“there are more general agendas and principles that you hopefully follow whenever you get together with other people…

“there are more general agendas and principles that you hopefully follow whenever you get together with other people…

“there are more general agendas and principles that you hopefully follow whenever you get together with other people to play a game.”

Interested in everyone’s feedback on this. In particular, are there any “social level” agendas & principles that you think I’ve missed? Any I’ve included that you don’t agree with?

11 thoughts on ““there are more general agendas and principles that you hopefully follow whenever you get together with other people…”

  1. I like it! So much effort can be wasted trying to figure out how to frame a social-layer problem as a game-layer problem, and it seems that this is a common experience in tabletop gaming.

    There’s something to be said for making every player explicitly aware of the social responsibilities that they (unspokenly) assume when sitting down to play a game. It’s especially true, in my experience, that people who are comfortable as friends need to be coached into talking about their interpretation and perception of a shared experience — so many problems could be solved if we were all great at assuming responsibility for how we think and feel, and supporting others in sharing and working through that. Friendship – and gaming – can be more than never saying anything that might sound critical or mean to each other!

    Does Stonetop feature game-layer player agenda/principles, too? I’m thinking of the “as a player, play your character like you’re driving a stolen car” sort of thing, as opposed to “as a human, don’t be a jerk”.

  2. Awesome. I especially like the framing of the guide with the “how to” part. That’s another thing that’s assumed just gets worked out. Telling people who play your game “hey, this is how I imagined this would be played” is super helpful to bridge the gap between what you’ve created and what you’ve intended to create – which are not always the same!

    In terms of the principles themselves, there may be some conceptual overlap, but each sort of specialises in a slightly different way, so none of them look inappropriate or anything!

  3. I like it. In larp theory, there once was a wonderful article differentiating six or seven layers around the actual play time.

    For each layer, you could have your own principles and agendas.

    For example, it is worth discussing what a good approach is to get in touch with potential players (“don’t tell players details about the setting but what makes the game exciting for you”).

    You can discuss how and with what intention and mindset to read the game rules and other chapters (“have a glass of your favourite drink when reading”).


  4. This post is great, and especially useful as I develop a PbtA game that deals with complex topics. Thank you for this (and all your contributions to the DW community).

    One typo. You write:

    > Thing is, even the stuff that’s similar across all PbtA games—like address the players, not the characters

    But of course it should be “address the characters, not the players.”

  5. I think it’s crucial and constructive to include this kind of thinking in the hobby, and this post shows rigorous and excellent thinking.

    On the other hand, I’ve done a lot of nonviolence training in schools, and churches, even a maximum security prison. We always start by talking about ground rules like this, but we find the ground rules are a lot more personally relevant to the group and the commitment to uphold them is a LOT stronger when they emerge naturally from the participants in a conversation.

    Given a list of somebody else’s ground rules, many people may feel patronized and shrug them off until there has been a transgression. And in my gaming life, I admit I pretty much never talk about ground rules in advance. Maybe it’s reckless, but I have a LOT of confidence in the resilience and creativity of any given small group to resolve any problems that come up with compassion and respect.

    The thing is, ALL of the social and personality problems that can come up in role-playing can come up in any game or social activity. Monopoly puts you in the role of a cutthroat robber baron (at least, that’s the way I play!). Should Monopoly have it in the rules that you are really friends and be kind and stuff?

    I concede that role-playing has the potential to go places you can’t go in Monopoly—that’s tactical infinity! For a game like Sorcerer, it’s probably wise to make sure everyone can handle the intensity up front. But I don’t play Dungeon World like I play Sorcerer.

    I don’t know whether it’s better on net to have this in the rules of your game or not, but I favor decentralizing this conversation to the people who are playing together.

  6. Also, this seems like an important point: “I’ve been fortunate enough to never personally encounter any serious boundary-violating crap like I’m making fun of in that pic, but I know it happens.”

    I know it happens too. And like you, I’ve never seen people behave like this in person. Because of that, I don’t feel confident that I could craft a set of ground rules to anticipate, preempt, or circumvent every possible kind of transgression. And if I could, would I even want to labor under the weight of every boundary I can possibly imagine?

    I think that’s why I err on the side of trust. Until something extraordinary happens or I have reason to be extra cautious, I trust myself and people around me to use imagination and empathy in lieu of covering it all in the ground rules. Though I have experience working with small groups in a prison, I don’t assume the same conditions of domination and abuse will occur in every group I happen to game with.

  7. John Stephens that’s really sharp. Particularly the observation that lists like this work best when they’ve been organically developed within and by the group.

    And I’m also with you on the idea that many healthy groups never have a conversation like this up front, and things go just fine. Like, I’ve never talked to my groups about our agenda or principles, but we’ve (almost) always treated each other with respect, talked about what liked & didn’t like, etc., etc.

    It does strike me as useful to have a list like these posted publicly for a community, as way to say “this is what we expect, and what we stand for.” That way, when conflicts arise, you can point to them and say “hey man, I feel like you’re not listening and paying attention when we’re playing and I think that’s affecting everyone’s ability to have fun and play the game we want to play.”

    I also think it’s useful as a personal exercise to ask “what are my principles?” and occasionally check yourself to make sure that you’re living up to them. Plus, posting them publicly is a good way to communicate your standards. I’m reminded of the idea of a “GM profile” or resume that folks made and circulated a while back when they’d announce online games.

    And finally, I think looking at someone else’s list is a decent way to help identify your own.

  8. A lot of this applies to all recreational social activities, no? It can be useful to remind yourself of these, but I would find someone bringing up most of this in a game as a bit patronizing.

  9. Clearly articulating these can only be helpful. In my experience simply stating social level expectations leads to better and maybe safer play. You are putting a stake in the ground and saying “this is how we behave, here, when we are doing this”, which can be reassuring to folks who might need to express some need or concern, and helpful to others who find social interaction more challenging. Others might not need it at all, and this won’t impact their experience because they are already being thoughtful and kind.

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