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Crayola Roleplay

Started by jburneko, January 10, 2002, 02:13:21 PM

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Hello All,

So, I've been thinking about the five basic elements of role-playing as Ron puts them: Character, Situation, System, Setting, and Color.  And I've determined that I'm very good at the first three but I don't think I fully understand how to get the most out of the last two, especially Color.

For example, no matter what game I'm playing the games tend to have a consistent feel.  Sure the Characters and the Situations (and if it's a good game, the System) are appropriate to whatever the game is about but over all the feel is the same.  And personally, I feel this is a failure on my part to appropriately Color the game.

So, question one, what techniques do you use during play to push particular Color elements? When are Color elements an actual priority and when should they be toned down?  Basically, how does one effectively use Color?

My second question is different but related.  I think I have general confusion between Setting and Situation.  I understand that Situation is the immediate conflict at hand and that Setting is the broader 'world-view' of the game.  However, how does one use an element of the Setting that is not part of the Situation to good effect?  Also, if you use an element of the Setting that is not part of the Situation, how is that different from a Color element?

Basically, I'm trying to figure out how to put a little polish on my games.




To be honest, I always thought Color referred to things like flavor text and artwork within an actual rpg book.  Maybe the use of poker chips in Deadlands (as opposed to, say, coins which could be used for the same purpose).  You know, stuff that conveys the tone and atmosphere of the game that isn't strictly part of one of the other elements.  I may be wrong about that - and if I am I want to hear about it - but that's what I got out of the GNS article.

If I'm right, that should answer your question about differentiating between setting and color.

- Scott


Oh, interesting.  I hadn't thought about that.  I've always thought Color was refering to elements like it's always raining on Mort in SLA Industries.  I've always thought, wow, that's a great element but I've never known what to do with it beyond.

a) Making a tactical problem in combat.  Not really interested in this.

b) Monotonously reminding the players that it's raining.  Kind of boring.

I never thought of the rain as part of the Setting per se because it's just a bit of flavoring it's not an actual Setting element like the corporate structure of SLA Industries itself is.


Clinton R. Nixon

The way I see Color is kind of a combination of the above - the flavor text and the artwork of a game should evoke its Color, but is not exactly it.

Color is kind of like Premise, but more general: is the game about loss? About hope? About a lack of hope? About dehumanization? Color are the things about your descriptions that evoke these feelings. For example, the rain on Mort is Color, as it symbolizes a lack of hope and happiness there.

How to use it? Well, in SLA, I'd bring up the rain not through descriptions of the rain, but descriptions of people and places. If the PC's are meeting someone for the first time, I'd say, "Mr. Trick walks in the room, his overcoat dripping and hair matted to his forehead, and wipes his face with a soggy handkerchief." If they were traveling to a skyscraper, I might say, "You see the building in the distance, sheathed in metal and concrete, water running down each of its sides like four rivers pouring down onto the ground."
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games



For me, I'm thinking about what can change if we hold all else (setting, system, situation, character) equal.
I'd say color is the tone of reality.
                       (...Dude, deep!)

In Adventure! there's a discussion of the difference between pulp and noir.  They state that the pulp climax is (of course) fists and action and bullets, while a noir climax might be resolved with a single regrettable shot.
Nice image, that - a single regrettable shot.

That difference in "feel."  Which is kindof mood, but kindof what's possible in reality.  Is your GURPS fantasy combat going to be gritty or swashbucklery?

That's my definition.
Maybe the core of Torg was trying to blend color well?

Mike Holmes

What Garbanzo said. I think color is elements that help establish mood. Think of it this way. Black, blue, purple. What does that say to you as far as mood. Green, yellow, light blue. Totally opposite mood, eh? Doesn't have to be real colors, but things that affect mood in the same way. In that way, I think the SLA rain is a color element. Is the world highly industrial with rusting machinery everywhere? Color.

Also, mechanical elements that add to the mood. Are psychic powers available to the characters (but not the certral theme). Color. Magic is often color, as is technology. They often don't have an effect on the premise, but they do affect the mood.

Y'know, Jesse, I'm terrible at good use of color, myself. I'm wondering if there is a mechanical way to fix that. Like giving plot points whenever a player mentions a color element in such a way that promotes the appropriate atmosphere. Or some such.

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Ron Edwards


This topic has been adequately covered by the posts so far, but as the originator of the term, I might as well weigh in.

My thought is that Color is just like the other listed elements, in that it exists in role-playing insofar as it is Explored, i.e., imagined. As such, it may be thought of as "reinforcing detail" of any sort. If the character is Bartholemew, Color enhances and reinforces our imagining of Bartholemew's speech and actions. (That's different from System, which is our formal method of establishing those things.)

As for techniques, I suggest that Color is much more profound and problematic than we have previously considered on the Forge. I submit that it is successful only when more than one person is providing it, and that it might be one of the glue-factors that keeps Premise going ... but conversely, it definitely has the potential to take over and actually subvert Premise as well. Tricky stuff.

Just like the other elements, the actual in-play-imagined Color may be facilitated by game design. All the cover features, layout design, graphics, fiction (I use the term loosely), and even stuff like the binding can facilitate Color in actual play, and thus, in shorthand, we can speak of the Color of the RPG design, even though in reality Color is a role-playing phenomenon.

Sorcerer's Color design, for instance, was very deliberately designed to convey a stern, scholarly, stark Color for play. The text is almost laid out and organized like a college textbook, the binding and gold leaf looks like an academic publication or grimoire, and the black-and-white interiors are supposed to have a "no nonsense" feel. The quotes and references throughout the book are chosen to mix classical and pop references together freely, to show how the Premise applies across the low-high art divide (which I personally do not think even exists).

None of this material tells anyone how to play, or provides anything but a "feel" upon reading the book. It's intended to induce an aesthetic mind-set, as a nonverbal fuel or parallel to whatever is being conveyed verbally in terms of rules. The Color of real humans' actual play is ultimately going to be provided by them, but the Color of the design was intended to be at least an influence, or contribution, to the process.