungeon.

The thief and magic-user navigate some tunnels, and eventually the referee decides to lock a door in the tunnels to provide an obstacle. The thief rolls to lockpick the door, and the party either turns back or proceeds depending on the results.

The thief and magic-user navigate some tunnels, and eventually find a ventilation tunnel that leads to the ceiling support beams of a large underground room full of traps and treasure. The thief can then decide: do I want to cat-burlgar my way across these support beams, potentially saving lots of time, resources, but at the risk of a catastrophic failure?

See how much cooler the second one sounds?

What goes into being cooperative? Here are some rule-of-thumb guidelines on being cooperative:

But there’s no true substitute for just working with your players and having creative back and forth through a game medium.

Freeform Games

I think this cooperation vs competition dichotomy lies at the heart of the objections to freeform (including FKR) gameplay. Many people feel that this game is all up to ‘GM fiat,’ and because they think in the competitive mindset of gameplay, they expect unfair challenges put up by the referee and the dice will save them.

Once you realize you can step out of the competition and play in a cooperative way, the gaming world opens up around you. No longer are you prevented from doing the thing your goals, instead they are enhanced and complicated (rather than the competitive ‘impossible’).

There’s another level to ‘GM as a player,’ beyond the fact that they need to have fun as well. When you see the referee as simply running the rest of the world, with the same privileges and restrictions as players running their characters, you can have everyone on creatively equal footing, and create a story where there are no winners and losers, but everyone involved can contribute.