2009-05-04 : Dice and Cloud, the Death Threats thread

Rob recorded a conversation with me about the cloud and the boxes and the variously-pointing arrows. He's put it online here: The Independent Insurgency: Episode 25: TTMN: Vincent Baker on Clouds and Boxes.

After we talked I wrote 2009-04-27 : Dice and Cloud: a Symmetry, so that's why it sounds familiar.

Death threats welcome! Also other forms of followup, like questions, if you've got 'em.

1. On 2009-05-04, A Friend said:

While you're taking threats...


2. On 2009-05-04, majcher said:

Hearing those words out loud, in a conversation, made the importance right-pointing arrow thing totally click for me in a way that just reading about it and looking at pictures didn't. And the rest of the stuff. Sweet.


3. On 2009-05-04, Ryan Stoughton said:

For part of the episode you talk about an attitude towards traditional adventure games like D&D, but how the attitude you need isn't well communicated in the text of those games.

You also talk about how other people talk about it (gentlemanly, etc.)

"The attitude towards play that I'm trying to communicate."

I think you communicated it to Rob but I'm having a hard time parsing it out of the episode.

Is it like how a sandbox game is approached?


4. On 2009-05-04, Robert Bohl said:

I'm really happy that the episode crystallized it for you, majcher. That was exactly why I did it (for myself).


5. On 2009-05-04, Vincent said:

Ryan: It's like how the GM has to approach a sandbox game, yes.

But it's most like how you have to GM Dogs in the Vineyard, though. I know I talked to Rob about this - was it after he stopped recording? (I haven't listened to the interview myself yet.) I also don't know how familiar you happen to be with Dogs, Ryan. Just in case, here goes - if this doesn't explain it, ask more.

When you create a town in Dogs in the Vineyard, the whole point is to find out what the poor players' poor characters are going to do about it. You create a problematic mess, and you're like "oh lord what on EARTH are they going to do to put THIS mess right?" You don't plan out a solution yourself - that'd be contrary to the point. In play, you don't try to block or guide the players' solutions - that'd be contrary to the point too. You have your NPCs do what they would do, given all that you know about them, and you let the players do the same with their characters, and you play the dice scrupulously, even generously. Anything else and you'd be throwing the question, you'd be invalidating the whole reason you're playing to begin with.

It's very similar in Storming the Wizard's Tower. When you create a monster, the whole point is to find out how the players' characters are going to beat it, and whether they even are. You create a cool, threatening monster, and you're like "sweet! I wonder what they're going to do about THIS!" You don't plan out yourself how or whether they'll beat it - that'd be contrary to the point. In play, you don't try to block or guide them - that'd be contrary to the point too. You have the monster do whatever it'd do, given its nature and circumstances, and you let the players have their characters do whatever they want them to, and you play the dice scrupulously, even generously. Anything else and you'd be throwing the question. Anything else and you might as well not even play!

Does that make sense? More questions?


6. On 2009-05-04, Vincent said:

Oh by the way, anybody, if you think you see a contradiction between the GMs' approaches to play and the games' creative agendas, or if you feel any confusion about that, you can ask. Like for instance, "If the GM is just having her characters do what they would do given their natures and circumstances, does that mean the GM is playing sim?" I can answer that.


7. On 2009-05-04, Alex D. said:

Thank you very much for this! It was quite interesting and informative... I wish I could really add to the discussion, but right now I'm just trying to digest it all.

I do have this to say: If the mechanics in the rulebook only exist in this "model" (clouds and boxes) when we look at them (as you say), does that make them "quantum mechanics"?


8. On 2009-05-04, Alex D. said:

Ah! You posted that last bit right as I was putting up my comment, but it made me think of something.

The GM isn't playing Sim (or maybe is, but it doesn't matter), because the rules allow "The GM is just having her characters do what they would do given their natures and circumstances." to equal "The GM is challenging the players to the full capability inherent in the game, allowing them to step on up.".

Am I right here? So... in a way, I think the rules create an overlap between Sim and Gamist.
I think.


9. On 2009-05-04, Christian Griffen said:

Hey Vincent,

First, that was a good conversation.  Have you actually ever read Beast Hunters?  You will find that it promotes that very attitude while alleviating the burden of the judgments at the same time.

Second, though, I wonder if Dogs really fits this mold. Maybe you can clarify that for me. You don't want limited resources to make the determination ("20 tokens for advantage per game, spend token then.justify in fiction") but Dogs does exactly that. You roll dice and get limited resources, then justify their expenditure in the fiction. I don't see how "I use my two 10s to shootfrom the high ground" is any different.

I played Dogs with a character and fiction first player once, who got very frustrated that the mechanics rather than the fiction determined her range of actions. That is, when the dice get to "escalate or give" imposes on the fiction in a way that is leftward pointing.  Almost all conflict actions are in Dogs. Personally, I like it in the game, but I can't see how you could say that it is an example of a rightward pointing game.

Am I not getting something here?



10. On 2009-05-04, Robert Bohl said:

Dogs has moments where you do something fictionally (take out a gun) and it has implications for the mechanics (roll extra dice, your target will later be rolling larger Fallout dice).


11. On 2009-05-04, Ryan Stoughton said:

I think I just have a mental block here.  Normally when I'm running games (either the old-timey handwavey or the new-timey PTA, In A Wicked Age, and so on) I'm very passionately engaged with the game, but more like a director or conductor.  My input provides direction, and providing good direction (pacing, tempo) is my motive in play.

So if I'm doing this I'm the anti-director; I'm a thousand-armed stagehand.  So I start describing the furniture in the tavern.  But that's not what I'm supposed to be doing, right?

I think I should ask something like that question you floated:

If the GM is just having her characters do what they would do given their natures and circumstances, what is the GM's motivation in play?


12. On 2009-05-04, Vincent said:

Christian, Rob: Yeah. Dogs has rightward-pointing arrows that In a Wicked Age (for instance) lacks, but it's not an overwhelmingly rightward-pointing game.

(I don't remember if I've read Beast Hunters, but if I did it was long enough ago. I haven't played it.)


13. On 2009-05-04, Christian Griffen said:

But the gun is on my sheet, and the higher fallout is not determined by the GM but by the rules.  When I pull a gun in Dogs, the GM doesn't get to judge whether or not I inflict the higher fallout.


14. On 2009-05-04, Christian Griffen said:

Oh, ok.  So you just need -some- of it so that people stay at least somewhat invested in paying attention to it.


15. On 2009-05-04, Vincent said:

Christian: "rightward-pointing arrow" isn't synonymous with "GM awards +2 arbitrarily." It's a rightward-pointing arrow whenever the rules refer materially to the game's fiction. "The first time your character shoots someone in conflict, you've escalated to gunfighting" is a perfect example: the only way to know whether you've escalated to gunfighting is to judge whether your character's shooting someone, a wholly fictional matter.


16. On 2009-05-04, Vincent said:

Alex: Ha ha, oops! I kind of set you up, there. The word "sim" is pretty much just a plain ambush, these days.

I'll make it up to you, I'll write a post where I say what I really mean, instead. Upcoming.

Meanwhile, yeah. Sounds right to me.


17. On 2009-05-04, Vincent said:

Ryan: "thousand-armed stagehand" is excellent.

It's all about your NPCs. Your motivation is to give your NPCs their full expression. Human, monster, whatever; you want to reveal them to the other players in full.

Importantly, and this is the same in the Wicked Age, "give your NPCs their full expression" isn't at all the same thing as "give your NPCs what they want." You don't care a bit about THAT.


18. On 2009-05-04, Alex D. said:

Yeah. I can't say I fully understand Sim.
Notably, I once had a discussion with a friend that went something like: "Well, there's really no such thing as Narrativism, really? It's just Sim, except what you're simulating is an interesting story?"... or something.

Anyhow, you say "give your NPCs their full expression" isn't the same as "give your NPCs what they want".

I'm seeing it as "give your NPCs their full expression" isn't necessarily the same as "give your NPCs what they want", but it can be.

In other words, can giving your NPCs what they want serve to give them their full expression?

More importantly, would you say that "give your NPCs what they want" doesn't work as an end, but it might work as a means?

(Sorry if this is retreading anything, I'm just intensely curious.)


19. On 2009-05-04, Vincent said:

Well, sure. Your NPCs can get what they want, or not; either way, you want to reveal what they want, and you want to show them doing what they do to pursue it.

In Dogs in the Vineyard, In a Wicked Age, Storming the Wizard's Tower, and any number of other games, having your NPCs pursue their wants will naturally and inevitably bring them into conflict with the PCs. This is for the simple reason that you created NPCs on purpose whose wants WOULD conflict with the PCs'. And once they've come into conflict with the PCs, of course, their getting what they want is up in the air. Up in the air at best!


20. On 2009-05-04, Vincent said:

Oh, here's a fun Forge post on the topic: Re: [DitV] How to play NPCs who wants "to keep Dogs away".


21. On 2009-05-04, Christian Griffen said:

Ok, cool.  I think I get it now.

So when you design, what makes you opt for "GM awards when fiction warrants" (high ground) versus "X happens when fiction warrants" (gun fallout)?  That is, what different things do these alternatives support?

How would the high ground rule in STWT affect the game differently if the player could just say "I have the high ground" based on the fiction rather than needing GM approval?  Is it consistency of fictional vision?  Letting the player focus on character?  More of a feeling of stepping up achievement through GM recognition?


22. On 2009-05-04, Ryan Stoughton said:

Right; I have no problem IAWA, because I can just have the NPCs pursue their goals passionately, without caring if I lose or win.  Just caring that I'm getting in there.  I know what scenes to frame: Two characters that have something to say to each other, or "Where are you right now?" tends to work.

But I don't know how to map that to say, 4e D&D.  Is my motivation to get the PCs to see as much of the stuff I made as possible?  If so, then what's the difference between giving extra hints so they can find the secret door and the bad nudging where the players are given a few extra healing potions before the big fight.  Or should I not do either?

(I'm not trying to be obtuse; I'm just not getting it.)


23. On 2009-05-04, Vincent said:

Ryan: I have no clue about 4e D&D. It wouldn't surprise me if it works on a whole different approach to GMing. Certainly I've never read any old-schoolers acclaim it as an old-school game.

Storming the Wizard's Tower is way easier to GM than the Wicked Age is. Rob asked me the same question - how do you know what scene to frame? The answer is always: ask "what do you do?", refer to your prep, and tell them what their characters see.


24. On 2009-05-04, Vincent said:

Christian: I don't think you can break game design out like that. A game supports things by the intersections of its rules, not by its rules individually or in simple aggregate.

In fact in Storming the Wizard's Tower the player DOES just have her character take the high ground. It's been in my example all along: the player says "I take position on the ridge of the hill." Then - in Storming, this is - she rolls dice to find out how well her character can take advantage of it and thus how many bonus dice she gets, and the GM chooses what kind of bonus dice they are, based on the precise fictional details. In this way, "I take up position on the ridge of the hill" is systemically different from "I crouch down behind the boulder" or "I scramble up a tree out of their reach."

The rule is called "if your character takes advantage of a tactical feature of the battlefield," but the player can't just say "I take advantage of a tactical feature of the battlefield," roll dice, and find out her bonus, like she could if she were playing In a Wicked Age and using her particular strength. In Storming the Wizard's Tower, that would tell her how MUCH her bonus is, but not what it's a bonus TO. The GM has to know what tactical feature her character's taking advantage of, and how, to know what kind of bonus to give her.

If the player could choose it all for herself, in the heat of the moment she'd say things like "I'm taking advantage of a tactical feature. It'll be a bonus to red dice. I roll ... 3 hits, so that's 3 red dice." Instead, she has to think of something her character can do that will spur the GM to give her the bonus in the red dice she wants. Consequently, nothing happens in the game without something happening in the game's fiction.


25. On 2009-05-04, Alex D. said:

I've played 3.X D&D quite a bit, and 4E some... I've never really played much in the way of old-school, but...

In my opinion, 4E is less old-school than old-school - but quite likely more old school than 3.X.

I rather enjoy the game (in theory/design), but none of the people I play with have any clue what to do with it.


26. On 2009-05-04, Ryan Stoughton said:

Oh, OK, I thought the attitude-should-be-taken was a prescription for traditional games in general.


27. On 2009-05-05, Graham said:

Yo yo yo reprazenting 4 tha yoo kay.

One thing I've noticed, with rightward-pointing arrows, is that they can seem rather unfair. For example, take the rule in Poison'd: if the fiction says you suffer a deadly wound, strike a bargain or die. That judgement call, on whether the wound is deadly, is a life or death decision. At the game table, it can seem like GM fiat.

Similarly, in Apocalypse World, one way you can suffer harm is if it seems natural in the fiction. In a game situation, this can again seem like GM fiat. Say I've got guys with AK-47s and a PC is shouting his mouth off. It seems obvious, to me, that they'd fire, and I've established that in the fiction. But that final decision, take harm or don't take harm, feels like fiat.

Compare how D&D handles this. There's no rightward-pointing arrow for "If the fiction says you take harm, take harm". Instead, it's "If the fiction says someone attacks you, roll dice". It seems much fairer.

For example, last week our thieves were breaking into a warehouse. Unknown to us, there were archers stationed on the roof. If Dave, our GM, had said "Right, an arrow hits you, roll damage", it would have seemed totally unfair. But when he says "Right, there's archers, they're attacking" and rolls to hit, it's fair.

Two things seem important. Firstly, the die roll. Secondly, the fiction that causes the rightward pointing arrow.

So, in the first case, "If someone attacks you, roll damage" seems unfair (there's no roll to avoid the damage). In the second case, "If a wound happens in the fiction, roll for damage" seems unfair, just as it does in Poison'd (who says a wound happens?). But "If someone attacks you, they roll to hit" is fair.



28. On 2009-05-05, Jesse Burneko said:

The whole time I was listening to the interview I was thinking about Sorcerer's Currency and why it trips so many people up.  It's because it's a right-word arrow mechanic.

You have to identify a conflict within the fiction.  Not just a disagreement among the players over what "should" happen but fictional elements must be in motion and someone must point at it and say "conflict!"

Then you have to identify from the fiction what's applicable (Stamina, Will, Lore or Cover) and sometimes multiples apply.  If multiples apply you have to decide from fiction which is primary and which is helping.

Then you roll and you get a result which nets victory dice.  Those victory dice can be "rolled over" into another roll *IF* the action follows from the previous action.  Again, that has to be identified.

So there's all these fictional aesthetic calls that dictate how the dice move around.  And yes, the GM has the final say over that.  But it's not *arbitrary.*  It's all usually very clear when it's actually happening because the fiction is a much more powerful force than people give it credit for.



29. On 2009-05-05, Simon C said:

Hi Vincent, I just finished the podcast, and really enjoyed it.  I'm pretty sure I get the significance of the rightward-pointing arrows, and I can see that they're pretty cool.  I also think that Rob was groping towards an objection that he couldn't quite express, and I'd like to take a stab at articulating some potential problems:

First off, I think your analysis doesn't acknowledge that there's some level of skill in being the good arbiter you describe.  The high ground, for example.  I agree it's largely unproblematic, but there are situations where the GM will be required to make a call that's not obvious.  Is a table high ground? What about a chair? How much higher do you have to be?

You argue that the GM is never in a position where they want to deny the players the bonus. By the same token, there must be times where it is not possible to gain the bonus or else the contribution of the fiction is meaningless.  If you can always gain the higher ground, the rule is "+2 for saying you have the higher ground" rather than "+2 for having the higher ground".  So the GM has to make a judgement call, and making that call requires not just a neutral attitude towards player success, but also some experience in making calls that match people's expectations, and an eye towards how that call is going to affect future happenings of the game.

I think the Umpire analogy is apt.  You're right that it's pathetic to get huffy over a call that doesn't go your way - but you want there to be some correlation between the umpire's calls and the rules of the game as you understand them.  The umpire can be completely unbiased and still make bad calls all night.

So what I'm saying is that as well as this attitude towards success that you laud, a lot of games are going to require some degree of skill from the GM to produce fun play.  I don't know if that's a controversial statement, but it's not something you mention.

There's another kind of related point:

The heroes approach the Wizard's tower, intent on sneaking in and stealing his gold.  The ground floor of his tower has a door guarded by two magical hounds.  One of the players says "I sneak around the back and climb in one of the windows"

Are there windows on the ground floor of the Wizard's tower? If you haven't decided on this ahead of time, and it's really important to a player's plan that there be windows present, are they there?  Does it make any difference what the player's plan is?  What do you base your decision on?  Clearly it would have been ideal to decide ahead of time, but you can't prep for everything.  There are always going to be these kinds of calls.


30. On 2009-05-05, Christian Griffen said:

Jesse, yes, that was my experience when I ran our Sorcerer campaign.

Also: duh!  That whole thing about the fiction impacting conflicts?  Bonus dice in Sorcerer. Way back when, I asked Ron if that wasn't a gamist thing.  He said "no, that's for making sure players stay invested in the moment to moment of play." That is exactly the thing here.


31. On 2009-05-05, Jono said:

Hi Vincent!

In the interview, you said something about how it should be no problem for the "umpire" to make fair judgment calls from the fiction, as long as he/she doesn't have any "conflicts of interest".

I'm wondering if you could elaborate on what you meant by conflicts of interest, because I think that might be the key to understanding why some games that I have GMed have been fun and easy to run, while others have made me feel put on the spot with no good way to make a fair judgment.

E.G. if I'm GMing Dogs then I know exactly what to do (reveal the town in play, say yes or roll dice, etc.).  But if I'm GMing say Spirit of the Century—which constantly asks me to decide difficulties for things the players want to do—then I feel torn between wanting to "challenge" the PCs (by turning up the difficulty), wanting to be fair, wanting them to win so I can see what happens in the next step of their zany plan, etc.  I feel like I should be deciding difficulties purely based on established stuff in the fiction, but half the time the conflict involves something I'm making up on the spot (How many gangsters are behind that door, anyway, and what level of Fists skill do they each have?) so the fictional reason is more like post-hoc justification for whatever numbers I choose.  It feels like a real slippery slope towards "decide whether I want the player to succeed or fail", which is certainly possible with the amount of power Spirit of the Century gives the GM, but is not how I want to play.  (This may be the same worry that your interviewer, and some commenters, are having about the potential unfairness of the un-mechanically-constrained GM.  I'm not worried about that GM screwing me over—I'm worried about being that GM, without meaning to.)

Previously I thought that this problem was because Spirit of the Century gave me too much power as GM, required me to make "too many judgment calls" from the fiction, i.e. too many rightward arrows, and what I really wanted was a game system where I was more mechanically constrained, like in Prime Time Adventures where I would have had to spend Budget to up the difficulty of a conflict.

But now I'm thinking that plenty of rightward arrows are required for the kind of play I want, and there has to be a way to have this without having the slippery slope that I feel when running SotC.

Maybe it's just because the GM has conflicts of interest (make life hard for the pcs! but play fair! But uphold the consistency of the world! But improvise!) in Spirit of the Century that he or she doesn't have in a game like Dogs.  So I'm really interested to hear what you have to say about conflicts of interest.

Thanks for answering our questions!


32. On 2009-05-05, Jesse Burneko said:


Have you looked at Mouse Guard.  One of the main reasons I've shied away from Burning Wheel games is because my experience with "GM sets the difficulty" games is EXACTLY like what you describe with SotC.  I was too keen on constantly having to set Obstacle values.

That to me is different than what Vincent describes as "+2 for the high ground."  Either the player does or doesn't have the high ground based on the fiction.  Sure there's still an aesthetic call to make but it's grounded in something concrete, unlike the vague descriptions of "easy", "hard", "challenging" etc.  You run through all the internal conflicts like you describe.

Mouse Guard on the other hand does two things.  First of all EVERY skill has a list of "factors" that are concrete fictional elements exactly like "has the high ground."  So all you do is add up the factors and bam, Obstacle number.  Sure you still have to make the call between "short distance" or "long distance" for the Pathfinder skill but that's a hell of a lot easier to see than the line between "easy" and "hard."

Second there's a fail safe for making a bad call.  If you set the value too low the players will likely penalize themselves using their trains meaning they'll make for the lack of action later in their player's turn.  Too high and all that happens is they get a Condition and succeed anyway or a Twist happens and stuff just gets more interesting.

Mouse Guard REALLY eases that GM sets the difficult anxiety, I'm ALL too familiar with.



33. On 2009-05-05, Mark W said:

The more you spin this out, the clearer it gets, but the less I find it particularly interesting. Isn't this whole concept basically a way of saying that whenever fiction refers to cues, or cues to fiction, somebody has to make a decision about how and whether a change in one translates into a change in the other? No matter how explicit your rules are, as soon as there's fiction, there's a judgment call. How high does the ground have to be to be higher? The closer you get to specificity, the closer you get to cue-to-cue looping. The more you rely on judgment, the closer you get to fiction-fiction looping.

This is the Popcorn Rule. It's why fiction games work at all. And honestly, I'm not sure I've ever seen play that didn't have arrows going in both directions EXCEPT where there was no functional social/aesthetic commitment to play.

Am I out in the weeds? Is this even a problem in design and play?


34. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

Mark: There's no particular reason for you to find it interesting. I'm talking about it because it explains why In a Wicked Age is prone to a certain sort of collapse in a certain set of groups, where other games I've designed aren't, and it's something I want to talk and write about in service to the games I'm designing now.

It's a problem in some design and some play, but if you haven't seen it in yours, it's not a problem in yours. That's fine.


35. On 2009-05-05, Marshall Burns said:

Well, since "GM fiat" is being thrown around a bit...

I like GM fiat. There. I said it.
Everytime people talk about it like it's inherently evil or unfair, it makes me itch.

The only problem with GM fiat is that, historically, GMs have not had enough awareness about what the fuck they're actually supposed to be accomplishing through the use of fiat.

For example, last week our thieves were breaking into a warehouse. Unknown to us, there were archers stationed on the roof. If Dave, our GM, had said "Right, an arrow hits you, roll damage", it would have seemed totally unfair. But when he says "Right, there's archers, they're attacking" and rolls to hit, it's fair.

Yes, correct. But lemme suggest that the reason that it's fair isn't the dice—it's the fact that you have a chance to do something about it.

I can't imagine any situation in Poison'd resulting in a deadly wound without giving the player a chance to avoid it. If you go into danger or pick a fight or something, you're putting yourself at risk for a deadly wound, and that's that. Your chance to do something about it is, don't take the risk in the first place.

Them's the breaks. Don't be a pansy. We throw pansies overboard on this ship.

(who isn't seriously accusing Graham of being a pansy)


36. On 2009-05-05, Mark W said:

Didn't mean to imply anything to the contrary. It's not your job to entertain me.

I guess I was just trying to figure out why this particular topic had garnered so much confused wrasslin', when it looked so straightforward from my (admittedly, provincial) perspective. I am always interested in finding out how people who aren't me experience this stuff.

Like I say, I've seen it happen, but only when you'd expect it to. Then again, IAWA made sense to me, and didn't to some of the other people I know.


37. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

No grief! My tone is casual and cheery.


38. On 2009-05-05, Matt Wilson said:

Just a thought on all the ways arrows can be rightward pointing...

In Rolemaster, the first time you kill a monster, you get lots of XP.

The second time, you get a little less than that.

By like the fifth time you get a pittance.

It assumes that the character isn't learning as much by fighting the same thing over and over, but it also implies that the fiction involved isn't as interesting either. "Oh, another troll. Okay,*sigh* I'll get the oil and torches."

It's kinda neato.


39. On 2009-05-05, Nathan H said:

So Vincent,
I just listened to Rob's podcast, and I'm okay with the rightward pointing arrows, but your analogy of a little league umpire is driving me crazy.
Aren't the rules the umpire, and the other team the GM?
What about the other team on the field Vincent?
I'm super-fine with umpires, but there's a reason they're not on the opposing team.


40. On 2009-05-05, Seth Ben-Ezra said:

Hey, Vincent. Here's my restatement of what I think you are saying. This isn't an attack or anything; I actually think that I understand what you're saying and want to make sure that I get it.

1) In a computer game, no one complains that the computer gets to arbitrate reality; that's the job of the computer. In the style of design that you're discussing, the GM is the bioware computer that is responsible for creating the world. The game runs on his "hardware".

2) Why would a GM do this? Because his payoff comes not from defeating the PCs but by designing a quality environment for the players to engage with and then enjoying their enjoyment of his design work.

There are some fuzzy words in there (like "environment"), but is this a reasonable restatement of what you're saying?

Because, if so, I think I get what you're saying, and I'm nodding over here. I can see how this would work....


41. On 2009-05-05, Vincent said:

Seth: Yes.

I don't think it's really about enjoying their enjoyment. Like in Story Now play, the GM is a full and active participant in the group's successful play, where "successful play" means that they DID take on the premise, or DID show what they were made of. (Not that they won, you see.)

Nathan: Along those lines, I don't think the GM is the other team. The monster writeup and the rules are the other team, like in Dogs in the Vineyard the town, not the GM, is the other team. Believe it or not.


42. On 2009-05-05, Seth Ben-Ezra said:

>Seth: Yes.


>I don't think it's really about enjoying their enjoyment. Like in Story Now play, the GM is a full and active participant in the group's successful play, where "successful play" means that they DID take on the premise, or DID show what they were made of. (Not that they won, you see.)

Yeah, that's a better way of putting it. The subtle distinction is that the GM is a participant in play by enabling good play, not by doing the same thing that the rest of the players are doing. I'm actually thinking here of the Director's role in my A Flower for Mara, which is all about enabling play.

So, yeah, I'm nodding over here. I get what you're saying and, yes, I can see that this is a skill that can be taught.


43. On 2009-05-06, Weeks said:

Listened once and listening again.  Some thoughts:

Vincent, you've been careful to say and write about *material* references to the cloud or to the dice.  Do just mean that the reference is /important/ or /by-name/ or something else?

I had to rewind a bit after the reference to umpires—it was distracting-neato to think of the baseball fans having a collapse of their SIS when they disagree with the ump about the recent play.

It felt like sometimes Rob was saying "the other players will sometimes hurt us if they have that power" and Vincent was saying "the other players won't hurt us because that's not how it works."  It felt like you two were talking past one another.  Was I just misunderstanding or was some of that happening?

And finally, I think the most valuable thing that I got out of this was the realization that I've been tending to play games removed from actor stance—from above the characters' heads as Vincent described it.  Universalis is always, always satisfying that way.  In a Wicked Age is not.  Our IAWA game lasted five or six sessions and when we were playing in-character it was fun.  But whether we were or not, we were following the rules.  So I think I need to learn how to know what stance to be playing in for maximizing fun.  Or something.


44. On 2009-05-06, Robert Bohl said:

It's quite possible we were talking past one another. I have this disease where I'm too reasonable, and I too-easily see the other person's point of view, which makes it hard to argue unless I'm really, really sure.


45. On 2009-05-06, Nathan H said:

The other team(towns & monsters) isn't made by itself.
The GM is in cahoots with the game.
Cahoots I say!
I'm wise to you!


46. On 2009-05-08, timfire said:

Vincent, maybe this isn't the best place, but I would like a confirmation/clarification:

Trust in tMW is an example of a "rightward pointing arrow", right?

Like, your character does something that makes me go, "I trust you!" or "Now I don't trust you!" I then changed the numbers on the charsheet accordingly, and that alters the amount of resources you have.



47. On 2009-05-08, Vincent said:



48. On 2009-05-08, Marshall Burns said:

I'm glad that people are finally talking about how GMs in Gamist play don't have to be competing with the players. It can be done, with certain designs that put a set limit on the GM's resources, but it's not necessary or even (I'd say) the common case.

What it's usually like is, the GM sets up a situation that demands that the players perform cleverly and skillfully, or else fail. If they fail, they suffer the consequences for failure (often character death but not necessarily), then take what they've learned from this failure, gird their loins, and charge into the fray once again. If they succeed, the GM amps up the challenge factor a bit for the next one. The GM is invested in neither outcome; both are good.


49. On 2009-05-09, Joel said:

Hi. I've been following this whole series but reading juuuust behind the curve of real-time posting. I'm finally caught up, I think! Vincent, what you';re saying gradually makes a lot of sense to me, and hearing it spoken definitely put it over the mark. Cool! The stuff about how to GM this certain way is invaluable for my GMing, and the stuff about rightward arrows is invaluable for my game design. Thanks!

I'd like to repeat Weeks' question, though: what do you mean by "materially" refer?


50. On 2009-05-09, Mathieu Leocmach said:

Is it possible to imagine a formal analysis tool for game rules ? rule by rule and for the game as a whole.

For exemple, a table like this :

Rule description fromtoJugement by
If a new element enters the conflict then roll the dices associated with it and add them to you dice pool.CloudBoxesThe player who benefits from the new element
When you raise, explain what your character does.BoxesCloudThe player raising


Maybe a bit mor compact than cloud&boxes drawings and the moment of jugement is also included.

What do you think about it ?


51. On 2009-05-10, Alex F said:

Vincent, I have a question about Dogs and rightward pointing arrows.  It's partly rule clarification, but also arrow-clarification.

Let's say I have the trait: "Charms every good wife"

I'm in a conflict with Sister Prudence, who Raises me with
"Another man who thinks he knows best, another reason I never married; sir, I'll bend not to your foolishness"

There are three approaches that stand to me here, and not sure which one is rules-supported. For each, I'll take a stab at what Sister Prudence's raise itself means in terms of the diagrams.

1a) It's now difficult / impossible for me to pull this trait in within the conflict, based on the veto the group has upon what constitutes a legit raise.
1b) There is a rightward facing arrow from fiction to character sheet (Traits section): something that occurred in the fiction (Prudence's raise) has determined that something on my character sheet is currently out-of-bounds and cannot be drawn into mechanics currently.

2a) I'm free to pull this trait in within the conflict by alluding to it in a negative way, e.g. "Crikey*, Sister Prudence, your sharp tongue shows you as no good wife. I can see I will have a battle winning you around", rolling in the trait dice, but likely Taking the Blow, in accordance with the weakness of the See
2b) There is no rightward facing arrow as the content of the fiction has not materially limited which resources to pull in (boxes), rather how they are expressed. The only consequences to my boxes are caused by other boxes, in the form of the total dice of the Raise.

Clearly, there's a bit of a continuum, but I think I've tended to play in the more permissive way of 2, where each trait is basically a free-floating resource that you can draw dice from as long as you broadly reference it in your raise somehow.

This essentially treats traits/relationships/stuff as a Commodity. My resources are not constrained by your raises. This round of theory has made me reconsider my play - and also, the design. I'd be interested to hear your design intent for the Call-on descriptor element of Dogs; open to the group or mindfully designed one way?

*Ask David Berg... apparently my Dogs play sounds jarringly English.


52. On 2009-05-10, Alex F said:

Two! Two approaches.


53. On 2009-05-11, Vincent said:

On "materially" refer: I mean, the fictional stuff is material to the direction of the game.

Like, in the Wicked Age played lazy, if it's my challenge and I say "I stab you in the throat," it's materially identical to saying "I punch you in the eye" or "I shove you out the window." You reroll your dice, one or the other of us gets the advantage die, and that's what happens, it's immaterial what I said. I might as well just say "I attack you" or even "challenge!" for all the difference it makes.

In Dogs in the Vineyard, on the other hand, "I stab you in the throat," "I punch you in the eye," and "I shove you out the window" all have different effects on what happens next. If I just say "I attack you," that doesn't give you the information you need in order to respond, you can't just shrug and reroll your dice. The details of what I say are material to the direction of the game.


54. On 2009-05-12, Joel said:

Gotcha! I was sorta tripping over the concept of "material" as in "physical matter." Especially since the Cues are exactly that.


55. On 2009-05-12, anon. said:

Is there a connection between right-pointing arrows and the Fruitful Void? Seems like there has to be.

P.S. You should change your spambot protection so that, instead of typing "human" to prove you are a human, you erase the word "robot". Ha!


56. On 2009-05-12, Adam Dray said:

That was me.


57. On 2009-05-15, Sean Nittner said:

I listened to the episode and I read most of the comments on the related blog posts and I just don???t find that games have exclusivity between leftward and rightward arrows.

Current game I???m running is Burning Warcraft, a Burning Wheel adaptation of Warcraft III.

Example of data moving from boxes to clouds:  Each character sheet has a beliefs, instincts and traits that drive play.  These change each session driving new things in each game.

Examples of data moving from clouds to boxes: The outcome of every conflict results in a change which affects the future conflicts.  You lost that Duel of Wits to defend yourself in a court martial over killing a soldier.  Now you are branded a traitor and given a reputation of ???peasant sympathizer??? which means the soldiers hate you and the peasants love you.  This mechanically affects your future efforts to interact with soldiers and peasants.  As the consequence for failing your persuasion roll Arthas doesn???t trust you.  The obstacle to round him up in a circles roll is now higher.

In the game we are constantly going back and forth between the story which is driving our fiction and the character sheets which are informing the protagonists roll in that fiction.  Both of which are affected by the other.

Another short example.  Data moving from the Box to the cloud: Aspects in fate.  What is on the character sheet drives the story.  Aspects will be compelled by the GM.  Data moving from the cloud to the box: Aspects again!  By performing a maneuver ???I block the door??? the door now has an aspect ???blocked???.  When someone tries to get through that door they must contend with the new change in the fiction.


58. On 2009-05-15, Sean Nittner said:

yikes.  the feed did not like my quotes and apostrophes, replacing them all with ???.  Hmmm... assume that they are all quotes or apostrophes as appropriate.


59. On 2009-05-18, Vincent said:

Hey Sean.

Most roleplaying games have rules - concrete rules in the text, I mean - of both sorts, pervasive throughout their whole designs. Burning Wheel surely does!

What I'm concerned about are the games that don't, the games missing rules that refer materially to the fiction. In a Wicked Age is an example - there's a key place in the game's design, right smack-center in its resolution rules, where a rightward-pointing arrow would make it a more solid game.


60. On 2009-05-18, Moreno R. said:

Hi Vincent!

There is a game than can be downloaded free that in my opinion would be a good example of the difference between the two kind of arrows (at least, if I have understood them well): bacchanal: ALL the arrows in that game go from dice (cues) to fiction, with a single exception:  the "The Cup Runneth Dry" rule: "On your turn you can remove one Wine to the tray by incorporating into the narration an NPC you???ve not previously had in one of your scenes"

What's interesting to me it's that, in my opinion, without that single rule Bacchanal would not be a rpg.  (and, after all, you said almodt the same thing in "Notice that non-RPG games' rules are all entirely like this one. Monopoly, Chess, Die Siedler - they have no fictional in-game, just people interacting and real-world tokens") and so Bacchanal would seem a rather extreme example of a game on the border of rpg-dom: but when I play it we get a really detailed and colorful SIS, that I don't get in games with many more "arrows" from the fiction, as IAWA. So, it's not the number of arrows, it's what they do.


61. On 2009-05-18, Vincent said:

It's definitely what they do that matters, how they fit individually into the game, not how many there are of them.

But Bacchanal, that makes me think of a whole different thing. A whole different take on this business of arrows.

Maybe I'll steal some time from Apocalypse World tonight and compose it. (Take THAT, Apocalypse World.)


62. On 2009-05-19, Sean Nittner said:

Hey Vincent,

Thanks for responding. As a design goal I find you goals very admirable, specifically working towards making the fiction matter (e.g. the GM described a rocky ledge, so a player can turn that into a mechanical advantage by narrating his character standing on higher ground or perhaps knocking some one off said ledge).

Specifically, I see this as important to encourage "yes, and" behavior, so that if one player narrates an army of undead storming the castle, the next player cannot narrate his character taking a leisurely stroll through the castle gates, disregarding the previously mentioned army.  Making the fiction matter helps make sure we're all playing the same game and not just wanking off to our own stories.

That said, Dogs for instance doesn't have any rules (at least that I remember) that specify how you must make your raises, blocks, etc, however in every game I've played the fiction has been a limiting factor.  For instance, if we have established that a Dog's mentor is alive then that Dog's player doesn't have license to summon the ghost of his Mentor as an apparition to scare the townsfolk.  Not because the Dog couldn't do that... but because he isn't dead.  Maybe that is a weak example, but my point is that your games run better than I think you are giving them credit for.  Yes, the players could just say "whatever" in their narrations, but I feel the common desire to share a rich story will prevent them from doing that.



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