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The same page tool has been mentioned on this site and I would like to use it if needed. The problem is that I'm not entirely sure what the purpose of the tool is. My first impression was that this was to be filled out by the group so that people could vote on what type of game we all want to play and compromise for any split votes. However the website specifically says not to do this ("DO NOT use this as a survey").

Confused by this I looked at some examples he gives. I've played Mouse Guard once so I know that the answers he gives for it are the only correct answers for Mouse Guard. He then uses Primetime Adventures stating that it is a flexible system and has multiple answers to most questions.

Then there's this paragraph:

Be aware that different games will have different answers. Different campaigns will have different answers. For example, I've personally played D&D with all but one of the answers below.

Based on this quote and his examples my understanding is that a system has a fixed set of correct answers (deviating from these would be homebrew/house rules but potentially possible), more universal systems may have every answer to every question. Additionally he mentions "a lot of game texts leave crucial things out" which indicates that ideally a game system would tell you in the rule books what the answers are (which is also supported by this answer).

The thing that really confuses me is the "Choose the Ideal Options for Play" section which seems to contradict the "this is not a survey" instruction.

So what is this tool supposed to be used for?

  • This tool is intended to examine a system. There are a fixed set of answers. If a question has multiple answers then do not choose one of them even if the question doesn't allow multiple answers: multiple answers must be accepted. These answered can't be changed by your GM, campaign, or circumstances. Any deviation from these answers means that you are not playing the system as it was intended.
  • This tool is intended to help a group decide on what they want from the game they will play. It is to be used as a survey, people will look at the possible answers and vote on which one they want. After all answers have been picked and the GM agrees to run a game accordingly, a system will be picked (ignoring what the system was intended for), a campaign will be made, and the game can get started.
  • Something else... Since the other options (although dedicated to a specific purpose) are both contradicted by the website.
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How you use it

The Same Page Tool is designed to help avoid social conflict. It does so by setting players' expectations about the game.

The Same Page Tool advocates that you answer the questions in the context of a particular game that you or the group chooses ahead of time. (Note that "group" includes the GM.) You answer the questions based on the play style that the game/campaign/etc. is designed for. You can do this as a group discussion, or the GM can do it ahead of time. Either way, the answers are put before the group before play starts. This discussion with the group is the crucial stage: it's at this point that you find out whether your players' expectations match the game or not. Your aim is to find out if any players are uncomfortable with the basic elements of how this game is supposed to be played, and if everyone is reasonably comfortable with the elements, then to get agreement within the group about what the basics are.

When a game supports multiple play styles, a single one needs to be selected for this play through. This gives members of the group a chance to raise concerns or discomfort with the idea before play starts. It's fine to change an answer based on your groups' feedback, as long as the group can come to an agreement.

For example, you might find out that your most inexperienced player is extremely uncomfortable with the idea that there may be conflict within the party. Or you might find out that one person so badly wants intra-party conflict that they don't want to play a game that doesn't foster it. These expectations may or may not match the game in question.

Once you have a better understanding of whether your group's expectations match what the game is designed for and whether they are comfortable with it, the group can make decisions based off that information. Some possible outcomes:

  • You all decide you would like to try the game, given that it's designed for this certain play style.
  • You all decide you want a different game with a play style that more matches the group's expectations. (You should go through the Same Page Tool again with whatever new game you choose.)
  • One player decides they don't want to try the play style of this game and decides to sit it out.
  • One or two players are hesitant, and the group as a whole decides to play a different game more in line with their expectations.
  • You find out that the entire group has such different expectations and doesn't actually want to play the same type of game. So you give up on playing as a group to avoid the social conflicts that will most likely result.

This is not an exhaustive list, but all of these outcomes are perfectly acceptable.

The point of doing all this is so that you don't get halfway through the game and get into an argument about whether the GM is allowed to override RAW for a particular situation. Or worse yet, a friendship ends because one player decides to backstab another in an "every man for himself" style game. By going through this tool, everyone knows before the game starts whether that's expected or whether it's out of the question for this game. Its purpose is to serve as an aid in keeping the peace at the table or prevent the game from ever starting if it's going to create social conflict.

As a side benefit, it also helps us be understanding that not everyone has the same preferences in their games, and it helps us accept that that's okay and people with different tastes don't have to play together.

Should you use it?

That's up to you and your group. Has the make up of your group changed (newly formed, new members, members left)? Do different members of the group like different play styles? Does the group want to try new play styles? Does your group argue about GM decisions? Do in game conflicts result in real life resentment? "Yes"es to the preceding questions might be good reasons to try it out, but only you and your group can determine if you experience social conflicts or if it actually helps with them. It's perfectly fine if you just want to try it out to see what the effect in your group is, of course.

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From how it's described by the Author and the quote about not using as a survey I believe there is only 1 intended use: To have all involved know what "Game" they are playing.

Meaning as a group or the GM, you fill out the answers and play that game.

As the examples state, if you sit down to play "Cards" you can't play Solitaire with bit of Texas Hold'em mixed in. Just as in RPGs, you can't have player characters "expected to work together; conflicts between them are mostly for show" with a bit of player characters "pursuing their own agendas – they might work together, they might work against each other" mixed in. It can work, but most likely it will not and it's not the game that was agreed upon.

I think the mention about the specific RPGs is in there to make note that if you want to play a particular "Game" then maybe your RPG of choice isn't the right RPG for the "Game" you want to play. When there's only rules for combat and you want a to play a "Social" game, then don't play that RPG for that "Game" pick something that better suited and has the rules for the type of "Game" you or your group want to play.

Relevant Quote from The Same Page Tool:

The point is to create a clear picture of what this game is, NOT attempt to mash together different playstyles – this has not worked very well over 30 years of the hobby.

I take this to mean that according to the tool DO NOT mash together or compromise. It happens, a lot, but it mostly hasn't worked for this history of RPGs so if you want a tool that works as intended, then don't make a Game that tries to do more.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also relevant, but not as part of the answer: I am an individual who can play almost any play-style and enjoy it. But I'm probably the exception and everyone's view point is different. If 2 players have both play the same edition of D&D for 5 years in their own groups, there's a major possibility that if one joined the others group, that there will be conflict. If one is used to going off on their own and the group does not, then there's conflict. BUT if you use this Tool (as intended) then it will hopefully eliminate these unnecessary conflicts before they even come up. \$\endgroup\$ – John Grabanski Dec 27 '16 at 20:47
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It's a small group dynamics aid

Put succinctly, regarding your three options, the answer isn't either / or, it's "all of the above."

The Same Page Tool's(SPT) purpose is to try and codify small group dynamics for the subset of human activity called Role Playing Games. It's a worthy attempt.

"Getting on the same page" is a turn of phrase describing how a team, or any group of people, proceeds to agree on a goal or objective.

Since a primary goal of games is to have fun, the SPT was presented as a way to help a given group at a given table remove obstacles to fun before a game starts. Regardless of whether that tool is used, or some other consensus building tool, any small group will go through the usual stages of group/team formation: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing(FNSP)

That FSNP model is a long understood process for how a small group, or a team, evolves to get the best out of its efforts toward a common purpose. The SPT's purpose is to aid in that process for the express purpose of enjoying Role Playing Games.

It's not the rifle, it's the marksman

Regardless of how good that tool, or any other tool, is reported to be it still boils down to the given group of people at the given table to establish their norms for that activity. For some groups, that particular tool won't do it. For others, it will be a great aid. Not every person who sits down for an RPG will be interested in that depth of analysis. It may, inadvertently, drive some gamers away from a given table if someone at that table is determined that this "is the tool for the job." Perhaps that is a secondary function: a screening tool.

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The point of the tool is to make sure that:

  1. between the moment a game is selected and the moment play starts,
  2. everyone comes to a collective agreement as to how the game will be played.

"Before you start a campaign, either the GM or the group as a whole should sit down and look at this list, and pick the ideal options for this game" (emphasis mine) – this strongly implies that the game has already been selected.

From A Way Out which is linked to from The Same Page Tool: "...for roleplaying, the key problem is a majority of the rules sets aren’t actually games. They give you rules to put scores to characters, resolve some fictional events but no larger picture. It’s like having numbers, faces and suits on cards- useful tools, but doesn’t actually organize what makes the game. What are the roles of the players? What is the goal of play? What is the intended play experience?"

The Same Page Tool is predicated on the notion that the rules alone are not enough to run a satisfying game. The players need to discuss how they want to play the game, and come to clear consensus so everyone's expectations for play are aligned.

The questions in the Same Page Tool are the start point for that discussion: "Talk about which choices fit and which ones do not and why."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 I found the quote from "A Way Out" particularly useful in understanding the point. However I feel like "preventing social conflict" is the correct answer. \$\endgroup\$ – SkySpiral7 Jan 2 '17 at 19:24
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The tool is intended for 2 different purposes but the website doesn't explain the possible processes. I can see these possible use cases:

We want to play X

  1. The system is already decided to be X.
  2. The same page tool is used to evaluate X. The correct answers for X are chosen.
  3. If the system allows multiple answers where the question does not then the group decides which answer to use.
  4. Once all answers have been decided a campaign is made and the game can get started.

We want to play a game with certain answers

  1. The answers to the same page tool are decided based on what the group wants.
  2. Multiple systems are found that allow for these answers.
  3. One of those systems is decided upon.
  4. A campaign is made and the game can get started.

Whether your group is experienced enough to be able to play any game or no one in your group has played anything before, you'll always start with either a specific system or a set of answers. How you determine the initial system or answers is up to you. It is possible for the GM to decide each thing or have the players vote.

Both of these use cases involve using the tool to determine fixed answers for the system but also allow using the tool as a survey. For the second use case (starting with answers) it is acceptable to "have people fill these out separately then compare" which is also acceptable for the first use case (starting with a system) only if everyone knows which answers the system doesn't allow. Alternatively it is acceptable to have the GM fill out the whole thing so that there is no survey (although this could cause a bad GM to force a certain game that the players don't want).

This is the best I can come up with in order to account for the contradicting statements on the website. And after typing this answer out I'm more confident that I have the correct understanding of the intention. However I may be wrong so I need to allow time for other answers before accepting this as the answer. Likewise this answer needs at least 1 up-vote before it can be accepted in order to ensure that people agree with my understanding.

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The Same Page Tool is meant to remind you, as the GM, that you need to establish ground rules for your campaign before the game starts. Otherwise your players will make up their own techniques for (eg) how to manage interparty conflict, and they might be upset when different players use different techniques.

In my games, I don't explicitly print out the Same Page Tool and fill in checkboxes. But I do have a little "About This Campaign" web document which answers the same sorts of questions -- like, what sorts of roleplaying am I expecting from you, how much of the plot will be player-generated vs DM-generated, and how will we handle interparty conflict if it happens. I send my players a link to that before the game and it seems to help.

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Largely the second answer -- it's a survey -- but mostly "something else" in that the tool should be seen as just an advisory questionnaire to determine preferred play styles, not some kind of constitutional foundation for your game group. If I were using these questions, I'd take the survey methodology of phrasing each answer as a statement then a scale from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree".

Personally, my answer to almost all of these is "it depends". Any decent GM has to accommodate differing play styles, and any experienced player has to be flexible: sometimes you're telling an epic story for the ages, sometimes you're just rolling dice around the beer bottles. Both are great fun.

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