2005-02-28 : Archive 179


I was wondering if you could open up a thread so I could grill you about some of the stuff you said in Conflict vs Task Resolution and A Small Thing About Character Death.

Sure thing. Done!

What's up?

1. On 2005-03-02, anon. said:

A small comment about character death. You say that the stepping-on-up people don't need to worry about your manifesto applying to them. I think it very much can. Staking your character's life on an issue is the strongest expression of Stepping Up that I can think of; that's why I included it in Power/Evil (a pure Gamist system), and it seems to fit wonderfully. Now, traditionally, you always stake your character's life in a Gamist game, but I think you can make that more exciting, more fun, if it's a choice.


2. On 2005-03-02, xenopulse said:

Ah yes, once more with the handle thing.

- Christian


3. On 2005-03-02, luke said:

Hi Vincent,I read just about all of the hardcore theory you posted. I love it. I have a couple of issues with some of the stuff you say, though.

In Conflict vs Task Resolution you say:"Let's assume that we haven't yet established what's in the safe.

"I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain!"It's task resolution. Roll: Success!"You crack the safe, but there's no dirt in there, just a bunch of in-order papers."

The initial assumption does a great disservice to the art of simulationist play. While I admit that the situation you present is quite possible, it is not the norm and exists only at the dysfunctional end of the simulationist agenda. To wit: I wouldn't be testing to crack the safe in the first place unless I was led to believe by the situation in development that there was some reason indeed to crack the safe. My in-game assumptions might be wrong, but that's part of the fun of playing in a simulationist evironment: The world is cold and cruel, and sometimes you aren't right.

Assuming that the safe holds greater rewards for conflict resolution is like misquoting someone and then filing suit for libel.

This leads me to my next point. In your essay "A Small Thing About Character Death" you make the rather succinct and pointed observation: "When a character dies in a novel or a movie, it's a) to establish what's at stake, b) to escalate the conflict, or c) to make a final statement. Or perhaps some combination. It's never by accident or for no good reason, unlike in real life."

I couldn't agree more! However, I think the body of the essay that follows handily ignores a whole one third of the creative agenda. I detect the reek of "one true wayism" in this statement: "PCs, like protagonists in fiction, don't get to die to show what's at stake or to escalate conflict. They only get to die to make final statements."

My sentiments do not encompass "owning the rules" or "peer-appreciated wish fulfillment" (if I understand you correctly). In my style of play—and vital to the game I designed—is the acrid smell of risk and uncertainty. I don't want to know I'm going to win in the end. I want to fight and struggle to get there and possibly fail—even to the point of death. And I want to know what it's like to be in that struggle, moment to moment. Sure, my priorities for my character are vital to providing and engine to the story. But I want to give him his fuel, put him in questionable circumstances and watch him go.

And, despite the worship of the Big G and Big N, and the kick-it-to-the-curb view of the Big S, I suspect that the majority of roleplayers enjoy and seek to refine this experience.

Why is there an S even in the model description any more? It's the hated bastard child. Feared for it's grotesque might, hated because it is so abused and, in turn, abusive.

whaddya think?-Luke


4. On 2005-03-02, Ben Lehman said:

Uh, Luke? You are aware that what you just described fits Gamism to a T?



5. On 2005-03-02, Matt said:

I disagree. I think he's describing S perfectly. What's it feel like to be in that struggle? What's it like to be in a world where life is fragile? Victory is sweet because you're feeling what the character feels, not because you were clever enough, not because you made a kickass thematic statement by doing so.

Godlike is totally sim supportive for all those reasons. And so is that one game with the wheel being on fire.


6. On 2005-03-02, luke said:

Hi Ben,

Permit me to scream at the top of my lungs. AAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

That's exactly what's at issue here. Simulationist agenda is the bastard fucking child of the creative model. Because it was the first and bore out some extremely dysfunctional play, it is roundly ignored or soundly thrashed in theory land.

But it's my god damned agenda to play in a simulationist environment. What's more, I play with conflict resolution and player priorities. But it's still "I want to feel what it's like to be in this moment" style play.



7. On 2005-03-02, Ben Lehman said:

Look, man, if when I play in a simulated environment that happens to be designed to throw the characters into moral troubles, I'm playing Narrativist, you are playing Gamist when you throw characters into a simulated environment where you need to struggle to survive.

What you're missing here is that creative agenda is "what is fun" not "how you get to it." The simulationism you are describing is a set of techniques, not a creative agenda. "I get to a difficult situation via use of a set of techniques which is: heavy actor stance, internal consistency, etc." I'm with you, man! I'm with you! I play the same damn game!

What you are also missing is that not all Creative Agenda are necessarily equal. The most important thing is that the model have the ability to describe all play, not that every box be balanced with each other in terms of coolness or even use in actual play. It's a critical theory. It isn't identity politics.



8. On 2005-03-02, Chris said:

Hi Luke,

"Sim is the bastard fucking child"? Huh? I'm really not getting you here.

1) Sim is the most supported(and I would also argue from experience, but without universal evidence) that it is the CA that gets the most play all around.

2) Dysfunctional play with Sim(or any other CA) comes about only through either personal problems with the folks at the table(no fault of Sim) or through ignorance that there are multiple CAs and people are trying to do different things. Assuming the latter- the overwhelming support/"this is the way to roleplay" attitude promoted in many game texts causes this to be the issue of dysfuncitonal play. If Gamism or Narrativism dominated, you'd have the same issue. Sim just happend to be the one to be there, at this point.

3) "Sim was the first"? OD&D-Getting gold, xp, tournaments etc, - Pure gamism.

4) Plot immunity from character death also can be a useful tool for Sim play- consider something that's a celebration of a genre, such as Star Wars, kung-fu movies, etc. That said, I think the big point is that we have tons of Sim games where it is easy to die, but not many that replicate the genre expectations.

5) Though Sim ain't for me, I'm not seeing the "... the worship of the Big G and Big N, and the kick-it-to-the-curb view of the Big S"?



9. On 2005-03-02, Thor Olavsrud said:

Hi Vincent,

I've been reading the site, and all I can say is Wow! Great stuff.

Anyway, Luke and I have been IMing back and forth about this thread, and I want to see if I can restate it to help the discussion along.

First, I think it's important to point out that Burning Wheel is a Conflict Resolution system, even if Luke disputes that to some extent.

In Burning Wheel Revised, Luke says that when your character wants to do something, there are three steps. First, you must state your Intent. In other words, you say what is at Stake. Second, you declare the Task you are undertaking to accomplish that intent. And finally, the result of your roll on the Task is interpreted according to your Intent.

Here's a paraphrase of the example Luke uses to describe this process:

Your character comes to a locked door. You say, my Intent is to get through the door before the guards show up. The task is picking the lock, and I'm going to use my lockpicking skill.

At this point, I, as the GM, state: okay, what's at risk is whether you can pick the lock before the guards show up.

So you roll. If you succeed, you pick the lock and slip through before the guards show up. If you fail, you might still pick the lock, but the last tumbler falls into place just as the guards arrive.

As far as I'm concerned, that's Conflict Resolution, plain and simple. So my question is: Why does the lockpicking example work just fine for Luke, but your safecracking example sets him to howling and gnashing his teeth?

In my opinion, the difference comes down to the narrative power assumed by the player through the statement of his Intent/Stake. In your example, the statement of Intent ("If I succeed, I get dirt on the supervillain!") places that dirt in the safe. As a player, you can narrate anything you want into existence by cleverly stating your Intent.

However, for Luke, that completely destroys the integrity of his simulation. He wants to give you the power to create complication and risk with your roll, but not the ability to narrate stuff into existence.


10. On 2005-03-02, luke said:

Right Ben, how silly of me to think that one could have moral imperative in a game about "being there." Because the original actors in the situations we reenact were devoid of morals and ethics. To involve them in a game about "being there" just ruins the whole damn thing, doesn't it. It should be about whether or not I weave the basket, plain and simple.

Anyway, quit parsing terms with me. Let Vincent answer.


11. On 2005-03-02, Ben Lehman said:

Sorry, man. Didn't mean to step on your toes. I just read your description and thought "Hey, I play that game, and I call it Gamism." So, yeah.


12. On 2005-03-02, Vincent said:

Draw a big square on a piece of paper. Label it "all roleplaying ever."

Draw a circle inside it. Label it "thematic roleplaying*." At the bottom of the page, note: "* The events in the game confront an interesting human issue."

Draw another circle intersecting the first. Label it "collaborative roleplaying**." At the bottom of the page, note: "** Every player contributes fully to what matters in the game, whatever it is that matters."

Where the two circles intersect, label that "???"

* The events in the game confront an interesting human issue.** Every player contributes fully to what matters in the game, whatever it is that matters.

So far so good?


13. On 2005-03-02, Vincent said:

Now here's the deal.

I call the little green ??? lozenge "Narrativist roleplaying." Everything that falls outside of it is non-Narrativist play; everything that falls inside it is Narrativist play. There is no other criterion, wrt Narrativism - if it's thematic and collaborative it's in. If it's thematic but non-collaborative, collaborative but non-thematic, non-collaborative and non-thematic, it's out.

The kind of play you're talking about, Luke, is it in or out?


14. On 2005-03-02, luke said:

I want to say that it's outside the lozenge. (ick) But I'm having trouble parsing "collaborative." It's a loaded term in RPGs. How often have we heard roleplaying described as a collaborative art? Can you define it for me?



15. On 2005-03-02, Vincent said:


What matters in the game?

Answer: "confronting human issues of love and romantic fidelity."

Collaborative play is play in which everybody confronts human issues of love and romantic fidelity. Nobody who's playing is cut out of the confrontation.

Answer: "bringing Middle Earth to life."

Collaborative play is play in which everybody helps bring Middle Earth to life. Nobody's vision of Middle Earth is subjugated to anyone else's; the Middle Earth of the game isn't one person's vision, but emerges from everyone's vision together.

Answer: "showing off how much we like guns."

Collaborative play is play in which everybody gets to show off how much they like guns. Everybody who plays gets the chance to show off.

Now this is really wicked important: roleplaying in which a) the players collaborate on what matters, plus b) they bring Middle Earth to life, plus c) they take on a human issue, like loyalty, suitable to Middle Earth - that's inside the lozenge. On account of a and c.


16. On 2005-03-02, luke said:

Sorry 'bout the blank.

Anyway, define "game." Are we talking about tonight's situation or scene? Or are we talking about Dogs or Burning Wheel?



17. On 2005-03-02, Vincent said:

Ah. "Game" here means "a lot of actual roleplaying." Particularly, it means "enough actual roleplaying to accomplish what matters."

Like, you can't confront issues of love and fidelity in one ten-minute scene; it takes probably hours to even make a start, and you can keep doing it for years. You can show off that you like guns in a minute or two, but it takes considerably longer to show off how much you like guns. Bringing Middle Earth to life too.

That's another important point: let's say that over the course of the game (= a lot of play), we confront issues of love and fidelity. Do we in this particular scene? Maybe maybe not. Maybe I show off that I like guns or something. That's okay; it's very rare for an individual scene to make or break either "thematic" or "collaborative." Generally it takes consistent patterns.


18. On 2005-03-02, Chris said:

I think a point of confusion (not here, but in general when talking about this subject) for some people is the idea that a single, or even sporadic occurances of X decision(thematic, love guns, whatever) doesn't define the type of play that's happening.

I could easily see play being mapped out with a dot on your chart for each meaningful point that hits somewhere on that... "This scene was thematic, but not collaborative. That scene wasn't either, etc." until you have a collection of dots, some concentrated in certain areas, with a couple of random ones floating about. -That concentration- of dots, that represents what happens most in play for this group, for this game, over a period of time, and points out what the focus of play is.

This is where a lot of people get confused when first encountering CA ideas- dots will be found everywhere, but most of the dots will show up in a certain area.

Thanks for the chart- I think I'll be using it to help explain things myself :)


19. On 2005-03-02, luke said:

Ok, I'm following along, but I'm still having a hard time parsing collaborative. Assuming reasonably functional play—and I feel we must in order to make any progress—all roleplaying seems to fall into your definition of game and collaborative.

However, I'd like to stand on the other foot: my games are not collaborative. Not every player gets a chance to address theme (important to them) in actual play. Sometimes, you're in the back seat, riding along. He'll sometimes you're an NPC or supporting cast.

I admit, I'm taking this stand to move on in the discussion. You were going to make a point based on my answer, no?



20. On 2005-03-02, Vincent said:

Let's hold off on dots. I have some to say about that, but I want to focus for now.


21. On 2005-03-02, Chris said:

-Food for another discussion-

You can't have functional gamist play without at least input by the players in a strategic fashion- a key point is that for it to work- each person has to be allowed their full range of strategic options(as put for


22. On 2005-03-02, Vincent said:

Luke, well actually, this business: "Assuming reasonably functional play—and I feel we must in order to make any progress—all roleplaying seems to fall into your definition of game and collaborative."

You've identified yourself as considering Illusionism and Participationism - "theme upfront" roleplaying - to not be reasonably functional. That's like, "what matters is issues of love and fidelity, but only the GM gets to confront them." Usually it's not "love and fidelity," but "loyalty and violence," of course, but the point is that only the GM confronts. The players watch and contribute to things that don't matter.

That kind of play happens all the time and is massively supported by game texts out in the world. That you consider it not really functional means you're like me.

...But okay, that's not your "real" answer, moving on.

So the kind of play you're talking about is:

a) Vicariously experiencing violence and the struggle for survival, knee deep in the gory mud.

But b) without saying anything about any interesting human issues. If I'm here going, god damn, people can be really noble under horrific emotional and physical circumstances, it's not your doing.

Furthermore c) you and your friends aren't bonding over and competing about how much adversity you can rise to, like "fuck YOU I can take it, you weak soft bastard."


And you object to that being called "peer-appreciated wish fulfillment"? On what grounds? What can that kind of play be but "I may not be a badass, but my character is, isn't he guys?"


23. On 2005-03-02, Luke said:

Wait. Let's get to brass tacks. Setting: 1940 Warsaw. Character: A gentile clerk. Beliefs: I'm an ethical guy.

Play: I want to be there. I want to take that mix of chemicals and shake it up and see what would happen. Would I resist the nazis? Would I collaborate? Would I even survive the famine and cold winter?

I don't understand why this isn't simulationist agenda play. I certainly don't want it to be like a book or movie. I want to explore the situation—the trials and hardships, the horrible decisions. But I get the feeling that you are separating character ethics/player priorities from the situation.

Why must the situation overtly comment on the violence/ethics/love/whatever in order to earn merit? Aren't the best stories the ones that aren't so didactic? Isn't it sometimes better to let it lie—afterwards saying to each other "I can't believe we did that. People act all fucked up in high intensity emotional situations."

This brings me back to my first point: Ok, fine, GM autocracy and task resolution devoid of situation and intent are dysfunctional forms of roleplay. They limp along unhappily. But task resolution is not inherently evil, nor is the model of "I want to be there, moment to moment" both of which I think your essay flirt with dismissing.

Anyway, assume I say "right" to your "Right?" above. What's your point?



24. On 2005-03-02, Eric said:

Caveat that, Vincent. Badass ain't the only sim going. Not even in BW. "I may not be a whussy coward, but my character is, isn't he guys? Except just now, when he's turning out to have a little spine after all. That's cool."

Luke, the whole disconnect in the opening tirade might be sidestepped with a reparse of Vincent's point in the Character Death post. In BW part of the buzz is totally about the edge of risk, the chance that the character might die.

He still won't die to escalate tension. He still won't die to establish what's at stake. If the tension isn't high, if death isn't already at stake, then PCs aren't going to die. The point is that in something like BW combat the tension's pre-set to high, and death is always on the table... and sometimes a PC might die to prove that point.

I guess to me "to prove a point" doesn't necessarily say Nar, or even Nar or Gam... it just says roleplaying. GNS is all about what you insert in the phrase "When we were playing game X, ______ was totally cool." A Simmy point like the odds of death for stupidity in BW, or (say) the disturbing nature of transhuman existence in THS, or whatever... is still a point. And a PC can die to address that point. It's if he doesn't, if he dies during the title credits without ever getting into the cost of idiocy in BW or the nature of his life in THS, that that death sucked and shouldn't have happened.


25. On 2005-03-03, Vincent said:


"Isn't it sometimes better to let it lie—afterwards saying to each other 'I can't believe we did that. People act all fucked up in high intensity emotional situations.'"


"I don't understand why this isn't simulationist agenda play."

You said it right in the description: you want to see what it is to be an ethical guy under terrible situations.

"Ethical guy under terrible situations" = interesting human issue, I'm sure you'll agree. So it's in the thematic circle.

Then, is it in the collaborative circle? I've seen the way you play. Of course it's in the collaborative circle. You can barely conceive of playing outside the collaborative circle. You think that "outside the collaborative circle" equals "not reasonably functional," for god sake!

If you're saying that Simulationist play can be both thematic and collaborative ... you're defining Simulationism differently than I am.

For instance, I think that the sense of being there moment-to-moment contributes mightily to play, practically all of the time. I crave it, same as you. In Forge (and thus my) terms, that's a feature of Exploration, not of Simulationism.


26. On 2005-03-03, luke said:

Then, I submit, there is no functional definition of simulationist agenda. Saying that reenacting "being there" must be devoid of ethical content strips the S to a parody of a cartoon of a caricature. It's ridiculous to posit that being there must solely revolve around task resolution devoid of meaning and context.

I really think that when the Big Ol' S is thrown around, folks are using it as a code for "the bad way" or "the way we used to play." While the bad way definitely does exist (and I've been a party to it), it is not the norm. Not, not, not. Perhaps folks' play experiences aren't as focuses on theme as one who is conscious of them these in-game issues, but even the most ren-fair DnD group can fairly playout "let's overthrow the oppressive Duke."

Anyway, this just goes back to my point. Your definition of task resolution is forced—sure the GM can play autocrat, but in functional task-based play, a player isn't going to be tackling the safe without other conditions predefined.

Also, in the safe example, the player is narrating into existence the safe and the dirt, right? If so, that just blows my play priorities apart like a stinking torpedo from an German Uboat. It ain't cool for the style of play I'm interested in (like it ain't cool to be torpedoed in the middle of the atlantic).



27. On 2005-03-03, Vincent said:

Sweet! Let's talk more about "Simulationism = crap play" sometime. Pretaste: you called it crap play, not me. I agree with you, as it happens - but recognize your own judgement.

"Anyway, this just goes back to my point. Your definition of task resolution is forced—sure the GM can play autocrat, but in functional task-based play, a player isn't going to be tackling the safe without other conditions predefined."

I've been arguing a lot about Task Resolution and Conflict Resolution recently; to me this looks like the same argument. That's okay, but let me cut to the end as effectively as I can.

Pretend I didn't write "Conflict Resolution" or "Task Resolution." Pretend that instead I'd written "resolution where the rules resolve what's actually at stake" and "resolution where the rules don't resolve what's actually at stake, but instead depend on the GM to interpret the rules' outcome into resolution of what's actually at stake."

Or if you prefer, "good rules" and "rules depending on GM fiat."

Yes, yes, a hundred times yes, what I was saying was as stupid as "good rules are good, crappy rules suck." Rules that require GM fiat are rules that disempower the other players. I'm not a genius! I'm just saying a dumb obvious thing.

"Also, in the safe example, the player is narrating into existence the safe and the dirt, right?"

Only for purposes of illustration. If you've already established the safe, the dirt, every last detail - still what matters is whether the rules resolve the stakes, or leave resolution of the stakes to GM fiat.


28. On 2005-03-03, Thor Olavsrud said:

I think this gets back to the point I was trying to make earlier, which was that Luke's question isn't really about Conflict Resolution vs. Task Resolution at all.

Instead, I submit that the disconnect is the SCOPE of the stakes that players are allowed to set. Luke wants a more limited scope that does not allow players who are not the GM to narrate game important stuff like secret documents into place.


29. On 2005-03-03, Vincent said:

Oh, well sure. I don't have really anything to say about the scope of resolution. Whatever the scope, resolution shouldn't depend on GM fiat, that's all I've got.

So the GM has exclusive power to create safes and dirt and detailed world and stuff, and the players have only the power to say what their characters try to do. Okay! Is the GM using their power imbalance to cut the other players out of contributing to what matters? No? We're all happy!

As far as design goes, I want to design rules where the GM can't use a power imbalance to cut the other players out. But in terms of play, I just want the GM not to.


30. On 2005-03-03, Chris said:

Hi Luke,

I've had some issues with grappling with Sim definition at times myself. It happens to be the "one of these kids who are doing their own thing" as the Sesame Street song goes. Basically, Sim is the catch-all for "Everything that AIN'T Narrativist or Gamist"- which, assuming that Gamism type play doesn't eat up a big chunk of Vincent's graph- means in the range of possible ways to roleplay- Sim must make up the largest chunk.

I personally think for the purposes of use, it makes more sense to sub-divide Sim into its various categories rather than it's lump definition as it stands- but yeah- there it is.

As far as "Sim=bad play", again though the people saying it are wrong- it's important to recognize that its only received that perception from a majority of game texts encouraging one-wayism and lack of communication in games that are all about communication. Be mad at the folks making poor Sim games and promoting dysfunction!

But since this seems to be a side discussion from the task/conflict resolution, I'd like to hear more about your views on the malignment of Sim- if you feel like getting into it- yeloson at earthlink dot net. :)


31. On 2005-03-03, Emily Care said:

Hey Vincent, where does sim fall in your green-lozenge diagram?


32. On 2005-03-03, luke said:

you've unmanned me with laughter.Good rules are good. Bad rules are bad. Got it. Very constructive, Vincent. ;)

I think we've chewed this toy to death. Perhaps, if you don't hate me, you'd like to start a fresh thread so I can browbeat you about character death?

thanks for your time and patience.-L