What blorb gets wrong: a reply

Lately, there’s a bit of a buzz around Sandra’s “blorb” principles. In short, they encapsulate her a-ha moment after playing old school rpg for the first time, after 20 years of “narrative gaming”. And I understand her reaction because I come from a similar background. I started gamemastering in 1984, with an old school game. But 1991 changed my world: Amber Diceless roleplaying was published, and we belonged to the first German players playing it. The shift from a game with clearly laid out consequences to a freeform game like ADRPG was huge, but I liked, no, loved it. In fact, I still love it, and in fact, some of our most memorable moments took place within the ruleset of freeform games (Amber, Theatrix, Everway). Sandra made a different experience, one that resulted in a namby-pamby narrative free-for-all in which nothing had serious consequences, and everything felt handwaved because it was handwaved.

This wouldn’t bother me much – to each their own –, but she quite openly takes a jab at FKR here and there (also against the classic “roll 2d6 vs my 2d6, higher result wins), and it shows she does not understand what FKR is.

I’d like to address her misunderstandings.

Sandra writes here:

Especially for life-and-death situations (not that every game needs combat) rules serve an important purpose. The DM can’t be like “OK you die”. The rules are there to protect the player from that happening, and to protect the DM from getting the blame if the character does die.

This is her reaction to Justin’s

recently I have decided to opt for the less is more approach – almost all of the wounds in Primeval 2D6 games have been ruled on the fly within the context that they have occurred.

The last part of Justin’s quote is important: “wounds (…) ruled on the fly within the context that they have occurred”. In FKR games, diegetic consequences are key: whatever happens in the game world, has consequences in the game world. So UNLESS Justin’s game was like “hey, when you get hit by a sword, everything can happen: you can die, or you laugh it off, IDK” (and after reading Justin’s brilliant material ever since he joined the FKR, I am very sure his game is not like that)… Sandra’s criticism is wrong. In every FKR game I know, the referee lays the ground rules before the game starts: This is a gritty fantasy game. This is a cyberpunk game in the style of Hong Kong action movies. This is a historical game set in the 1700s, with realistic combat. Stuff like that.

So once we start playing, we know exactly what to expect from a hit with the sword. Why? Because we have established the ground rules, and every action triggers reactions diegetically. Sandra is correct when she writes “the rules are there to protect the player from that (“OK you die”) happening”. But those rules exist in every FKR game worth its ilk.

Elsewhere, she writes

Basically with FKR, every second was as arbitrary and judgment-call-y as “can we make a boat out of this rotwood?” was. I got frustrated and felt like that’s unsatisfying and hand-wavy.

I don’t know who was responsible for selling that kind of bad roleplaying as “FKR” to her, but let me assure you: It isn’t.

The main “rule” to live by in every FKR game is “play worlds, not rules”. So, the opposite of what she writes is true: everything IS NOT arbitrary and judgment-cally. You want to build a boat? Then go find some wood. Does your background or skillset indicate you can work with wood? No? Tough look, no boat. Everything plays out in the game world, and the game world dictates the consequences. And the referee will announce possible consequences before the player rolls.

Sandra often writes she started with playing FKR before finding old school D&D. What she really means is she started out with narrative games that had lots of “player empowerment” (terrible term, that) where every player “has the right to contribute” to the “narration”. We all know those kind of games suck.

When everyone is the gamemaster, no one is the gamemaster. When no one is the gamemaster, the world has no consequences, no internal logic and, saddest fact of all, no danger. It’s a sujet-less stew that tastes of bland nothingness.

But again, that’s NOT FKR. FKR, the way it really is played, is the type of game that was predominant before the first edition of D&D was published, and there were very clear rules in play. “3 hits and you’re out” is one of those, and it’s as good as D&D hit points. If your character gets hit with a zweihänder that does 2 hits damage, you know you’re dead after two hits. It’s not the referee deciding, “oops, you’re dead, man”, but the rules in action. Sandra misunderstands that.

2 thoughts on “What blorb gets wrong: a reply

  1. Her entire post about FKR is an impressive wall of misunderstanding and insults (irritatingly adorned with ♥’s).

    (And why the heck does she call Jim Parkin “Kriegspiel”??).

    I find that she often writes about interesting topics, but in the end I usually find myself disagreeing with her on one point or the other (and often annoyed by her own invented jargon and writing style, which doesn’t help).


  2. To Sandra’s credit, I can see where she is coming from in a lot of instances. The irony, I think, is her decrying (rightly!) arbitrary handwave “GM fiat” by way of her blorb explanation, but blorb itself has a sort of unwitting fiat written into it. If play is entirely not at the disposal of the referee’s arbitration (but it is entirely beholden to the referee’s preparation), there is an unspoken assertion that said preparation is ironclad and cannot be impacted by play.

    I’ve read her article multiple times and it makes sense, but I think it misses that, as you point out, if the narrative structure of the game is “GMless,” there is no way to reliably and consistently reinforce stakes and risk. Without stakes and risk, everything goes sideways. Don’t get me wrong; there is a lot of love about narrative games and story games and the assumptions therein, but in the attempt to divorce play from possible bad outcomes from antagonistic referees, modern games without referees tend towards authoritative nihilism.

    Perhaps that is the point, it’s just never spiked aloud?


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