2008-09-24 : That Reminds Me

...Of something I said on the Forge a long, long time ago.

The real cause and effect in a roleplaying game isn't in the fictional game world, it's at the table, in what the players and GM say and do.

If you want awesome stuff to happen in your game, you don't need rules to model the characters doing awesome things, you need rules to provoke the players to say awesome things. That's the real cause and effect at work: things happen because someone says they do. If you want cool things to happen, get someone to say something cool.

from page 6 of [Bronze] magic and 'magic items', in the now-archived Indie Game Design forum.

1. On 2008-09-24, Vincent said:

If your rules model a character's doing cool things, and in so doing they get the players to say cool things, that's great. I have nothing against modeling the cool things characters do as such.

Just, if your rules model a character's doing cool things, but the player using them still says dull things, that's not so great.


2. On 2008-09-24, Olivier Brunet said:

The converse would be really fun, that is if the player says really cool things while his character does dull things, like turn on the tv, smash the potatoes, brush his teeth.


3. On 2008-09-24, Mo said:

That's funny and timely, too V.

Brand and I talked on this very idea for about three hours just last night after I pitched an idea to handle a new solo game we're thinking of playing together. I suggested where instead of rolling dice that represented anything to do with the character, that we figure a way to roll dice that represented the investedness of the active player (or players, where contested).


4. On 2008-09-25, Ron Edwards said:

Hi Em,

That's pretty much The Pool, isn't it?


5. On 2008-09-25, Mo said:

Hi Em,

Hi Ralph,

That's pretty much The Pool, isn't it?

Could be, never played it.


6. On 2008-09-25, Christoph said:

Indeed! Nicely put.

Hmm... lumpley's law... of cause and effect... yes...


7. On 2008-09-25, Ron Edwards said:

Geez! Sorry about the name, Mo.


8. On 2008-09-25, Brand Robins said:


You should have seen me last night being like "Where did Emily post, I can't see it!" And then Mo looking and laughing and saying "He's talking to me."

Anyway, as to what Mo and I had been talking about vis a vis the Pool—yes, there are strong similarities. Its kinda like the Pool minus character traits and with less resource risk. (Its also still much in transition as Mo and I have fights about it and hurl dice at each other.)


9. On 2008-09-25, Mo said:

Ron, No prob, I take being mistaken for Emily to be a compliment. ;)


10. On 2008-09-26, John Adams said:

Vincent, once again you said exactly what I needed to hear to move my game design forward. Between this and the "kill your darlings" post my head is swimming with new ideas.

Many, many thanks.

Oliver: if you pulled off the awesome/boring combo you'd have a gripping psycho-drama, if you didn't pull it off you'd have a Lifetime movie-of-the-week. =)


11. On 2008-09-27, Callan said:

I'd think the last thing you'd want to do is get someone to say something awesome.

That pivots on you, the speaker, telling them to say something you think is awesome, rather than what they think is awesome.

I think instead you'd probably them to say something they think is awesome, rather than what you think is awesome.

Of course one can feel shy saying what one thinks is awesome, but I think we can all tough that one out amongst friends.

Of course their awesome might not match yours, so the sessions fun can't be carried on the back of 'say awesome things'. I think to be viable, it should be carried on the back of 'Get excited about getting to hear what my fellow players think is awesome'. Which sounds fun to me - it's a sort of getting to know you session, at its heart. Or is that toooo meta?


12. On 2008-09-28, Vincent said:

Callan, sure. You want your rules to actually GET them to say cool things. Turning to them like "okay say something cool. Well? Well?" is a crappy way to go about that, it doesn't work.

No, what you have to do as designer is organize the game behind the scenes, like, so that what the players say without really thinking, what they say just naturally, are cool things.


13. On 2008-09-28, Jenskot said:

My friends refer to Dogs as the game where you say cool things and are forced to actually roleplay.


14. On 2008-09-29, Callan said:

I don't think the rules cover this one from the speakers side - this is about the listener (though rules can cover this side...I'll get to that).

People, unless they are trying to second guess what is cool, will soon enough say something that is cool to them but not to you, being prompted to do so by the rules.

So I think it's in the listener, not the rules that govern what can be spoken. Someone who's listening for/expecting cool things to be said in game, will think the other person is 'playing the game wrong' even though the other person thinks what they said is cool.

Someone who is listening for what the other person thinks is cool, will hear it, not think it's cool themselves, but think 'Yes, got to hear what they think is cool...good! :)'. And indeed, I think when your friends find something cool but you don't, sometimes after hearing it you may warm to it...but that's a subject for another post!

We think of saying something as an act, but listening as a passive. But what you listen


is just as much an act as running, jumping or speaking is.

I suppose I'm just suggesting having rules for the act of listening, not just for the act of speaking.


15. On 2008-09-29, Vincent said:

I'm talking about what I think is cool. I design games to get you to say things that I think are cool. So should you, if you design games.

My supposition is that you and your friends all agree with me about what's cool. If you don't, you won't pick up my games in the first place. (Which is fine. If you don't think is cool what I think is cool, you won't like my games, please don't bother.)

If you don't even agree with each other about what's cool, I've got absolutely nothing for you. Are you sure you should be playing games together in the first place?


16. On 2008-09-29, Vincent said:

Seriously. I'm categorically uninterested in roleplaying, theory or practice, when the players' agreement about what's interesting isn't a rock-solid given. Any theorizing where you have to attend to "the speaker thinks it's cool but the listener doesn't," no thanks. I'm out, good luck and god bless.


17. On 2008-09-29, Ron Edwards said:

Is there any useful distinction to be drawn between "cool," and "cool enough?"

I ask in order to understand your point better, Vincent. I would like to agree with your first post/quote hands-down, but I look back on my role-playing history and am not certain it'd be honest to do so.

Some friends were over yesterday and we were talking about "traits," based on the discussion Markus began at the Forge. We talked about how there was an ongoing group-based, but GM-centric standard for when abilities could be used to augment other abilities. "When relevant and fun" seems like a good guide, but what does that really mean?

Maura had been notorious in that game for justifying a ton of abilities to use to augment the main one, and so was the typical target for that standard (whatever it was). She referenced one point in play when we all threw up our hands and cheered, though, at her choice of abilities when her character was buried in a huge wave of earth. I can't remember what the basic ability she used was, perhaps something like "tough" or similar, but she decided to augment it with another ability, "can talk for hours." "Yes!" we all shouted, and part of the pleasure of the moment came from a bit of frustration at how, until that point, Maura had been such an ability-grubber. This time it was so cool and worked so perfectly and was so *right* for that character (a voluble sort).

And the point being that our collective reaction was part of the system. It wasn't just about her enjoying the coolness of her choice, and it wasn't just about us happening to think it was cool too. That confluence of mutual coolness-recognition was part of what *allowed* her to use that ability! (As opposed to a collective groan for trying to shoehorn in God-knows-what in a previous conflict.)

So, um, there's something there. Something about the shared quality of the coolness that's beyond the automatic "we like the same stuff" that we did share in that group. And something about how that sharedness is *judged* at the table.

I think that it has a lot to do with whether and when I enjoy playing Dogs.

Best, Ron


18. On 2008-09-29, Vincent said:


I'm like, if you're designing a game and you want it to include cool car chases, making rules where cars have ACCEL., HANDLING, TOP SPEED and MASS isn't enough or necessary. You gotta get the players to say about car chases. (And Callan I thought you were like, "what if not everybody in my group thinks car chases are cool?" and I was like, "...that doesn't make the least difference.")

But then, okay, at a whole different scale, a whole different topic, there's the fact that roleplaying is like a soap bubble, a momentary stability in the creative tensions of working with other people, made possible by the creative constraints of your current local system.

At least I THINK it's a whole different topic. There are connections between them, obviously, but the former is so fundamental that insights about the nuances of the latter don't really have any purchase on it.

I suppose I'll start a new thread for you, Callan and Ron. Hold on.


19. On 2008-09-29, Jonathan Walton said:

Vincent: Do you really think there are a large number of play groups out there were people actually agree on what's cool?  In my experience, that doesn't happen that often.  Like, sometimes, if you draw Venn diagrams, you can find areas of sufficient overlap and try to focus the game on those parts.  But, generally, I think most people have very different ideas of cool.  This difference of perspective, perhaps, may be the root of some of our recent confusion.


20. On 2008-09-29, Vincent said:

Oh man. Saddest ever.

Sometimes people are like "I was psyched to play your game, Vincent, and I finally managed to talk my friends into it, but they weren't REALLY into it and it wasn't any fun." Sometimes they tell me which of their friends would have enjoyed it, except that which of their other friends really sabotaged it for everyone.

It mostly doesn't happen. Most of the time, in most of the groups I hear about, any one player's enthusiasm will get the other players genuinely on board, or else they'll never even try the game out. But it does happen sometimes.

So yeah, I figure that most groups are able to come to good working agreements about what's cool. Sometimes it's just a subset of what any given member of the group thinks is cool, but it's at least a solid subset. Otherwise, we're back in "no roleplaying is better than bad roleplaying" territory, aren't we?


21. On 2008-09-29, Jonathan Walton said:

Honestly, I suspect that there are a lot more groups that have the former experience, but they are just, due to their experiences, less likely to post about them.  But maybe it's better not to think about that and assume most people are having fun?

I just had a long chat with John Harper on this issue.  Honestly, I think my Mo-diagnosed social socket may interfere with me getting at some of this stuff, because when I'm playing a game I'm primarily there to be with the people.  The game, from my perspective, is simply an interesting way to structure our social interactions and if it ends up being less fun than hanging out would be, I end up disappointed.

Also, because I can enjoy hanging out with people who have very different ideas of what's cool, the place where social experience and game experience overlap can be really weird for me. Like, I often enjoy being with people even when the game seems pretty mediocre, which can make it hard to diagnose problems (is it the game? the people? me?).


22. On 2008-09-29, Vincent said:

Ha ha ha! Yep. "Most roleplayers aren't having much fun," Ron says, and now you say. "I think most roleplayers are having fun," I say. It's one of the few ways - maybe the only way, Ron, yeah? - that I'm actually generous with my faith in roleplayers, not a stingy old bastard.


23. On 2008-09-29, Jonathan Walton said:

For me, I think it depends on the last game session I had.  If it had issues, I'm with Ron; if it was totally awesome, I'm with you.

I posted more thoughts on your "Seriously, I'm out" line of reasoning over here, as a polite disagreement:

Can we design games that facilitate play groups in finding their own bliss, as opposed to synchronizing their bliss with the designers' (while still avoiding the "infinite options! all white bread" problem)?  I'm optimistic, actually.


24. On 2008-09-29, Vincent said:

Disagreement? I don't get that.

You made quite a leap there, from "do you really think there are a large number of play groups out there were people actually agree on what's cool? In my experience, that doesn't happen that often" to your optimism about "games that facilitate play groups in finding their own bliss." I can't follow it.


25. On 2008-09-30, Jonathan Walton said:

Sorry, my train of thought went like this:

1. V says groups that don't share his bliss shouldn't play his games.

2. Is there room for a play group finding a bliss that is different than the designer's bliss, using the designer's game, by building in certain flexibilities?  Basically, are there ways to build in options for drifting the game?

I am led down this patch because the overlapping Venn diagram of shared bliss in some of my play groups is fairly specific, because our tastes are more dissimilar than in other groups I play with. As such, less compatible play groups are stuck playing the same couple games together, ones in which our shared, uh, "bliss space" overlaps with that of the game. Honestly, this is sometimes what leads me to hack games so much, to make them actually work for specific audiences.

One solution is the oft-stated "play with people with more compatible tastes," but it also seems like drift could be a worthwhile goal in some cases, stripped of the stigma it used to have in some Forge conversations. After all, even a lot of fairly dissimilar groups aren't dysfunctional all the time, just when playing a game that doesn't work for everyone.

Is that clearer?


26. On 2008-09-30, Ron Edwards said:

Yet another undeserved, off-hand slam at the Forge. I call foul.

Drift was proposed and recognized as a *functional* correction that people had to make, given incoherent texts and weirdo social contexts.

At most, it was also recognized as a habit that could unnecessarily be brought to better texts, serving to obscure understanding of the text. But as itself, Drift was never called a bad thing.

Your point about the "bliss space" is valid and relies entirely on the legacy/foundation of Forge discourse. That qualifying comment is graceless and ungrateful.


27. On 2008-10-01, Vincent said:

(Ron's right.)

The games that come to my mind, Jonathan, are Shock: and Universalis. I know that you're after player-adapted dynamics, not necessarily content, and those are both noted for their open content. It happens that they're also both games where within the rules the players have a lot of control over the dynamics of play.

You may know all this already, I don't know whether you've played them, but just in case:

In Universalis (and correct me if I'm off, Ralph, I haven't played with this feature), changing the dynamic of play is just a matter of doing it, same as introducing a character or setting element. Want a GM? Make one. Want victory conditions? Set some.

In Shock:, changing the dynamic of play would mean choosing Praxes very carefully, not necessarily intuitively, and then maybe adopting guidelines for the audience's d4s. It'd be more limited, but I think it'd be an interesting challenge and you could get some really cool effects, if you undertook it.

Like, imagine playing with Praxes "with an internal monologue VS with outward action only," and "because it's what I would do VS to illustrate a point." Playing with Praxes that are meta- like that would totally change the dynamic of play.

Anyhow, I'm not saying this to say "ha, we've already solved that problem." I don't think any design problem is EVER solved for good and all; there should always be more games, more solutions, more variety, more fun. I'm saying it to back up my non-disagreement, and to say that I think your optimism's demonstrably well-founded.


28. On 2008-10-01, Kuma said:

The emphasis on dynamic player interaction is, in itself, a flavor of 'teh cool'.  I'm very interested in mixing up inter-player dynamics, but that's my bag, not necessarily everyone else's.  What needs to be more fundamentally addressed is player empowerment - creating games that allow each player to take their passion for the game at hand and use it effectively in all of the different spaces of the game.

It sounds like a joke: A wargamer, a drama junkie and a Star Wars freak meet in a bar.  How do you create, mechanically, the means for all three to create a single narrative that they'll enjoy?  Mostly by granting different brands of authority to players, and balancing those authorities in metamechanical ways.  The wargamer manipulates the widgets, the drama junkie creates positive interplayer tension and the Star Wars freak keeps a rein on the thematics and color of the SIS.


29. On 2008-10-01, Jonathan Walton said:

Ron, I wasn't trying to bash the Forge; quit jumping on me.  Every time I can remember hearing the word "drift" (on the Forge, on SG, etc.) it was in a negative context.  If that doesn't fit with that you were trying to say, that's cool, but the way the word was commonly used overwhelmed any other potential meaning for me.  I appreciate the correction, but I don't appreciate you treating me like an ungrateful child.  I totally acknowledge that taxonomies of player desires are something I first encountered in the Forge tradition.

Vincent, cool. Your points about Universalis and Shock: are well taken (I've played both).  Where Universalis leaves rules gimmicks open-ended, leaving it up to the players to make sure their gimmicking doesn't fuck up the game, it seems like there would be room for a bit more guidance there, yeah?  Some plug-and-play or at least suggestions on how to formulate gimmicks that are helpful?  Defining praxis on the meta-level is a neat thought.  Seems like you could do that with IAWA too, yeah?  Like what if "for myself" refers to the player, not the character?


30. On 2008-10-01, Valamir said:

That's right Vincent.

Early on there were lots of pretty dramatic gimmicks flying around but the ones that got the most use were the more subtle dynamics ones.

In the core rules you have to pay a Coin to take over my Component in order to do something with it.  There's a "friendly takeover" gimmick that essentially says that if I don't mind what you're going to do with it, I can let you have it for free.

String a bunch of those type of gimmicks together and you can really change the whole dynamic of play...making it either more squishy consensus driven or more cut throat.


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