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18:46, 16th June 2024 (GMT+0)

Freeform games: How does that work?

Posted by AugustusGloop
member, 6 posts
Wed 17 Apr 2024
at 20:02
  • msg #1

Freeform games: How does that work?

I get that structured game systems are basically vehicles for telling stories to one extent or another, but how does it work when you don't have a system at all (which is what I gather 'freeform' is)?  Can anyone explain, or correct my misconceptions about this seemingly popular game type?
member, 30 posts
Wed 17 Apr 2024
at 20:07
  • msg #2

Freeform games: How does that work?

Hi! Sure, I run several freeform games and am glad to help out.

Freeform is a very general term that varies by GM. Generally, it's an improvisational style of play where players work to build storylines together, with or without DM intervention. Often freeform has some sort of structure or way of dealing with conflict and combat, but it can be far less complicated than, say, D&D 3.5e.

Freeform is a benefit for storyteller-type roleplayers, not so much for those who are into more combat-based games. If you play a rogue or bard who talks his way out of trouble or infiltrates high society, a freeform game is a good choice because many of the games out there lack mechanics for subterfuge or social rewards in the same way combat rewards are received.

Furthermore, freeform games tend to have less "on the rails" ideas because DM/GMs have to react to what is going on in the game as it happens. For a good GM, this isn't an issue as they keep this in mind and work on the priority of making a game fun and interesting rather than ensuring your encumbrance hasn't changed your speed too much so you can't role acrobatics to climb a wall or whatever.

Both gamestyles have their place and I think the people who talk down about freeform games maybe have only experienced them without a GM invested in writing a good story that includes the fantastic characters that players make.

I would argue that PtbA is quite close to freeform as there is a lot of encouragement around storytelling and while the mechanics for combat are there, it's not the highlight of, say, Urban Shadows or anything.

I hope that helps, you're welcome to message me if you have any other questions about freeform gaming. :)

- Star
member, 52 posts
Wed 17 Apr 2024
at 21:45
  • msg #3

Freeform games: How does that work?

I'm not certain that I agree about freeform being more or less dynamic in narrative than games underpinned by mechanics. That's something which comes directly from the relationship between storyteller and players.

Freeform games are the purest form of collaborative storytelling and can be a great way to explore character interaction in a lightweight format. Especially if there is a group of characters or a setting which is poorly represented or clunky to represent well with statistics.

The big weakness of freeform games to me is that every point of tension is decided upon and can become very predictable; losing the highs and lows of chances outcomes without feeling contrived.

Some freeform games try to mitigate this with ultra simplistic rules, but IMHO just use a narrative system like Fate if that's what you want to do.
member, 713 posts
Sure-footed paragon
of forthright dude.
Wed 17 Apr 2024
at 21:50
  • msg #4

Freeform games: How does that work?

In reply to AugustusGloop (msg # 1):

For the youngsters out there: it's basically like roleplaying/storytelling with ChatGPT, but slower and usually with far better and more dynamic results for your prompts. :D

Also there's no token or context limits, and you get to chat with other people who actually care about the story you're telling. It's great! Highly recommended! :D
Dream Sequence
member, 98 posts
Certainly the loveliest,
most civilized of us all
Wed 17 Apr 2024
at 22:13
  • msg #5

Freeform games: How does that work?

I think the OP and some of the followups are using the term "freeform" in a different way than it seems to get used a lot on RPoL.  Which is understandable, as it's a pretty vague term.

OP and replies seem to be discussing mechanical freeform games, which are games that don't have any fixed rule set, where conflicts and contests are resolved behind the scenes by the GM in basically whatever way the GM sees fit.  The GM might decide that the story would work better if a PC loses a particular sword fight, or that the PC has invested enough quality RP to have proven skill enough to win the sword fight, or whatever other judging criteria the GM wants to use.  Obviously this is requires both a skilled and fair GM and a LOT of trust in that GM.

The other usage of the term is to describe narrative freeform games, which are those where the GM is either not involved at all in shaping the plot of the game, or only involved in the form of having a PC of their own playing in the game.  Rather, the plot is collaboratively improvised by the players during the course of play, with all the story and drama contributed by the players reacting to each other.  There's no planned story line for the players to interact with, and the GM might set up situations for the PCs to meet up and bounce off of each other but doesn't really direct the action, the way (for example) a D&D player is probably very accustomed to.

I have no data to back this up of course, but I think most freeform games I've seen on RPoL are narratively freeform, but not mechanically freeform.  Even if the system is utterly bare-bones rudimentary and completely homebrew and a "character sheet" could fit on a third of on index card, even still there's often some notion of skills or attributes, and of resolving conflicts via contested die rolls.  I could be mistaken of course, but that's my impression of the general trend.

Games that are -both- narratively freeform and mechanically freeform are very common too, but I think the distinction between the two kinds of "freeform" is still useful, and I've occasionally been frustrated when reading a Players Wanted post for a "freeform" game that doesn't hint at what kind of freeform they mean.
subscriber, 223 posts
Thu 18 Apr 2024
at 23:45
  • msg #6

Freeform games: How does that work?

Just adding to the above, I think especially on RPOL, a lot of the freeform games don't necessarily deal with the same sorts of issues as a more traditional dice rolling/tabletop RPG, and thus there's not really a point where the characters encounter the equivalent of a skill check or indeed a conflict where the result can or should be worked out mathematically.

So, for example, if you're effectively writing a game which focuses on social interaction and where you're putting a group of different characters with their own goals in a room and have them talk it out, then muddying the issue with fancy mathematics rather than letting players use their skills as writers to make their characters persuasive (or not) can actually detract from the scene, as long as everyone is on board with that kind of thing.

Equally, some writers will be perfectly happy knowing the outcome of the scene in advance (or at least the direction they want to take) and it's more about telling the story and embodying their character in a richly drawn world rather than necesarily about getting to Point A, Objective B or Chest of Loot C. Alternatively, some writers like being given challenges and being asked to react in the moment, and trusting their writing skills and own self discipline to create nuanced decisions based on the strengths and weaknesses of their characters, even if they're not formally converted into values or dice pools.

As others have said, it's not for everyone and it does tend to fall far more into that collaborative writing aspect than some other approaches and systems - you might have players posting less frequently but with much greater depth, with a slower pace with scenes taking months but being beautifully crafted to evoke a mood or an emotion because that's where the fun sits for those players.

It does also require a different skillset both from the players and the GM - as a player, the system (or lack thereof) does mean you've probably got to be a bit more focused on the big picture and the enjoyment of the players around you than in something like DnD (where the numbers and class specialisations tend to even out who gets the spotlight and who is better in different scenarios), and be a bit more willing to step back, deliberately make your character make mistakes or miss opportunities to give other players space. Equally, as a GM, your role is more about encouraging good behaviour in players and working with them to craft their own storylines and sub plots than coming up with dungeons to crawl through.

When it works it can be really enjoyable, and I think you can get equal amounts of pleasure (even if they're different) from both types of style without one being better or more correct than the other.
member, 3067 posts
Fri 19 Apr 2024
at 01:22
  • msg #7

Freeform games: How does that work?

alot of these  ideas  are  great?  I  use  semi freeform. It gives folks some freedom, but there are frame work and rules.

 the story moves along, combat depends as much  on RP as it does  on Dice rolls . i made my own system for that, its not perfect, but  gives  characters a chance to grow. while having good RP
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