The theory of role-playing game design is something of a hot button issue on most RPG related forums. The views espoused by Ron Edwards and other proponents of “Forge Theory” are especially combustible for reasons that I don’t want to go into. Levi Kornelsen, who is starting to draw some attention with ideas that he is developing on his LiveJournal, and Mike Mearls, authour of Iron Heroes and recently hired by Wizards of the Coast to do development work for Dungeons and Dragons, are also developing some interesting ideas.
What I intend to do in this post is briefly explain my feelings about RPG theory, and how I will be dealing with it on My Play, with guidelines for commenters.
As of this writing, I do not have an account on The Forge, although I do read threads on it occasionally, especially from its Actual Play forum. I do regularly read several blogs by prominent Forgites, including several listed in the blogroll to the right, and I am also a member of, and occasional poster on, Story Games, another forum heavily populated by Forgites.
The reason that I do not have an account on the Forge has to do with its primary mission statement rather than any hostility to the Forum or the people who post there. It is intended to be a place where would-be self-publishers of role-playing games refine their games and get information on publishing. I am not designing an RPG right now, so I haven’t joined.
Not surprisingly, my feelings about Forge theory are rather similar to my relationship to The Forge itself. I’m interested in it, I’ve learned some interesting things from it, but I don’t feel strongly wedded to it.
I find myself at least as intrigued by the ideas that Levi has been hashing out in public lately. No doubt some of this has to do with Levi’s almost superhuman geniality, but I also think that it is a more approachable—dare I say practical?—attitude to such topics. Mike isn’t really working on a big theory of everything like The Forge or Levi is. His focus is on dealing concretely with individual problems that frequently get in the way of having fun when playing.
One issue that I have with any of the “explain everything” RPG theories, even Levi’s (and I’m far from alone here) is the jargon. The fact that they have a lot of jargon doesn’t bother me so much, but a lot of their jargon involves using very common words (story and setting, among others) in ways that are just different enough from day-to-day usage to be extremely, unnecessarily, confusing for people. There is no intuitive flag to tell readers “specific Theoretical meaning intended here, not everyday usage,” and that can be exceptionally annoying.
This is not unique to technical discussions of role-playing-see, for instance, the definition of Information as it is used in Information Theory. Information Theory is a discipline of science and engineering, though, and requires rigorous precision to be of practical use. Role-playing games are primarily a form of entertainment and a hobby. Even at its most pretentious, it is just a nook in the vast realms of the humanities. It is perfectly possible to have cogent, informed discussions about it without bending, let alone twisting, the language. For those cases where there is genuine confusion, it is better to choose a term that is not used in day-to-day conversation.
This is not a blog about RPG theory, as such. My intention for the RPG-related posts is to share advice that I have come across or figured out for myself on how to have more fun playing role-playing games. Couching them in Forge-like theoretical language, even in cases where the ideas originate with one of the jargon-heavy theories, is unnecessary, and is going to be counterproductive. Any discussion containing jargon has an additional barrier to entry.
Therefore, the official policy of this blog is that it is fine to refer to RPG Theory (of any stripe), but you cannot use jargon-y shorthand. You must explain yourself completely, in such a way that anyone who has not been previously exposed to the body of theory can understand what you are trying to say.
Non-compliant comments will be sent back to their posters by revision.
 I realize that it is not a requirement for membership that you be actively working on a design, not least because many small publishers also have their main forums hosted at The Forge. The main point is that I just haven’t felt an urge to post there yet.