Egalitarian Design

It has recently occured to me that my game, In the Realm of the Nibelungs, is rather egalitarian, at least compared to other RPGs my group has played.

  1. Character creation and advancement offer practically no opportunities for character optimization (i.e., there are no points to allocate or feats to choose). Hence, system mastery is a non-issue and our dedicated players have little or no advantage over our casual players or newcomers.
  2. Likewise, the combat system offers little in the way of leveraging the rules. By contrast, in my earlier DCC homebrew camapign, only some players were capable of maneuvers in the D&D 3e-style such as “I take a 5′ step over there and ready an action to attack the ogre, triggered when Gary’s fighter moves into a flanking position at initiative count 14, before the ogre.”
  3. There is a mandatory caller and the role is rotated among the players, as explained in this discussion here at Adept Play.
  4. The initiative system has the players declare intent in a defined phase and in a strictly defined order, protecting each player’s individual ‘go’.

I specifically introduced #4 to prevent discussions of tactics that (a) could get quite long and (b) were largely dominated by two players in the prior campaign. It’s why I abandoned simple group initiative.

One of the dominant players accepted this after I did explain my reasoning, though he had to fight old habits: “Hey Vicky, your fighter should block that og… Wait, sorry, it’s not my turn.” He genuinely supports the measure.

The other player tried to get around it at first. <speaking in a loud voice> “Hey Johann, if Vicky’s fighter doesn’t move over there, the ogre could charge Hank’s wizard, right?” but I talked to him about it and he relented.

The more quiet players have remarked that they like the strict ordering. One of them even humorously reminded the others at one point: Several others had begun to chip in excitedly on his choices and he put his hands over his ears, chanting la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you.


I think the above measures have had a positive effect on play in general — but I have observed that one very dedicated player seems to enjoy the game less. I speculate that his diminished role as a ‘lead player’ might be a part of that.

Adept Play has contributed to my increasing awareness of and ambivalence about a variety of social aspects of my regular group’s interactions, including the above instance of social engineering. Where does legitimate design end and manipulation begin?

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3 responses to “Egalitarian Design”

  1. It occurred to me that my title may come across as very pompous, so I’d like to add that I am merely reflecting on some minor properties of my game — properties that other games feature much more strongly and more consciously (such as all the GMless games out there, for starters).

    *Im Reich der Nibelungen* is very much geared towards my group (rather than a theoretical or to-be-maximised audience), so it is well-suited for large groups with varying levels of assertiveness, attendance and dedication.

    (And there is no condescension here, merely a struggle for words. For instance, our more casual players have a wonderfully laid-back attitude and often surprise the table whereas the most dedicated players usually drive the game forward. And so on.)

  2. Here’s my take: I think you’re mixing concepts about authorities with the distinction between table-talk and diegetic talk.

    The latter seems to me to be the primary concern. If someone is engaged in the diegetic process, then table-talk is either welcome to them or unwelcome, at that particular time. There is no middle ground. People who leap into table-talk without respecting that are basically bullying others, no matter how excited or well-intentioned or whatever other positive motivation may be involved. At the very least they are creating an auditory field which the other person doesn’t need right now.

    That’s one reason, among others, why a given group may establish strict standards for table-talk (and rules texts often reflect that). However, as I think we all know, this has led to weird purist notions that only diegetic talk is ever “really role-playing,” or that table-talk is flatly harmful to play. Whereas my position is that any given group, to function, necessarily has meaningful, known rules for how and when table-talk is to be conducted, even if they are only that anyone can speak up but the main speaker of the moment can tell them to pipe down, and even if they are completely unstated, while always observed.

    This is related to my points about agency, which I define as being heard regarding diegetic material, as evidenced via subsequent reincorporation.

    All of the above applies no matter what the construction, or distribution, of authorities is, including the role of the caller in this game. In other words, a given design can centralize or democratize the authorities regarding any identifiable diegetic element in any way whatsoever, and everything I’m saying about table-talk applies to it.

    Does that help or make sense?

  3. Yes, that makes sense & helps. Let’s see:

    The authorities are clear here, and have been all along (i.e. who controls a character’s actions).

    Regardless, people can bully each other in a myriad of ways. The bullying behaviour can only be addressed at the player level, which I did.

    However, the rules help here insofar as they set aside time for a specific player to speak (as I go around the table — the players sit according to the fixed initiative order to make things easier with 8 players). This is both a cue for the player and thus useful for shy ones (“Ok, what does your hunter want to do this round, Kyle?”) and makes disrespectful behaviour (i.e. table-talk that is unwelcome by one or more participants) more visible and thus easier to address. But it still has to be actively adressed between the people and resolved (just as it would have to be in a disrespectful free-for-all where some voices are drowned out).

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