Monthly Archives: May 2014

This is Not a Manifesto: Technique Talk in RPGs

This is Not a Manifesto: Technique Talk in RPGs


Thinking about RPGs has taken me to some weird places lately. I’ve toured around many regions of the activity, and I’ve looked at the culture and traditions of RPGs with a focused, critical eye. I’ve certainly appreciated the parts of RPGs that have always been amazing, and revisiting them critically makes them more amazing, not less. But that critical meta-glance makes the parts of RPGs that don’t fit stick out even more.

If that sounds like the beginnings of a manifesto piece decrying traditions and advocating new patterns of thinking and playing, well…sorta. Manifestos often read nicely, but are short on actionable pieces of information. Manifestos are greating for drawing lines and making people choose sides, but I’ll admit that I am always more of a techniques guy.

I like techniques because they teach implicitly. I prefer techniques because good techniques meet you where you are. They don’t force you to take sides, they offer you a potential solution for a problem you might have. If you don’t like the technique, you can keep doing what you’re doing and having fun.

I mean, I of course I know what I like, and how I want to run things, and I even think some of these things should be regularly practiced. But our hobby has had a lot of line-drawing when some simple, neutral technique sharing could make our discourse more productive and more amiable. Techniques are good because they can be discussed and judged on effectiveness. Even if efficacy is varied (this worked for your group but not mine) we can look to find situations where it does work. If there are very few places where it works, the technique might not be the greatest. If only corner cases seem to derail it, we have something we can broadly use.

More importantly, we can argue about things that have actually happened. My problem with theories and manifestos is much of the arguments occur in mental/social place with no physical representation at all. This makes those arguments prone to ad hominem digressions and hurt feelings. When you argue with someone’s theory, it’s much more likely to be confused with arguing with that person, and disagreeing on a deeper level. I’ve seen it happen so many times that I just can’t discount the situation as aberrant; I want productive talk about games and games design so I have to address it.

So that means talking about actions and procedures we can take, and their results. I guess I can’t avoid theory altogether, though I more often muse on twitter. Twitter for me is a test stage for certain theories and ideas I have. After hashing out these ideas with other people, I can gauge initial viability and also interest (some things I talk about bring 0% of my timeline to the yard; other things bring close to 100% engagement). From there I focus on bringing something practical to either my blog or my projects.

I don’t think I can drop theoretical discussion altogether, but I do have a heavy preference for discussing implementation. On the blog that’s what I intend to focus on from here on out. When I talk theory, I’ll usually have a sample technique or procedure accompanying it to ground the theory into something practical.