The objective “narrative fulfilment of character action” may seem on the surface to be language derived from storygaming, because of the use of the word “narrative,” but I choose this word not because it relates character action to the narrative goals of players or the GM, but because it relates character goals to the fiction itself.
That is, we have goals as players when we engage with the fiction that are fundamentally different than the goals of our characters, even in simulationist play where player skill trumps character skill.
Storytelling vs. Simulationist Play
In games “Powered by the Apocalypse” (PbtA), the objective of play is expressed as collaborative storytelling. Storytelling play tends to favor dissociative mechanics, where players can take actions that model the narrative rather than the actions of their characters. (Story is intended by the players or the GM.)
In games from the OSR tradition, the objective of play is exploration of the fiction through simulation. Story arises accidentally from this exploration (it is not intended by the players or the GM). Accordingly, character action is associative. Our Tiger King RPG is an example of simulationist play.
Goals in Roleplaying Games
In both types of play, however, the goal of the game is for the players to achieve whatever constitutes success for their characters, and from their characters' perspectives.
At first glance this may seem like a peculiar objective—aren't our characters' objectives the same as our own? In a roleplaying game, interestingly enough, they are not: our characters have a life of their own. Even in the OSR tradition, where player ingenuity trumps character skill, OSR characters generally seek wealth, fame, and power. Thus the actions we take as players will always attempt to further those aims, and so "successful play" accords with making those characters more wealthy, famous, or powerful.
Similarly, in storygaming, we have designed our characters with more complicated motivations or story arcs with the goal in mind to create a story, but that outcome can only be achieved if we, as players, fulfill the wants and needs of our characters.
Narrative fulfillment, therefore, means the fulfillment of our characters' goals through the apparatus of the fiction, and constitutes an objective unique to the roleplaying game.
Hopefully this little treatise has been a fun journey in trying to pin down what a roleplaying game is. To recap, we found that there are at least five unique types of activity that happen in a roleplaying game, and the degree to which they happen varies from RPG to RPG:
- Players adopt the roles of characters, who can take action in a fictional reality (“the fiction”);
- Play is conducted as a structured conversation;
- Characters can make meaningful choices in the fiction;
- Game mechanics model the action characters take in the fiction, and;
- The objective of play is narrative fulfillment of our characters' goals.
Of course, not everyone will agree with these conclusions. After all, the question of What is a roleplaying game? is as old as any of the really fun questions, and has many answers with varying degree of validity. But from the perspective of OSR+, narrative fulfillment of character action as the objective of play is a criterion that drives many of the system's design decisions.