Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ken St Andre Explains It All

For a variety of reasons, both good and bad, gamers and -- worse yet -- game designers often get tongue-tied when it comes to explaining just what a roleplaying game is. Most of the definitions I see in game books nowadays are inadequate in my opinion, because they're incomplete, stressing the essential roleplaying part of the equation while shortchanging the equally essential game part.

In section 1.1 of Stormbringer ("What is Roleplaying?"), Ken St Andre includes a very succinct explanation of what a RPG (or FRP game, in his usage) is and what its play consists of, part of which follows:
The FRP game's use of dice makes them partially a game of chance, unlike chess or other mathematically-based games that are purely games of skill. However, skill is definitely involved in the play of an FRP. Players need to develop skill in problem-solving, communication with others, and the ability to make rapid decisions, and when those skills are combined with luck and vicarious adventure, FRP games become far more interesting than any amusement based on only one of these factors.
The italics are mine, because I consider them pretty important and key facets of the style of play I most enjoy. These are topics I'll be returning to at a later date, but I was trying to remember this quote earlier today when I wrote my piece on random character generation. Now it's here and I can refer to it later, as needed.


  1. Skill&Chance, would make a very truthfull name for an RPG.

  2. I know you were thinking about investigating T&T and weren't sure which edition 7th or 5th to check out. If you're enjoying Ken's work get hold of 5th ed it really is a good read as well as a good game.


  3. James,

    You write "Ken St Andre Explains It All".

    Why you think the passage is due to Ken St Andre only?

    Stormbringer was written in collaboration with Steve Perrin and I'm personally convinced it's the wonderful game it is because the contribution of BOTH authors.

    BTW, I suggest you interview Steve Perrin. I gather he is a nice and very approachable guy. I would love to read his reminescences of the Perrin conventions, the birth of RQ, the glory days ath Chaosium, but also the work he did for TSR (I think of the "Elves of Alfheim" D&D gazeteer).

    Of course, you should interview both Steve and Ken!

  4. If you're enjoying Ken's work get hold of 5th ed it really is a good read as well as a good game.

    On the recommendation of Ken, I picked up v7.5.

  5. Andrea,

    You're correct that I don't know that only Ken had any input in that passage, but, having read a lot of his writings lately, it just seemed more likely that he wrote it.

    As for interviews, one with Ken is already in the works. I'd also love to interview Steve Perrin, but I have been unable to get in touch with him. The email address I have for him bounces and I have no more recent one.

  6. Back in the day when I was developing the Young Kingdoms rpg for the Chaosium, I had a much closer relationship with Greg Stafford and Steve Perrin than at any other time I've known them. The game was definitely a Chaosium project with me trying to fit in with that group. Steve Perrin was my editor. I'd develop a section of text; he'd decide where and how it would be deployed. When my writing tone got too personal, Steve would take it back to the professional tone wanted for the game. When my development of a section was incomplete, Steve could see what was missing and ask for more of this or that. The information and systems dealing with religion in the Young Kingdoms came mostly from Steve's suggestions. There is no doubt in my mind that Stormbringer owes a great deal of its success to the good judgment, keen intellect, and professionalism of Steve Perrin, and he well deserves the co-design credit. That being said, however, the insight about rpgs being a combination of skill and chance is mine. If you asked people back in the 70s and early 80s, I think everyone would have agreed that was true--I may have just been lucky enough to be one of the first to say it in print.

  7. "On the recommendation of Ken, I picked up v7.5."

    Well can't fault Ken for wanting the new version out there, but personally I think the writing in
    5th is stronger. Possibly because of Liz Danforth's excellent job as Editor. I also think from a grognard's perspective 5th is the more interesting document.

    I have to say I read 7th not 7.5, but I've not heard great things about 7.5's editing/production.

  8. I must say that I am happy that my - perhaps not so relevant - objection to James prompted Ken St Andre's clarification revealing interesting bits on the nature of that felicitous collaboration.

    Thank you very much Ken! I've always been curious about how Stormbringer - my favorite rpg - came into being.

  9. To James:

    As for contacting Steve Perrin for an interview, I suggest that you try through the RQ-Rules mailing list. Steve Perrin reads and posts regularly in that list. From the archives I see two posts of his this very month...

    The mailing list can be found here:

  10. I love T&T and created the TROLLBRIDGE forum to help spread the word. When I heard about 7E I got really excited, but when I bought it I found that I really liked 5E a lot better. As someone mentioned before, Liz Danforth's edits kept the rules tight and understandable. While I like to support newer editions, I just didn't find this one to improve in the ways I was looking for.

  11. Good quote. I had forgotten that one. I will add something that Ken didn't do. If you check Greg's web pages you will see that he considered Ken very nice to work with, since he sent in a proper manuscript and on time. :) It sounds like everyone on that project just matched perfectly. No wonder the game is so damn good.