2009-04-09 : Scale, Depth, Clouds, Dice

In my imagination, a rule is like if you take a nail and scratch a line in dry dirt, and what people actually do is like where the water actually runs. Some water will run down the line you scratched, because you scratched it. Other water will run down the line you scratched but would have run there even if you hadn't. Other water will go wherever it goes. And (and here this picture breaks down, now I'm talking about bizarro-world water) some water will respond perversely to your line, bouncing off of it or testing its limits or sliding around it or flowing in the opposite direction out of plain orneriness.

So: I open a rpg book at random and read a rule. In this case, it's HoL: Human Occupied Landfill, page 36, and it's actually 2 rules:

Rag on: If, during the clever reparteé that accompanies (or


accompany) tearing the entrails out of your foes, the HoLmeister and other players are particularly amused (to the point, perhaps, of soiling their garments, hmmm?) by one of your witicisms (that means "jokes") the HM may (if you kneel and plead of their merciful judgment / buy them a case) give you (or should I say deign to appease? Maybe I should just get on with it...) a bonus to pummel on your next turn. If the HM fails to offer a good comeback, he must add 1 to the Grace of God pool (group's decision).

(all sic)

I can map those 2 rules out using my little diagrams if I want. In the simplified terms my diagrams require, they're straightforward:

If your character makes funny reparteé in a fight, the HM can give you a pummel bonus.

...And if the HM's character doesn't make a good enough comeback, the HM must give the group 1 GoG.

If you want to talk about those rules in any more detail, like if you want to distinguish between a bonus to pummel and a GoG point, or between "the HM may" and "group decision," or between "the HM may" and "the HM should", or between "funny reparteé" and "feeble reparteé" my little diagrams won't do it. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT I THINK THAT A GAME'S RULES ARE AS SIMPLE AS MY LITTLE DIAGRAMS. Obviously they're not.

And if you want to talk about what people actually do, about where the water actually flows not about the line scratched in the dirt, my little diagrams won't do it. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT I THINK THAT WHAT PEOPLE ACTUALLY DO IS AS SIMPLE AS MY LITTLE DIAGRAMS OR AS SIMPLE AS A GAME'S RULES. Obviously they're not.

However, if what you want to talk about is where a game's rules refer materially to purely fictional things, vs where they refer materially to real-world things, I think my diagrams will do fine.

I'm excited to talk about all of those things! For instance, Jonathan, I'm not suggesting any of the things you put in my mouth here. I think that all your observations about play are sound, but my little diagrams just don't show those kinds of details.

I see a certain danger, already coming true, that people are going to misapply my diagrams and then conclude that they have well-based objections to them. I hope this post heads that danger off, at least a little!

Next up: a post about this one:

1. On 2009-04-09, Vincent said:

Along the same lines, and because this is the kind of ass-covering these conversations demand, I totally admit the possibility of well-based objections, not based on misapplying or misunderstanding the diagrams. I'm not saying that if you have an objection it's because you don't understand.


2. On 2009-04-09, StompyMcD said:

The conversations that have sprung up around this are amazing, and just as obtuse.

Let me try and understand...

Clouds: Player Intentions

Boxes: Mechanical Rule Structure

Arrows: Player Cause to Effect?

Is this right? because maybe I'm misinterpreting the idea here.


3. On 2009-04-09, Vincent said:

Read this first: 1-18-05: How RPG Rules Work.

Come back and ask again any questions it doesn't answer?


4. On 2009-04-09, Brand Robins said:


And sometimes the water will tell you that you are a jerk and trying to control its life just like its mother used to do before it stabbed her in the womb.


5. On 2009-04-09, Ben Lehman said:

Looking forward to the next one, then. Maybe then I'll figure out what's going on in Polaris.

I have a hunch, but I don't want to put words in your mouth.



6. On 2009-04-09, Jonathan Walton said:

Cool, thanks. I think starting this conversations with your clever little plays (with very little context) allowed folks to read into them whatever interesting thoughts we were having about games at the moment. Lately I've been thinking about imperfect consensuses, which is why I read them into what you were talking about when you wanted to talk about something else. (Clearly Rob's been thinking about how characters are narrative contrivances or something.)

I think it would help if I had a sense of what you were trying to get at instead of just these introductory posts leading up to something you seem to want to say. You keep ruling out what you don't want to talk about, but I guess I'm not sure where you're going with this yet.  I am reading and trying to follow you, though.


7. On 2009-04-09, misuba said:

Moral of the story: never mention GM fiat on the internet unless you want to have a whole conversation about it. (And I apologize for my role in this effect.)


8. On 2009-04-09, Julie, aka jrs said:

That "(all sic)" in the OP? Love it.


9. On 2009-04-10, Callan said:


I don't understand? Say your diagram was for describing a powerpoint and cable going to a lamp. But the cable is cut, or intersected by a knife switch (which can be open or closed at any given moment). The simplicity of the diagram isn't a problem - it's that it shows a unbroken line when there is a broken line.

The knife switch isn't some deep complexity the diagram can't possibly hope to include within it. It's just a knife switch.

And there's a knife switch between the cloud and the implementation of +2 to hit. It's a broken line. Well, as broken a line as one might say a line with a switch on it is.

I dunno, perhaps my perception is bonkers, because I cannot see a line with a knife switch in it, as a solid, unbroken line. Ever. Never ever.


10. On 2009-04-10, Larry L said:

Dirt-nail-water? Hey, that's good.

HoL? Somebody has actually managed to play that?


11. On 2009-04-10, Callan said:

Ironically, and probably not intentionally so, the combat system of hol was actually a pretty cut and dried roll to hit, roll damage (well, compare armour to penetration to determine damage).

Hol was like this non conformist, anti authoritarian, crazy, out there hooligan, who on the inside was a pen protector wearing, coke bottle glasses nerd.


RSS feed: new comments to this thread