2011-02-07 : Design scales: to the text!

You may recall this: 2009-06-07 : Concrete Examples of Arrows. Time for the same again! I've gone to my game shelf and brought down a likely assortment of games. I'm going to pull passages from them for us to compare: first a passage that says what we do in the game overall, then a couple of passages that give examples of what we might be doing at any moment of play. Ready?

The Shadow of Yesterday
Clinton R. Nixon

What are we doing here?

The rules of this game are meant to enable a type of fantasy where things don't necessarily make common sense, but are always full of style, a bit creepy, a bit comedic, a bit dark and violent, and definitely romantic. You'll notice that there's quite a few rules in here that have to do with love and sex. The game's setting is intentionally a sketch. It is there for you to fill in with your players and, hopefully, this game gives you a good set of tools to do so. The fundamental tenets of Near can be summed up as:
* No gods.
* No monsters.
* Just people.

...Your player characters in the game will be heroes, most likely heroes with problems. Like the world of Near, your character will be full of possibility, both for good and bad. You'll explore the world, meet intersting people, and either solve their problems or give them new ones.


What am I doing right now (for example)?

Whenever a pool is not at its full level, it can be refreshed, restoring it to its full level by the character performing an in-game action.

Vigor is refreshed whenever your character engages in an act of physical exertion (including physical abuse, such as drugs, drinking, staying out all night) with another character, specifically for the intent of enjoying yourself.

Instinct is refreshed whenever your character engages in an act of social pleasure (examples: a date, going to a party, playing a game of chance) with another character.

Reason is refreshed whenever your character engages in an act of intellectual pleasure (examples: a night at the opera, a philosophical debate, playing a game of skill) with another character.


When using a weapon, if your character is successful in an action, you can add the weapon's rating to your success level. If you are unsuccessful, the weapon does nothing. Your success level cannot go above Ultimate (6) because of a weapon. Armor subtracts from the success level of actions taken against you. Armor cannot lower a success level below Marginal (1). In both cases, the items can have +1, +2, or +3 ratings. The level of the rating is determined by the specificity of the harm or protection.


Secret of Inner Meaning
Your character's art carries a meaning beyond the surface. Use any non-physical Instinct-based ability at a distance via your character's art. Cost: 2 Reason.


Maschine Zeit
David A Hill Jr, et al

What are we doing here?

The game at its very simplest is one of survival horror. The main characters are survivors trying to see the next dawn. For one reason or another, they are in the heart of danger, confronted at all sides by creatures they cannot hope to understand - creatures that can and will slaughter them if left unchecked.

The dramatic value of survival horror comes down to the characters and their interactions, though. It's been said that you never really know your friends until you see them when they're about to die. The characters in Maschine Zeit are at their most raw, their insides spilled out both literally and figuratively.


What am I doing right now (for example)?

Dramatic Elements are abstract and undefined. Instead of having a specific type of Dramatic Element, a player has a set number at her disposal. ...These elements can be expended at any time before a roll is made in order to add 25% to the possibility of a Conflict's successful resolution, or to remove 25% from its possibility. Only one Dramatic Element can play into a single Conflict.

...Dramatic Elements should be used when the character's personal value is at stake. For example, a doctor might use it during the emergency procedure to save the life of a man that had lost an arm to a Specter, or a villainous character looking for redemption could use it to dive in front of a turbine to protect an innocent bystander.


At any time, the Director can choose to alter the rules or the results of a roll in order to benefit a character. That puts the player in debt to the Director. The Director can insist that a later Condition be spent as he sees fit. As with player debt, a player can only owe the Director a single Condition.


At the end of any scene where a character suffered a new Injury, the player must make a stabilization roll. To determine the chance of success for this roll, subtract her Comprehensive Injury from 100. This can bring the chance of success below zero, but a Miraculous result will still succeed. As well, the player can spend a Push of a single Universal Element to raise the chance, and a Dramatic Element if inclined.


Ron Edwards

What are we doing here?

[Each] principal's story exemplifies the dramatic tensions within the Cold, eventually determining the fates of the current spy/intelligence situation, of the spy himself or herself, and most importantly of the Supporting Cast members.

...[The stories] consistently convey powerful personal and often political themes. The Story Now process permits us to discover and appreciate these themes through group interaction, and therefore no one person dictates the story's theme or meaning to everyone else. Rather, the point of the story is often best expressed as a question, composed of the differing outlooks and ambiguities that have arisen through the interactions among the real people.


What am I doing right now (for example)?

During Maneuvers (and only then), a person running a spy may reveal information about the spy's Trespass into the scene, directly or indirectly, partly or fully. This information must be relayed in terms of fictional characters' dialogue and actions. The information may be introduced all at once or incrementally through several scenes.

...When the Tresspass is considered Disclosed by the person running the spy, the Dossier is unfolded and laid upon the table with both sides up. The Tresspass is now open and clipped onto the Dossier in a readable position.


When both spies are in Flashpoint, the person assigned the Ace lays out cards equal to the sum of all Card Numbers in a face-up row, designating which end is the starting point ("left").

...Look at the rightmost card, i.e., at the end. The person assigned to that card's rank controls that card. He or she may move that card according to this simple rule: it may be moved either one or three spaces to the left, if the card it will cover (the "target") is either of the same rank and/or of the same suit.

...Place the moving card on top of the target card, pulled downward so that both cards are visible.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer Roleplaying Game
CJ Carella, et al

What are we doing here?

You get together with several friends and create a tale. In the case of BtVS RPG, there's a bunch of large incisors, staking and good fashion sense involved, but that's not all. Unlike any other kind of game, your group's story can take you, the characters and the Buffyverse anywhere you want it to. The action takes place in your imaginations, and the story is told through your interactions. There are truly no limits. The great thing about roleplaying games is that the direction of the story and the creative choices are all about you. Seriously, you rule!

...You are one of the good guys, the white hats, the champions - or at least are helping the heroes as a loyal and trusted Scooby. Now, that's not to say that your character won't have a dark side ... or two. It wouldn't be the Buffyverse without making with a little darkness. Again, that's up to you.


What am I doing right now (for example)?

After creating the character, some (use common sense) Qualities and Drawbacks may be acquired or lost in the course of a game. For example, a scarring wound could reduce a character's Attractiveness, or a change in fortune could increase or decrease the character's Resources or Social Level. When such a change is brought about during play, no experience points (see p. 131) are needed to purchase them. If players want to purposely change a Quality or Drawback, they must spend experience points and come up with a good reason for the change. This intentional change is somewhat restricted, however (see p. 133).


Recurring Nightmares
...Your character is plagued by terrifying dreams that relive some traumatic experience, or are just frightening and disturbing. Every night, the Director may check to see if your character suffers from nightmares. They may be imposed at the Director's discretion, or may be rolled randomly (a roll of 1 on a d10 means the character experiences a nightmare that night). On any night when the character is afflicted by the nightmare, she suffers -1 to all rolls the following day as a result of exhaustion.


Sometimes, a character really needs to land that punch, disarm the time bomb with ten seconds left on the clock, or shoot the oxygen tank in the shark's mouth before it swims over for a bite. When the Cordelias of the world have to stake a vampire on the first try, invoke the Heroic Feat.

By spending a Drama Point, the character gets a +10 bonus on some value. This can be an attack or defense roll, or any use of a skill, or even for a Fear or Survival Test. The Heroic Feat can also make things hurt more; the +10 bonus is added to the base damage in addition to any Success Level bonuses (then armor, damage type and other modifiers are applied).

A player has to announce her character is usin a Drama Point during the Intentions phase of a Turn (see p. 108), or before rolling during non-combat situations.

(oh no I forgot the page number!)

The Burning Wheel
Luke Crane

What are we doing here?

In the game, players take on the roles of characters inspired by history and works of fantasy fiction. These characters are represented by a series of numbers, designating their abilities, and a list of player-determined priorities. The synergy of inspiration, imagination, numbers and priorities is the most fundamental element of Burning Wheel. Manipulating these numbers and priorities within situations presented by the game master (GM) is what the game is all about.


What am I doing right now (for example)?

Instincts allow players to set conditions for their characters that might otherwise break the rules. Do you have a "draw sword" Instinct? Well then, your character's sword is drawn at the start of combat without having to spend actions. Instincts cannot allow you to bypass a test, but they can assume you made the test at some time before trouble started.


When a player is ready to test his Circles ability to locate a prospective contact, he must state his intent and how he's undertaking the task. As part of the intent and task, he must describe who he is looking for and where, and how specific or broad his desires are.


A player may spend his extra successes with a melee weapon on two things: location and damage. The Add number tells the player how many extra successes must be allocated to damage in order to go from an Incidental to a Mark result and from a Mark to a Supurb.

...Any successes not spent on aiming a blow must be dedicated to improving damage. There's no holding back once the swing is in motion.


My Remarks
So, the link between what we do in the game overall and what we're doing in the game right this minute, right. In all of the cases above, there IS a link; that's not the question. The question is, is it a good link? What are the qualities of the link? Is it visceral, pointed, tenuous, solid, a stretch? Does the rule embody, in its own particular, the overall thrust of play, or is it tangential, or is it its own little counterthrust? In action, does the rule become an essential element of play, something you love about play, or is it something you endure because the game doesn't work without it? Is it even that - do you drop it out of play because it's a hoop you don't actually need to jump through?

Can you see the way forward, toward why you're playing, through the rule - and more, can you feel the way forward? Does your eye fall onto the character sheet where the number you need already is, as if the designer had predicted this exact instant? We had a great moment of this with Sorcerer a little while ago. We were like, "come to think of it, how DOES shapeshift work?" We looked it up and burst out laughing, because the way it worked was perfect, as though Ron had written the rules with these precise unlikely characters in mind, getting up to these precise unlikely shenanigans.

Anything jump out at anybody? Which connections seem strong to you? Which are the best examples, which are the worst?

1. On 2011-02-07, Vincent said:

(Oh, and I promise not to mention this again, but I can't just keep quiet about it: the passive voice! It's intense! Whenever this much concentrated passive voice is read, a nosebleed is gotten.)


2. On 2011-02-07, jessecoombs said:

Hey Vincent, but forgive me, what do you mean by a passive voice?


3. On 2011-02-07, Vincent said:

Well, okay, I guess. I forgive you. It's one of my favorite subjects to rant about and I don't want to get too off-track, so I'll try to restrain myself.

Active voice: "I kicked the ball." The subject of the sentence acts upon the object of the sentence.

Passive voice: "the ball was kicked by me." The subject is acted upon by the object; it receives action, it doesn't take action.

Abbreviated passive voice: "the ball was kicked." The subject is acted upon by an unspecified object. To sentences in abbreviated passive voice, I like to append (in portentious tones) "BY UNSEEN FORCES." The ball was kicked BY UNSEEN FORCES. This much concentrated passive voice was read BY UNSEEN FORCES, so a nosebleed was gotten BY UNSEEN FORCES.

While we're here, imperative voice: "kick the ball." You are the subject, implicit or explicit ("Jesse, kick the ball").

From Spione: "When the Tresspass is considered Disclosed by the person running the spy [passive voice], the Dossier is unfolded and laid upon the table with both sides up [abbreviated passive voice]."

Of the above, Burning Wheel's the best - it lapses into passive voice only when things get complicted, when "extra successes must be allocated" - and Buffy's by far the worst. It's terribly constructed. "After creating the character, some (use common sense [imperative voice]) Qualities and Drawbacks may be acquired or lost in the course of a game [abbreviated passive voice]. For example, a scarring wound could reduce a character's Attractiveness [active voice], or a change in fortune could increase or decrease the character's Resources or Social Level [active voice]. When such a change is brought about during play [abbreviated passive voice], no experience points (see p. 131) are needed to purchase them [abbreviated passive voice]." No experience points are needed BY UNSEEN FORCES to purchase them, give me strength.

Rebuilt into mostly imperative voice, with some active, which is what you oughta use when you write instructions: "After you've created your character, gameplay might lead you to add or remove some Qualities and Drawbacks. Use common sense. For example, you could reduce your character's Attractiveness to reflect a scarring wound, or you could increase or decrease your character's Resources or Social Level to reflect a change in fortunes. In these cases, you wouldn't have to pay experience points to purchase the changes."

If anybody wants more grammar talk, I'm happy - happy! - to oblige. I love grammar, it's the measuring, mixing and kneading of my craft. Say so and I'll make a front page post.


4. On 2011-02-07, Piers said:

Of course, the fact the text is written in the passive voice means that someone might read:

"After the players have created their characters, gameplay might lead the Gamemaster to add or remove some Qualities and Drawbacks. The GM should use common sense. For example, the GM could reduce a character's Attractiveness to reflect a scarring wound, or the GM could increase or decrease a character's Resources or Social Level to reflect a change in fortunes. In these cases, the GM wouldn't have make the player pay experience points to purchase the changes."

...which is of course part of the problem.


5. On 2011-02-07, Vincent said:

New thread for grammar talk. In this thread, game design talk!

Anybody think any of the examples shows a better link between immediate-term and long-term play than another example?


6. On 2011-02-08, Jeff Russell said:

Hmm, this is hard. I'm going to have to think about it some more, but the easy answer is that the buffy rules show less direct link between the 'right now' and 'overall' categories, mostly because the overall category is extremely vague. It counts on the reader inferring 'stories like the TV show' from the references used rather than saying 'hey, we're playing interpersonal teen drama thrown into sharp relief by supernatural weirdness' or what have you.

TSoY has links, but you have to look for them a bit. Like the weapon rules tie into the fact that the world of Near is violent and dangerous, but the refresh rules (specifically the examples) and the secret relate more directly to the love, sex, and style mentioned in the overall description.

The connections between the immediate and overall 'what we're doing here' categories in Spione strike me as fairly opaque, but both are individually pretty clear, so that might be closer to the 'barriers between the two' you talked about in your other post.

The connections for Burning Wheel seem pretty clear, but in a different way. The overall explanation says there will be a lot of manipulation of numbers within systems and tells us this will interact with character drives to create interesting results, but leaves the interesting results pretty open ended. The specific moment to moment play focuses on those numbers and systems, but references the motivations. I'm probably cheating a bit because I've been rereading a bunch of BW books recently, most especially the adventure burner, so the connections in that case have been spelled out a bit more.

I feel like all I've done is description and no analysis here, like people in my high school English classes during discussion, but it's definitely forced me into a useful perspective.


7. On 2011-02-08, Chris Chinn said:

My brain is a little too fried after work to fully pick apart those examples - but yes!

Tying together "What are we here for?" and "What are we doing right now?" is totally why I spent a lot of time talking about procedure & directive rules ( ), and momentum ( ) when people can easily and consistently make that transition.

In a lot of cases when people are saying, "This game is so intuitive and easy to learn!" they just as often are are talking about how well that text speaks to them and helps them connect those two (which may be variable based on which areas any given reader might jump onto shorthand references vs. need full handholding).


8. On 2011-02-08, Alex Abate Biral said:

All right, let's see if I am getting what you are saying:

I think that the Recurring Nightmares in BtVS serves as a problematic example. I am not sure, as I never played this game, but the text says: "Your character is plagued by terrifying dreams that relive some traumatic experience, or are just frightening and disturbing". So, when creating a character, if I choose this trait, I believe I am saying right now "My character has this important issue that torments her soul. I want it to be an important part of play".

However, the rest of the text has little to do with the nightmares or the issues that cause them. Instead, what I am really saying if I choose this trait is "Sometimes (10% of the time) my character doesn't sleep well." which is minutiae that has little to do with "...the direction of the story...".

On the other hand, BW's instincts seem more connected with the bigger picture.  There is a clear relationship between my character's instincts and her "...list of player-determined priorities".

For example, if I choose the instinct "Never trust someone in power.", I am, right now, saying that my character is an mistrusting rebel. In the long term, this instinct may help me in many situations, like allowing a test just as the scheming noble tries to double cross my character. On the other hand it can also create trouble for the character, for while instincts don't force the player to act on them, they make it advantageous to do so.

So, while I can't say how exactly a certain instinct will change play, I know it will do so according to what I wanted to say about my character, its short term effects are aligned to what I want to say in the long term story.


9. On 2011-02-08, misuba said:

At first glance I would say the examples for Machine Zeit seem to fit more naturally than the others. (It may only squeak past Spione because Flashpoint is so deliberately chaotic, though.)

It's hard for me to read more traditional mechanics as being well linked to the greater mission, but that doesn't mean they aren't*... something funny is going on there. It may just be the old "tightly focused game" thing, but I'm struggling to articulate something else about text scope and building simulation engines. Bah, I don't know.

* and check out how Crane brings it around at the end there. hee!


10. On 2011-02-09, Josh W said:

Presumably the refresh rules in The Shadow of Yesterday are supposed to provide that outwards drive towards the rest of the world:

Start playing a game with a random character, get involved in their stories, then when you're involved perhaps you go somewhere else for your recreation?

That's the closest I can think of for a drive to exploration, most of the keys I can think of don't particularly send you off elsewhere. Either that or he means exploration in terms of depth rather than travel.


11. On 2011-02-09, Vincent said:

In The Shadow of Yesterday, I like how the refresh rules bring in other people. It connects strongly to the idea that your character isn't isolated, that the population of Near is a meaningful part of play.

In Spione, I had to take it on faith that the very particular card manipulation rules connect to the overall thrust of play. They do - well, they set up a later manipulation that connects strongly to "no one person dictates," that I personally find quite tasty - but there's this point in the text and in play where I'm like, "okay, I'm going to take your word for it, Ron, and do this complicated thing. I hope you're not just leading me on."

In Maschine Zeit, what's the connection between spending Dramatic Elements the way you do and the inspiring business about survival horror characters at their most raw? Can someone who's played the game explain it to me? It seems kind of counterthrusty to me, like I go into the game wanting to spill my guts and splatter my blood, and instead I'm supposed to spend points to buy my safety.

Buffy and The Burning Wheel make for a good comparison. I can see The Burning Wheel's guiding vision in every single Burning Wheel rule I read, where in Buffy I can barely see its guiding vision at all, and when a rule happens to line up it seems like an accident. I need to organize my thoughts about this, though, maybe with some pictures, before I can really make my case.


12. On 2011-02-10, Josh W said:

That reminds me of a misunderstanding I made of your earlier post about barriers.

I wondered if you might be saying that barriers come between the player and their goals for the game, like some bait and switch. You think you're sitting down to play one game and then another one gets chucked in front of you.

I was trying to consider how this might be a good thing, and it occured to me that there are people who play competative games to gloat. Give them a chance and they'll gloat right away, but delay it in the right way, and their gloating has more character, more to work with, and is (apparently), more fun.

In other words, it occured to me that certain games could be about inspiring situations, then delaying them in a way that prepares the players to really do them well when they get there.

I'm talking a little bit about what makes certain kinds of D&D 3.5 play work; "the game is char-gen and it's spread over months with events in between", except it doesn't always work that way, because the delay becomes a waiting room and doesn't add much when you get through to the stuff it was delaying. It doesn't pay you for your "work" of trying something else, at least not in terms that complement that creative objective.

So maybe with maschine zeit's survival stuff, it's like the designer's saying "hold on, I know you want to see this guy get wrecked, but look after him and his interests and I'll make sure that happens, and it'll be more awesome".

The trouble with that vs the flashpoint thing is that the flashpoint thing says "go in this sideways direction for a sec and then we'll come back and do that better" wheras the other rules are requiring you to actively invert your attitude towards the character.

I wonder if there is some way to gently pull players round to having sympathy for their characters/trying to save them a bit of pain, even when they go streight from a perspective of kicking their asses.


13. On 2011-02-10, Josh W said:

I should reread more before posting! The emphasis is wrong in the second sentence, it was supposed to be about obstructing the players objective for the session of game play itself, as compared with their in-game advocacy and strategy.


14. On 2011-02-11, Brand Robins said:

With the sole exception of the overview and the pools section from TSOY, none of these speak to me strongly.

In fact, when I try to disregard what I know about the games, I find them all rather difficult to formulate into an image of the way game will actually be.

Maybe I have the dumb today (well, for the last week actually), but I find them all too sporadic and incomplete to make sense of. Like trying to reconstruct ancient Vedic rituals from the chants in the Vedas.


15. On 2011-02-13, Bwian said:

Hi guys!

I can see links between the more specific rules and their general frames in all the examples.  Not knowing those games in more detail makes it a bit tricky.  But I can see how players could use most of the specific rules to support the outcomes given.  The one that would most likely cause my play groups trouble would be the 'debts' example from Maschine Zeit, because it brings explicit social currency into what is meant to be a tough, character versus environment game.  But maybe this would be a help to other groups??

Loose links

More generally, it seems to me that RPG rules are a bit different than the rules for multiplayer board games.  I like to think that RPGs involve more flexible, creative collaboration among the players.  This might leave more scope for 'loose' rules that do not have a fixed or immediately obvious role in the general frame, so long as they don't get in the way of that frame.  Then the players have an extra lego block to toy with when they are looking for game effects.

But then, I suppose that also would be a kind of a link?

The Nightmares rule in BtVS might be an example of this?  I admit the connection looks a bit feeble on the face of it.  It doesn't necessarily drive you toward anything.  But the clause allowing the GM to control the effect gives an explicit vehicle to help the players do what it seems implied the game is meant to do: make up their own episodes(?) of Buffy-like goodness.  Nobody has to use it, but its there if you think its cool.


16. On 2011-02-14, Josh W said:

I quite like the idea of sticking in a grab bag of support functions into a game that throw a player a bone in a really basic way, (so their incompatible material is contained but respected within the game) but also with notes to help lead them to other games that do it better. Sort of like wikipedia links within a game, or as "drift me like this" advice.

It would be really cool to be able to say, "if you do this, that's not really what my games have been about, but it could be what your game is about, if you repeat and focus on this stuff you are now playtesting a new game, keep an eye on that!" or something like that in game rules, followed by an army of little indexed hacks. Could be nice to put that right at the end before some creative commons license text that allows derivatives!


17. On 2011-02-14, Vincent said:

Brand: Super important! Thank you! Yes!

Everybody: Who here is designing a game?

When you're designing a game, your audience's experience of it IS the relationship between what they do moment-to-moment and what the game does overall.

If you posted examples like these from your own game, would Brand be able to see a strong connection? Do you want him to?

(Josh, have you read Apocalypse World?)


18. On 2011-02-14, Brand Robins said:

Everyone: Also remember, I am very stupid about this stuff!

Like in the TSOY example, its pretty easy for me. The overview is all like "this is about humans getting sweaty and fucking and partying and shit" and then the refresh rules are like "when you're drained you need to fuck someone." And I'm all like "Wow, so this is a game where having parties and shit refreshes your juice. Cool."

Then I get to what you use your juice for and I'm using points from one pool to do a thing with a skill of another kind of pool, at a distance, and I'm not sure what that means. I do, however, have some ideas about scenes where I'm all seducing some character with a painting I made and left in her room.

I've got no clue about how weapons fit into that, save that they help you hurt people. I guess. Sorta.

The others are harder. I'd probably do better with a full book. (In fact, in most cases I know I did do better with a full book. I do better with lots of points of data than a few.) But I also have a short attention span, and I hate trying to figure other people's shit out.


19. On 2011-02-15, Vincent said:

Hot dang!

Check it out, everybody. Brand here has given us a snapshot of an audience - he's talking about himself, but you can bet he's not the only one it applies to. Now you can choose to design for the audience he's described, or not; you can hold his description up to your design in progress and guess whether they're going to respond to your game.

Thanks, Brand.


20. On 2011-02-17, David Berg said:

Hey Brand, I too have a short attention span for instructional texts.  Can I use you as a guinea pig?  Check this out:

Into the Unknown is about digging into a strange magical world so you can imagine being there.  The more you play, the more you flesh out a rich alternate life for yourself, connecting to the strange people and mystical secrets of the world of Koln.

Base your interaction with NPCs on the GM's portrayal—what they say and how they say it.  Reciprocate in kind: if you want to fool someone, come up with a good lie and present it convincingly.  Want more information?  Tell the GM you're using your Social Perception skill to read body language for clues at deception.  The GM will then secretly roll to determine how well this works on this occasion with this NPC, and then tell you what your observations yield.  If you don't have the skill, you can still ask about body language, but the GM will just give you the facts; interpretation will be up to you.

And, a second game:

Pauper to Prince is a game about elevating your status in medieval society through drastic means.  You do the jobs that society values but no one else is willing or able to do.  Solve weird problems, learn weird secrets, and gain the leverage and connections to achieve your huge ambitions!

When the player chooses an element from prior play to have a prophetic dream about, the GM must deliver a location via the dream.  If the player then chooses to go to that location, the GM must prep an opportunity to learn more about the dreamed-of element.  Focus on what the player hoped to get out of pursuing this element, and prep an opportunity for that (with obstacles, of course).

Was it hard to get through?  Were the connections obvious and interesting?  Okay, add a twist: they're the same game!  How about now?


21. On 2011-02-17, David Berg said:

Separately: for illustrating larger-scale whys of mechanics use, I particularly like the last 2 paragraphs on the About Burning Wheel page.


22. On 2011-02-18, Brand Robins said:


So here is what happens when I read the samples you gave.

The whole first paragraph I'm sort of like "so its a roleplaying game in the old style..." and mostly skimming it. There's something about "alternate life" in there which reminds me of Malcolm and makes me laugh to see it on anyway, but I mostly am just like... "so, we're playing a being there game. What's this being there game actually about? Magic? BOORING... there's something here beyond what I'm being told."

The second paragraph makes me nod along, going like "Oh yea, that's the thing from the first paragraph, old style play." Not even because the ties of the text so much, but because what I'd already assumed about the mode of play. Like, it sets up an expectation about something I already know how to do, then tells me to do what I'd probably be doing. So yea, its got a nice connection, but I can't be sure how much of it is the text and how much of it is me already knowing (or assuming I know) what you're saying a priori.

That said, its also not a bad little bit about the structural mechanics of that style of play, and fits with a lot of the methods my old group used. So I like it, but I'm not sure how much of it is because the game is giving me something and how much of it is me liking being told things I already know.

The Pauper to Prince intro is nice to read, but doesn't actually tell me much about what I'm actually going to do. Like, its a good hook text—I get to do weird shit! Yes! I'm into that! But then I start thinking about my character, about what he's actually going to do moment to moment and I'm like... OH shit, I got nothing. I have to actually impose my own vision here to understand what I'm actually going to do.

(Note, for me this is not a problem. In fact games that don't give me any place to impose my own vision are a problem for me. However, there's always a balance with someone as dumb and yet arrogant as I am between giving too much and giving too little.)

The second paragraph has a similar issue. It gives an explicit metalevel description of the process for a prophetic dream, but it a) still doesn't tell me the weird shit except that their might be some dreams, and b) while it tells me the GM needs to prep and I need to go there, it still doesn't tell me exactly how to do that or what its going to look like or why I should care.

So its a nice overview, but it leaves me going like "so, yea, I'm GMing and he goes there and ... wait, do I have this all preped then or now? What hooks am I hanging on this... huh, I guess I'll just make it up like I always do."

So in the first, I can see connections, and together they do help me understand the game—but partly because I already understood it (or think I do). In the second I don't find the connections that strong, I have a much less firm grip of what's going on, or why I should care.

In as much as they could be the same game, humm... yea, not working in the form presented. It could be that if I had them as a whole text and could see the weird stuff and the magic stuff and the dream stuff and the NPC interaction stuff all together I'd start seeing the multiple interaction points that form a living matrix... but as it is, nope.

But then, that's just the same as the selected elements from all the other games, so....


23. On 2011-02-19, Josh W said:

@Vincent Haven't read Apocolypse World no, do you try the "token support then suggestions to expand" idea there?


24. On 2011-02-20, Vincent said:

I do, yep!


25. On 2011-02-20, David Berg said:


Thanks for the detailed response.  Makes total sense to me.  Perhaps these suffered from a lack of cool examples.  I wonder, is this any better, or just boring in its length?

Pauper to Prince is a game about elevating your status in medieval society through drastic means. You do the jobs that society values but no one else is willing or able to do. Solve weird problems, learn weird secrets, and gain the leverage and connections to achieve your huge ambitions!  Will the Baron's whispering ghost grant you the keys to the imperial treasury for sending it to its eternal rest?

When the player chooses weird stuff from prior play to have a prophetic dream about, the GM must deliver a location via the dream. At the end of the session, the player must choose whether or not to go to that location.  If so, the GM must prep an opportunity to learn more about the dreamed-of element. Focus on what the player hoped to get out of pursuing this element, and prep an opportunity for that (with obstacles, of course).  He's clearly dreaming about the Baron's ghost because he wants to know how ghosts are made, so give him the sinister necromancer who'll share that info—for a price.

As for the "two games are one", I was trying to test communicating a game with multiple points.  I've found that no games appeal to me via just one highlight phrase.  I need a combo of the what (ambitious weirdness hunting!) and the how (old skool "being there"!) to get interested.  Alas, I think that doubles the challenge of connecting each procedure to "the point".  Rrr...


26. On 2011-02-23, Brand Robins said:


I had a reply, but Vincent stole it and made it a new post.

Vincent is a stealer of points.


27. On 2011-03-03, stefoid said:

I havent read this whole thread, but I read the part I was linked to by VB and I just 'got' something.  so sorry if I am rehashing the obvious or already stated.

A few weeks ago I read a definition of premise that I have baked into the first step for the players of my game.  The players have to pitch premises at each other in the format 'what are the characters aims and how are they going to do it?"
That structure is really helpful to get the players on the same page about the game they are going to play—I guess thats why the person who I stole it from made it that way.

Making a short story long here, but it applies to the players too, for your overall game and probably each significant part of it.  i.e. in my game the players...

Create action and drama with complex characters that struggle to achieve goals that are important to them.

Nested:  during character creation, the players...

give their characters motivations that will drive their goals, push them into action and drag them into conflict, by -yada, yada-

So probably, if you introduce each significant concept with the premise of the concept structured as what the aim is, and how it will be achieved, then a) the brands will grok it easily, and b) it will probably help you work out which concepts of your design are irrelevant or contradictory


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