18
\$\begingroup\$

As Potato is a single page game, here it is:

Rules for the one-page RPG called 'Potato'

Potato was mentioned in this question as an example of a one page RPG, and the objection was raised in the comments there that it wasn't an RPG. My question here is not about the closure of that question in particular, but rather more generally, is Potato an RPG, or are questions about Potato off topic for our stack?

\$\endgroup\$
7
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Related: What kind of questions can I ask here? \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil Mod
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 13:16
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ Despite being labeled an RPG, I'm not seeing much room for actual roleplaying... \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage Mod
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 13:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage I started writing a reply to your comment, but then I converted it into an answer \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 13:46
  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ I've got to wonder if that orc-score line has a typo: "if your ORCS score reaches 0..." but it starts at zero? Does the game insta-end the moment it starts? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 14:16
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Po-ta-to: answer 'em, ask em, review 'em from the queue \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 20:20
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60: Yeah, "if there are no orcs, the orcs kill you", seems pretty clearly a typo. It's clear that potatoes counteract orcs by removing them, making fewer orcs better, so the loss condition should almost certainly be 10 Orcs. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 11:08
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 it is a typo, the author even says so in the (in the original question) link to twitter. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 11:29

8 Answers 8

16
\$\begingroup\$

The author clearly intended Potato to be played as an RPG.

1,000 potatoes is a heap.

A premise I hope we can all agree on. I've had a successful harvest, locked myself underground, and the orcs are none the wiser. Just me and 1,000 potatoes in a heap on the larder floor. Each day I eat one of my potatoes. If 1,000 potatoes is a heap, certainly 999 is as well. Each day my heap of potatoes shrinks, and yet each day it continues to be a heap. But then comes the last day, the 1000th day of my respite from orcs and farming and the world. I've one last potato, but something has happened. I do not have a heap any more. Thinking back to yesterday, I had two potatoes - still not a heap. Somewhere between my first day and my last day, my heap stopped being a heap.

This problem is the well known Sorites paradox, classically formulated using grains of sand instead of taters. It seems that Potato the game is riding that unknowable line between heap and not a heap. Obviously, a game like Pathfinder is an RPG - a heap of potatoes. And in comparison, Potato has taken some potatoes from the heap. It only has one role to play, the hobbit, and it is a solo game, so cooperation with other players has been taken out. But surely these two potatoes (choice of role and cooperative play) are not the essence of an RPG.

So what's missing? I've seen some arguments made in comments that other games that are obviously not RPGs could add some number of elements and be as much an RPG as Potato (arguing "not an RPG"). Maybe, except the authors of those games didn't do that. Yes it's simple, no there aren't a lot of mechanical choices given. But complexity and diversity of choice are not requirements for being an RPG (as though there were some objective standard), and the author clearly intends it to be played as an RPG (they wrote RPG in the game's header).

So let's not have an identity crisis as a stack by trying to put to paper exactly what we think an RPG is supposed to be. There is already an epidemic in our hobby of smuggling expectations built on popular games like D&D into smaller, less known games. Potato subverts our expectations of what an RPG is, but the author clearly intended it to be played as one.

Potato is a heap.

\$\endgroup\$
2
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ This answer would be improved if it were edited to say either "yes, because..." or "no, because..." or even "it's not worth spending time thinking about this question, because...". I understand that your second through fourth paragraphs contain an answer to the question, but I don't think your bolded header "1000 potatoes is a heap" is a helpful answer. I also feel like, if someone did feel strongly that potato game was off-topic, answering them with "1000 potatoes is a heap" would leave them feeling that you weren't taking them seriously. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 16:15
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The sorites paradox discussion here is irrelevant. The fact that there is a chain of modifications, each of which is relatively minor, but when added up would be sufficient to transform Potato into something that is obviously an RPG is irrelevant. This argument can be made for a large number of boardgames. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 18:09
4
\$\begingroup\$

The role you play in Potato is

'A Hobbit just trying to exist'.

In other similar games you might play someone who is Trapped in a Cabin with Lord Byron.

These are all roles, you just pick them at the same time as the game. You can tell stories about how the game went afterwards in the same way you can any other game here.

So yes, the 'role' aspect is constrained, and the 'game' part may not give many/any choices but I'd still say it's an RPG and therefore on-topic.

\$\endgroup\$
4
\$\begingroup\$

You don't need other players or a very open ruleset to roleplay

At their core, Roleplay Games are what the name implies : games where you play the role of a character in a story. Whether that game is freeform or limited by strict rules, whether you're playing it in a group or alone, and even if you're the one telling the story or not, you're still playing the role of your character.

In that sense, I believe Potato is a RPG. The rules do not give much room for choices, in opposition to the usual RPGs, but you're still playing the game of "getting in the character and playing out a story.

Of course, you can just play out the mechanical aspect of it and reduce it to "roll dice, resolve, repeat". But isn't that the same with other, more common RPGs?

\$\endgroup\$
5
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ I could do the same thing with Monopoly. Doesn't make Monopoly a role-playing game. Indeed, what game actually fails to be a role-playing game, when viewed in this way? \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 1:45
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Novak that's a fair point. However, the base game of Monopoly, or at least the version I've played in the past, did not include anything to build roleplay upon. If there was a version of Monopoly that built on characters and other background and story elements, allowing for actual roleplay, I'd consider it a Roleplay Game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 5:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do agree that the line is quite blurry though, which could make telling which questions are worth asking and which are not pretty difficult. But in the case of Potato, I see it as a game in which events are fixed, but it's up to you to roleplay them in any way you'd like and create the story from those events. So it definitely fits the definition in my view. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 5:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ "getting in the character and playing out a story": So questions about Shakespeare would be on topic, too? I mean it has zero choices and no "rules", but people do get into character and play out the story quite often. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nvoigt I think a clear limit can be put between a fixed, written story, and a game with multiple, randomly determined events tracing a new story each time. My argument isn't "anything with roleplay can be a RPG", of course that's wrong (or at least I believe that's wrong, feel free to tell me if you believe I'm wrong on that). My argument is "any game with roleplay can be a RPG". \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 14:29
2
\$\begingroup\$

By certain definitions it's not an RPG but we don't really have a stack for what it is so its best home is here.

You can call them "journaling games", like The Quiet Year or How to Host a Dungeon or Sweaters By Hedgehog or Thousand-Year Old Vampire. The dice or other randomizers are there more as an oracle for a randomized future and your mechanical hooks of play are limited.

The point of the game is to run the randomizer to some end point and experience the events and maybe create an artifact of your own, like the namesake journal or some kind of hand-drawn map.

"Using a setup and a random progression to prompt stitching together a story in your own head" is the core feature here, and an activity a lot of more traditional RPGs also have a place for. While it can and does happen deliberately or incidentally in the board game or video game spaces, it's very rare to see a board game or video game where the entire point is just to get a setup and random progression and put the story together in your own head.

All of the games I listed in the first paragraph don't really section themselves off from more traditional RPGs in any kind of commercial space, and of the available stacks people who have played tabletop RPGs are the most likely to have the experiences needed to read and understand the rules.

\$\endgroup\$
4
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ "we don't really have a stack for what it is so its best home is here." I mean, if it's not an RPG, it's certainly a board game, and we do have a stack for that \$\endgroup\$
    – willuwontu
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 19:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @willuwontu "using a setup and a random progression to prompt stitching together a story in your own head" can sometimes be a feature of board games, but it's not as core to board games as it is to RPGs. It's almost never the central point of playing a board game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Glazius
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 19:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, most definitely, I agree that it's an RPG. I was just pointing out that if it wasn't one, it is a board game, and there's a stack for it. \$\endgroup\$
    – willuwontu
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 19:48
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ We don't need to have a home for everything. Just because there is no other SE where it would be on topic does not automatically mean it is on topic here, because we are the closest match. It is perfectly possible for a topic to not have an SE to talk about it at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 13:47
0
\$\begingroup\$

Is a game book on-topic?

Nobody would claim that many of the game books are not at least in some way RPGs. You read a page, decide a path, read the next. On the way, you take notes and choose what items to carry around with you and finally meet one of the ends. You take the role of the protagonist of the story, you play his role and it's a game. A game book is pretty much the watershed area between a simple book where you watch the narrative unfold and a full-fledged RPG like Pathfinder or Rats or the World of Darkness. Or to say it with Thomas Markov's analogy: a Game Book is somewhere at the edge where a heap becomes just a couple of potatoes on the floor. Is the game book 5 or 10 or 100? I don't know, that might be book-dependent!

Potatoes is the essence of a game book

Game books prescribe exactly what happens. Potato prescribes exactly what happens. Where's the difference? There's actually three:

  • The Game Book has tons of text, Potato is the essence.
  • Potato is entirely dice-driven.
  • On a technicality, Potato uses the engine of a Zero-Player Game, as there is no choice in what event happens. The only choice is in when to cancel orcs with potatoes.

However, Potato does offer all the choice of the player in how to narrate it: Who is the visitor you hide from in the potato sack? Is that wizard trying to meet you wearing grey robes or is he all decked out in gold necklaces and armed with a boombox? That's up to the player!

In some regards, Potato is more strict than a game book, but it is much more about playing your role than game books, so... it is more of an RPG than game books!

\$\endgroup\$
-1
\$\begingroup\$

No, not on topic for RPGSE.

It's a game of solitaire where you roll dice and see what happens. Calling this an RPG is a stretch at best.
It's about roll playing, not role playing.
This could be fun on a long bus or plane trip, though, and help to pass the time.

\$\endgroup\$
7
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Unless I missed something, literally the only choice to be made here is when and how many times to cancel orcs with potatoes. If someone with more time on their hands than me could figure out the optimal strategy (and I strongly suspect there is one), this would not only not be a role-playing game, it would not even really be a game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 5:51
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Novak: I thought about this too, but game is "an activity that one engages in for amusement or fun" (I guess that would also cover many other things, like reading a book, depending on how you read "activity"), and "a complete episode or period of play, ending in a final result" so it is very wide, and I think would include something like this. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 6:49
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin I don't want to get too far into the weeds on the definition of a game-- there are other questions that do that, and if we need to d it again, it should happen in a well-advertised and visible question, not tucked away here. That said, I believe strongly that definitions should be crafted to good effect. We should not declare all recreational activities to be games, because then watching TV is a game. We should not declare all games in which one could conceivably graft an imaginary role-playing element on to as RPGs, because then chess is an RPG. And those are absurd. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 8:30
  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ The Forge saw experts spend multiple years on the question of "what is a TRPG?" and found that for any set of criteria, a game could be offered that was undoubtedly a TRPG but did not meet that criteria, or met that criteria but was undoubtedly not a TRPG (because it was Monopoly or something). For example, My Life With Master was designed to challenge the idea that a TRPG must be enjoyable and prove that's not necessarily true. I doubt we'll come up with a successful set of criteria here either. What we do know is "I'll know it when I see it" works fairly well. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 13:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I am aware of the never ending problem of definitions, but in this case I feel that the KISS principle applies, given that it's a one pager. I also think that it's got the potential to be fun, and have a long car trip today which might offer a great opportunity to test it out. 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 14:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Novak No-Player-Games exist. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Sep 10, 2022 at 11:47
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @trish I dispute their status as games in any but the most tortured sense of academic exploration. And even if I accepted them, I would not accept them as role-playing games in any sense at all, any more than I would a two-state Markov model. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Commented Sep 10, 2022 at 19:15
-3
\$\begingroup\$

As I said on the question... that is not a game. A game is defined by actors making decisions.

Any length of text is not a game. You read it. It's a book. Only when it includes a decision making process like a choose-your-own-adventure, it becomes a game, because you have now become an actor with agency.

Any video is not a game. You watch it. It's a movie. Unless it becomes very a different movie every time the player makes a decision. Then we call it a video game.

A deck of playing cards is not a game. Until you define rules how and when to make decisions and what consequences those decisions have, then it becomes a card game.

Potatoes has no in-game decisions. It has a single decision to make, and you can make that decision without any context, even before starting the game. You could even say it is not a real decision, because there is a mathematical optimization and you can make a good decision or a bad decision, but again, you can calculate that beforehand with no uncertainty.

It also contains no role playing. Someone said you can play it out. Yes. You can. It is not explicitely forbidden by the rules. But is that really our argument why it is an RPG? Because R is not explicitely forbidden? I could claim that doing my math homework on the bus on my way to school is an RPG. The teacher never said I was forbidden to roleplay and I think my elven x² was level 3 by the time the bus stopped.

We have pretty clear lines here. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure are not roleplaying by our standards. Games like Hero Quest are not roleplaying. Why? Because while you certainly can roleplay (and roleplayers probably will), they do not contain any material to do so.

So no. It is neither a game, nor roleplaying. So I don't see why it should be on topic here.

\$\endgroup\$
16
  • \$\begingroup\$ The only thing I"ll disagree with is your pointing out that it isn't a game: there is enough uncertainty (which of three outcomes will be the result? destiny/rest/in the orc's cook pot?) that one has to play (solitaire) to find out. The play is rolling the dice and seeing what happens. So I think it's a game, but there's no role play element, and thus agree that it is not on topic here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 12:35
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast To me, neither dice rolling, nor uncertainty make something a game. Decision making (aka player input) is. If you had an app on your phone, where you can make exactly 2 decisions: resume, or pause. Would you consider that a game? You cannot influence what happens, you can only watch while it unfolds. That is not a game. That is a simulation at best. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 13:00
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Candyland is a game, all you do is draw cards and follow the instructions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast True, Candyland is entirely deterministic. Once the color deck is shuffled and the order of turn determined, the outcome is set. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 10:26
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Well, I guess it depends on which definition you follow. If you look into a dictionary, anything that you do for fun is a "game". Peek-a-boo is a game. Building a fort from your couch cushions is a game. I hope we go with a more mature definition of "game", where a game actually needs certain elements, not just "this is fun for my age". \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 10:46
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ My bottom line agreement with you is reflected in my answer to the question: not an RPG. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 13:39
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "I hope we go with a more mature definition of "game"" which is? And who determines it? \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 9:36
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Lets put it this way: lying on my bed and binge watching randomly shuffled Game of Thrones episodes for me does not qualify as a "game". Is it fantasy? Yes. Can I identify with a character, even act their role while the are on screen? Yes. Are events randomly unfolding while I observe them? Yes. Still, not a game. Just me watching TV. Why? No agency. No player input. The events unfold when I press "yes, I'm still watching", with no choices of my own. So for me, player agency is central to the definition of a game. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 11:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If you started a computer game and it would show the same random patterns, no matter what keys you press, that would not be a game, would it? It would be a video or maybe a screensaver, but certainly not a game. It only becomes a game when it reacts to you in any meaningful way. I would say that is common sense/common understanding of the word "game" where gaming enthusiasts are concerned. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 11:15
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ While it's generally agreed that games do have to have agency, this answer is taking too strict an interpretation of what counts as agency. That many may consider Yahtzee, Candyland, and indeed Potatoes to be games and feel agency engaging in them is quite an interesting case study on that, is it not? You're drawing an analogy to a process you can merely pause or resume, but such a process is not equivalent: this process is different to these games and that gap between them should be taken on as food for thought. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 12:05
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Well, I cannot argue with feelings, especially not when they are factually incorrect. A question about reefing your main sail is still off-topic on cars.SE, even if in that persons feelings, they feel like they own a car. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 13:20
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @nvoigt If you're playing the facts vs feelings card here, you're playing the wrong conversational game. Many aspects of game development come down to how people feel: all the facts in the world won't make a game fun if it doesn't feel fun once you play it, for example. Players feeling they have agency is an important factor for consideration in what counts as a game, and I'm trying to draw your attention to that by the examples on exhibit here that are considered games. It is a fact people feel agency, and that's important. This suggests your framework is incomplete or inaccurate. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 13:30
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Well, again, I cannot argue with feelings. If people feel that potatoes is on topic... there is no basis for any argument here and voting comes down to what you feel is correct. Sadly, a topic we have visited before: Those up/down arrows were never meant to express feelings. But they are. Some things never change, no matter how much I'd like them to. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 13:37
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @nvoigt "Facts vs. feelings" is a bit of an odd angle to take on meta, especially for this question. "What is an RPG, to us, for the purposes of our stack?" seems quite clearly to be a question that is determined constructively by the community, and we are not beholden to any external standard when answering that question. The "fact" is that one perspective has been overwhelmingly better received than all the others offered, and the "feeling" is that you don't like that perspective. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 15:49
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Chutes and Ladders is a game without any player agency. You have to roll, you have to move, you have to follow the chute or ladder. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 7:28
-5
\$\begingroup\$

This is close enough to be on topic

What makes a role playing game1?

  • you can imagine yourself to be one of the acting characters (check)
  • there are rules, it is not just free-form improv (check)
  • players have agency to make meaningful decisions (fail)

Potato is a game of solitaire dice rolling painted with a veneer of Tolkien. The near entire lack of meaningful decision making is why it fails as a role-playing game for me. Like in the childrens game "Tempo, little snail", the player has next to no influence on the eventual outcome, the game plays itself. With goodwill, you can consider the "Hurling in the back garden" mechanic to save the game from failing entirely on this count (even if there is an optimal strategy, which is very likely, the player may not know it or need to follow it).

However, I do think this is not a reason to close the question as off-topic. There are many questions on the site that are only tangentially related to the hobby of role-playing games, for example there are many questions about the statistical probabilities of dice rolls, that one could argue could belong on a statistics wiki. And while the community has drawn some explicit division lines around shopping questions or computer role-playing games, minigames is not one of them. I feel we can be more welcoming and inclusive in our scoping than to ban a question on a game like this, that overlaps in many ways with kind of games we enjoy discussing.


1 Play-acting is not essential to role playing games, role playing in an interacting world is. A lot of other things like rolling dice, the fantasy, horror or sci-fi genres are often also associated with role playing games, and are likewise not essential to the nature of the activity.

There are games without game masters, like the choose-your-own adventure books that can in the wider sense considered role playing games. You still imagine to be the main character, use rules (following the prearranged decision graph and sometimes simple mechanics to resolve fights), and make meaningful decisions at each node where you can choose one of serveral courses of action.

\$\endgroup\$
7
  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with your reasoning/criteria in what makes an RPG. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 8:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage Thank you for the explanation! (As my answer has two areas to disagree with; one could also disagree with the notion that your question still is in scope, even if not strictly an RPG). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 8:14
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ As described above, I disagree with your definitions of game and RPG in this context. This barely qualifies as a game. What does confuse me, though, is the downvotes here vs the upvotes on some other answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 9:04
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I really don't like downvoting, and since I mostly agree with you it seems excessive, but I do disagree with your second criteria, the necessity of rules. You even cite free-form improv as an example of "not roleplaying", which I would consider a fairly definite example thereof. The other two criteria seem useful and accurate, though - characters to play and player agency. Do I argue that children playing mommy and daddy are roleplaying? Yes, yes I do. \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sacrificing a potato to get rid of orcs can be a meaningful decision: you might have 9 potatoes and 9 orcs: you sacrifice impending win but delay impending loss. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Sep 10, 2022 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish, yes, that is true. You may even want to do it earlier when it is still cheaper, to help you reach 10 destiny. I‘ve not worked out the optimal strategy but I suspect doing that might be even better. At least it‘s not obvious, and so as you say, can be a meaningful decision, at any point in the game \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 10, 2022 at 16:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Novak I have the same confusion. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2022 at 12:32

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .