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About Needs

A few introductory thoughts on needs.

Needs are value-neutral.

This is pretty important to me.  In looking objectively at how RPGs get put together, the goal shouldn’t be to push a single agenda, but rather to understand how things can fit together.  Physics doesn’t tell you how you should move objects, around, it just tells you how the forces you put into place will play out.

Just the same, I’m interested in looking at how needs of players and the techniques used to support them interact with each other.  I’m utterly uninterested in promoting “a good game does this,” except in the most generic terms.  I’m also utterly uninterested in condemning, vilifying, or praising any needs, ‘types’ of players, game systems, games, mechanics, or anything else.  It’s too easy of a trap to fall into, and reduces the value of any work done.

Ideally, the result of this work will be a catalogue of common needs, techniques which can meet those needs, and how those needs and techniques interact.  As such, my hope is that it serves as a useful reference that tells someone how to make games that satisfy different types of needs.  If I judge needs as “good” or “bad”, this reduces that value.

Needs should be written in a positive fashion.

I don’t mean that you can’t have a need like I don’t want to worry about character optimization.  That’s a perfectly valid need.  This point isn’t about that.

This is an extension of the first point.  If I’m going to write a need, I’m going to describe it in a way that doesn’t make the person with that need seem like a jackass.

And if I can’t do that, I’m just not going to write that need down.

BTW, if you do see something that seems offensive, I ask you to kindly remember that I’m deliberately trying to not be pejorative in my descriptions.  Please try to read what I’m saying from a non-aggressive view, and if it still seems offensive, please let me know so that I can either explain myself or change the wording.

At the end of the day, I can’t catalogue every need ever, since they’re inherently personal.  If I can’t find a way to sympathetically phrase a need, I see one of two reasons for this:  Either I just am out of touch with it to the point where I can’t understand it, or it’s just inherently the product of somebody with some level of abnormal, harmful psychology.

Now, the majority of needs that I can’t figure out how to phrase in a positive light will be the first category.  They’ll be perceived as negative by me because my worldview and understanding is just so foreign that I can’t see the value in them.  Since I’m unwilling to use pejoratives to discuss them, I’d rather just “back-burner” them, and hopefully someone will work on these with me and be able to explain more positively what the real driving need is.

Is it possible that this will introduce bias into any work done here by omission?  Of course.  But I’d rather suffer from bias by omission than bias by insulting people.  I also want to bring other people into this work, and make any needs that I “omit” available to them for re-wording, as a way to control for this bias.

I’m uninterested in enabling anti-social jackasses.

Now, if a need truly is I want to abuse people at my table, or I want to be as disruptive as possible and deliberately frustrate people or even I want a place where I can get away with yelling at people, then I’m just not interested in those types of things.  I would call these things abusive behavior, and it’s not something I want to promote by even listing it as a player need.  If you feel like that’s something you want to promote in your game or system, knock yourself out.  But I’m not going to contribute to that.

Now, as part of this, I’m also not going to dwell on these types of needs, at least partially because of potential inability to disambiguate between truly anti-social needs, and simply me not understanding the actual needs of players.

People know what they like.  They know what they need.  They may not know how to express that.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that any of this will be as simple as just collecting data.  My experience, in general, is that people tend to focus more on what things they’ve experienced that meet their needs, rather than those needs themselves.

Someone may claim that they have the need I want a flexible character creation system.  To me, flexible character creation is a technique (and utterly vague – it can mean very different things).  The technique of flexible character creation can satisfy many needs:

  • I enjoy character optimization
  • I want to continually learn things
  • I want to show off my system mastery
  • I want my characters to be mechanically distinct
  • I want my character sheet to reflect my character’s individuality
  • I don’t like being told what I can’t do
  • I want to be able to make a unique character
  • I want to play the character that’s in my head

These are all different, and valid needs.  “Flexible character creation” may meet many of these needs, but it’s secondary – conceivably, another technique could meet one of these needs quite well.  Additionally, different forms of “flexible character creation” may meet only a subset of these needs – while a system allowing for a high degree of character optimization may engage those that have the need I enjoy character optimization, the implied forcing of not having sub-standard builds may, in actual play, lead to exactly the type of “cookie-cutter” character builds that those with the need I want to be able to make a unique character or I want to play the character that’s in my head.

Unfortunately, when discussing what people get out of RPGs, or like in RPGs, this type of issue is incredibly common.  People will often respond with either specific techniques that may satisfy several needs, vague descriptions that could mean very different things coming from different people, or even buzzwords that have very little inherent meaning.  I suspect that a lot of the work I will do on this subject will involve driving down to the actual needs that people have.

Posted in RPG Theory.

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