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Narrative RPGs and Advancement

In a previous post I spoke of tactical/strategic narrative RPGs. In reading games like Capes and to a limited extent PrimeTime Adventures or Happily Ever After (Narrative, but not RPG) I see that there is a place for strategy and tactics in a narrative RPG. I am especially impressed with Capes in this respect. I admit that I have not yet read Polaris, but I think it has some useful lessons as well.

Capes talks about resource management and how the game rewards successful players by giving them more resources, which in turn, gives them greater influence over the narrative. While that setup does provide the Gamist Element that I have been seeking from a Narrative RPG, Capes is still lacking any form of mechanical advancement to reward the player.

What do I mean by this? In D&D, after the player successfully navigates a number of challenges with his character, the player earns the right to advance his character and to advance the characters "power". In a pure narrative game (Capes or PTA), a characters "in-game" power can be advanced at an appropriate moment. IE, if you are doing PTA Buffy, Willow can go from cute techno-geek to hottie-Uber witch with no problem. However, the character has not really advanced. The Player has just chosen a new flavor for the same character.

A pure narrativist would say that the advancement of the story is all important. A pure wargamer would say that the control and manipulation of resources was all important. As a gamer though, I say that character advancement and differentiation (I just realized this btw) is also a key element to a healthy and successful long term RPG. I see hints of this in a game like Burning Wheel (but I will diatribe on that system soon) but it is too bogged down in itself. I get the feeling that maybe Shadows of Yesterday (which I have read only once) is on the right path.

Conclusion: In order to have a reliable "campaign style" RPG, the system must have mechanics for character advancement/differentiation. The process of advancing a character mechanically assists in keep a players attention (or at least my attention) and add diversity to the game play and allows players to mold their interaction with the system to their style.

Conclusion: In order to have a reliable "campaign style" RPG, the system must have mechanics for character advancement/differentiation.

This I agree with. Actually, I have some caveats. But I won't go into them here. In general, I agree.

A "campaign style" RPG is not always desirable, though. I know you know this, but I think it bears repeating.

TSOY's advancement scheme is probably something you will appreciate. TSOY is not very Gamist-supporting, though, since challenge creation is not supported by the system. You could certainly play TSOY with a Gamist CA, but you'd have to do some drifting. (NOT A BAD THING)

Anyway, good post.

Long term play depends heavily on players investing in long term- and getting rewarded over time- characters thus far are the tried & true method.

I could see this also happening with games where people gain ownership over imaginary elements and are allowed to continously build it up, each element being an expression or input into play. Universalis with ownership rules comes to mind as a strong contender here.

You should also check out Riddle of Steel.

I think to advance story, characters have to change, but they don't have to advance. The distinction is important.

While I have no idea whether the Nine Worlds setting is something you'll like, the system does exactly what you are describing here. I heartily, happily recommend Nine Worlds!

Dogs in the Vinyard has character change. Interestingly, there's also a fair bit of strategy in making sees and raises, and there's even an element of risk. That 9 die see for 9d4 fallout could come back to bite you if you take a wound (where the GM them gets that 9d4 in the healing conflict).


I played freeform with the same character for 6 years in a row, sometimes 40 hours a week. Player power never advanced; it always stops at the skin. That never seemed to be a problem for long-term play, because the play itself remained interesting. It was all about the relations among the characters, about enjoying the creative experience, and making up new things to deal with, not necessarily ever-rising challengs.

So, in short, my experience doesn't agree with the requirement for character advancement for long-term games.

Bankuei - Riddle of Steel is on my buy list. In regards to ownership of story elements my response is: *PFFFT* That feels like you are rewarding me with stock options that will never really be worth anything. I admit that I am being purposely over the top on my scorn. But by that logic we really should just sit down and right a novel together instead.

Adam - I feel that your comment misses the point. No matter what game I play, my character will change over time. It is unlikely I will be KotDT and my character will always be "I have a +12 hackmaster." Advancement is a reward to the player to give a *sense* of accomplishment and growth. It is a reward to the player that he can use to differentiate his character from the other characters mechanically.

Matt - I will check out 9 worlds

Frank - I thought I agreed with you, but it turns out we were wrong. DitV is only about character growth (as explained by Vincent, via John). I forget why this invalidated it as a good example though.

xenopulse - it sounds like you had a great experience with a great group of people. Can you provide me with a rule set that will allow me to duplicate your experience? I am skeptical however. What was the medium for your freeform? IRC? LARP? PBEM?

I will respond further later. Thanks for the comments so far everyone.

Whenever you hear about an RPG element and think, "We really should just sit down and right a novel together instead," you are sure to be missing the point.

So say we all.

write! write! write a novel!


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