Quick Thought: Narrative and Scale

I already shared this via Twitter, but I don’t want to lose it again. Here’s an article that has informed my sense of scale in RPGs.

Largely, we’re talking about scale within the mechanics of a game, but it can also be established narratively. I want to write about that, but the topic has been giving me some difficulty.

I like to scale mechanics and narrative both against normal, everyday human achievement and history. In RPGs there are often a number of things (magic, super-powers, futuristic technology) that allow players to transcend that scale. This is all good and fun, but it loses its wonder after a while if you don’t find a way to keep that sense of perspective in your narrative.

When you take into account the article above, Einstein is actually a pretty unremarkable guy so far as the mechanics go. In the narrative, he may be the product of unique cirumstances (restricted skill) and may possess some rare tools. Access to peers that could contribute to his research (as per Aid Another) may be the result of adventures undertaken at his behest.

This is all well and good as long as 5th level is the pinnacle of achievement in D&D 3.0, which we know isn’t the case. Even if you make it work, narratively, the players experience numerous checks in encounters that put the lie to the numbers. I think that this has an effect on the game. PC’s could do what Einstein does and better, if they only have access to the right resources.

I believe that a setting should inform mechanics and not the other way around. I don’t care about mechanical differences between divine magic, arcane magic, and psionics unless the setting/narrative gives me a reason to care. Why not keep the rules simple?

When it comes to D&D, a lot of people seem to have trouble separating system from setting. In fact, I was just told on Twitter that in D&D, the rules come first and the setting second.

True or not, I don’t believe that this is how any RPG should be.

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~ by Hunter Rose on January 15, 2012.

One Response to “Quick Thought: Narrative and Scale”

  1. I’ve always liked that article. It serves to remind me that if a player asks if they can do something really ridiculous/cinematic/comicish, I’ll probably let them.

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