Monday, January 9, 2023

Gaming in the Abstract

I was thinking about a more general, abstract way to describe play in RPGs the other day, and I'm still sort of working through these ideas, but wanted to get down here what I've been considering so far. Partly so that I don't forget, and partly to get feedback from the community. 

I'm thinking of how a DM/GM/Referee and players interact during a game, at the encounter level. Obviously, the "logistics" phase of the session, where players get set up, check character sheets, add/subtract equipment or various scores, update things, wrap things up, level up, and all that would have separate moves than these. This is a start at describing the "moves" of an RPG. Other than Initial Description, there is no set order for these, and they are of course recursive until the encounter is completed. Also, these should be able to apply from any sort of situation from entering a simple dungeon room to traveling through other planes of existence.

The Encounter

Initial Description: GM move. GM gives an initial description of the encounter.

Question: Player move. Players request more details about initial description or information gained from other moves.

Examine: Player move. Characters look for more specific detail about one element of the encounter.

Interact: Player move. Characters manipulate one element of the encounter (including talking to NPCs/monsters).

Search: Player move. Characters attempt to find possible hidden elements of encounter.

Travel: Player move. Characters move from current location to another.

Engage: Player move. Characters initiate some sort of conflict, or react to NPCs/monsters engagement.

Avoid: Player move. Characters refuse to interact with encounter.

Explain: GM move. GM provides more information in reply to player moves above.

Stipulate: GM move. GM explains pertinent rules or obvious consequences of proposed player moves so that players understand the stakes.

Adjudicate: GM move. GM engages in game mechanics (or calls on players to engage in game mechanics) to find the results of a player or NPC/monster move.

Resolve: GM move. GM explains results of moves taken by players and/or NPCs/monsters, or of game mechanics adjudicated.

Updated Description: GM move. GM provides pertinent details of changes to the encounter after relevant moves have been completed.


  1. Dennis, I'm working on the assumption that your thinking here is oriented toward the sort of instructional writing that you described in your NYE post. If so, and your focus is on GM advice, maybe helping the novice structure his or her handling of the game, then I think you're on a good track, but I'd suggest a hierarchical description of the moves. At the top level of the hierarchy, as you've already implied, there are GM moves and player moves. I'd break each of these into sort passive and active categories next (probably not the best choice of terms). What I mean by that is the "general description," "question," and "stipulate" sorts of moves happen outside the action of the game, whereas "interact" and "resolve" are inside it. Since time inside the game is such an important element to its execution, this distinction strikes me as an important one for the novice to grasp and wield effectively. With an action like "examine," it's important to ensure the player understands when this is "outside" game time because it's really a question about what is already known, versus "search" where the player is using game time for the character to accomplish acquiring new information.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Sterling. That's a very good observation. I am thinking about how to include advice on running the game for my GM guide book. How to break down what happens at the table in ways that are easy to understand and intuitive for the players. And yes, there definitely needs to be an explicit distinction between "in fiction" and "out of fiction" actions.

    And possibly if there may be any overlap. Players may request an "examine" move, but the GM may interpret that as a "search" move, for example, describing how "the characters move closer to get a better look and find...", when the players were intending to ask only if there was more detail apparent from the current game state.

    Much appreciated!