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Default RPG: A Universal Definition @ Sinister Design

March 5th, 2011, 02:17
Craig Stern from Sinister Design - developer of the Telepath series - has penned an article titled What makes an RPG an RPG: a universal definition. That's a brave thing to tackle but its a well written article that looks at setting, exploration, combat, stat improvement, story and choices and consequences. We don't end up with a simple definition statement but he comes close…now to you to argue if he has it right. A sample on story:
Consider this idea for an RPG: you play an elderly man, an alchemist living in a small town. One day, a band of thugs visits the town and demands tribute. Your town, being poor and small, cannot afford to give the thieves the tribute they demand. Under cover of night, they retaliate by secretly poisoning the town’s well with a flavorless, colorless, slow-acting toxin. As the game begins, every last person in your town—including your character—has ingested a lethal dose of this poison.
Realizing what has happened, the player character scrambles desperately to concoct a serum to counteract the effects of the poison. He does so in time to save his own life. However, he only has enough ingredients to save himself. Even then, the best he can manage is to ward off the poison’s effects for a few months, buying himself time to either achieve revenge or find a cure.
Over the rest of the game, your character grows steadily weaker. Combat is exhausting—far from making him stronger, each encounter saps his vitality further. He lacks the energy to learn any new skills. Your character is clearly dying from the poison; the only question is whether he will successfully achieve his objectives before that happens.
Now, ask yourself: fully apart from whether this is a satisfying story or not, is this an RPG story? Here we have a persistent character with unique skills starring in a straightforward revenge tale set in a fantasy setting. We even have the classic trope of the protagonist leaving behind his wrecked hometown and setting forth into a dangerous world, which serves its usual purpose of allowing us to play the character in a way inconsistent with his backstory.
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March 5th, 2011, 02:17
Very good article! (I particularly liked being reminded of the old Myth games!)

I like the comments, too. In fact, I think I'll jump in.
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March 5th, 2011, 15:52
heres another thing bros, that he didn't mention.

rpgs are also, usually, are massive time sponges.
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March 7th, 2011, 04:58
it's all about combat really. If it's the player doing the fighting, it's not an RPG. If it's the character(s) doing the fighting, it's an RPG. By that I'm talking about player skill vs. character skill.
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March 7th, 2011, 14:33
I like his definition, but I believe he jumped a bit quickly on the "roleplaying = playing a role" part. Roleplaying = playing a role, roleplaying game = playing a role as a game. Creating the role is central to the practice. This can be about strengthpoints or moral choices.

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