Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

Toy Quality

Started by Ben Lehman, January 24, 2005, 07:19:14 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


It seems like you can break down Toy Quality into a couple of sub-qualities. I'm not sure you can pin down "Toy Quality" as a whole any better than "the mechanics are fun to use without a SIS", but the subqualities are things like
 - The mechanics are tactically interesting (which is a definition in itself, but I think the one that came up on lumpley's site is reasonable enough -- there're some resources to manage, there is no perfect strategy for winning, and there exist strategies that do better than acting random)
   This covers things like DitV, Riddle of Steel, and so on.
 - The mechanics are sensually appealing. Usually this is tactile, it seems like, but clearly the clatter of dice on the table is as important as the weight of them in your hand and getting to throw them around (or, if you are especially talented, spin them). Nice art also comes up here - I guess that'd be Everway. Fastlane scores here also.
 - There are big lists of things the characters can buy or pick or encounter or whatever. This might be a subset of the first item, but I think there is some pleasure just in having a bunch of stuff available -- Feats in D&D, or Charms in Exalted, or whatever.
 - There are sequences you can play that have a well-defined ending point. Nobody's touched on this, but I think it's important that you say "ok, we're going to have these two guys fight, and once one of them gets down to zero hit points the fight is over", or "I'm going to create a character with 100 points". Without limits you lose the drive to optimize, I think, and in some ways it's less compelling to pick a thing up when you don't know what kind of comittment you're making.

The other point I wanted to mention is that Toy Quality is good for hooking first-time players. It tends to be something you can observe easily when other people are playing, and is easy to demonstrate, whereas demonstrating cool stuff about the SIS tends to require a fair amount of backstory ("No, see, this meeting is awesome because last week we had this big fight and he escaped me, and we were fighting because I'd been in love with his sister only she turned out to be a cross-dressing orc under a witch's curse caused by ...").
Dan Shiovitz

Callan S.

Hi Ben,

Quote from: Ben LehmanSome people say that Exalted is fun just because they like rolling lots of dice.  Simply the joy of the clatter of 40 pieces of plastic, to me, is part of toy quality.
The designer of TROS (one of the game you mentioned with toy quality) wrote that hand fulls of dice appealed to him, so you might be on to something (even though the dice thing isn't an appeal to you, I think it can be connected up).

I still need to figure it out some more, so here's a comparison. My son has a small pastic car that when you pull it back, it doesn't just shoot forward. For some reason it will do all sorts of spin outs, twists and fishtales. This means it does all sorts of patterns on the floor and I quite like watching the action myself.

Now, something like TROS at a mathematical level (which is almost a physical level) can do similar things as numbers 'bump' into other numbers and can send them spinning or turning or whatever, much like that car.

And not to mention the number of novelty dice out there. I mean, even ones that glow in the the truck do you read your book then? Well, you don't I suppose...the emphasis really is on the toy aspect.

Is this the sort of thing you mean?
Philosopher Gamer

Joe J Prince

Evening all,

I'm kinda strugging with what exactly is meant by "Toy Quality"

To most people the enjoyment of toys is essentially subjective.
I.e. different people will always favour different  'fun causing' aspects
Some like the mechanical tactical approach, some prefer the fantastical escapism...

I would say that a toy is something you play with for the fun of just playing, without any inherent goal - which is cool and always seemed the premise of DnD.
But why has DnD3 got good toy quality?
I personaly despise the system and see no 'fun' in it at all.
Is just rolling a D20 fun?
Not for me anyhow.

How can 'quality' be assessed in such a subjective realm?
Does Magic: The Gathering have high toy quality?
Some people love it, as many hate it.

And what is fun?
dare I poke this into the GNS frame?
Yeah I suppose, since that's the point of it :-)


P.S. And what the hell is the Holy ghost while we're on it? :-)
P.P.S. If you're gonna use jargon can you please define it, or indicate a definition at least once during your post. Ta.


I think the point is not that everyone enjoys doing it, but that there is the potential to enjoy it apart from role playing.  I enjoy playing with The Burning Wheel's combat system, even outside of an actual game of the Burning Wheel.  I don't see how anyone could enjoy using the resolution system from Primetime Adventures without the role playing elements.

The D&D combat system is rather fun, in fact I enjoy playing it on it's own.  Actually, I enjoy playing D&D combat more when it is divorced from regular D&D play because I don't enjoy playing D&D as a role playing game...

Do you see the distinction here, JJ?

Current projects: Caper, Trust and Betrayal, The Suburban Crucible

Callan S.

Another quick example comes to mind: The random dungeon generating tools in early D&D. I've heard  of people making dungeons for fun and I've enjoyed a furnishings roll or two myself. What do you think, Ben?
Philosopher Gamer

Joe J Prince

I'm not familiar with Prime-time Adventures or Burning Wheel, so I can't comment on them. And I can't afford to buy them either at the mo :-(

To me it seems that what is being described is the wargaming potential of certain rpgs.
I personally don't think the DnD system makes for a good or fun wargame, it's poorly balanced and overly complicated, perhaps that's why Chainmail bombed.

I think I see what is meant, a reduction of rpg mechanics to a wargaming level, but I still think individual differences will determine which toy qualities people prefer.

Some like blackjack, some like Magic:TG.

Potential to enjoy varies considerably, I'd be interested to see what different people value as this potential. I guess there has to be a fair degree of balance, as there's little fun in playing out a foregone conclusion.




I believe that to some degree you are correct.  Toy Quality is at least partially subjective.  However, I think there is some measurable quality that is objective.  Some people like Spades, some don't, but there is a certain quality about the game that allows people to like it.

It's hard coming up with counter-example because no one plays games with no Toy Quality.  I'm going to suggest that War has almost no Toy Quality.  No one wants to play war, there's nothing to play.

Does that make sense?  With RPGs you have more involved than pure Toy Quality in the mix.  No one would just sit down and play with the system of PTA, it's just no fun on its own.  But the things that it does with SIS and Social Contract are tons of fun.  There's an identifiable potential within any system for that system to be enjoyed on its own.  I think that that is what Ben is talking about when he says "Toy Quality".

Current projects: Caper, Trust and Betrayal, The Suburban Crucible


Dunno how I missed this thread. It's a cool one, but for some reason I didn't find it until the guys were talking about it on IRC last night.

Anyway, I want to point out that Fastlane is like the ideal toy quality game.

And, I think that this thread is spiraling a bit, and the reason is that Ben defined Toy Quality in terms of "fun," which is really really hard to pin down. Fun is just a hard concept. How can you identify the causes for a sensation of enjoyment?


I wish I had some proper references but I am sure I read that the creator of the Sims conisidered it a toy rather than a game, comparing it with a ball with which one could play any number of games - throw and catch, football (aka soccer), netball, dodgeball, keep-it-uppy etc.

I think what is being talked about here is more than the 'toyness' or 'ballness' of part of the game but the fun involved in moving around with the ball - people can enjoy messing around with a ball without a marked out pitch, without as referee or goal posts. We are not talking about how nice that physical ball is but how nice it is to move around and do stuff with it. It only becomes part of a game when there are more rules and definitions.

Next point was another reference that I cannot find. I think it was something Robin Laws wrote about either Hero Quest or Dying Earth. Something about how the feel of the mechanics were important to him, more so that the statistical outcome of a particular mechanic. I think this is a "toy quality" design consideration. As an aside, people who have used poker chips for Heroquest extended contests have often said how much it makes that more fun.

Wargaming has been mentioned and I think there must be a large toy quality factor involved with all those figures, terrain etc.

Some of the discussion made me think of the fun I had as a Runequest fanboy making up characters with specific combinations of Runespells that would do spectacular things. I do not think this is toy quality myself but could compare it to, for example, building something in lego - lego being pure toy quality IMO.


Callan S.

I'd almost describe it as real life simulationism/exploration (I'll wait to be shot down for using the term this way, though). Your just wired to enjoy exploring unusual and colorful objects in your hands (ah, buying transformer toys as an adult comes to mind, for me), your fingers automatically begin to move around them to explore the object.

Also I'm reminded of how children will pull apart a toy if it's possible. And how many adult gamers, without even playing a game, will start to pull apart the structure and replace bits. It's another exploration route.
Philosopher Gamer

Rich Forest

I like the notion.

It allows me to compare aspects of a variety of games I've played and gaming experiences I've had in a way I hadn't quite managed to do before, to see a kind of similarity in them. I'm going to start there, since I'm not sure we need to nail down a formal definition or anything already. I'm more interested in exploring a bit first. So with that in mind, here are some actual play experiences that, it seems to me, the notion of "toy quality" seems to capture something about.

Game: Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game
The game uses hex maps (1 hex = roughly 3 feet), and there are some tactical aspects of movement (not a lot, and maybe not even enough to really need a hex map to handle). We played this game for years and years, and this resulted in many, many sketched and drawn "arenas" and other environments from combats. I have a folder filled with 'em. I always had colored pencils handy, and when a fight came up that I wasn't prepared for, I'd do a really quick, rough top-down sketch of the place on a blank sheet of paper. Then I'd slap down a transparency of a hex map on top. It was a blast, and you can grab any one of those maps out of my folder (because I most definitely have kept them all), say this map of a Japanese village under heavy snow, or that map of an arena with the Shadoloo skull insignia in the center, or that other map, the one with the grass blowing in the wind, and ask me to tell you about the adventure. These physical tokens added to gameplay and provide reminders of the sessions. Sometimes we'll even pull them out and reminisce. Good times, good times, and all that.

Game: Donjon
Since I'm talking about maps, here's one where we added some toy quality to a game through mapping – when we played Donjon, we brought big sheets of art paper to the fore. Put them on the table, and grabbed minis. I sketched the outline of the cliff face (copied from the module), slapped on some cave mouths, and said, "Here you are, the Caves of Chaos!" And they entered, and we drew the map, to scale, as they moved their minis through it. There are no tactical or strategic elements to speak of in doing this, it's all about this physical thing you've created to play with, this map.

Game: D&D3
There's this guy here in Hong Kong who DM'd D&D one time. Usually he's a player in a regular game, but this time he DM'd. And while it was technically 3e, I think he would've gotten better use out of would be something like Castles and Crusades. 'Cuz he was just skipping all the details. Movement? Yeah, a rough idea is fine. Feats? What's that one do? Sure, cool, whatever.

But man oh man, did his game have toy quality. Serious toy quality. He brought tubs and tubs of Mage Knight figures. He had hundreds and hundreds of these figures. Even though he didn't pay attention to the movement rules in 3e, we used those minis all the time. And it rocked. He also had all kinds of handouts. He had all these little cards with labeled drawings of food items on them. They were our characters' rations and meals. We got to carry the cards, you know, and sometimes we'd stop at an inn and buy food and he'd randomly produce cards and say, "This is what's on the menu," and we'd buy them and get all giddy about which food items we'd gotten, and make a big show out of discarding the card when we'd eaten, and so on.

Same for encumbrance – he gave us cards to write down items there too, and had a cool sheet to put them on as tokens marking what we were carrying. And it didn't matter how big and heavy items were – an item was an item was an item and took up one slot. And it was fun to keep track of them, discard and replace when we wanted to pick up some new treasures, and so on. And there were NPC portraits. He had a full-page picture of every NPC we met. Must've had pages and pages of extras for those just in case, on the fly sort of encounters.

Aside: Game Boards, Handouts, Maps, Models
With board games, the boards sometimes are just amazing, beautiful. They can bring a lot to the game. Take Candyland. There is absolutely nothing to that game but toy quality and the thrill of pure randomness. Now I realize it's a game for young children, but plenty of adult board games aren't much more sophisticated, mechanically. The random thrill of the dice and the tokens and design of the board really dominate.

Handouts – Call of Cthulhu adventures are famously excellent when it comes to handouts. You could argue that these are as much a part of the game system as sanity points. They have been for me – I have never played the game without using handouts. A pirate map in a D&D game, or the hex map you hand to the players to map the "Isle of Dread," both of these seem to capture some of this as well.

In fact, as far as maps in general go, earlier editions of D&D might be argued to have more toy quality than tactics, in the use of maps. I mean, mapping the dungeon has always been important, but in many D&D game sessions I'll wager that the map didn't have strong tactical effects. Certainly there are socially driven tactics and creativity and knowing where to look for secret doors and so on that this could add to, and the whole routine of checking each square for traps and what-not. But we never actually did this, and I'm willing to bet we weren't the only ones.

And as for models, there's stuff like MageKnight and Clix games, and there's the collectable card games, where the game strategy is important and all that but there's a real toy quality to the figures themselves or the cards, where many people just want to have them because they're cool to play with, even ones they'll probably never use. Hell, modeling is its own whole hobby, more than one hobby even. Games Workshop is a hobby all its own, and it isn't just about the gameplay. It's also about making terrain and painting miniatures. Then there's something, even further afield from RPGs, like model trains, or those little model ships in bottles (Are those real? It seems like I've only really ever seen them on TV. Do people really make those? And if so, wow, cool!) And anything that can be a diorama, I have to admit – I want a diorama for all my games. I want a scale model of the main home of our Ars Magica covenant. I watch Heavenly Creatures and think, "Yeah, those girls really know how to party." I mean except for the murder part, of course.

Game Design: In Trouble in the Island Kingdom, drawing up the map of the island has toy quality for me. It's part of what makes the game fun, and a pretty essential part. In fact, Jonathan Walton's game from that event was also one that foregrounded toy quality. In the design of my "Street Fighter Heartbreaker," I want backgrounds, like in a sidescrolling fighter. Now it started as an idea for, "If I were doing a stripped down d20 Modern Street Fighter, what would I do?" And I thought, well, I'd flip the map on its side, of course, like this. And then I got to sketching out overlays and working out the implications and figured out a way to take that and make it the fundamental way combat worked, something else, no longer d20 at all. It's the toy quality that I'm after (as well as the obvious emulation of aspects of how the video game plays). And for that game or another one, I want to have a rule that you can bring stuff into the SIS by bringing stuff to the game. You know, you bring a stage you sketched up, "bam!" you got the narration rights to bring it in. Picture of an NPC? Bam! Tell me about him, put him in the game. Mini, prop, whatever? Bam! You brought it to the table, we'll put it in the game.

I get a smile just thinking about it.



And for that game or another one, I want to have a rule that you can bring stuff into the SIS by bringing stuff to the game. You know, you bring a stage you sketched up, "bam!" you got the narration rights to bring it in. Picture of an NPC? Bam! Tell me about him, put him in the game. Mini, prop, whatever? Bam! You brought it to the table, we'll put it in the game.
Oh man, this idea just begs to be done with LEGO...

I have to say that this aspect of toy quality is important to me. I don't think I'd be running Tekumel if it wasn't for those color maps in the original EPT (which sadly I never purchased, though I did manage to get one of the maps). I've always had a fondness for Judge's Guild's Wilderlands of High Fantasy. Give me a cool map, and I'll figure out a way to use it (I had a grand old time running a RuneQuest session using the dungeon side of the free poster the Dundjinni folks were handing out at Origins and GenCon). I love minis, though I no longer have time to paint them.

Frank Filz

Ben Lehman

Hi everyone!  Thanks for the thoughts.  I think we're still in "flailing around for a definition mode."  With the help of some of the folks in IRC (Thomas, can you post the logs somewhere) I think I've been able to come to a reasonable definition of the term.

"The characteristics of a role-playing game which are fun regardless of their relation to the SIS."

A few notes:

This definition is unspeakably broad.  I know it.  The whole thing is going to need to be taken apart and analysed and cut into the little pieces before we can have any grasp on it.  What are some ways to cut it up into more bite-sized chunks?

This definition is also subjective.  Of course!  Things some people find fun are not things that other people find fun.  I'm not sure about how to handle this, except that there are clearly things that very few people find fun, and there might be some other way of classifying things.

Does it extend to props?  This is a tough one, 'cause when you play with props absent a formal role-playing situation it seems to me that you still have some imagined space going on.  That said, there are aesthetics and appreciation elements.

We still haven't answered, at least to my satisfaction, what effect having a high toy quality has on gameplay, other than that some people (like me) like it, some people (like Rich) really like it, and some people don't like it.  I think that there can be more said about this.



I think that the answer to Ben's main question, "What does Toy Quality do?"  I think we have to understand what makes an RPG different from other types of games.  I don't understand this yet, so I'm going to use the term "RPG-ness" to mean whatever quality makes a game an RPG instead of just a game.  Games with lots of Toy Quality are good in a different way than games with low Toy Quality but high RPG-ness.  I consider Primetime Adventures to be such a game (low TQ/high RPG-ness), and I love to play it.

That said, I think that since Toy Quality is a different kind of good it should be included wherever possible.  That is, if you can give your game higher amounts of Toy Quality without sacrificing it's RPG-ness then you should.  The game will be better for it in every case.

Of course, then the real trick is figuring out what RPG-ness is, and then figuring out what degree of RPG-ness degredation you're willing to accept for some degree of Toy Quality.


p.s.  For those with the time, I have rough-cut the IRC logs in which Toy Theory discussion occurs.  You may find them">here.  Be warned, there is a lot of it...
Current projects: Caper, Trust and Betrayal, The Suburban Crucible

M. J. Young

Quote from: Rich ForestThen there's something, even further afield from RPGs, like model trains, or those little model ships in bottles (Are those real? It seems like I've only really ever seen them on TV. Do people really make those? And if so, wow, cool!)
Um--yes, actually. They're popular in New England, and I've known a couple people who did one just for the sake of having done it.

The entire model is constructed outside the bottle. The masts lie flat on the deck of the ship, hinged at the bottom. The hull and crossbeams are sized to fit through the neck. Once it is fully constructed, the body is carefully passed through the neck, the masts lying down and pointed into the bottle, and threads attached to these carefully managed. One at a time, the masts are pulled into an upright position, and the threads glued to the edge of the neck of the bottle. Then the threads are cut so they don't hang out. It takes a very steady hand and a good eye, as mistakes can be fatal to the model.

In my first years as a DM I had this crazy idea. I happened to have a lot of sheets of three inch by eleven inch paper. As I created scrolls as part of treasure lots, I would take a sheet of paper, write at the top who could read it (e.g., "Requires Read Magic", "Can be read by anyone", "Curse takes effect on opening"), write the name of the spell or scroll in the middle, and then roll it up and tape it. I kept these in a Dr. Scholl's sandals shoebox (the box slid into the cover like a drawer), and would hand the real scrolls to the players when they found them in the dungeon. I would put a note on the outside of the scroll indicating where it was or would be found, so I could identify them without breaking the tape.

It very quickly proved unmanageable. I had to pack up all the scrolls at the end of the session, which meant I had to figure out which were whose when we returned. Also, I had to search through the box for each scroll when it was discovered. I don't know how much it added to the fun for the players (they never said anything about it), but I'm not sure the complications were worth the benefits.

Sometimes toy factor has to be balanced against other issues, I think.

--M. J. Young