Raspberry Heaven: On The Act of Role-Playing

Now that I’m in a mood for game design, I’ll no doubt continue posting here excessively until I get caught off-guard by something else.

Right now I’m really liking how Raspberry Heaven is turning out. We’ll have to see if I keep liking it after I do some playtesting, but that’ll have to wait a little while. The game mechanics are actually very simple — with the possible exception of the descriptions of quirks they could probably fit on one page — but it’s more the attitude towards role-playing that game brings to bear that I’m liking a lot.

The other day I finally finished reading a book called The Effective Use of Role-Play, by Morry van Ments. It’s an overview of role-playing as used as an educational tool, and as I’d hoped it helped me reexamine some of the underlying processes of role-playing. Educational role-plays are generally bound by realism, and are carried out in order to either train students in sensitivity, or let them practice certain social activities (like interviewing). As van Ments presents it, there is a huge emphasis on “debriefing,” discussing the role-playing session and its implications with the students. He advocates debriefings that are 2-3 times as long as the actual role-play, and notes that they also serve to help the students leave their assumed roles behind. While of course I wouldn’t go to that extreme for a non-educational role-play, I find that a certain amount of cooling down (and warming up) is helpful and natural.

Of particular interest to me was a section called “Beating the system,” which touches on issues that have become more and more pertinent in my own actual play. It’s impossible to fill in every possible detail no matter what kind of role-playing you’re doing, so to a certain extent it falls to the role-players to fill in the gaps here and there. In a highly traditional RPG (I know, I’m generalizing), the players have input through their character’s histories and actions, and everything else is the purview of the Game Master. In practice, my group has gradually blurred the line over time. This is especially true when it comes to whether a PC can do things “off-camera,” announcing an action retroactively, even if it’s something trivial and only impacts the “social flow” of the PCs. In a sense, this sort of fits with how some forms of narrative appear to flow, and I think it’s actually a pretty complex issue that merits exploration on its own.

For Raspberry Heaven, there’s no GM or other central authority figure to act as gatekeeper, and I’m not sure adding hard and fast rules to govern narrative input (as has been used very successfully in some other games) is really what it needs. Instead, I wound up with a set of principles guiding story input, aimed at both keeping the game on track in terms of genre (slice of life anime high school girls) and group consensus:

  1. This game lacks any kind of fantastic/genre elements. If it doesn’t fit into a normal slice-of-life high school story, it also doesn’t belong in the game. No one gets any magic powers or anything like that.
  2. Regardless of who has authority over a given aspect of the game, everyone should be willing to give and receive ideas and advice.
  3. The overall game/story belongs to the group. Elements that impact the big picture should be decided in accordance with a group consensus.
  4. The tutor has authority over the general contents of scenes he or she is running.
  5. The individual player has authority over the specifics of his or her character. Do not invent anything about another player’s character without consulting them first. Characters mostly start off as strangers and become friends, so there should be relatively little in the way of pertinent past events to invent in the first place.
  6. “Off-camera” action (things that take don’t take place in the context of an actual scene) should be minimal and inconsequential.
  7. Actions that are obviously difficult and/or have far-ranging consequences should be treated as challenges (i.e., where the dice are rolled) if at all possible, assuming they’re appropriate for the game in the first place.

Lucky Star Characters
Now, as I mentioned before, here’s the stats for the Lucky Star characters. It’s just the four main characters for now; once it gets going the series has a fairly large cast, actually. After that I’ll do Ichigo Mashimaro. ^_^

Konata
Obsession (otaku)
Physically Gifted
Lazy

Tsukasa
Innocent
Lazy
Timid

Kagami
Diligent
Tsukkomi
Tsundere

Miyuki
Busty
Genius
Nice

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3 thoughts on “Raspberry Heaven: On The Act of Role-Playing

  1. The blurring thing you mention sounds like a standard system as written vs system in play issue.

    I’m not sure if I fully get points 6 and 7.

    What kinds of things would you expect to happen outside the context of scenes? Also, if the occurrence of some “outside event”, past or parallel, is established during a scene, doesn’t it effectively make it a part of it?

    Well, my take on this is that since it’s all a fictional construct, nothing actually happens outside the context. There certainly are things that shouldn’t be established as part of the context as inappropriate, though.

    Maybe it touches the issue of story continuity vs the illusion of “realistic” space and time inside the created fiction. The distinction is not important for an audience, but it makes a difference for the author – and in rpgs, especially more collaborative ones, the audience and the author are the same.

    As for the 7, how is it established that an action is difficult or has consequences? Consider that nothing in the fiction will be difficult or connected with potential consequences until the author(s) decide that it is so, in the first place.

    In a traditional game, it’s normally GM’s job to establish such things, even if it’s veiled by the illusion the difficulties and all emerging naturally from the shared fiction. Since you’re removing the central authority, it might be good to make the process explicit in the game’s procedures and advice.

  2. It is a standard issue, but (1) it’s not one I’ve seen examined at all, and (2) it’s one I feel is pertinent to getting this particular game to flow right. #6 and #7 are like #1 in that I put them in more because I felt they fit Raspberry Heaven, and for most any other game I’d have them be absent or at least altered. We’re not dealing with a genre that deals in sophisticated manipulation of the flow or narrative time, or where characters engage in substantial conflicts.

    I definitely need to think about this stuff more. I do agree that it’d be good to make the process more explicit, but I have no idea how to do so any more than I already have. ^_^;

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