The Permanent Assistant Referee in Soul's Calling

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The Permanent Assistant Referee in Soul's Calling

Postby Omnifray » 3:16pm on 10 Jul 11

With 174 votes in on the poll I put up on the Big Purple (link:- http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?582606-Do-you-imagine-being-your-character-Do-you-kind-of-identify-with-him-Or-if-not...), so far when playing RPGs 47.70% of those voting generally imagine being their character and 48.28% generally consciously influence the course of the "story". 28.16% sometimes feel as if they "are" their characters, in a way feeling their feelings or thinking their thoughts, but I would class imagining being your character as arguably a (very) light level of immersion, and potentially a step along the road to sometimes almost feeling as if you "are" your character. These were not exclusive options.

I don't know how representative the Big Purplies are of gamers as a whole, but I would guess they're the most representative out of the major websites, and anyhow the Big Purple is probably the only place you can get a statistically interesting sample of votes. I put up a simpler poll on the website of one of my local LARP groups and of those voting 100% so far have expressed the view that, in play, they do imagine being their characters. The responses on that poll are so far in low double figures.

Anyway, it's plain enough from these surveys that people who roleplay in at least a light state of immersion in character are a very significant proportion of roleplayers - and on RPG.net, 28.16% on the latest figures do attain deep immersion. But it's also clear that a high proportion of Big Purplies more or less never attain any form of immersion however light.

Soul's Calling isn't aimed at those people who never attain any form of immersion however light. But we immersive roleplayers may find these non-immersive types among our gaming friends. When we're aiming for an ultra-immersive roleplaying experience, do we wish to exclude these people from play? No way.

Some proportion of these gamers doubtless enjoy consciously influencing the "story", which whilst not something that you can't do while imagining being your character is something that you are less likely to be doing if you are imagining being your character, and vice versa. And these storygamey types are probably the most interesting of non-immersive roleplayers to have in an immersive game because they are, in effect, consciously steering the immersive environment (immersive in the "in-character" sense) in more interesting directions. Many of them may make excellent refs for "trad" games.

So I have been racking my brains about how best to accommodate these storygamey types in a game of Soul's Calling whilst preserving the central goal of an interesting immersive environment (in the "in-character" sense), and I was reminded of the description of hardcore storygame Montsegur 1244 as a game of four "mini-GMs". If storygamers enjoy being mini-GMs in a game just of mini-GMs, maybe I could devise some halfway-house between mini-GMing and playing which could accommodate them in Soul's Calling. I was also reminded of the system of having refs and a-refs (assistant referees) in some of the LARP systems I play in.

I started a thread on the Big Purple to get some feedback on this - http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?582 ... odate-both - and I did my best to flesh out the concept in the specific context of Soul's Calling.

I now have my first draft. The full details are on page 13 of the revised version of the Invitation to Soul's Calling freebie PDF available here:- http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/invit ... g/16230039

I'm a little chary of encouraging people to be perm. a-refs in the games I run at conventions, specifically Indiecon. That's not because having perm. a-refs isn't in line with the One True Way (if there were such a thing, which there isn't, and if it were a purely immersive style of roleplay, it certainly wouldn't be in line with "letting" a player "off" their immersion and letting them be the perm. a-ref). It's because what I want to do at the conventions is showcase some techniques of making gaming more immersive. But if the concept of perm. a-ref works out according to its design intention, it shouldn't hinder the other players' immersion, so in principle even on a "showcasing" footing it's probably OK if anyone who really wants to be able to storygame fills that position. My main concern is that it may seem to give advantages which other players don't get, and that that may seem off-puttingly unfair.

Any feedback would be most welcome.
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Re: The Permanent Assistant Referee in Soul's Calling

Postby dr_mitch » 1:31am on 11 Jul 11

From everything you've said, it looks to me like the big goal of Soul's Calling is to enable immersive roleplaying for the players- just under half judging by the rpg.net figures. And you're aiming at those players.

Trying to add other things for other players, while arguably a noble goal (what you've said about "excluding" players), risks you losing that focus. It's better to do one thing well, and all that. I think it's very hard to aim something simultaneously at players with very different tastes- far better to keep your focus. You're aiming for a game appealling to a particular group, after all. My advice is to be true to that.

Another point- you're already doing something fairly rare if not unique by writing something which is deliberately aimed to mechanically support immersion. Whether it works, only external playtesting can find out, but it's worth a shot.

If you try the other option, you're also going to potentially be adding either complexity or optional sections to a book, which, from what you've mentioned is already a few hundred pages long. Please correct me if I'm wrong here.

Just my feelings- and doing some market research is admirable. But research finding out you're aiming for nearly half of the market as far as you can judge is already a good thing. Just my two cents.
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Re: The Permanent Assistant Referee in Soul's Calling

Postby Omnifray » 12:43pm on 11 Jul 11

dr_mitch wrote:>snip<


Thank you for the thoughtful feedback.

dr_mitch wrote:Trying to add other things for other players, while arguably a noble goal (what you've said about "excluding" players), risks you losing that focus. It's better to do one thing well, and all that. I think it's very hard to aim something simultaneously at players with very different tastes- far better to keep your focus. You're aiming for a game appealling to a particular group, after all. My advice is to be true to that.


The way this has come about is that after writing the first 321 pages of the book (not counting 32 pages left blank for artwork and not counting 10 pages of supporting materials), I've then subsequently tacked onto that the 322nd page which is basically identical to page 13 of the Invitation to Soul's Calling PDF. So, there's no question of losing the focus of the game in the sense of the core design.

Now where it might go astray I suppose is in marketing / presentation, because it occurred to me as I wrote the above paragraph that although we're talking 0.3% of the core rules tacked on after the rest were written, we're talking more like 6% of the Invitation to Soul's Calling PDF. The reason it's in there is because the Invitation to Soul's Calling PDF is really pre-Con reading material, and I want the purist storygamers to feel welcome at the Con; plus if they were going to fill that position they would need to read that page beforehand.

dr_mitch wrote:Another point- you're already doing something fairly rare if not unique by writing something which is deliberately aimed to mechanically support immersion. Whether it works, only external playtesting can find out, but it's worth a shot.


That's an interesting point.

A lot of the best ways to support immersion in RPGs are simply to get your rules out of the way of the roleplaying. I guess for me it also demands a high level of believability, but the critical thing is the rules not getting in the way of immersion. The most important specific design feature which supports this is the Persuasion mechanics. You can get a similar immersive effect by having no social stats at all. Indeed at my local V:tR game we simply don't use the social stats for social interactions - we use them for kewl powerz only. You could be said to be losing the anchoring/reification effect where rules can support immersion, but the free flow of direct speech, immersive dialogue is the real central thing here.

So I guess what I draw from that is that Soul's Calling isn't just about immersion; if it were just about immersion, you might possibly prefer to have no social stats at all. If immersion is about depth of experience, having social stats is partly about breadth of experience:- you can have a helping hand in playing the Great Orator - you have more flexibility in the character types you can play. I think Soul's Calling's central goal is an interesting environment for facilitating in-character immersive roleplay. Social stats have more to do with what's "interesting" than they have to do with what's "immersive".

Other ways of supporting immersion are:- a high standard of believability in both "fluff" and "crunch"; 30 pages of advice on immersive roleplay (a slimmed down and improved version of the Art and Theory of Immersive Roleplay PDF - without the theoretical theory bits); some pre-game warm-up ideas to get players in the right frame of mind; a "character sheet for the party" with selective info on it designed to help the ref keep the game flowing as smoothly as possible during dialogue; emphasis on how the ref can side-step the crunch whenever he likes and should do so most of the time (with "softer" rules to use when he does so); in a minor way, the specific option for players to hand over control of their fate tokens and luck tokens to the ref.

At the end of the day though it's a crunchy game and people who find crunchy games difficult may well immerse better on the whole with whatever simple system is easiest for them to run. Think of Soul's Calling as a crunchy roleplaying game designed with immersion very much consciously in mind. As you say that doesn't necessarily mean that it will be the best solution for every player's immersion. Even if it's immersion you're after, I'm not claiming to have all the answers here. But I think it will be a great immersive game for people who appreciate a certain level of crunch which may make the fiction of the game feel more "real".

dr_mitch wrote:If you try the other option, you're also going to potentially be adding either complexity or optional sections to a book, which, from what you've mentioned is already a few hundred pages long. Please correct me if I'm wrong here.


You're not wrong but I think it can be done in that one page, out of 322 pages.
Looking for playtesters for the Implodarc Tabletop RPG. If you'd like to playtest it and post public feedback or an AP thread, ask me for the private link to download it, or I can e-mail it to you. At least compared to my usual stuff, it's meant to be simple and quick to play with quick CharGen.
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