2005-01-23 : Archive 161
I I E E
Explaining why IIEE is called IIEE is more work than explaining what IIEE means. I'm'a do the latter here and save the former for comments, if anybody asks.
I understand from somewhere that there's a rule in improv acting: don't block. Blocking is when somebody says something and you say "actually, no." Instead, when somebody says something, it becomes publically owned, but inviolable; you may build on it, even transform it, own it, but you don't get to deny it.
It should be easy to see how this rule helps to keep things working. If people have yay-or-nay over each others' ideas, every new contribution is a question, and we have to spend time and effort answering it before we can move on. Instead of contributing with confidence, you contribute with a question mark at the end. How should I treat others' contributions? "No blocking" provides an easy, reliable answer. You don't have to think about it, you can pay your attention instead to coming up with contributions of your own.
(Combine with a turn-taking rule, an understanding of conflict, and a one-minute discussion up front about what we're trying to say - or polling scene elements from the audience - and you have a functional improv system. Or so I'm given to understand.)
"No blocking" is IIEE.
RPG rules are allowed to be more complicated than improv theater rules - in fact, they have to be, because they stand in for practice and rehearsal. Furthermore, when you're acting, said means said and done means done, but when you're narrating, you can take things back or revise them before you really commit. So no surprise, RPGs approach how should I treat others' contributions in a wide range of ways. "No blocking" becomes "what may I, what may I not, block? How much of another's contribution is blockable, how much is sacrosanct? Under what circumstances? How do I know when and which?"
But go to your game shelf and you'll find that very few games give you explicit guidelines. Even the best games, even the games I love. They say things like "when somebody's character does something and the outcome is uncertain..." and leave the real design work to you. Consider this example:
I say, "I crack the safe."
Can you say, "before you even notice the safe..."?
Can you say, "before you even get started..."?
Can you say, "okay, you're there spinning the dial and listening through the stethoscope, but before you even get the first tumbler..."?
Or do you have to say, "okay, you've opened the safe, and then..."?
Each of the possible answers, notice, is a different level of blocking. The first, you've blocked me altogether. The second, you've granted me my character's impulse, but blocked any action on her part. The third, you've granted me my character's action, but you've blocked the outcome. And the fourth, you haven't blocked anything.
Anyhow, go to your game shelf and choose a game. Does it tell you which you can say, under what circumstances? Probably not. Probably it leaves it up to you and your group to work out. Probably, worse, it leaves it to your GM to decide, on a case by case basis, without even mentioning that it's a decision to make.
See how bad that sucks? What if the GM instinctively says "before you even notice the safe..." to actions he doesn't like, and "okay, you're spinning the dial..." to actions he does like? He's privileging not just the actions he likes - he's privileging the players' contributions he likes. He's using an invisible, unaccountable power to force the game to go his way. Instead of being a fellow collaborator, he's the unspoken director.
Even co-GMed play without clearly defined IIEE has problems, just like an improv troupe would have without "no blocking." Every contribution ends in a question mark! When I say "I crack the safe," I don't know what I've contributed. Have I contributed an outcome? Action? Have I even contributed my character's impulse to do so? We have to decide, anew, every time.
1. On 2005-01-23, Ben Lehman said:
2. On 2005-01-23, Ben Lehman said:
3. On 2005-01-23, Matt said:
4. On 2005-01-23, Chris said:
5. On 2005-01-23, Vincent said:
6. On 2005-01-24, Matt said:
7. On 2005-01-24, Matt said:
8. On 2005-01-24, Vincent said:
9. On 2005-01-24, Vincent said:
10. On 2005-01-24, Matt said:
11. On 2005-01-24, Chris said:
12. On 2005-01-24, Vaxalon said:
13. On 2005-01-24, Vincent said:
14. On 2005-01-24, Matt said:
15. On 2005-01-24, TonyLB said:
16. On 2005-01-24, Chris said:
17. On 2005-01-24, Matt said:
18. On 2005-01-25, Eric F. said:
19. On 2005-01-25, Vincent said:
20. On 2005-01-25, Ninja Hunter J said:
21. On 2005-01-25, Vincent said:
22. On 2005-01-25, Matt said:
23. On 2005-01-25, Ninja Hunter J said:
24. On 2005-01-28, ScottM said:
25. On 2005-01-31, Vaxalon said:
26. On 2005-01-31, Chris said:
27. On 2005-02-01, Emily Care said:
28. On 2005-02-01, Eric Finley said:
29. On 2005-02-01, Chris said: