Monday, March 15, 2021

On no longer running D&D 5e

Note: this translates and expands upon a clarification I made for a post on a Hebrew role-playing game Facebook group, where I asked about people's experiences with converting a campaign to a different system.

Let me explain why, if I do decide to add new arcs to the campaign which I finished in February, I would want to do so in a system that is not Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

On the one hand, I don't feel that the things that are dominant in D&D 5E were meaningful for the campaign developments which interested me, and hopefully, the players as well. The character journey from slightly superhuman to very superhuman, which is apparent even in the range that we played, levels 1 to 5, simply wasn't very connected to them.

On the other hand, I felt the absence of tools that I have seen in other systems:

  • The existence of multiple groups using different, mutually unintelligible languages, was very important, and D&D has very facile support for this aspect of play - as opposed to, say, RuneQuest Classic, which has a dedicated and yet seemingly well-integrated system for languages as skills, including acquisition, graded levels of proficiency, distinctions between speech and literacy, and tools for addressing communication between characters with different levels of fluency. I've previously written my early impressions of RQC, and a more detailed discussion of using languages in RPGs.
  • Especially towards the end of the campaign, there was a lot of mass combat. While I was eventually able to run an experience that was reasonably engaging using the rules of D&D 5E, it would have been much nicer to work with a system that had better support for it. For example, I had an excellent time playtesting Ahadi, Basheer Ghouse's upcoming role-playing wargame, where you play officers of a certain rank in the Mughal Empire. It blends role-playing political power plays, managing interesting and sometimes risky travel and logistics, and conducting tactical mass warfare in a very entertaining and cohesive fashion. Such a breath of fresh air after attempting to do similar things in D&D.
  • D&D 5E's method for handling social and diplomatic challenges is basically unusable, and I would much prefer to have a system with better social mechanisms, which also tie in better to character progression.
  • This feeds into a bigger issue: the lack of ways of measuring character advancement by level of influence or political power, or by increase in knowledge, without them becoming superheroic in more personal, direct ways. The main numerical measure of progress in D&D 5E is the proficiency bonus, which gets added to the mundane and magical attack modifiers, to the target numbers when forcing enemies to roll saving throws, and to the use of skills and tools. It ends up flattening out progression into combat prowess, with everything else being subsidiary.
I was able to use a combination of reinterpretation, homebrew, and dungeon master fiat to work around these issues in the campaign to its conclusion. Furthermore, I am aware that there are homebrew rules, frequently cheap or even free, which address a few of them. But they would turn the game into something entirely different, and I would be spending more time fitting them all together than running and enjoying the campaign itself. And since I don't really like the core of this system anyway, I would much rather start somewhere else.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Mid-March 2021 Updates and work in progress

I've been working on a couple of potential articles for the blog. Unfortunately, none of them is ready to be posted yet. So I figured I'd give you all a rough idea of what's on my mind, and some general updates that you might be interested in. Can't promise all of these will be published, although if you find any of them interesting, do let me know - maybe that'll motivate me to finish them faster!

My first campaign is over

I concluded my first campaign last month. It started in spring 2019, so it ran for about a year and a half. The system was Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. I created my own setting, although the premise was to build it around several adventures from Ghosts of Saltmarsh. It was definitely a trip. I learned a lot about my proclivities, I experimented with a lot of methods and structures, and came to some interesting conclusions. There are several posts related to it in various states of writing:

Campaign summary

This being my first campaign, I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do, and I made significant changes to the material I adapted, some of which I am happy with, some not so much. It may well be useful to provide a summary as a record and a set of tips for people who might be interested in doing something similar in future. I also have at least one original campaign concept I might be able to extract from it into its own product, so I'll have to see how much exactly to share.

Why I don't want to continue it in D&D 5E

The campaign ended with the main pressing issue concluded, which made it a good stopping point. Nevertheless, we all feel like there's a lot more potential to this world and to the conflicts we established within it. Unfortunately, one of the things I learned while running it was that I don't want to run D&D 5E anymore. I have a post on the subject I formulated when asking an Israeli forum about the feasibility of moving a campaign to a different system, which I can translate to English. I think it'll be more than mere D&D-bashing. (Update: here's the post!)

The D&D 5E character sheet game

I've done a bit of analytical, theoretical, even design work with the character sheet game framework. However, one glaring gap is that I have yet to apply it at length to an existing role-playing game system. Since I've played 5E and have run a whole campaign in it, and since it's very well-known, it makes for a good candidate. Reading and taking notes is a bit of a slog so far, but I hope to finish it at some point. My conclusions will probably tie into why I don't want to continue running it.

Other works in progress

In addition to items related to my recently concluded campaign, here are other things in various stages of completion:

Diceless constructive alienation

I've been active in playtesting and examining an upcoming diceless RPG, Guy Sclanders` Bounty Hunter. This has gotten me thinking about how and whether it's possible to use constructive alienation when you don't have an outside source of randomness. How do you position yourself with the players to enjoy the structure you've built, when there are no points in which the decision depends on a result that none of you can predict? How do you, as a gamemaster, work against your own biases, when there is no way to replace your arbitrary decisions with samples from a predesigned distribution? I don't have an answer yet, so this remains a draft. I've consequently gotten in touch with a group that plays a more established diceless RPG, Amber Diceless, and have started reading its rulebook, so maybe that will lead me to some insights.

More virtual reality in media

I've previously discussed my talks about virtual reality as exists in our world and in fiction. Since those talks, I've had the opportunity to watch two TV series which have featured virtual reality as a central premise: The Prisoner and The Good Place. Without spoiling too much, the former involves an artificial world built and peopled around the protagonist to get him to divulge some information, while the latter has a world constructed to provide the very best people their perfectly tailored afterlife. I have fragments of thoughts about them both, but neither have crystalized into something publishable here, yet.

Historical immersion

I've been watching Peaky Blinders as a way of getting some genre concepts for Blades in the Dark. One thing I noticed is the use of a modern soundtrack for themes and leitmotif, to immerse the audience emotionally in what's going on, even though the tracks are anachronistic to early 20th Century Birmingham. There's something to be said about a contrast between realism and immersion, but I haven't quite figured it out yet.

And that's it! Hopefully I'll have a fully-fledge post for you soon.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Fooled by alignment

Let's talk about alignment charts. Not just that of characters in Dungeons & Dragons -  with evil vs. good on one axis, chaos vs. law on the other - but also the types of role-playing games according to Blacow - role-playing vs. wargaming over power-gaming vs. story-telling - and the political compass in politics - authoritarian vs. libertarian over left vs. right.

There's a sense of descriptive power to them, isn't there? You're free, even more free than you would have been had you been trying to line things up on a spectrum. You can fit a lot of personalities, games, and political positions on a flat piece of paper, and maybe even capture the relations between them. But that's not all that happens. Once people accept these alignment charts, they start becoming normative. People want to stand out, so they start defining themselves based on limited combinations of the extremes, and instead of having a whole flat surface, you end up with a discrete set of possibilities. For character alignment, there are at most nine; when the Blacow typology for role-playing games came out, people soon pigeonholed themselves, as well as the games they enjoyed or wanted to design, by the extremes on the two axes - so four types of games and gamers were born. The political compass, at least when it originally came out in the 1990s, was presented online by American libertarians, as a way of explaining and justifying their singular position. What happened to the freedom, the explanatory power of two whole space dimensions? Gone. Who is going to take the time to explain that their character is actually 60% Chaotic 40% Lawful, and 80% Bad 20% Good? What do those details even signify? The original breadth of ethics or games or politics is gone, and we're left with caricatures.

And that's before we start criticizing the frameworks themselves. Are role-playing and wargaming actually at odds, or, as I argued in a previous post (where roll-playing can easily be a stand-in for wargaming), independent player interests, that can be brought together with the proper design? What if a game is decidedly detrimental to both power-gaming and story-telling, say by enforcing strict inter-character balance using mechanics that deny the possibility of creating a consistent story? It could either fail to do these things out of bad design, or it could benefit a different agenda.

With D&D character alignments, we run into different problems: who is good to everyone, or bad to everyone? Is lying to protect a friend good or bad? It's probably a difficult moral question, not easily resolved by the alignment chart. Is a loyal underling of a crime syndicate lawful for keeping their word, or chaotic for undermining the rule of law? Is an informer who keeps ratting out members of their corrupt organization lawful for upholding the rule of law, or chaotic for undermining this organization? Why are these interesting questions? We already have the drama, the tension, the focus of difficult decision-making, in the description of the person's connections to the people and society around them, the conflict between the various values they hold. Since we're already going to be pushed into the extremes, let's just accept the combinatorial explosion and revel in it. 

Many games dispense with alignment. Fate has its aspect system; most Powered by the Apocalypse and Forged in the Dark games describe bonds and character weaknesses explicitly, rather than trying to throw them on a two-dimensional chart; even old-school RuneQuest has you align yourself with or against several cults and guilds, groups in the world that have complicated and dynamic relations with each other, and that are not always mutually exclusive.

Alignment in its many forms is very compelling - too compelling. It becomes the subject instead of helping understand it. I think it's long past time to let it go.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Game structure oracle

Text parser adventure games, usually called interactive fiction, are video games which present you with the state of the virtual world, and expect you to type in commands which change this state, usually actions of a character which you play. Zork (playable online here) was a famous series of completely text-based parser adventure games, where the state was also presented as text. The early Quest games from Sierra (King's Quest, Space Quest, Quest for Glory, etc), while providing information in both textual and graphic form, still required you to type commands in.

Eventually most of these series culminated in games with more graphical interfaces, resulting in the genre of point and click adventure games, but there is a small community of designers who still create fully textual parser games, often using the Inform language, which is ultimately based on the language used to design the old Zork games and other Infocom interactive fictions. One of the skills you had to develop as a seasoned text parser gamer was expressing what you wanted in a way the parser would understand: which nouns must be acted upon by which verbs, based on possibilities gleaned from the textual descriptions, or from knowledge of the system itself, such as its inventory and combat features.

As a thought experiment, suppose that instead of developing these skills yourself, you had a professional parser gamer working for you: someone who knew exactly how to navigate the game and understand its description, who might even be able to peek at the video game's code or assets directly, although they'd only do so to make sure they were answering your questions correctly, rather than to give you information you shouldn't have. This person would take your descriptions of what you wanted your character to do in the virtual world, and translate them into commands that the mundane parser would be able to use; they'd then describe the new state of the world to you, using the result provided by the parser game. This person is starting to sound a little bit like a gamemaster, in the role of judge or referee, except that they wouldn't be enforcing rules, so much as translating back and forth between you, the player, and the parser game, which does the actual enforcement.

This professional parser interpreter would be acting as an oracle for the text parser adventure game. An oracle in this sense is the term used in theoretical computer science for a kind of black box which can be asked questions to which it provides answers, in ways that the questioning algorithm's designer does not have to understand. In this case, the parser sends the description of the current state to the professional parser gamer, who will eventually come back with instructions the parser can understand and act upon.

When we look at role-playing game structures like the hexcrawl, or the node-based scenario, their systems, taken at face value, could be implemented in software. You could write an Inform program to provide the backing to a hexcrawl, once you've populated it; you could change it whenever you added or removed anything. And then your job as a GM while running the game could move towards being an oracle for the program, and something role-playing-like would occur between you and the player, even if you don't go beyond that to riffing or improvising at the edges. This is an extreme version of constructive alienation, an almost complete distillation of all creative thought into the process of designing and implementing the external structure and its procedures, and then supporting the player in engaging with it as a mere interpreter.

If you limit yourself to being a game structure oracle GM, there are several ways in which you can improve. First of all, the better programmed or designed your game structures are, the more variety the players will encounter as they engage with them, and the less you will be pressured to improvise. This will make you a better systems designer - or adapter, if you decide to use an existing adventure module in this way. In fact, it may well make it easier for you to create an adventure for someone else to use - you could honestly provide them with an interesting experience to run for their players, without forcing them to improvise to cover gaps you might've otherwise left.

Another thing you can get better at is translating player intent into rules usage. If you want to better support the implied character sheet game of the RPG your system runs on, this can be very beneficial. Alternatively, you might come into conflict with player knowledge of the CSG if you're trying to hide the details from the players to improve immersion. There's a balance that's worth striking.

Since the system is limited, and we're excluding the possibility of improvisation or ad-hoc rulings, another thing you might have to get used to doing is either diplomatically saying no, rationalizing why an unsupported action won't work, or preemptively guiding the players to consider choices that are supported by the system. The latter can be done by making sure to emphasize the systematically relevant features of the environment when you're describing its state. In extreme cases, you'd be making sure that even if the system itself effectively requires pixel hunting, the players aren't required to perform it.

As I said when I was discussing the CSG, this limit of GMing isn't in line with my natural inclinations. I am far likelier to improvise, to make rulings in the moment, to run with what the players give me directly. The purpose of this exercise is to challenge myself to improve in the aspects of GMing that do not come naturally to me; hopefully, this will lead me to be more well-rounded.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Role-playing and roll-playing - incentives, peaceful coexistence, and pedagogy

Seems like many people have been reading Jon Peterson's The Elusive Shift. And that's great - the more people realize how many arguments and design considerations relating to role-playing games are just as old school as "old school", the faster we can all discuss these matters more productively now, fifty years later.

One recent blog post took a main question from discussions in fanzines, APAs, and magazines of the '70s, on the distinction between role-playing and roll-playing: that is, whether to play your character to best emulate how it would act in any given situation, or whether to play it to win - the battle, the war, the contest, treasure, whatever is achievable. The rest of that post tries to apply game theory to the question of whether to role-play or to roll-play. And I do like the idea of looking at role-playing games from the perspective of probability and decision-making, which make up game theory: one of my first posts was about the Monty Hall problem, and I've written a series of posts about the character sheet game framework, which is my attempt to condense the most mechanical and strategy-based portions of a role-playing game into a form amenable to analysis by tools from strategy game design and theory. However, I must take exception to the very framing of this problem, because as it stands, I think it's a false dichotomy.

Let me explain with an example from your favorite edition of Dungeons & Dragons. It's a class-based system, which originally supported three classes: the fighting man, the magic user, and the cleric. This did not capture every type of character anyone would want to play, so people homebrewed their own classes or variants - that's where the thief class came from.

Now you, having access to either the homebrew version of the thief, or a more official form of thief or rogue from later supplements or editions, decide to create or manage to generate such a character. The character, per the rules, is very good at sneaking around, picking locks, disarming traps, climbing sheer walls, and other such dubious activities. It is not very good at fighting directly, or at taking a lot of physical punishment. So if you decide to play this character as someone sneaky and devious, who likes to pick locks, disarm traps, and stab enemies in the back from hiding, it works. The rules encourage you, the dungeon master has an easy time setting up challenges for you, and you contribute appropriately to a team of adventurers who are also playing to their niches.

On the other hand, if you decide, with this class, that you want to play a brave warrior who charges into battle, sword drawn, you will have a harder time succeeding at the mechanical challenges. You will not hit as much as a fighter would, you will not cause as much damage, you might not even be able to use the best weapons for the job, and so you may easily find yourself killed and forced to create a new character, or you may hope to be saved by the other players` characters, or by DM fiat. Why is that? It's because you chose the wrong mechanical archetype to go with your character concept.

You may counter that you're trying to challenge yourself, that real role-playing is playing against mechanical advantage, that focusing on mechanical advantage is roll-playing, and that a good DM or GM should be able to accommodate that. Well, to that I would say that you have made a role-playing decision by choosing both this class, and this behavior that is at odds with it. So the holistic concept is what we should interrogate. Why is it important for you that your character mechanically be a sneaky thief, but have the behavior of someone who insists on charging into the fray? Is this character trying to fight its natural or trained affinity to sneaking around? That's an internal struggle it has with itself. And there are role-playing game systems where that kind of struggle can be rewarded mechanically.

Let's say that instead of using D&D, you decided to play a fantasy FATE game. You want to create this holistic concept of a sneaky conniver, who is nevertheless driven to be a strong hero, a Gray Mouser who dreams of being a Fafhrd. You could choose what is called an aspect to capture this: "a scoundrel too combative for their own good". Aspects in FATE are used in two ways: the player can invoke them to gain some kind of advantage, spending a Fate point; and another player or the gamemaster can "compel" them from the character, forcing a disadvantageous decision that is in line with them. In the latter case, either the player resists this by spending a Fate point, or they can accept it, and gain a Fate point for use later. This is why the rulebook recommends choosing aspects that are two-sided - that combine the positive with the negative - and "a scoundrel too combative for their own good" is a perfect example of that. Let's try it out!

You and your party want to steal a big diamond from the Duke's mansion. You're a scoundrel, which allows you to spend a Fate point to give you a bonus for rolling to come up with a sneaky plan to get in there, and the roll comes out very well. The plan is set in motion, and it's proceeding like clockwork - a big distraction draws most of the guards to the front gate, and you're sneaking 'round the back. There are only two guards there, and the plan calls for you to throw a rock to their left, then use a well-positioned tree to drop in behind the wall to their right. But before you can do that, the GM compels you: "now that you see the guards up close, they don't look so tough. You feel like you could just take them there and then." If you accept the compel, you gain a Fate point. If you don't, then you need to spend a Fate point, which will allow you to proceed with your plan. By penalizing you for sticking to the optimal fictional choice, while rewarding you for accepting a less promising one, the mechanics incentivize you to play into this dual aspect of your character: a competent scoundrel who nevertheless can't stop themselves from getting into fights. To get to the position where you have the Fate point needed to avoid this hiccup, you would have had to surrender to this or another compel earlier, or not to have expended the ones you start a scene with; meanwhile, this extra Fate point you get from leaning into the negative side of this aspect of your character now can be used to improve the situation later, either by making it easier for you to do something, by sacrificing this point so that you can avoid being compelled by your weakness at a more critical juncture, or otherwise to improve the prospects of the whole plan, and the overall success of the party's mission.

If you had instead been playing a thief in D&D, mechanically this would have been a problem. You would have probably failed in the combat against the two stronger, more able guards, and if nothing else, at least one of them would have been able to raise the alarm, and none of that would have intrinsically involved any advantage to you or your party, equivalent to a Fate point.

Now we come to what I think is a better question than role- vs. roll-playing, which is an issue of taste, and possibly of human psychology: does the fact that there's an extrinsic, mechanical incentive help you or hinder you from role-playing your character? Do you get what you get out of role-playing by roll-playing to this mechanic, or not? Does it instead make role-playing less compelling for you, because it overrides an intrinsic motivation you previously had for role-playing?

And how does this affect the rest of the participants in the game? If you get the same joy out of role-playing along with the mechanical incentives, this means that you can peacefully co-exist with players who are more interested in making the best of the mechanics of the system. And the GM also has an easier time, because they don't have to negotiate some kind of fudging, or fiat, or other ad-hoc methods to make sure that everything keeps merrily moving along. Instead of having to work both on preparing and running the system, as well as on intervening extra-mechanically, to avoid letting your role-playing against the mechanics interfere with the enjoyment of the roll-players, everyone can play the same game, even though they might not be playing it for the same reasons.

Finally, in addition to the question of whether this will satisfy people who are looking for role-playing, we can ask what type of system encourages people who start out thinking as roll-players to move towards role-playing, and whether that's a worthwhile goal. When introducing role-playing games to new players, this pedagogical consideration can be crucial. I have personally found that the game that most encouraged me to play in character is by some accounts (including its current marketing copy) not really a role-playing game at all, but a story-telling game: Fiasco. Despite the fact that the mechanics barely have anything to do with playing roles in themselves, as they do not correspond to adjudicating actions that would make sense to the character itself in the world, the very framing encourages you to lean into the character you play as it interacts with the characters played by others.

It is important to remember that systems are designed by people to serve functions. They are not necessarily modeling a situation that people will encounter, which is where a game-theoretic analysis would be most appropriate, to tease out how to look at a given situation as a rational actor. They can instead model genre conventions, or they can be built to encourage and reward certain behaviors, reducing and even eliminating the tension between playing to win and playing to a role.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Character persistence between scenes

Many years ago, I belonged to an amateur theater ensemble. Our regular activities involved acting exercises, like rehearsing dialogue, improvising, and reacting to each other. In addition, about once a year or two, the group worked on a complete amateur production, in a real theater, with a paying audience. I took part in two of these.

In the first production, I played a bit part, a character who didn't really go through much change. During the course of the performance, I did have to know my entrance and exit cues, which meant keeping track of where in the script the play was, and I did have to remember the lines relevant to each scene I was in, but otherwise, my character stayed pretty much the same, so delivering my lines was just a matter of keeping a single persona going, and reacting to other characters as they changed - or like mine, remained static.

The second production, on the other hand, involved some development: my character gained confidence from scene to scene, became more and more comfortable with himself, until his final appearance, where he comes back to face his parents, expressing rage at something they did during scenes from which he was absent. This meant that I had to develop a narrative for him that continued offstage. The audience wouldn't see those parts, and possibly wouldn't care about their details, but if I wanted to deliver my lines and react to the other characters properly, I had to maintain this changing element from one scene to another, even through scenes in which I did not participate. So I wrote down narratives to patch my character between scenes, which continued this development, and recited them to myself from memory as I waited for my cues, trying to time my internal monologue so that finishing it would coincide with my next entrance. I think I did a reasonable job. It was definitely more intense than my role in the first production.

In a table-top role-playing game, maintaining character persistence is not as difficult. If you're a player, while you do have a persistent character between sessions, or before and after a break, or before and after a segment where your character is not involved, a lot of change usually hasn't occurred - with the exception of end of adventure book-keeping, like leveling up, or skill improvement, or downtime activities. In the latter case, it's a matter of updating your character sheet at your leisure, to consult it as you start role-playing or otherwise participating in the game once more. At worst, you might need to ask questions, if you suddenly forget where your character ended last session, or is expected to be right now.

It's a bit trickier if you're the gamemaster, as you do need to keep on top of things, including the progress of non-player characters, factions in the world, other world events, and, of course, the PCs. In my campaign, I did find that writing down narratives of what happens between sessions, or in parallel to sessions, was helpful for me to keep myself current for session start. But, as with being a player, since game time isn't usually real time, you can pause, you can ask questions, you can be reminded of things you've forgotten, and rewrite recent "history" when things turn up wrong.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Tic-tac-toe RPG - CSG-driven design

My first attempt at applying the character sheet game leaned towards the analytical and explanatory, with a few suggestions for design. This time around, I'm going to apply it directly to designing a role-playing game. I'll start with one of the simplest games of all: Tic-tac-toe. For brevity, in line with the roles of the game, I will refer to the first player in the board game as X, and the second as O.

Tic-tac-toe is a very simple game. In fact, it's solved: if you're X, there are strategies to always win, or at least come to a draw, with any opponent; if you're O, there are strategies to come to a draw, regardless of what the opponent does. There are clearly better and worse moves to make at each point, and it's clearly better to be X.

What does it mean that the CSG of an RPG is based on Tic-tac-toe? The character sheet should be a Tic-tac-toe board. The player will act as one side of the game, while the encounters generated by the gamemaster will act as the opponent's moves. But that's not specific enough. We still need to make a few more decisions.

First, we need to decide whether the player is X or O. Being X suggests a game where players have the advantage, while being O instead suggests a very challenging road ahead just to break even.

Then, are we going to be differentiating characters when they're created? That is, are we starting the corresponding RPG with any mechanical differentiation between characters, or are they all going to be equivalent, outside of playacting the characters? The easiest way to differentiate the characters would be to move for X at character creation, either randomly - say, by numbering the squares in the the board and then rolling a ten-sided die to decide the move, rerolling on 10s - or by letting the player choose the first square. Using what we know about the original game, there are obvious better and worse choices, and random generation is going to create a significant variety in mechanical power. Which choice is better of course depends on whether the players are X or O. If the players are O, then it would make more sense for some kind of random generation to pick the first X, or for the GM to do so, just to be consistent with the idea that encounters correspond to X.

The next step is encounters. Who chooses the moves, and what happens as a result? How does the mechanical loop of an encounter look? If the player is to remain X or O throughout the game, then each encounter has to involve two moves. To avoid combinatorial explosion, let's say we decided to randomly generate characters with a first move of X, which is the player's move. An encounter has to involve a move, because there's nothing else going on in the character sheet, and we've defined encounters in the CSG as involving some kind of interaction with what's written there. And since the player is X and the encounters are O, and we already start with an X, we need to get back to it - so an encounter has to involve an O move followed by an X move. The O move can either be random or determined. Randomness is tricky - unlike in games where rolling high or low is better, here it's a matter of randomly choosing out of the remaining squares. It's clear what good or bad choices are, if there's still a distinction, but that's going to depend heavily on the current state of the board. Also, since there's nothing else going on in the sheet, there isn't anything else to help determine any probabilities of the next move. This leaves us with the option of an encounter simply determining a difficulty probability for making a good O move, rolling, and then making that choice. The player's following X move would probably have to be explicitly chosen - there is no other information in the sheet from which to make any non-arbitrary decisions, and therefore the player has to decide whether to try to win or break even, if that's possible, or whether to lose, if that's possible.

This brings us to the a wider look at gameplay, and the endgame. Tic-tac-toe is very short. At most there are going to be five X moves and four O moves, and since we've decided that the first X move is at character creation, and each encounter is an O move followed by an X move, at most there are going to be four mechanical encounters in the game before it ends; usually, fewer. So either the corresponding RPG will be short, or it'll involve a lot of playacting or other, non-mechanical experiences, interspersed with very rare encounters going through the CSG. Once the character sheet Tic-tac-toe ends, there can be no more CSG encounters. So the character's progression would be in mechanical stasis. One way to interpret that is to say that winning Tic-tac-toe is ascending to godhood, a draw is retirement, while losing is character death. Another is to talk about becoming famous, returning to ordinary life, or living on in infamy. Any of the three would require creating a new character in order to further engage with the mechanics of the game.

So that's a glance at the design space created by Tic-tac-toe as an RPG's CSG. We can see that it's extremely constraining, and doesn't allow for interesting choices, even at game start, much less later. It also limits the length of play, because of how short the CSG is. Honestly, it's hard for me to imagine a group starting an RPG with this CSG without hacking it to break some of Tic-tac-toe's rules. For example, allowing a healing mechanic to undo moves would significantly change the possible interpretations of the CSG in an RPG context, and prolong potential play indefinitely - at the expense of reducing how much the current state of the CSG reflects the history of the character.

Nevertheless, I hope that this sketch shows how to use a board game as a starting point for an RPG through the CSG framework, and what that entails. I can't wait to see more interesting games come out of it!