2005-02-03 : Roleplaying Theory Open House

I'm in an open house kind of mood.

1. On 2005-02-03, Ben Lehman said:

I want you to talk about mechanical, rigorous system that is not about conflict resolution at all.

I don't care what else it is about.  That's a wildcard.  But Dogs has a bunch of it, so I can tell you've worked on it before.


P.S.  I also want to talk about your "what makes a character a protagonist" bit.  I think you're missing something.


2. On 2005-02-03, Keith, Goat Master said:

Being new here and not having a chance to read everything there I may mention something already covered.  Feel free to smack me upside the head.  I would like to see something on:

1) Activities and interactions that occur between play and how they help or hurt play
2) Endgames for games without defined endgames
3) Mixing gaming approaches (Offline with Online)


3. On 2005-02-03, Emily Care said:

Player input mechanics like fan-mail(PtA) and trust(tMW), and the dynamics they create between players.

Providing adversity to yourself and others. Creating a social contract the lets you take the kid gloves off while staying friends.


4. On 2005-02-03, Chris said:

-The hows and whys of folks throwing on blinders and becoming unable to recognize the quite obvious nature of roleplaying at the table, that is, its just people talking, credibility, etc.

-How people can use creative limitations(focus the elements) to add momentum and direction to play("You're all Dogs!") and what that means for players, for GMs, and the group as a whole


5. On 2005-02-03, Matt said:

The division of authority, and new ways to spread it around (cf. GOG, Universalis).


6. On 2005-02-03, Brennan said:

I don't have anything specific to ask about, although I am very interested in where this will go.


7. On 2005-02-03, Weeks said:

How about you summarize the state of the art as you see it.  You've been talking "this is better than that" and you've mentioned obsolescence in game designs a couple times recently.  Want to synthesize it all?


8. On 2005-02-03, Eric Finley said:

The elements of adversity.  We've got Stakes.  We've got uncertainty.  We probably have back-and-forth stuff to extend and stretch that uncertainty (this is where Dogs kicks some of my current designs' asses).  What else?  What's the checklist?  Given that infrastructure, I think we could do a lot more to answer your question in your other today's post, about how you determine the GM for a character.

Also ties in to the last point in Emily's comment.  How do you take the kid gloves off so that the adversity level goes through the roof with everybody having fun with it?


9. On 2005-02-03, inky said:

This is both a softball and impossible to answer, but my basic RPG problem is I don't have as many cool things happening per minute as it seems could be happening. Any insight?

-Dan Shiovitz


10. On 2005-02-03, Ninja Hunter J said:

Yeah, I think Eric's got the idea here. I want a summary, too.

Here's the stuff I see going on, the problems I see people confronting, and I want to know where it fits into your theoretical structure, and I want to know what, and if, you think is relevant.

- Mechanical support for inter-character support.
- Mechanical support for player contribution to non-character plot elements.
- Ways to contribute conflict when it's needed to prevent dead-ball and make story jump when otherwise it gets the slowest.

I'm wicked into Emily's question about the kid gloves, too.


11. On 2005-02-03, Chris said:

Dan/inky - email me @ yeloson at earthlink dot net.


12. On 2005-02-03, Tim Alexander said:

I'd like to hear Vincent's take on how contributions are valued in games. Does it take an equal share to work? Is it better with an equal share, does it matter? Specifically related to the trend for GM/Player specialization, i.e. the one guy that always runs the games because no one else wants to, can, feels up to it, etc. This relates to the kid gloves question of Emily's as well, and I see it being wrapped into authority issues too.



13. On 2005-02-04, xenopulse said:


Your writing reflects a lot of what I've learned through many years of freeform roleplaying. Especially the pieces on character death and actual play. I was going to elaborate, but alas, no discussion in this thread. :) So, as far as topics go, I'm interested in more on Putting the Action into Actual Play.

Thanks for sharing.

- Christian


14. On 2005-02-04, Chris Goodwin said:

I'd like to see you discuss task resolution vs. conflict resolution (a la here) in the context of GNS.


15. On 2005-02-04, Chris said:

Good situation building!


16. On 2005-02-05, Tony said:

Roleplaying game vs Storytelling game. Which one am I? How do I tell?




17. On 2005-02-06, Jasper Polane said:

Any mechanics that are not resolution.


18. On 2005-02-07, Emily Care said:

Hear, hear to Jasper's suggestion. We need a taxonomy of what mechanics can & do do.


19. On 2005-02-07, Ben Lehman said:

Yes, Jasper!  Yes!



20. On 2005-02-07, Id said:



21. On 2005-02-08, Dave Ramsden said:

I'd like to discuss LARPs and how they differ from tabletop play (compressing IIEE, player responsibility for input without direct oversight, etc.) but that may not be everyone's cup of tea.


22. On 2005-02-08, Charles said:

One thing I keep wondering about is the idea of using high mechanics systems for short periods within a larger low-mechanic game. The strongly narrativist mechanics seem to offer the most interesting possibilities.

What would it look like to play out a couple of sessions of an existing game (with highly developed characters, ut probably relatively low narrative movement per session) using a system that emphasizes stylization and narrative movement?


23. On 2005-02-09, Tom said:

If I want to make a new class for d20, what are the major factors to consider?  I'm interested in both the underlying math (how to make sure class features keep pace with other classes and rising CR levels) and more subtle issues around keeping the class interesting to players and useful to the overall party.

Failing that:  Underpants for monkeys.  Boxers or Briefs?  Why?


24. On 2005-02-10, Dav said:

What, exactly is the benefit of freeform roleplaying vs. a more traditional structured roleplaying.  If the answer, in the end, boils down to: aesthetics, then that's fine, but I s'pose not truly worthy of discussion.

My question, to be a bit more narrow, would be: your games have little in the tradition of a few players and a gm... is this because you are sick of it, because commie-storytelling is better, or because of something else entirely (such as, it just happens to fit your games better, as a coincidence).

Also, check-out Jared's darkpages thing, that's kickass.

Also, how'z trix and what have I missed?  When did this start?



25. On 2005-02-11, Tobias said:

(when designing) - setting the strength of setting and premise tight enough to give powerful play, but not so tight that every game?s the same (or results in the same decisions to hard choices)


26. On 2005-02-16, anon. said:

Can Task Resolution be combined with Conflict Resolution if part of laying out a Conflict is to explicitly state the tasks which are to be done within it?


27. On 2005-02-16, Dave Ramsden said:

Can Task Resolution be combined with Conflict Resolution if part of laying out a Conflict is to explicitly state the tasks which are to be done within it?


28. On 2005-02-20, Piers Brown said:

The role of flexibility in game design—how much 'give' or 'play' do systems need to make room for the players?

What I'm getting at—in DitV all the pieces (see and raise, "say yes or roll the dice", fallout, town building, random characters, etc) are necessary, but at the same time the don't quite meet up; there is a sort of space between them in which the players and GM mediate between the different parts of the system.  How does that work?


29. On 2005-02-23, Ben Lehman said:

A complete textual redaction criticism of AD&D 1st edition.

Also, a pony.

And a spaceship.


P.S.  I'm ribbing you.  If anyone else who reads anyway wants to work on this, though, I will be super-happy.


30. On 2005-03-01, Chris said:

- The defense mechanism of folks to focus on the imagined content rather than what's happening at the table.
- Self esteem of the actual players and how that affects play
- Why Sim is the hardest way to get non-gamers to buy-in
- How DitV really does the Sorcerer premise "You've got the power, now what do you do with it?" and how it scares people shitless :)


31. On 2005-03-01, luke said:

Hi Vincent,
I was wondering if you could open up a thread so I could grill you about some of the stuff you said in Conflict vs Task Resolution and A Small Thing About Character Death.



32. On 2005-03-07, timfire said:

Could I squeeze in one last question before you close this, err, thread? Hopefully I can phrase this in a way that makes sense...

Could you discuss granting players' broad directorial powers—the extreme example being Universalis—versus granting players very narrow or specific directorial priviledges—like I've done with Fates in tMW? How does this effect the creation of theme in actual play? How does this effect the feeling of "authorship"? Is there really a noticable difference in play, or am I just confusing myself?

In other words, many games, when they do grant directorial power, grant very broad directorial power (ala the generic "drama points"). Players can mostly do whatever they want. But in tMW, players can only use directorial power if it plays into their Fate, and they can't effect another player's Fate. Do these 2 approaches cause a noticable difference in actual play?



33. On 2005-03-09, Tim Alexander said:

One more if there's time. Can you talk about how you're specifically applying the modified version of the Otherkind rules to your Ars campaign? You've mentioned some stuff (like dropping the narration die) but I'm curious to see more fully how you guys have implemented it in a troupe fashion.



34. On 2005-03-10, Tobias said:

On the (im)possibility of 1-player (solitaire) RPGs.

I'm thinking this because of all those RPG books we all buy, that read as really cool, but never get around to playing.

I have some vague design ideas for it for now, centering around player memory and ability to 'cheat' (there's no moderator other than yourself, after all), but there are issues - like which types of RPGing agenda's would be viable for 1-person play, and if it's att all sensible to talk about 'playing a role' when all you do is make stuff up without sharing it with anyone else (other than what's written for the game).

When there's no audience other than yourself, does it make a sound when the tree falls on you?


35. On 2005-03-10, Kat Miller said:

I'd like to talk about Immersion and Character Ownership.

If you don't have exclusive ownership of a character, then can a player still have anykind of Immersion experience?

I don't know about other players, but one of the perks I get out of playing is a happy zen about my characters and I'm possessive about that.  Yes, I want to enjoy whats going on with my fellow players. I want collaborative play, but I also want to feel that sense of Immersion.

I like Universalis but its a completely different gaming experience and my happy Zen is missing.  I want to know how to achieve open collaboration on story and still have enough ownership that I get my Zen.  Is this an impossibility?



36. On 2005-03-10, Meguey said:

I want to talk about playing cross-gender, if/why we do and what our reasons are. Also, I want to talk about the gender make-up of our gaming groups.

(There's another question too, about gaming with kids and how 'pretend we're wolves' becomes Werewolf. Watching kids 'pretend' seems to be a potentially rich source of pratical gaming info. (Elliot, age 5, says "That's true! When me, Sebastian and Emily play pretend, we are sometimes werebeasts!"))


37. On 2005-03-11, Charles said:

I'd like to talk about how roleplaying games can handle love and friendship. While I've seen games that let characters do horrible things to each other with gusto without turning players against each other, I have only very rarely seen games that allowed characters to fall in love or develop deep friendships except as expressions of player-player relationships. Am I missing something, or is this an underdeveloped area?


38. On 2005-03-13, Tony I said:

When the dynamics, relationships and expectations of a group force a change in their rule set they evolve a game that is better, more focused, and altogether wonderful. That's drift right?

When a rule set forces a change in the dynamics, relationships and expectations of a group, then you evolve a group of better people, more focused people, and altogther wonderful people. What are you calling that? I've watched how Universalis does it, I've seen Shoujo Story do it, how does DiTV do it?


39. On 2005-03-14, Chris said:

Let's talk about the necessity of putting in explicit rules against GM's blocking/abusing power over the right of players' input...

Example of blocking input:

D&D has rules for using skills like Intimidate or Negotiate.  It also has modifiers so high that if the DM decides, it can be impossible for you to use either of these skills against certain encounters...  Effectively rendering it a GM-fiat sort of thing. :(

Example of rules against blocking input:

Trollbabe, either the player or the GM can declare a conflict, and determine what the nature of the conflict is and whether it is physical, magical, or social...

In one case the playes have input options that are arbitrarily at the hands of the GM for use or not, in the other the players are assured that the input options will always be open...




40. On 2005-03-14, Matthijs said:

Since meaning isn't a property of an event (narrative or real), but always constructed by an observer after the fact - how do you make a game that creates events that seem meaningful to the players?


41. On 2005-03-14, lordsmerf said:

I'd be interested in some expansion on Task vs. Conflict resolution, especially in light of Tony's version (found here):

In most games, there is Rules Stuff (where the rules arbitrate what happens) and Soft Stuff (where players co-create what happens, using a variety of social dynamics, but with multiple options all equally valid under the ruels).

In Task Resolution, "What you do" is mostly Rules Stuff, while "What it means" is mostly Soft Stuff. The dice tell you that you slay the giant. Then the group decides whether you free the kingdom from tyranny.

In Conflict Resolution "What it means" is mostly Rules Stuff, while "What you do" is mostly Soft Stuff. The dice tell you that you free the kingdom from tyranny. Then you decide that you slay the giant to do it.

That is, if you haven't talked the topic to death yet...



42. On 2005-03-14, lordsmerf said:

Uh... that's wierd.  I'm not sure what happened to the tagging on that post, I hope that it's clear despite being almost entirely blue...



43. On 2005-03-14, Tobias said:

Earlier I mentioned 1-players RPGs.

Remember when you were a kid, and you had a bunch of toys (transformers, kars, lego, whatever) and you played with them?

I used to play out story fragment after story fragment (rather repetetively, sometimes, actually), filling in the voices of both Robot A and Robot B, doing some (faux) tactical maneuver, shooting, etc.

Whether something was effective in combat had nothing to do with it - sometimes robot A dominated cause he was cool, sometimes it was a rough fight with whole limbs getting blown off, sometimes some mooks had to die to make a point. Sometimes is was all A-teamy, after the fight, everyone brushed off the dust and the whole thing started up again.

(I'm around 8 here, I think, I'm not sure. Does it matter?)

Where did that go? Is it a developmental phase you grown out of? Does the need for audience become too big? The need for meaningful opposition or questions posed so there will be something fresh to react to? Or is there some juicy tidbit in that kinda play most people shove away as they grow older? (Except those that play a lot with miniature trains, cars, models... or even roleplaying?)


44. On 2005-03-17, Charles said:

In order not to interfere in the child solo roleplay thread, I'll post this here.

Eric talks about children not seperating stances, and I am pretty sure I agree. But then he lists the stances that he means, and of course there the forge stances of Actor/Author/Director, not the old Narative Stances of IC/Actor/Author/Audience, and suddenly I don't get it. Children don't distinguish whether what the play with is a main character, a person, or a thing?

So this raises a couple of questions I'd like to talk about, and I'll totally accept if they fall into the "I'm not interested in arguing over the theory terminology" category.

Question 1) Where did Audience and IC go in Forge Theory? They're still obviously important when we talk about games, but I don't understand what structure they are part of. I can see that argument that the 4 stances did not necessarily make a coherent whole (in that they can be thought of as breaking down into the answers to several different questions "How do I decide what the character does? How do I view what the character does?"), but I don't see where the other parts went.

Question 2) What purpose does forge stance theory serve? For me it seems to reduce down to "Am I interacting with the game world via my character, a non-PC person, or a thing?" and I just don't understand how that is a particularly important question to ask.

If there are Forge threads that answer all this, I'd be greatful if you could point me towards them, if you don't feel like opening this particular can of worms here.



45. On 2005-03-18, Charles said:

Okay, on further consideration, I see where IC-stance went (it got renamed Actor Stance to avoid confusion over the multiple meanings of IC), I also see better what the Stances are doing (I even get the Author-Director division).

That leaves one question, and a much more productive and less confrontational one: Can we talk about the function of Audience, and how it fits into the scheme of things? I see PTA in particular as doing very interesting things with the role of Audience, and the issue of Audience came up big time in the discussion of sex and romance in RPG. Is there a developed theoretical framework for these issues?



46. On 2005-03-19, JasonN said:


I think it's true of most gamers that we like to talk about our games when they're not being played.  And why not?  We've invested a lot of time in it, and we've done a lot of cool things that didn't get as much attention as we would like.  And sometimes we didn't get to fully express all that we wanted because time was short, or we didn't have the right words at the time.

So, when we talk about all this stuff over lunch with our friends (let's say our game is still ongoing) and we clarify certain things to ourselves and fill in extra details to each other?  It might not involve a full set of game participants, but it sure as heck sounds like Exploration to me.  And it comes pretty close to a kind of gaming.

Is this gaming?  Is it gaming in the game game?  If not, then just what is going on here?



47. On 2005-03-21, Emily Care said:

Resolution.  When is it about resolving conflict between players? When is it about providing adversity? Does it matter? What else is it about?


48. On 2005-03-21, JasonN said:

Here's another one for the hopper.

I don't think the hobby's game designs say a lot about how to get a satisfactory end to a game (that is, a "campaign" of game sessions).  Even in my best groups, the social contract has very often "let's play this game until we can't play no more!"

Thus, a barrage of ending-related questions:

Do games benefit from planned endings?  Is this another meaningful choice that the whole group should be empowered to make?  How does one go about saying when a game should end?

Do designs which encourage shorter games create a different kind of play than ongoing designs, and is this kind of play superior for those of us seeking thematic and Empowered play?

There are those who say that books—like lives—only take on their full meaning after they end.  Are games the same?  By playing games which peter out instead of go out with a bang!, are we robbing our protagonists of crucial and meaningful stuff?



49. On 2005-03-22, Chris said:

Tokens as "boundary markers".

If we're dealing with SIS, which exists only as a collective agreement on the part of the group, tokens seem to be a necessary and useful tool for negotiation at the table.  This is including tokens as dice, cards, the numbers on the character sheet, etc.  It seems that tokens allow us to stake out boundary lines and keep play moving smoothly, so we don't have to argue "Hey, that was out of bounds" "Nuh-uh" all the time.

I'd say that these boundaries are what keep us from sliding into unstructured play, and having to constantly rework things through social contract all the time.




50. On 2005-03-23, Ninja Hunter J said:

OK, here's a 'state-of-the-art' question: Dogs is about judgement, retribution, honor, and what you'll pay to pass, deal, and retain them.

My Life with Master is about being a bad bureaucrat to retain your humanity.

Prime Time Adventures is about... what? I suppose I should ask Matt. Anyway, that's not the question.

What are D20, GURPS, Vampire, Deadlands, Hero, et al. about? What have we been playing about all these years?

Or, the bigger, more abstract question is, why does a system have to be about a specific category of endeavor? Is it impossible to write a generic system, wherein players define their own characters' goals in the story? Wouldn't it be better to introduce a mechanic with an 'insert your story goal here' slot?


51. On 2005-03-25, joshua m. neff said:

I have a topic, and I've skimmed through all of the previous posts and don't think I saw this particular one yet, so...

In DitV, you have 3 pages devoted to "The Structure of the Game," which you present as "If Dogs in the Vineyard were a board game, this would be the board."

Why don't all RPGs have this in them? Why don't all RPGs explicitly tell everyone playing them game "this is how you play the game, this is what you do"?

It seems that many RPG designers consider this kind of focus a negative aspect—a game is "just a toolkit" and people can play it however they want. Now, there's nothing in Dogs that prevents me from playing it differently, but at the same time I can pick up the game, read those pages and say, "Aha! Now I know exactly what to do when we all sit at the table."

On the other hand, one of the cool things about RPGs is that you can deviate from the intended flight path more easily than you can with, say, Monopoly or Risk.

So...should all RPGs have this kind of focused "here's how to play the game"? Would some really cool games lose something if they were more focused?


52. On 2005-03-25, Hello Sailor said:

After rereading the most recent discussion (3-23-05, re: character development), I realize I'm having some trouble distinguishing between player-as-participant and player-as-author as they apply to current design theory.

Player-as-participant is when the player interacts with the game. Player-as-author is when the player creates the game. I'm simplifying those definitions for the sake of brevity.

Current design theory says that both those player roles are required (often simultaneously) for a good RPG. Player-as-author is a part of the foundation of ideas that raise current design theory above conventional RPGs. In other words, it's a known and accepted thing. Is there really a need to continue distinguishing between the two?


53. On 2005-04-06, Judd said:

I am getting set to start a Burning Wheel game in a troupe style and wondered if you could share some thoughts on Ars Magica inspired troupe play and how it translates into other games.

Does ArM really do anything systematically to back up troupe play other than the covenant set up with a pool of grogs, custi and Magi?

Can you tell me when troupe style had led to great success at the table and when it has led to trouble?

Any troupe thoughts would be great if you've got the time and the inclination.



54. On 2005-04-06, Ninja Hunter J said:

How you differentiate mechanically between complex and simple conflicts? For instance, in PTA, everything comes out as one roll, hanging you out to dry on narration, whereas Dogs lets you choose the importance of each action, one by one, thereby giving you a story as you go through the conlfict.

The abstract solution is obviously not "dole out the dice as you go", but something else more fundamental. What's neat about Dogs is that it gives you all the detail that task resolution gives you, but what you're doing goes somewhere. How do you work out how much narration per player action during conflict?


55. On 2005-04-14, Jason L said:


I'd like to read more musings about a dead horse - FatB.

Assume a game with a (forgive the Forgease) Coherent design.

In the game, at the beginning of every scene, players roll dice based on character stats.  When they roll the dice, they don't know the specific conflict, they don't know the stakes.

They decide the conflict and the stakes after the roll, using the values of the rolled dice as a currency to define the initial states and stakes of conflict in the scene.

Then, the players fight for a final determination of these things (answering the classic 'who wins?' question) through methods of well-designed FitM.

Would that be FatB?

Or are you denying FatB because, at some point, the players make a decision before the dice are rolled, regardless of that decisions relevance to the outcome of the scene?




56. On 2005-04-18, Tony Pace said:

I really liked the article about Practical Conflict Resolution Advice. What other advice do you have for those of us playing in or GMing 'soft narrativist' game?

What techniques do you think are appropriate and inappropriate for story and premise focused games in non-supporting systems such as D20, Storyteller, and WFRP? How do you think we can effectively drift the rules to support our style of play? Are there any lessons from your Ars Magica game that you think are generally useful for gamers in such a situation?


57. On 2005-04-18, Scott A. H. Ruggels said:

Oh How I wish someone had not sent me this link :-)  I have read a few of your articles here and it brought back a lot of the discussion on, from 10 or more years ago. I used to be in the industry (illustrator for R. Talsorian, and Hero, and Tri-Tac, still do some for Hero on occasion) Gaming table top is something I don't do any more for a few reasons, not all of which were my choice but seeing this again was nostalgic in the annoying sense, like bad disco heard in a Denny's :-) So it seems that the industry has continued to develop after Magic sucked all the Money out of it, and the D20 rules threatened to homoginze everything.

The Big change for me looking over the notes is different rules, a lot of interpersonal rleations, and the emphasis on "Story" rather than simpl the situation and background. (Lets just say that in the old days, the Background was the GM's responsibility and the players were "strong Actors", and when I GM'd I much prefered it that way. This stuff seems kind of newfangled, and a bit too touchy feely, and "Story focused" for one that came to the hobby from war gaming, and the original D&D 3 book set.

I'm sort of glad the hobby still continues, even with the rest of the world thinking RPG is something they play on their consoles, involving a railroad straight storyline, and pre-generated Characters. (Though I am in the electronic entertainment industry, my taste there are almost exclusively FPS, games, the 3d Equivalent of Dungeon crawls), Good luck with your endeavors, and I amresisting the temptation of getting involved in the discussion, as it would probably make me miss Tabletop all the more, and with the generational change, it wouldn't be the same, these days. Good luck.



58. On 2005-04-25, Victor Gijsbers said:

The Whole Point is that game designers should be aware of the influence they have and can have on the social situation, right?

I would like to talk about trust and sensitivity and empathy between the players, and game design. There was a discussion on The Forge about Capes not having a mechanical way to resolve conflicts of the kind: "What you are adding to the SIS is total crap". This was contrasted with Universalis, where you can always Challenge.

So, let's see. Universalis encourages to state what you want to happen, boldly, without thinking too much about what the other players may want - and the disagreements actually fuel the story. The social effect of this (and the entire economy of coins) is, I guess, that the players see each other as friendly story-telling rivals. You want something, and you can alwasy get it if you pay a high enough price. You don't have to worry too much about the others, for they'll let you know if they disagree. And then you can find out how who cares more.

I am tempted in my work-in-progress Shades to attempt the exact opposite. "Look," I wish to say, "when its your turn to tell a scene, you have all the power. The other(s) should not interrupt you, but have to accept what you say. So you had better make sure that they like what you are saying. You had better become sensitive to their preferences, so you can all learn to trust each other. It's really all about building trust. And here are some tools that make it easier for you to prod en poke and gently find out what they like." (Tools which include a stream-of-conscience like prologue and the fact that the major part of the game is the narration of memories which are meant to be partly unreliable and can thus be 'challenged' without actually being challenged.)

That's just some background ideas. I do not want to talk about my game, I would like to talk about how game mechanics influence the bonds of trust and rivalry, sensitivity and egotism, among the group; and whether we can do interesting things with that. Because that is part of The Whole Point, is it not?


59. On 2005-04-25, Chris Goodwin said:

How about a history of conflict resolution mechanics (as opposed to task resolution)?  What game was the first to have conflict resolution mechanics, and how did they develop?


60. On 2005-04-30, Chris said:

Let's talk about how Social Agenda, Creative Agenda, and Technical Agenda fits together or not.  We could say each agenda type answers a question, and how well those answers fit either gives us a good game or a bad time in play.

Social Agenda- How we treat each other?
Creative Agenda- What do we want out of this game?
Technical Agenda- How do we make it happen?

Is there anything I'm missing here?  It seems pretty comprehensive to any sort of play I can think of.


61. On 2005-05-04, Collin M. Trail said:

I've got a couple of things I'd like to discuss, but here is one that has really been nagging at me...

Things on character sheets, in particular characteristic, skills, and whatnot. What is their purpose, and are we going about the right way of fulfilling their purpose? I'm going to go with the Lumpley principle on this one, and say that ultimately they are apportioning credibility about statements made in the game world. (SIS is the term used here?) Occasionally they communicate things outside the game- as I understand Kickers and SA's, they are as much to communicate about what the creative agenda is between the GM and player as they are about who has the authority to say what in the game. But for most characteristics, they communicate traits that the character is granted to have, such as being strong, or knowing about computers, or being a king, which give them the authority to decide what will happen in the game.

So, what is the best way to communicate and establish this credibility? My instinct is that the best way is through normal, natural communication. "My character is one of the strongest people in all of the world, so he is unlikely to fail at any task of strength unless it is near mythical, contested by an equally exceptional person, or involves extremely adverse conditions".

I have often heard this position countered, by saying that this is too vague, and that some kind of mechanics need to be used to give the idea any rigor. If the character briefly described above tries to knock over a stone tower, how will we decide whether or not he is successful, without knowing that his strength is 20 and you need to roll a 25 on a strength roll to knock down a tower?

There is some truth to this position. It is very difficult to articulate what authority you claim involving a character. If only you have authority over your character, how will your character ever face a conflict with an unknown outcome? If the authority over outcomes is shared, how can you be sure that others will respect your vision, that ultimately you will have any authority given that others may disagree with your unstated assumptions? If the authority is the gamemaster, how can you make sure his decisions don't come down to pure fiat? A mechanic, which gives number and probabilities or some other method for determining what occurs and what doesn't, seems like it could settle these problems.

However, I don't think these mechanics can really deliver. Perhaps in some small area carefully delineated by the game system, they will be able to- like combat in most games, where if I have a certain attack score and someone else has a certain defense score, I will reliably be able to narrate certain effects.

But no game system could possibly model every conflict that will come up in a game completely. Even something as simple as buying and selling is incredibly complicated in the real world, and one of the joys of roleplaying games is that you don't have to narrow yourself down to a small set of rigorously defined options, like in a video game. Some games try to get around this by giving a difficulty scale. But this ultimately comes back to someone's fiat, just as in the cases this method seems to be trying to avoid. The game system can tell me that if I have a computer skill of 5 I have a 20% chance of succeeding at a difficult task, but someone still has to decide what tasks are difficult. So has knowing that a 5 has a 20% chance of doing it useful?

Not that I don't think randomness is useful, just that it might be better to use it more transparently, and not expect system to do something I don't think it can deliver. Saying that you think the character has a 20% chance of knocking down the tower and then rolling for it, because somehow that seems like the best number to you, seems like it will result in better decisions than comparing numbers and setting fairly arbitrary difficulty numbers. Which suggests to me that a really transparent mechanism, like D6 or percentages, would be best.

So I think we are still at the point of apportioning credibility, trying to make sure that everyone's vision is respected while still incorporating randomness and outside input so that the conflict isn't stale. How do we do this? Some games seem to do it by directly addressing credibility, giving it out as points or the result of a roll, which doesn't seem like a bad approach. But is there a less all or nothing approach, where you can have more nuanced control over outcomes, as is suggested, but not in my opinion achieved, by current systems? And what does everyone think of my assessment of the situation- right on, or on crack?


62. On 2005-05-12, Ben Lehman said:

How do you see "healthy play" integrating into a social group (how do people work it in, schedule it, etc.)?  What sort of social group (teenagers, kids, working adults, corporate types, indie types, anarcho-capitalisits, etc.)?  Society at large (still a small hobby, widespread but not often played, etc.)?



63. On 2005-05-14, kenjib said:

I've been thinking about the theme essay and issues of A vs. B and what happens when the protagonist ends up with A+B.  The other post is so old that I thought I might post my thoughts here as a possible new take on the old topic.

There are four possible endings when the protagonist chooses A over B:

1.  Neither A nor B:  This is tragedy.  The protagonist has made the wrong choice and suffers the consequences.  There is a clear value judgement.

2.  Both A and B:  This is comedy.  The protagonist made the right choice.  He was faced with the very real possibility of losing B because of his choice, but in the end it worked out.  The fact that it worked out is a judgement on his actions.  It makes the statement that he did the right thing.

3.  A but not B:  This is the kind of ending which you have already adequately described.  I think the key here is that judgement on the protagonist has not yet occurred once the game is over.  This is neither tragedy nor comedy because the outcome has no narrative value judgement until it is interpreted through the filter of each person in the audience.  You are left pondering the outcome and deciding for yourself whether or not you think the victory of A was worth the loss of B.  It is an introspective ending that makes you contemplate various aspects of an issue instead of making a direct statement about that issue.

4.  B but not A:  Well this is really strange and I don't know what to make of it.  You pick one thing and the results turns out the opposite of what you expected.  I can't think of any actual examples of this from literature/film though, so I suspect that it just doesn't work.  It might work as some kind of nihilist satire...

I think the key here is that causality from a narrative perspective is very different that causality from a simulation perspective.  From the narrative perspective, protagonists are not rewarded or punished because it is the logical outcome.  Instead, they are punished based on the needs of the narrative - did they choose right or did they choose wrong?  In this case it seems completely acceptable to end up with either an A and B or a neither A nor B ending so long as the protagonist was forced to commit to giving up one of them up.

The act of forcing the protagonist to commit to the choice is key to creating narrative theme, not the act of following through with denying him B.  How it ends up is a value judgement on his choice.  If you end up with A but not B, as you suggest is the best course of action in your essay on theme, then the narrative itself does not have an inherent value judgement.  The audience is left to form their own.  Is this ambiguity really a superior outcome or just a different kind of outcome equally as interesting as A+B and A nor B?

So, the theme of Master and Commander is not "it's better to fulfill both friendship and duty than to sacrifice friendship for duty."  This can not be the theme because Aubrey made the choice to give up pursuit of the ship.  He made his choice and was willing to sacrifice his duty for his friend.  The real theme of Master and Commander is "Choosing friendship over duty is the right thing to do."  That's what Aubrey did, and in the end he came out a hero for it.

What exactly is this judgement phase of a narrative game and how does it work?  Is it possible to move this part of the game more consciously into the mechanics in a productive fashion?


64. On 2005-05-31, jeffd said:

I don't know if this has been brought up - but I'd like to see some analysis of the differing Creative Agendas and how they view the player's role viz. the audience.

Gamism is focused on application of guts etc etc with some sort of social stake on the line (esteem, whatever).  In this case, the audience plays the role of judge.

Narrativism is focused on making a statement; in this case the audience is literally an audience - reacting to and perhaps providing feedback.  It's less crucial a role than in Gamism, but it's there.

What's the role of the audience in simulationism?  It seems to me this CA is almost entirely inwardly focused.


65. On 2005-07-29, Collin M. Trail said:

I???m interested in talking about what I have heard you call the Czege Principle, that it isn???t fun to orchestrate and resolve the same conflict. Does anyone know why this is? And what does this imply? We might not need a GM if each player orchestrates conflict for the other players, but what happens when we want to face a collective conflict? Can each player orchestrate how another player deal with the conflict, or do we need a GM for group challenges? Are there other ways to organize this?


66. On 2006-03-03, Ben Lehman said:

Since this is totally not a frequent question, but rather a crazy theory one, I'm posting it here:

Where do you think between-sessions activities (such as GM prep, or discussions about character direction, or whatever) fit into our models of play, which seem to be mainly focused at the table?  Do you think between-session activity can be used productively in design?  How, and are there any extant examples you can think of?



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