2008-03-01 : Respecting the fiction
I'm writing a short story, inspired by Poison'd. Here's an excerpt. The narrator is one Ned McCubbins, murdering pirate.
I have my opportunity the night following. I come upon deck to relieve Filthy Peter of his watch and he's leaning against the railing, watching the lights of Kingston on the far horizon. He's no reason to fear me so I have none for stealth; I draw my pistol as I approach him, place its muzzle square against the back of his head, and blow his brains out through his face.
But, I don't know what - but the discharge still ringing and he spins on me. Blood pouring down the side of his head but his brains still in his skull, and now his knife's in his fist. He's on me, and is his howling or mine the louder?
I put it to you that not one person here had any trouble following the action. Everybody here understood that "blow his brains out" meant "pull the trigger." It's trivial for any adult reader to understand "I blow his brains out through his face" as a statement of action masquerading as a statement of intent or consequence. Furthermore, nobody felt like Ned had betrayed and misled us, his readers, when the second paragraph opened with Filthy Peter unmurdered.
"But ... but ... Ned McCubbins, murdering pirate, you just said that you blew his brains out through his face, and now you're saying that you didn't? Which is it?" Absurd.
This is Ron Edwards now, talking about the rules for PCs dying in Sorcerer:
As I keep saying, and which people only really understand once they've been through a few games, Sorcerer resolution and narration is very contingent on things that were narrated or established earlier in play - often which were not presented with any intention of being so important later. That's the key concept, I think, that keeps judgments about "is intensive care available" away from GM fiat. That question should not be answered by whether the GM suddenly invents a team of paramedics who dash in from off-screen; it should instead be answered by checking around all the details and circumstances of that particular location in the setting. Given all that, is intensive care available? That question can usually be answered without controversy.
I'm still working out how to explain and discuss this issue (geez! eight years after the rules for it were finalized), so all questions and comments are welcome.
I think that this is a much more widespread, common, maybe even fundamental thing than just a peculiarity of Sorcerer ... unless you limit yourself to looking at indie games.
Indie rpgs are hypermechanized. Imagine a couple, dancing, and they're the fiction and the mechanics. Indie rpgs are strict ballroom, and the game mechanics are the man. He leads.
This isn't a problem with them. I'm not impressed with anyone who criticizes them on those terms - if it's not to your taste, that's cool, play other games. No, in fact it's a clear feature of their design. The problem is when we take a feature of the design of some games and promote it, by repetition and laziness, up to a design principle.
In Dogs in the Vineyard, you take fallout dice of a size depending on the specific details of the blow you took, NOT depending on which arena you've escalated to. This point was controversial when the game was new, and it still occasionally pops up as a question. But no, it just calls for tiny moments of you, as a group, objectively assessing the fictional material of the game.
In the Wicked Age, you know when you say your character's action that its consequences will be no worse than exhausting or injuring her opponent. Nevertheless, saying things like "I chop your head clean off, you backstabber" is how to play the game best. This point is controversial as we speak, it's the first question I have to answer whenever someone new finds the game. But no, it just calls for tiny moments of you, as a group, reading the narrator's voice with some sophistication.
In all of my rpgs, the fiction is relatively coequal with the mechanics. Moreso than in, say, Psi Run, Shock:, Primetime Adventures, or any of a number of other games I love dearly. Of my games, though, it's in Poison'd that the fiction actually leads.
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