2008-04-09 : Rules vs Vigorous Creative Agreement

I really dig the term vigorous creative agreement and I really dig Jim Henley's post about it. He sets me up (by association, not by name, and I don't hold it against him a bit, these are the circles I run in) to think that natural, emergent agreement is a poor substitute for functional formal rules. In fact I think the opposite.

Here's what I'd say: if all your formal rules do is structure your group's ongoing agreement about what happens in the game, they are a) interchangeable with any other rpg rules out there, and b) probably a waste of your attention. Live negotiation and honest collaboration are almost certainly better.

(This goes along with my answer to Mo here about the Wicked Age's owe list, and maybe see also reward the winner, punish the loser.)

As far as I'm concerned, the purpose of an rpg's rules is to create the unwelcome and the unwanted in the game's fiction. The reason to play by rules is because you want the unwelcome and the unwanted - you want things that no vigorous creative agreement would ever create. And it's not that you want one person's wanted, welcome vision to win out over another's - that's weak sauce. (*) No, what you want are outcomes that upset every single person at the table. You want things that if you hadn't agreed to abide by the rules' results, you would reject.

If you don't want that - and I believe you when you say you don't! (**) - then live negotiation and honest collaboration are a) just as good as, and b) a lot more flexible and robust than, whatever formal rules you'd use otherwise.

The challenge facing rpg designers is to create outcomes that every single person at the table would reject, yet are compelling enough that nobody actually does so. (***) If your game isn't doing that, like I say it's interchangeable with the most rudimentary functional game design, and probably not as fun as good freeform.

1. On 2008-04-09, Vincent said:

(*) This was a serious problem for an early playtest version of Shock: for instance: you'd set some wholly satisfying alternate possible outcomes, but you also had points to spend to bias toward one of them. The problem being that since both would be wholly satisfying, you'd never spend your points, and the game's economy would stall out.

Primetime Adventures sometimes suffers from this.

(**) It may, in fact, be a personal failing to want unwelcome outcomes in your games. I cannibalize my friends' bad relationships when I write fiction, even when they ask me not to. I like really appalling violence and I like to feel sick to my stomach. I want my roleplaying to include unwelcome outcomes. Frankly, you might not want to co-write with me, go to the same movies I go to, or play games with me. I'm surely not going to feel moral or creative superiority to people who would rather enjoy their games than be punished by them.

All I'll claim is that I'm not alone, and that I'm designing games for people like me. Not a big deal to claim, I think.

(***) An interesting part of this challenge is judging the threshhold of your target audience. When I play with Emily and Joshua, you can kick us in the fucking face and we'll abide by it, if it's even a little compelling. When I play with Emily and Meg, give us even a little shove and it had better be damned compelling, or you've lost us. How punishing is your vision, and how much of your audience are you prepared to sacrifice?


2. On 2008-04-10, Brand Robins said:

Heh, this is a brilliant way to put something about emergent play that I haven't always been able to clearly articulate to my gestalt loving friends.

It also explains why Sorcerer really harshes on you when you play it right.


3. On 2008-04-10, Chris said:

Huh.  I guess from what I've seen, it's good enough that the rules simply provide things that are unthought of by the group.

What is it that makes it necessary to go as far as the upsetting and unwelcome stuff to justify the use of rules?  Or is it like how a good story hits the unwanted topics and still strikes us as good?


4. On 2008-04-10, Mo said:

As far as I'm concerned, the purpose of an rpg's rules is to create the unwelcome and the unwanted in the game's fiction. The reason to play by rules is because you want the unwelcome and the unwanted - you want things that no vigorous creative agreement would ever create.

Your design philosophy always reminds me, phone geek that I am, of VoIP and other disruptive technologies.

Cool post, V.


5. On 2008-04-10, Vincent said:

Chris: Of course I don't demand that every single time, something unwelcome happens. I'm happy to play indefinitely with nothing unwelcome happening, just as long as sometimes, something unwelcome really might happen.

I would call unthought of the underlying foundation of unwelcome, and unwelcome the inevitable consequence of unthought of.

For instance, it's when the unthought of happens to be unwelcome that you find out whether you're really playing by the game's formal rules, or sometimes fudging them.


6. On 2008-04-10, Vincent said:

Here's another nuance: sometimes a game's rules provoke you to do an unwelcome thing yourself. You can't really call it unthought of, you know? I'm like covering my face with my hands and I'm saying that my character does a thing, and without these very particular rules in place, no one at the table would ever forgive me for saying it.


7. On 2008-04-10, Jonathan Walton said:

Hmm, now I understand Poison'd more.

Me, I've always said that the point of the rules is to create "more interesting" input than what the group could have come up with on their own.  If your favorite form of "more interesting" is "more horrible / painful" that's totally cool.  I can dig that stuff, but I think my preferred "more interesting" is a bit different.  Now I just have to go think about what it is.  More strongly thematically structured and better paced, maybe?


8. On 2008-04-10, Vincent said:

Oh, yeah, no, the horrible stuff I dig isn't what I'm talking about here. It's one possible example of what I'm talking about, I guess. Another example, and more to the point, is "sorry Mo, it doesn't matter how much you want to or how much we want you to, you don't just get to play that character again."


9. On 2008-04-10, Chris said:

That makes sense to me.

The Nuance also makes me think of how people use rules to absolve themselves of responsibility for things, but this time, in a good way.


10. On 2008-04-10, Vincent said:

Jonathan: ...And when I'm covering my face, the thing I'm saying might not be Poison'desque at all. It might be "I kiss her on the lips," and I don't want the complications that introduces into our characters' lives any more than anyone else does. But I can't unthink of it and I can't unsay it and there it is. A thing can have unwelcome compelling implications for the game without being a horror.

Chris: "but in a good way." Right! There's that matter of how compelling it is. If "that's what my character would do" or "that's what the rules say" create uncompelling unwelcome things, any sensible group drops them like the irritants they are.


11. On 2008-04-10, Ben Lehman said:


I've always expressed as a design principle "there must be situations in which one person's creative vision over-rides the consensus of the group."

Reflecting back on previous design, I've also included explicit or implicit permission/expectation for players to have and express creative visions that might be pushing or breaking normal consensus boundaries for the group (the intimacy chart in Bliss Stage, the experience list in Polaris, the name 'the Devil' in Drifter's Escape.)

You seem to be saying—and I totally think I might be wrong here—that the these consensus-overriding ideas come, in your designs, from the system itself, rather than from any particular player. That strikes me as odd, so I can't imagine that's what you're actually saying.



12. On 2008-04-10, Brand Robins said:

So there was this Dogs game that I played with Mo and Leo where the end of the game was totally unexpected and unwelcome.

Mo and Leo were playing these hard, brutal kind of men who were obviously on a fast track to hell. Leo got married, almost by accident because of something unexpected that happened in a conflict, and ended up having his character radically shift directions and actually start moving towards redemption. Mo's character, meanwhile, killed a whore who reminded him of his mother after Leo had killed his real mother to keep him from matricide.

A town or two after that, we know we're getting on towards the end of the game, but figure we've probably got two more towns to go after this, more or less.

Then Mo gets in a conflict with a girl with stakes like "have her be attracted to me" and ends up being accused of attempted rape. This was really unwelcome as it brought what felt like a big distraction into the story, and was a whole horrible thing about the way rape gets used politically that none of us were happy about.

At the same time, across town, Leo finds the sorcerers in the town and has a gun blazing final confrontation with them, gets a 20 on fallout, and is headed for the deader pile. Well, so much for redemption and his wife, right? Really unwelcome.

So then for Leo's last scene Mo's character comes and finds him, and they have this confrontation. Mo's character thinks he's going to hell if he stops being a dog, and that he can't be a dog without Leo's help. So he wants Leo's character to kill him. Leo wants none of this. Instead he wants Mo's character to find redemption and go on to be a good Dog in order to be his character's redemptive legacy. Mo wants none of this. I mostly think neither character deserves redemption and want them both to be as miserable and lonely as possible.

So we get into a series of conflicts, and end up with no one getting what they wanted. Mo's character forces Leo's character to kill him, but at the same time kind of gets redeemed in the process, which half damns and half redeems Leo's character. They both die in a pool of blood, pathetic, valiant, wicked and righteous, and so fucking ambivalent that taking any kind of clear message away from it is impossible.

Whole thing was damn unwelcome. None of us wanted that ending, or anything really much like it. Of course, now when we talk about the game we mostly talk about how fucking awesome it was. If any of us had our individual creative vision override that of the others, it wouldn't have happened as it did. But because the system set up an emergent thing where it made us, together, come up with and accept these unwelcome things, it got us to make something very much Us In The Moment, rather than any one of us in their own sacrosanct vision.


13. On 2008-04-10, Chris said:

This makes me think that the point of rules is like the point of innovative design- to produce things people wanted but didn't know it yet.


14. On 2008-04-10, David Berg said:

1.  Would it be on-point to just say that formal rules are there to ensure that large-scale, long-term play priorities override small-scale, immediate player preferences?

That seems like a sensible description of Brand's experience, as well as my own, "Character death sucks, but characters MUST die when it makes sense for them to die, otherwise the plausibility of our simulation goes out the window!"

2.  Just curious about this:

live negotiation and honest collaboration are a) just as good as, and b) a lot more flexible and robust than, whatever formal rules you'd use otherwise.

My experience with negotiation is that coming to consensus takes more time away from "playing inside the fiction" than my players want.  Formal rules that speed up consensus-forming make me happy.  Does this mean I just happen to play with indecisive slowpokes?


15. On 2008-04-11, Vincent said:

David: 1. Instead I'd say that making long-term priorities override short-term priorities is an example of something that might be unwelcome but compelling. I'd say this because (a) my experience is that people are just as good at keeping long-term play priorities in mind as they are short-term, in general. And (b) sometimes what the rules do is make sure that the consequences of immediate action override the group's long-term vision for the game. (This latter matches Brand's description too: the game's rules ended the game kind of abruptly, when everyone playing it hoped for some more particular, more gradual resolution.)

2. If you were interested in getting faster with it, you would. You'd also figure out how to do it without breaking out of the fiction much at all. This'd be a matter of developing good informal rules - I agree that rules are crucial.


16. On 2008-04-11, Marshall said:

I think that, since Jim Henley's post is connected strongly to improv, that it's worth it looking into improv a bit.

I've got some experience in improv, having been a member of an improv troupe in college.  So let me say this:  Improv is a parlor trick.  There is a system to making it work.  To make it work consistently, said system must be made explicit to all members of the troupe:  it must be formalized.

In my troupe, the system was something like this:

1.  Establish Who, Where, What.  Who are the characters?  Where are they?  What are they doing?  (Mime goes a long, long way in this)
2.  Establish relationships.
3.  Introduce conflict.
4.  Raise the stakes.
5.  Resolve the conflict.  Most of the time this was manifested through some sort of ridiculous (and funny) redemption or reconciliation, but sometimes it was a snarky, edged, and mean (and funny) resolution.  Sometimes one guy gets killed and that resolves it; sometimes a guy gets mortally wounded and the other guy feels bad about it, and it resolves that way.  Whatever.

Underlying this formula were a few other rules, like
1. Everything that happens stays happened; nothing is negated, EVER.
2. Learn to say yes; related to no. 1, accept any and all traits your character is endowed with by the other players.

and some others that I can't recollect right away (it's been a few years, a'right?).  But, my point is, we had practice sessions where we would lay down these rules and repeat them, and practice on them (but always improvising).  It was a SYSTEM, in any sense of the word.


17. On 2008-04-12, Levi said:

Odd.  Most of the time, to me, rules provide good stuff by being a collective *toy* we all mess about with together.

Yes, there's the unexpected and unsought input, and that's part of the fun of the toy, (it can snap at your fingers!)...  But really, in most of my current play, that not the front-line thing.


18. On 2008-04-12, Georgios said:

I must admit that I'm getting a weird "Happy endings are teh suxxorz!"-vibe from this. I've been reading Poison'd recently and the one thing that felt a little unnecessary, was how the rules seemed to restrict the group from having certain positive outcomes (namely redemption without death) to the events of the fiction. It strikes me as a quite deprotagonising.

All this talk about rules inviting unwelcome (or interesting) events into the fiction I can totally get behind; but if it's at the exclusion of welcome events created by the rules it just seems a little... annoying.


19. On 2008-04-12, Brand Robins said:


I think its easiest to see the unwelcome when bad shit happens. However, sometimes it applies to happy endings too.

Like, one of the frequent discussions around this topic is if you can chose to have your character fail when you can't just chose to have your character succeed. If you say that no, you can't just screw your character anymore than you can just have them triumph, then suddenly the unwelcome can take on many different permutations.

Maybe, say, you're really gunning for Romeo and Juliet—but at the end the dice go a different way and R&J run off to Rome and live happily ever after. Happy ending! And quite possibly totally unwelcome.


20. On 2008-04-12, Mo said:

Hi Marshall...

I was in a comedy improv group for years. We had a really successful run and a faithful audience at our comedy nights, improv soaps and fundraisers. Our experience differs from the one you describe. Our process wasn't formalized at all, it was won in practice. We were a tight, creative group that had acted together before. Many, but not all of us had some training in Theatre. I don't think we ever sat down and even had a conversation about rules nevermind formalized the process we were using. Our system was entirely socially negotiated in the moment and over time.

If we had ever articulated it, our formula would have looked different too. While there obviously would have been some similarities, timing nature and method of escalation and resolution wouldn't have depended on our group but on reading the social cues of the audience.

Every group has their own thing that works for them I suspect.This is all to say that I don't think that an explicitly formalized system is by any means a universal requirement for every group out there, in improv or in RPG's. Some groups do just fine on their own.


21. On 2008-04-12, Vincent said:

Georgios: Yeah, I'm all for happy endings. Redemption without death is absolutely possible in Poison'd - I was intentionally oblique about it, but you can easily build it from the list in the section about taking your pirate out of play. Happy endings aren't what I'm talking about at all.

I think it's inevitable that playing by formal rules will mean that some of the things you want to happen in a game, can't. They cut off welcome events, whole domains at a time. That's one of the biggest strengths of freeform play - that's why I say that live negotiation and honest collaboration is more robust and flexible than any given formal ruleset.


22. On 2008-04-12, Vincent said:

Levi: Say more about that. I don't know what you mean.


23. On 2008-04-12, David Berg said:

I think I get what you're saying.  I guess I'm just hung up on "unwelcome"—I mean, if a rules-dictated outcome was thoroughly and in all ways unwelcome, no one would use the rule, right?  What you've described as "unwelcome" just seems to me to be, uh, "welcome on a higher level", which is where I was trying to go with "large-scale, long-term play priorities".  Like Brand's game:

Whole thing was damn unwelcome. None of us wanted that ending, or anything really much like it. Of course, now when we talk about the game we mostly talk about how fucking awesome it was.

I'm taking this to mean that, on the scale of "how do we feel about having played Dogs" and "do we want to play Dogs again", the ambivalent bloodbath was extremely welcome!  There's something Brand wanted to get out of the game that "playing by the rules" absolutely did deliver.  Whatever that "something" is—that's the "large-scale, long-term play priority" I had in mind.

I hope this isn't useless semantics-wrestling.  I have a hunch there's something useful to be said about how the "unwelcome" rules applications contribute to the "higher-level get-something-out-of-play", but maybe it's already been said elsewhere...

Brand, please stop me if I'm misreading you!


24. On 2008-04-12, Georgios said:

Vincent: I thought as much. I really like how Poison'd rachets up the tension pretty quickly, but it's quite hard to figure out how to release it again. I suspect my playtest next week might throw up something I'm overlooking right now.

As for live negotiation & collaboration, I'm not sure I agree. I think it's certainly the most potent and effective way to affect fiction. I don't find it particularly satisfying, because I want to treat rules and narration as equal. Using one without the other feels like moving the goal posts to either acting & narrating or to tactics & strategising. It cheapens the experience for me. I want both. At the very least I want to have a firm understanding / agreement just how much emphasis will be put on one or the other in each game.


25. On 2008-04-12, Brand Robins said:


Well, its an interesting thing. Because like, right after we finished the game we were all odd about it. It was only "cool" the next day at a party, and only "awesome" about a month after that. At the moment we finished it was strong and intimate and powerful, but not comfortable or desired.

Which, I think, is a thing about this kind of anti-phatic emergent play—the "unwelcome" doesn't mean "not wanted" it means "not comfortable" or "not desired at that moment" or "not something we would have consciously done to each other without some kind of psychopomp." Part of what you want out of this time of game is getting something you didn't want out of the game. Which sounds paradoxical until you consider it in terms of literature and consider that some of the greatest literary works are those which challenge, overthrow, and upset you.

Also worth noting, that much as we all still play Dogs and we all still play together, that particular group has never played Dogs again.


26. On 2008-04-12, Piers said:

In my head I'm translating "unwelcome" as "something we would have chosen," either collectively or individually, implicitly adding "unexpected" to the mix.

That covers a lot of ground, from choosing situation with the Oracle in In a Wicked Age, which is about arbitrariness ("We wouldn't have chosen that, because why should we chose that instead of something else"), to the story that Brand tells about Dogs ("We didn't want that to happen").

I think part of what is important is that ideally are a mixture of both unexpected and unwelcome—they surprise and move us, which is part of what both good fiction and the world do.


27. On 2008-04-12, Levi said:




28. On 2008-04-13, Jim said:

Vincent @ 8:

So, I'm Gloucester's "player" in Dover, Lear Act IV, looking for that satisfying tragic suicide, but the roll comes up that I live, so there's that business about how I only THOUGHT I was standing at the edge of the cliff. It might be a roll I failed; it might be a roll that Edgar made.

Is that a passable "non-unhappy unwelcome event" example?


29. On 2008-04-13, xenopulse said:

One of the things I keep saying about my long, involved freeform experience is that two things could really improve that kind of play, for me and many players I've played with:

1. Taking them out of their comfort zone.
2. Structuring the game, re: setting up, pacing, etc.

So, YES both to Vincent's and Jonathan's posts, and most others afterward.

But I also agree with Levi. And then there's the Gamist view of what rules do; see Beast Hunters.

And would like to add that we all know there are plenty of other playstyles out there. Some people like wish fulfillment play, and they can do that in freeform very, very well, but there's another layer of "satisfying oomph" to it when the rules support what a badass your character is. And so on.


30. On 2008-04-14, Marshall said:

Hi Mo,
My main point was that underlying both good improv and good roleplaying is a functional set of rules (the function itself is quite different between the two, of course).  I was going to say "a formalized, functional set of rules" but you're right, they're not necessarily formalized.  Ours weren't formalized until a guy from Canada took us under his wing.  Before that, we were good but extremely inconsistent; formalized rules made us consistent.  We were already good, now we were consistently good.

But, you're right, "consistently good" can be achieved with informal rules.  But you mention that your troupe was all people who had acted before.  Problem is, what if you try to do the same thing with a different set of people?  I think that's where formal rules become really important.  I'm thinking now that that's the main issue:  portability, and the ability to inform Social Contract and mandate Techniques.

Someone who invents a game can probably play that game with their group to their heart's content without ever writing down a rule, if the group is intimate enough.  To ensure that other people can play the same game and have the same fun, he'll have to formalize those rules.


31. On 2008-04-15, David Berg said:

I can dig "unwelcome like good literature".  Neat.  So if I don't like good literature, or don't happen to be in the mood for it on game night, then I fall into the group of players for whom Vincent says, "live negotiation and honest collaboration are almost certainly better."

I have all sorts of questions about this:

If you were interested in getting faster with it, you would. You'd also figure out how to do it without breaking out of the fiction much at all. This'd be a matter of developing good informal rules - I agree that rules are crucial.

Easier said than done, man!  My "rules-developing" process is progressing, but it's taken years and included a lot of frustrating moments.  I don't really view it as fun for its own sake, either (at least not the part that happens during play).  Where I'm at now, I've got some informal rules that are fucking great.  So my inclination is to say, "I'll formalize these, add pretty pictures, and sell 'em!  And others will want them, so they won't have to go through the time and effort of developing them themselves!"

Do you expect that formalizing will rob rules of their goodness?  Do you think that what works for one group has only a random chance of working well for another group?  Something else I'm missing?


32. On 2008-04-16, Mo said:

Hi Marshall,

We canucks all have mad skillz at the improv. ;)

I'm not fully convinced that formalizing rules will make a game experience universal among any group, but I see what you're going for.


33. On 2008-04-16, Vincent said:

Does formalizing rules rob them of their goodness? Absolutely yes, 100% of the time.

You want formal rules for the places your informal rules don't cover. I've never heard of, and can't imagine, a roleplaying group taking its working informal rules and imposing formality upon them.

I don't know any game designers who've successfully formalized their group's informal rules, either. My groups' informal rules have informed my game design, of course, but for none of my games have I ever just written down what we already do.


34. On 2008-04-16, Marshall said:

I'd love to hear your reasons for "Absolutely yes, 100% of the time."  To make sure that there's no misunderstanding over this crazy internet thing, I don't mean that in a challenging, "I'ma gonna prove you wrong" way; this is just something I've been thinking about a lot lately, and I want data about it.


35. On 2008-04-16, Moreno R. said:

Vincent: are you meaning "the places you informal rules THAT WORK don't cover"? Because yes, I don't need formal rules for what I can do well with informal rules, and some rules in a new game can surprise me (because I didn't see the need for it before) in a good or bad way... but the formal rules that I am REALLY SEARCHING FOR when I use a formal game system are the one that I can substitute to the informal ones that we used but don't really do what I want.


36. On 2008-04-17, Mo said:

Yay Vincent!

100% agreement.


37. On 2008-04-17, David Berg said:

My buddy did something I liked while GMing (hiding the calculations of combat and only telling the players the final results) once, but didn't do it later.  I told him I liked the first way better, and everyone agreed.  I wrote it down to help him remember, and to help me remember when I run, and I intend to pass it along to others when I instruct them on how to play.

That's kinda what I had in mind when I talked about formalizing informal rules and including them in design.  Do you think I'm doing something weird, or are we just using "formal rules" and "informal rules" differently in this discussion?

Sorry for the barrage of questions.  Hopefully mine and Moreno's and Marshall's all kinda add up to one thing.  Something about when the humans playing may not be up to achieving Vigorous Creative Agreement without some outside instruction or structure.

Mo, I'd be happy to hear your takes too!


38. On 2008-04-18, Marshall said:

Okay, yeah, maybe not everyone means the same thing when they say "formal."  That hadn't occurred to me.

For my part, when I talk about "formal vs. informal," I don't mean "hard vs. loose," or even "explicit vs. implicit"—I think those are different (but related) issues.  I'm talking about rules that are identified, maybe given a name, and elaborated in the text—explicitly OR implicitly.  By "identified and elaborated implicitly" I mean that the ramifications of the explicit rules create and enforce the implicit rules inescapably.  (Is that really possible?  The inescapably bit, I mean?  I don't know, but I'm trying for it.)  Informal rules, on the other hand, are the ones that people bring to the table themselves; they are not mandated by the text.

By my definition, for example, "the evil fucked up side of guns" from kpfs is formal because it's explicitly identified and discussed (it's also my favorite gun rules ever), and so is the "spend evil to get out of trouble; kill puppies to get evil; killing puppies and spending evil creates trouble" spiral of trouble and degradation because the other rules force it to happen.

(Sorry to use kpfs as an example, heh.  But it's the only one of Vincent's games I've had the opportunity to play yet, plus I liked it)


39. On 2008-04-18, Marshall said:

Erm, when I said, "Informal rules, on the other hand, are the ones that people bring to the table themselves; they are not mandated by the text," I meant to include that they don't identify or elaborate on them as rules.  I should also add that informal rules can imply other informal rules, just like formal rules do.


40. On 2008-04-21, Vincent said:

Yeah, I've been thinking hard about what exactly DO I mean by informal vs formal? And I don't have an answer yet. I'll have to sit down with Emily to figure it out I guess.


41. On 2008-04-21, Emily said:

Vincent, what are you smoking? "100% of the time"? What do you call Forge theory but formalization of things people are or have done informally?


Marshall: Awesome, thank you. I've had strong feelings about improv that mirror your experience.

And Mo, it's clear that people can gain that kind of group mind, or shared feel for it and become good—but improv in the absence of structure is so hard—I at least find it very non-intuitive.  It is a discipline that I could certainly work to find mastery of. But I find improv within structure so very much more satisfying and doable—that I don't know if I will put in the time to become a master of the strict or straight improv. I am more tempted to work with different structures. (I hope that came across with no judgement—very much none is intended. I respect good improv'rs but I don't expect I'll become one.)


42. On 2008-04-22, Emily said:

Oh, I'm sorry. That was not very genial of me, Vincent. :(

What I mean to say is, that a lot of the analysis we've done has been nailing down the things that have been done on an informal basis: as in tips to the gm, or how scenes are set and so on. If you mean that the specific set of processes and procedures of a given game group would lose something by being set in stone and defined, I can see that.

There is a lot that is produced by the dynamics between people, and minute or intangible abilities or preferences of individuals.  Putting that in a can would sometimes not only be impossible, but would be detrimental. Trying to make someone be or do how someone else is: a maddening task.

But, I do stand to differ with the general implications of this statement. Let's talk more about what you mean.


43. On 2008-04-22, Vincent said:

Nope! Exactly right: I'm talking about setting in stone the dynamic, creative, working relationships between people. "Choose someone in your group to be your Meg. Here are the procedures that person should follow."


44. On 2008-04-22, Z-Dog said:

Vincent, you wrote:

"You want formal rules for the places your informal rules don't cover. I've never heard of, and can't imagine, a roleplaying group taking its working informal rules and imposing formality upon them."

So you're not talking about a rule (is it a rule? or advice?) like, "Say Yes or Roll the Dice?"

In Dogs, it sounds like....advice?

In Burning Wheel, it sounds like a rule...

and you're not talking about an idea like: whether your roll succeeds or fails, something interesting happens, always. We never have nothing happen.


45. On 2008-04-24, Mo said:


Are you studying improv now? It seems a lot of folks are doing that. It seems backwards (not wrong, just backwards to my head) to study improv as an adult as a hobby or to grow into improv from gaming. I did a lot, a CRAZY LOT of it (and formal theatre) in teen/university years. RPGs are kind of like my laid back adult replacement.

I suppose that must be backwards to most people.


46. On 2008-04-25, Emily said:

Hi Mo,

Yeah, I took a series of intro classes to improv last fall. It's great fun, but it takes different creative muscles than working with structure. What Marshall said upthread rang so true for me. :) I bet it is because I'm coming to it from gaming. They are such related activities, but have each such a different approach.

The live form stuff, like jeep form, scratches that itch for me. You are clearly improving off of one another—telegraphing, they call it, giving each other offers, playing off of them and saying yes to eachother. But the games have all these nice techniques like interpelated scene framing and story threads you work within.  Like long-form improv with scene and character structure. It gives you ready hooks to work with and to communicate to one another about.

It's luscious. I am digging it. :)But I can totally see rpg as a laid back version of what you're used to. Improv per se is mad crazy hotness when you've got folks who know how to do it and are in a good groove with one another.



47. On 2008-04-25, Mo said:



Jeepform sounds hot, and I keep meaning to check it out, but I don't think anyone nearby is doing it so don't know where to start. There a text, blog or a game you'd recommend?


48. On 2008-04-28, Emily said:

Re Jeep:  They have a bunch of their games written up online at their page  I'd take a look at Doubt for an interesting look into the world of jeep.  There are write ups of play here and here.

I hope to be able to play (jeep and others) with you someday!



49. On 2008-05-09, Ryan Stoughton said:

I read the whole discussion here (and followed it back to Yudhishthira's Dice, and Sin Aesthetics) with great interest, but I don't understand it.  It seems like you're talking about very fundamental issues for all gaming but at the same time it seems like very advanced techniques.  The idea that when I'm picking up In A Wicked Age I'm saying "Here's some things we're going to do so we can get uncomfortable things no one is going to be happy with." is totally alien to me.

(never start a sentence with) Especially given the fact that I've introduced three strangers to it, and my friendship with them is growing out of the game, rather than the reverse.

I'm used to:
friends -> things we all want -> game

What I have now is unusual for me, but really exciting:
strangers -> thing we all want is game -> friends (over time)

But when the game is something designed to make us uncomfortable... that seems like a bizarre undertaking on my part.


50. On 2008-05-09, Vincent said:

Here's my proposal:

strangers -> safe game -> acquaintances

strangers -> challenging game -> friends


51. On 2008-05-09, Z-Dog said:

Vincent, never thought of it that way but I'd totally agree. I think if you start with some challenging, thought provoking, uncomfortable stuff it just gets established that that how your particular group games. I'm sure the first few games would be high comedy (since everyone's laughing 'cause they're so uncomfortable), but it would really establish, out of the gate, that people are here to play a certain way.

Funnily enough, the area I see problems is taking an established, comfortable relationship into a challenging game like that, especially if it's a boyfriend/girlfriend/lover/wife/husband. Upsetting the applecart and all that.


52. On 2008-05-09, Ben Lehman said:

friends -> good challenging game -> much better friends.



53. On 2008-05-09, Z-Dog said:

Well, I must say, when I read my favorite part of IAWA's example of play to a long-time RPG friend where one of a caravan's captain's best interests is to seduce the young boy who's in love with the hidden girl his reaction was a chortle of glee.

Maybe we're just waiting for some rules to give us permission to be bad? Hmmm....


54. On 2008-05-10, Ryan Stoughton said:

OK, that makes sense, but I still don't think that it's the major purpose of game rules at our table.

For example, we struggle with keeping the details flowing.  We're good for a few minutes and then go right back to drama, stabbing, and so forth, without detail.  If the rules forced us to go into more detail (and we're thinking of making a house rule about that like Troels mentioned in his recent AP) then we'd be all good with that - and those rules wouldn't be driving us towards something we're uncomfortable with.

We're not 'advanced' gamers; we've got good techniques for trad play, but we have a lot to work on in our craft to tell other kinds of stories.  The rules are helping us do that; and not primarily by creating uncomfortable stuff.  Partially it's by giving us a comfortable framework to get to know each other while we tell these stories.


55. On 2008-05-13, Vincent said:

Ryan, sure. As far as that goes, though - giving you a comfortable framework to get to know each other while you tell those stories - wouldn't you say that any given ruleset would work? That in those terms they're all basically interchangeable?


56. On 2008-05-14, Ryan Stoughton said:

RPGs have to provide the comfort zone for us to be in opposition to each other, definitely, but they're definitely not interchangeable.

Some lead us away from what we want, some work only with experienced gamers.  Nose-in-the-book D&D, snow-white-and-the-seven-antisocial-lone-wolves Vampire, even I'd-better-find-something-to-reward-you-for PTA.  If people really know what they want and have great techniques, then vigorous creative agreement might be able to steer clear of all of those things in a rules-free context.  But most of us don't have that level of technique.

IAWA helps us get into that conflicting space without leading us away from the experience we want to see.  Before my eyes, it's doing that well for new players as well as experienced gamers.  That's not something every ruleset does interchangeably.


57. On 2008-05-14, Marshall B said:

Here's a thought about the whole "unwelcome" issue:
I don't think it's about rules causing the introduction of things that are unwelcome; I think it's about rules allowing the introduction things that would ordinarily be unwelcome, but they're okay because of the rules.

Also, a random thought about the purpose of rules, in a general sense of the word:  the purpose of rules is to make you think before you break them.



58. On 2008-09-13, Ryan Stoughton said:

I'm finding it faster too.


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