2011-06-27 : The Dice & Clouds series from 2009

This is the dice & clouds series:
2009-04-07 : 3 Resolution Systems
2009-04-09 : cloud-to-cloud
2009-04-09 : Scale, Depth, Clouds, Dice
2009-04-10 : A Moment of Judgment
2009-04-27 : Dice & Cloud: a Symmetry
2009-05-13 : Now where WAS I...
2009-06-07 : Concrete Examples of Arrows
2009-06-08 : Restating: Fictional Causes and Realization
2009-06-09 : Adequacy, Cause and Effect
2009-06-15 : Lazy Play vs IIEE with Teeth
Culminating in:
2009-06-24 : Rock of Tahamaat, Tyrant of IIEE

Comments and questions very welcome.

1. On 2011-06-27, Esoteric said:

Thank you! I never realized that I only read half of these.


2. On 2011-06-27, Simon C said:

Hey! Did you notice that the kind of frustrating and confusing thread that followed "cloud-to-cloud" is mostly resolved by recent conversations about continuous vs. invoked rules? That's neat.


3. On 2011-06-27, Vincent said:

You're right! Neat.


4. On 2011-06-28, Mathieu Leocmach said:

If their is anybody around here more fluent in French than in English, these posts are translated here with the kind permission of Vincent.

Now that I think about it, I haven't translated Rock of Tahamaat yet. I will do it in a near future.


5. On 2011-06-28, Vincent said:

I want to comment about how old these are. In internet time, they're antiques. In rpg theory & design time, though, two years old is current. Most of the games that have seen publication since I wrote these were already in development when I wrote them. Apocalypse World was in full-swing playtesting.

The cycle of developments in rpg design is 4+ years long. Theory topics from 5 years ago are only now starting to be settled. The topics in these threads - debate rages. They aren't settled at all and won't be for years yet.

So if you'd like to jump in, please do!


6. On 2011-06-28, Tyler Tinsley said:

So as I read these I realized pretty quickly what you were talking about, having not been exposed to this before I earlier termed these ideas as "flows".

The flow of play through rules and story, I call rules like "high ground" an uphill flow and rules like "roll 10+, you hit me" a downhill flow.


<--Box = Downhill


Box = Uphill

I like games that are almost entirely downhill flow, with just enough uphill to provide friction for the fiction (teeth). But more importantly I think each flow should only be used for certain play tasks.

When flowing uphill your asking players to make game design choices, this is ok if the choices have no wrong answer (apples to apples) or really easy answers like fan mail. But if the choices are high level game design then it's really hard, does the game master understand how that +2 high ground bonus is going to effect the tension of the die roll and the color of the resulting story? Unlikely, he deploys a fictional ruler and judges based on fiction not on game design. Is deciding if that bonus applies potentially an uncomfortable moment where players could argue? Certainly.

When flowing downhill your asking players to interpret game results as a story, given there is a natural source of inspiration for the narration (game results) telling the story is not terribly difficult, there are still pitfalls but in general people can tell the story they want to. When this is out of balance the story can indeed become toothless, there is a need for a little uphill flow. When it's done too simply the story can become like Frank's quote "like reading a good book way too fast." there is a need for granularity to make the story resemble something other then cliff notes.

I think striking this balance is good. I would say the vast majority of games and structured play flows downhill, narrative is a runoff or waste product. If you look at sports or abstract games these forms of play build abstract narratives but ESPN and the sports page are huge! In Korea there are two TV stations that cover GO! These are powerful narratives and yet the narrative it's self is never allowed to touch the rules.

There is just something about our expectations of a game that dictate stuff should be procedural and solid. The most hated person in sports is the referee for a reason. Centering a game around the referee is a way to drive off what I'm guessing is the majority of players.

I feel it's necessary to share this point. There is a way to structure the narrative concept of "highground" as a downhill flow and that's largely regarding when you introduce the rule. For My project almost everything mechanical is resolved before the narrative is allowed to exist, "high ground" is picked from a list and then worked into the narrative. almost any rule that flows uphill can be reversed to flow down hill if the game provides the proper context.


7. On 2011-06-28, stefoid said:

So Tyler, when going that way, how to you ensure that the fiction is involved at all?

Lets say you have a mechanic that says you can 'take a stand' either physically or mentally.  Figuratively the character is drawing a line in the sand over something.

The mechanic says 'take a stand = you gain a bonus, but you risk extra resources on failure'

Its true that the mechanic opens an avenue for players that might otherwise not be tapped.  But, what stops players from simply stating "I take a stand, I get +1!", rolling the dice and applying the results without reference to the fiction?  How are they taking a stand?  Its left unstated but the game chugs on.  Nothing has changed in the fiction because the character has made a stand, only the odds of a dice roll have changed.


8. On 2011-06-29, Tyler Tinsley said:

What prompts the player to think "I will take a stand here" is it something in the fiction? That would not really happen in my game because the fiction of a die roll or the fiction that sets a scene dont exist before mechanical choices are made and resolved.

My game has named powers and players activate them for their mechanical benefits, in practice these become extra sources of inspiration for players to draw from in their narration, they are not bound to these details but the game encourages their use in narration through a fan mail like mechanic.

There is no penalty for non-creative play or ignoring a particular point of the rules in narration but there is a reward if you reflect the game in an interesting way. I can trust most players to judge when they find something interesting.

That reward is the little bit of uphill flow I think is necessary for some players to narrate their actions. even if they fail a roll they can still gain chips if they narrate it right.

I have been playing with my project for I guess a little over a year? 10+/- sessions all with different people. in that time this flow has worked very well with most everyone, old pros and new youngsters, there have been a few exceptions, some people are really tied to the Pre-Roll narration pattern. I suspect they will have to work a little harder at this, for them it's like their first time walking across an invisible bridge.

Maybe it would be helpful if I describe how more aspects of a game functions with a downhill flow? Am I making sense?


9. On 2011-06-29, stefoid said:

Please do.


10. On 2011-06-29, Tyler Tinsley said:

I can only describe how my game is doing This, there are other solutions.

Before you can narrate your first scene in an rpg you need to establish a bunch of things.

WHO is there, WHAT do they want, HOW do they get it.

Solve for WHO by making characters. this follows a procedure like normal and it also involves the GM creating NPCs and such.

Solve for WHAT by telling people WHAT! In my game you are bounty hunters the "WHAT" is to hunt bounties. What is the premise of the game not a choice. This premise sets the scene structure. The type, order and stakes of each scene in a session are predetermined.

first a scene that gives the bounty hunters a lead on the location of the bounty, then a scene where the hunters find the bounty followed by a scene where the hunters try to capture the bounty. This structure is static but it is important to know that it also contains a wide breadth of variation because it is full of systematic choices and repercussions.

Solve for HOW by providing a menu of choices and letting people pick. So in the "hunt" scene where players find the bounty, hunters pick from "stake out" "searching" and "setting a trap" each action rolls a different stat, the bounty has his own menu and also rolls. High roll wins but each player describes his action from lowest roll to highest, giving each player a turn to explain their action and earn chips even though most have "lost" the roll.

This is what the game calls a "short scene" there are longer "challenge scenes" like dealing or fighting that use a more granular turn based method. Before these scenes are described rules like "high ground" can be chosen and worked into the scene description, these are chosen from a menu of scene type specific "twists". Once set, the scene is played in turns with each player picking an action from their menu, resolving it and describing the result. These turns build into a compelling scene.

It's all done with rules and system choices inspiring the narrative. The only time something flows uphill is when players reward one another.

The plot structure determines what the scene is about, all the choices before the scene determine who is there and the choices made during the scene determine how it plays out. a few options at each stage lead to a wide variety of outcomes. There is no need to have so much of a game flow from cloud to box.


11. On 2011-06-29, Hans said:

Tyler: I don't think Vincent ever said there's a *need* to have games flow from cloud to dice, but rather *he* likes games like that. Maybe he said that on a podcast rather than in the posts, but he definitely said it somewhere.

In any case, I think I need to play SEED again soon. I remember having fun but feeling like something was "off". Maybe I'll have language to express it now, a year and change later.


12. On 2011-06-29, stefoid said:

Who makes up the menus?

What are the downsides to this system?


13. On 2011-06-29, Vincent said:

Tyler: I'm good with this. Adequacy, Cause and Effect talks a little bit about this same thing.


14. On 2011-06-29, Tyler Tinsley said:

Hans:  if it's been a year and change we do need to play again, it's a very different game, though it may still have whatever you felt, if that's the case i would love to know more.

Stefoid: The game designer writes the menus, it's labor intensive and can be difficult. Writing the action menus for deal making took weeks of angst and fiddling.

Downside? I imagine all content in the game has a shelf life. A number of times you would want to play a particular plot or visit a location, use an option on a menu. I'm working on things that will make the plots more variable and longer form character arks to leave players hanging between sessions.

But this shelf life, if it exists, only exists because the game provides more content and does not rely so much on player generated content. This life span could be a functional publishing model for rpgs. I also doubt the self life is shorter then an average euro game so it's not like i'm selling play once modules.

Other then that some people appear really attached to narration before the roll, so it may lose a few people but I think it can work with more so it's not really a loss.

I dont know I'm probably not the best person to ask about down sides? I kind of built the game to my exact tastes. i think overall more is gained then lost but yeah sure your going to lose stuff.

Vincent: The list of attack results is interesting, the fighting and deal actions in my game have shorter but similar lists of results, in this case the result is picked by the player and you need higher rolls to unlock better results.


15. On 2011-06-30, stefoid said:

Vincent in "Adequacy, Cause and Effect" you note two ways of getting players to say something interesting.

What do you think of simply insisting that to achieve anything at all, the player must state the characters intention in WHAT, HOW and WHY format.  Then roll the dice.

What - I attack
Why - to inflict damage!  (but could be to protect the princess, gain the high ground, scare the bejesus out of him, etc...)
How - With a succession of rapid knife thrusts and slashes.

The WHY must be backed up by mechanics for it not to be optional.  If the roll is successful, the WHY must happen.  It cant be arbitrary, or the WHY is redundant.  If the system promises - "you make the roll, the WHY occurs", then nothing can happen without WHY being stated, which is great.

My problem is, the HOW is desirable (very), but optional.  The system will still 'chug along' without it.  I cant think of a neat way to make it mandatory in the same way that the WHY is mandatory.  The system can promise if you make your roll, the HOW is how the WHY occurs, but the HOW itself is still color - it has no mechanical backing.

This is the same problem I have with my 'taking a stand' example.  WHAT and WHY are mandatory and HOW is optional, and I cant think of any way to make HOW mandatory except for saying "please say HOW, its great !!"

Neither of your two approaches are appropriate for me, unfortunately.  At the moment, my only answer is to insist that HOW is mandatory and hope it becomes habit.


16. On 2011-06-30, Michael Pfaff said:

Have you played Apocalypse World? "How?" is mandatory. You can't just say, "I go aggro" without the MC asking, "Cool, how do you do that?"

Because the nature of the basic moves, how they are worded, the immediate fictional details are very important to resolving the move. So, you can't just say, "I go aggro" and then roll for damage. You need the details of "How?" before the MC can even respond.


17. On 2011-06-30, Vincent said:

Stefoid, my experience is that simply insisting isn't a real solution.


18. On 2011-06-30, Ben Lehman said:

Yeah, I note that apocalypse world still has the insisting on "how" problem: you're not *supposed* to say "I go aggro" but people totally *do* anyway.



19. On 2011-06-30, Vincent said:

You're allowed to say "I go aggro."

When you go aggro, the game can't continue until you've established three things:
- Who you're going aggro on.
- What you want them to do.
- What you're threatening them with.

"I threaten to shoot him if he doesn't get out of the way" is all the HOW that Apocalypse World - or I - expect and require. "I put my gun in his face and scream at him to move" isn't better or worse.

In fact, when "I go aggro" already implies who, what you want, and what you're threatening, then there's no reason to say more.

There's a weird thing! I've seen people say that I, Vincent, want more description in my games. It's not true. I want concrete action in my games, not more or fancier words. This distinction between action and description isn't one we've talked much about, so I can see where people can conflate them.


20. On 2011-06-30, Moreno R. said:

Hi Vincent!

Reading again all these posts in sequence, I would like to post a personal example of what Ralph was describing in the comments to "A moment of judgement", but I don't know if it's better to post it in the comments of that old post, or it's better here (I think it's better here, but I wanted to check).

Also, if you returned to the issues raised by Ralph in that thread in later posts, please list them, I don't want to talk about something already settled and buried,..


21. On 2011-06-30, Vincent said:

Here is better.


22. On 2011-06-30, Moreno R. said:


I am writing this to reply to some observations made in the comments of "2009-04-10 : A Moment of Judgment". In particular, to the post #88, where Vincent wrote:
"I wish we were talking about a real game, Ralph. I've posted some real rules from Storming the Wizard's Tower, we could talk about them instead. Otherwise I'm going to do the unattractive thing where I get more and more absolute.

I am not always in agreement with Valamir's posts in this blog, but seeing that, in that specific case, I was in complete agreement with the objections he did make, and I think I HAVE a couple of specific cases to cite, I thought of posting them

The issue, of course, is the... "naive", I think, belief that the GM's judgment is LESS contested when the players are MORE invested in the SIS "rightness" (something that I think goes right against the concrete experience of almost everybody who ever played D&D for a long time). See reply 93 by Valamir for more about the issue.

This is my first example. We were playing Call of Cthulhu. You know how it is in CoC: the GM is the complete master of everything. The players don't even have the hope that the GM will be "fair": he is SUPPOSED to kill their characters, at the end, in horrible ways.  So I was playing in my usual (at the time) "master illusionist mode": 90% of the times, the dangers I described were only for color, to create an atmosphere of fear. Then, sometimes, I really rolled the dice and observed the results, even if they killed a PC, to "prove"  that the risk was real.
I think it worked very well, for a time, until a new player entered the game. And he was very invested in the fiction's correctness. Gone were the times when I could "wing it" regarding the dresses, the cars, the travel time..  there were A LOT of discussions and arguing about every single detail that he did think was "wrong". Most of the time I simply corrected myself, even if I found the thing really annoying, but not always.

The precise case I want to talk about happened during a scene where all the PC were barricaded in a house in a mountain, with a sniper outside who already dis kill one of the characters (forcing them to return quickly into the house).

What they did not know was that with the critical hit a PC did with a rifle from a window just after entering, they had already killed the real sniper. There was still someone with a rifle outside, but it was an accomplice who had no "shooting" skill to talk about, and with the penalties for the darkness and running target and long range, he had less than zero, so he was only shooting in the air to scare them. They were not at risk anymore. (this is important to show that, at least on my part, the issue later was ONLY about SIS correctness, not game balance or anything like that).

The PC had to take with them a stone table weighting about 50 Kg. There was snow, a lot of snow (enough to sink to the upper thigh walking on it, even without the tablet), it was dark, no moon, and the terrain was rugged.

And that player said "I can easily carry 50 km on my back, running outside, the sniper will have the time to shoot to me just 3-4 times until I reach the trees (it was a run of more than 100 meters)and then I will go to the village to ask for help".

A combat round was around 12 seconds, 4 shots were 40-50 seconds... if they were real (with the intention to hit the target, I mean)

I replied "you are saying to me that you will be able to run in that snow with that tabled - that was not even balanced - more than 100 meters in less than a minute?

And he answered "yes, I did it all the time, when I was playing american football, even with more than 50 kg on me during the training".

And I asked "have you ever tried to run in thigh-deep snow?" He hadn't. I had.

He did know football. I did know snow, and mountains.

We argued for two hours. I am not joking. Even if I did know that he could even go for a stroll outside with no real risk. The idea of the character making a clear sprint in that snow was too ridiculous to me.  It was not only damaging my suspension of disbelief, but it was, in my opinion, damaging the entire atmosphere of "danger" I was trying to build, that was the entire point of the game.

He did believe that his character's life wad in danger, but, more than that, he saw in my objections a dismissing of his experience when he did play football (something he did care a lot and continue to cite very often).

Both considered the other's opinion utter "unrealistic" to the point of sheer absurdness. The game stopped. The other players, at the end, complained and we did go on with a compromise that made nobody happy.

This was 6 years ago. To this day, when we talk about about that scene, we argue. After 6 years!!!

This is the most extreme case, but it was a very, very common experience, debating what was "realistic", for years, with a lot of different players, with different game, even if every one of these games gave the GM complete control of everything (the usual lie of Rule Zero: "you decide everything"... but you still have to convince the others at the table, so at the end you have to "convince" people, instead of simply showing them a rule in the book...)

Less than a year after that, I discovered indie games (DitV) and solved this problem. Really, solved.  Because I never did play a game, after that, that said "you must choose what is more realistic" AND gave that choice mechanical "weight" in "life or death" situations

Another time, when I was playing DitV, the GM did describe a "mountain people" village. I was horrified! I am somewhat of a western nut that can cite every classic of the genre and did read something about the real Native Americans. He is not interested in the matter at all, and narrated what I can only describe like a "McDonald version" (there was even a teepee where you could have "a mystic vision" in 15 minutes for a dollar!)

But this time, even something so comically absurd and wrong, did not create a long discussion. We simply laughed, and I told him "I will let this pass, once, but I hereby forbid you from ever using again mountain people when you GM Dogs in the Vineyard". And so it was. He did not care about the realism of his mountain people village, it was simply something that he made up on the spot.

The magical ingredient in this later tale is simple: he did not have to decide what was "more realistic", so his judgement of reality and his own life experiences were not threatened. And when the judgment count, like in conflict, there are dice to spend, and EVERYBODI'S judgment, not only his own.

In short: my entire gaming experience confirm what Ralph was saying in that thread.  In your example in the original post, the GM is fucked. You have put him in an untenable position: he has to be able to convince every other people at the table that "they are wrong and he is right". The only thing that can save him (and saved me at the beginning of the CoC game) is having passive players that don't care about the "correctness" of the SIS, but simply want to be entertained.

Do you have an example of a published game where this can't happen?


23. On 2011-06-30, Simon C said:

I don't want to distract from the conversation Moreno is starting, because that's interesting too, but there's another interesting thing I want to talk about, about designing the fiction in the game:

The things people say in the game, the things they describe their characters doing, and the way they describe it, can be:

a) Concrete
b) Detailed
c) Aesthetically pleasing

I think there are ways of writing rules that encourage, or even require, each of those three things. Probably though, it is difficult or at least not expedient to design rules which require all three of those things. That means you need to prioritise. For me "aesthetically pleasing" comes last in order of priorities.


24. On 2011-07-01, stefoid said:

You're allowed to say "I go aggro."

When you go aggro, the game can't continue until you've established three things:
- Who you're going aggro on.
- What you want them to do.
- What you're threatening them with.

"I threaten to shoot him if he doesn't get out of the way" is all the HOW that Apocalypse World - or I - expect and require. "I put my gun in his face and scream at him to move" isn't better or worse.

Those first two things you must supply when you go aggro are WHY.  The last one is HOW but if you dont say it, does the game chug on?  How does AW back up the third thing other than pure insistence?

How is nowhere near as necessary as what and why, but is sure is nice.  For dragging people into the SIS and for helping the GM especially.


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

If I don't know what you're threatening me with, I don't know whether I'd rather cave and do what you want, or force your hand and take the harm.


26. On 2011-07-02, stefoid said:

Simon, whats the difference between detailed and aesthetically pleasing?  Is it how useful the details are to establishing a rightward arrow?

Can you give an example of how to require any of those three types of HOW?


27. On 2011-07-02, stefoid said:


Im trying to decide whether pulling a gun or yelling at someone is a how or a what, and if it matters.  'going aggro' implies threatening someone with something in order to get what you want.  I guess in the context of AW it doesnt matter what you classify the constituent parts as, they are required and thats the important thing.


So the only way to not rely on insistence for the

is to ensure the element necessary to the resolution system.  Somehow.


28. On 2011-07-02, Simon C said:

"Concrete" means the things they say the character is doing are happening in the fictional world of the game, they're meaningful, and you can't take them back.

Apocalypse World encourages this kind of thing by making moves triggered only when things have already been done, and by making sure the moves require you to describe exactly what you're doing before the GM knows how to respond.

"Detailed" means you say lots of things about the details of what the character is doing, and you describe exactly what they're doing.

Not a lot of games encourage this. One way to do it is to make resolution depend on lots of minutia of what the character is doing. It's hard to do that without lots of little modifiers and such, but you can do it. My alternative harm rules for Apocalypse World do it, but only for fighting:

"Aesthetically pleasing" means it's pleasing to the people around the table. Maybe they like fancy descriptions, or things that sound brutal and gory, or humour.

Games like "Exalted" encourage aesthetically pleasing description with GM-awarded benefits for saying things fancy. I'm not a fan of that approach myself, but it seems to work for some people. A different way of doing it would be to have the GM judge, for example, if your description was "brutal" or "elegant", and resolving the action differently based on that judgement.


29. On 2011-07-02, stefoid said:

I think of concrete as "show dont tell"

"I get angry"
" I go aggro"

"I slam my fist on the table"
"I shove my pistol in his face"


30. On 2011-07-07, Deliverator said:

One thing I've noticed is that if you force people to get more detailed in their narrations all the time, they tend to get narration fatigue.

I really think BW/BE/MG take the cake as far as designing to this issue goes.  Because you can do the basic action without much HOW, but if you want more dice, and generally you do, then the HOW starts becoming much more concrete.  All this by the core rules as written.  And if no one can think of anything, that's fine, you can still roll, you're just less likely to succeed (which can be fine because of the way harder rolls are tied to the advancement system).



31. On 2011-07-10, stefoid said:

Hmm, I dont know.  In my experience, and Im talking about just my own personal experience, I always have some idea of how my character is going about stuff.  I am imagining the scene playing out, what my character is doing and what me and my character want to happen.

Im pretty sure I have experienced test-fatigue before, however.  Like 'why am I rolling for this exactly?  Cant it just happen?"

In those situations, yeah, Im like "whatever, I

" and roll dice, just to get it out of the way"


32. On 2011-07-11, David Berg said:

Getting players to narrate details is easy.  Give them bonuses or rewards for it.  (Lightning Sword +2, swung in a Downstroke +1, from Crane Stance +1!)  Getting players to narrate in a colorful and engaging way is also easy.  Same thing.*  (+100 XP for good roleplay!)

Just don't confuse one with the other.  More fictional specifics do not necessarily produce a more vivid and engaging fiction (e.g., if they're delivered flatly).

*Or you can simply make a game that is obviously all about color, like MonkeyDome.


33. On 2011-07-11, David Berg said:

Moreno, I think the only way to make 100% sure that arguments like that never happen is to not care about realism.  If a Dogs GM builds their town around a giant immovable stone idol, and then a player decides his character should run off with it, neither Saying Yes nor Rolling the Dice will prevent everyone's fun from being ruined.  That guy simply needs to be shouted down, and kicked out if he won't relent.

With reasonable players who have any sense of why they're there to play the game, I think this can be troubleshot entirely on the social level.  Agree on what's plausible, cede what's probable, flip a coin, and don't take longer than the least interested player can stomach.

If we're talking about fiction-mediating procedures, though, I can only see two solutions: get the facts, or don't look too close.

The classic conflict resolution system just rolls for whether you get the tablet to the woods without being shot, without worrying about probabilities.  As long as everyone at the table agrees that it is possible that you succeed and possible that you fail, we're all good.  A result is established, and people can think whatever they want about how that happened in the fiction.  On a success, you may envision it as a desperate dash and your friend may envision it as a casual stroll, but you aren't gonna argue about it for more than a minute because it doesn't affect your play decisions moving forward.

Or you can get the facts.  Go to wikipedia, or leaf through the sourcebook for the right table, or roll to establish the precise slushiness of the snow.

Specifying reload times, tablet weight, snow depth and travel distance means you are looking very close.  When you do that, you now need to look at every relevant factor on that level.  "4 seconds between shots" and "snow slows you down somewhat" cannot coexist in the same discussion.  You need an actual snow-running meters-per-second speed.  If you don't wanna get those facts, don't rope in all the other facts like reload times.

That's part of why I now describe everything subjectively as GM.

"How far is it?"

"Kinda far.  Looks like a good shooter could take a dozen or so shots at a normal person.  With that thing on your back, maybe two dozen."

"No, I know from football this weight only reduces my speed by a third!"

"Okay, fine, about a dozen and a third."

"16 shots?"

"Roughly.  You really have no way to be sure."

If that's not the end of the discussion, then you have the footing to tell the guy he's screwing up your horror game with his precise-reality-modeling game.  In your actual session, you couldn't do that, because you wound up playing the precise-reality-modeling game with him.  I would hope that someone else at the table would smack you both.

(Why didn't they?  My guess: (1) GM authority over fiction gets conflated with GM authority over the point of play, and (2) CoC's system seems to encourage this crap, which is the game's biggest failing.)

Oog, this post got long.  Well, I know I didn't spell out how all of this addresses the Moment of Judgment thread, but I think the connections are there.


34. On 2011-07-12, Moreno R. said:

Hi David!

Moreno, I think the only way to make 100% sure that arguments like that never happen is to not care about realism. If a Dogs GM builds their town around a giant immovable stone idol, and then a player decides his character should run off with it, neither Saying Yes nor Rolling the Dice will prevent everyone's fun from being ruined. That guy simply needs to be shouted down, and kicked out if he won't relent.

It's true that discussions about what is "realistic" can happen everywhere (even outside of a game). But I think this is a GOOD REASON to avoid having a system based on a pipe dream like "objective realism imposed by a neutral GM"

In the DitV case, the rules say that if someone even do a puzzled face at that action, the GM should ask the player to change something. "objective realism" is not required: if a single player has objection, even not based on realism, the "move" is not valid. So, the game don't ask anybody to be the supreme arbiter of realism.

What about the social level? If somebody is really invested in the realism of his action, he could protest even after he get overruled. Yes. But I never saw this happen. Playing with the same player that was so problematic before. Why it doesn't happen? Because nobody is saying to that player "you are wrong", and in any case, he is not damaged by the ruling: he still has the exact same dice.

It's not having difference of opinion about what is realistic the problem: the problem is giving mechanical weigh to "realism", and then pretend that nobody will argue.

I am saying that EVERYBODY argue about realism, some time or other. If the game system is build around how real people behave, like DitV, it's not a problem: "change you move" "OK, I still think it was realistic, but it's not a big deal..."

In the Call of Cthulhu situation, ANY decision from the GM had possible lethal consequences to the characters. How many rolls? How many chances to be killed? 4? 5? 6? No matter what the GM decide, the players will ALWAYS try to convince him to lower that number.

It's the way players can help their character survive in "rule-zero land": protest. Always. Not so much to anger the all-mighty GM, but enough to make him lower that number hoping to avid the hassle and the discussion. If you don't protest, you get a higher number, and the GM, being human, probably will attack your character and not the one that can block the game in endless discussions.

It was a constant "buzz" from the players that was always present in every table of traditional rpgs I have ever played: my own, other's, when I wasn't the GM (and now I realize I was annoying exactly like them, to get some protection for my characters), at conventions...  it was so widespread everywhere that I never noticed it (it was "th way to play".  Until it stopped

I noticed it when it stopped. When we began to play games where you don't get anything by bothering the GM. And it stopped, just like that. And I noticed the peace at the table.

But when I hear about the virtue of having a "neutral GM as the arbiter of realism", I remember the buzz, and I really don't want to be in that poor GM's shoes...

About saying directly how many rolls, without talking about how many meter. It can work only in games like DitV where the rolls are not counted by second. In CoC, any player can simply deduce the number of seconds from the weapon table in the book. And, in any case, no matter the number you say, there will be the constant buzzing to lower it.

To put it simply, your method would only work with players where you would not have any need to use it.


35. On 2011-07-12, Vincent said:

Think laterally! You're right, the game you played didn't solve the problems, but that doesn't mean the problems are insoluble.

Apocalypse World offers a whole array of extremely functional GM-is-impartial mechanisms. In play, you don't even notice what they're doing.


36. On 2011-07-12, Simon C said:

David, the bit about "4 seconds between shots" not being able to coexist with "somewhat slows you" strikes me as very perceptive.

I'm trying to think of applications or existing examples.


37. On 2011-07-12, Tim Ralphs said:

I think we might be missing something really important when we say that the Apocalypse World GM (MC) is impartial. They're clearly not. They have upfront, expressed agendas, and they make a lot of decisions regarding the interaction of rules and fiction based on those agendas. (And, I suspect, their own sense of what makes compelling narrative and what will ensure people have fun.)

Take, from the example in the book, the Brainer Marie activating her pain wave projector as her 'action'. The MC could have legitimately asked her to Act Under Fire at that point, given that she was lying, dazed and prone, with three gang members bearing down on her with hand guns and a chainsaw. ("You rolled an eight? Well, you can activate the pain wave projector, but they're going to get a clean shot at you while you're lying there fiddling in your pockets. Or you can scramble deeper into the room, but good luck finding the right switch while you're crawling around.") The MC could have asked her to roll for Going Aggro or Seizing by Force, with the pain wave projector establishing the level of harm inflicted. Any of those calls would have felt credible, and would have been in accordance with the principles of keeping Apocalypse World real and (to an extent) making the character's life not boring.

Depending on Marie's stats, that decision could have really messed with her chances of surviving the scene.

And moments later the MC decides that the 1 harm inflicted on one of the gangers is enough to leave them comatose. This is an interpretation of the harm rules that the MC is entitled to make, but not particular pushed to by the description of "1 harm" in the book. Again, this interpretation of the rules has a pretty significant impact on whether Marie survives or not.

In a way, it looks to me like there's something akin to illusionism happening here. It feels like Marie scrapes through the encounter by the skin of her teeth, she made a good decision in activating the pain wave projector and she overcame the odds. But actually, the MC made some quick calls that really helped her out along the way.

I don't know. Maybe this is less relevant to this discussion and I should take it to the AW forums. It just seems obvious to me that *something* is happening in AW that keeps away the "buzz" that was described above. (And jeez, I recognise what Moreno is talking about.) I'll agree with Vincent when he says that in play you don't notice how it's happening. But I fear that attributing whatever is happening to MC impartiality would be missing something useful.

Relevant to this thread, I think part of it may be the level of detail at which Apocalypse World moves apply. It gives creative leeway. Part of it is that the MC is a fan of the characters, that the NPCs are all viewed through cross hairs, that the PCs are bad ass, that there's all the misdirection covering up the mechanics, that the MC has no pre-prepared plot or solutions for them to be trying to save. Blah blah blah. Clearly there's much more to be said.


38. On 2011-07-12, Vincent said:

Ah, yes. I should say that Apocalypse World offers a whole array of GM-is-impartial mechanisisms, along with all its other GM mechanisms.

When the circumstances demand an impartial call, the game's rules arrange things so that the GM can make the call without any conflict of interests. But the circumstances don't always demand an impartial call; usually they demand a synergy of creative impulses instead.

So, Tim, I agree. GM impartiality accounts for only its piece of it, not all of it.


39. On 2011-07-12, David Berg said:


Once you get to "help your character survive in rule zero land" the battle's already lost.  I'm just saying that there's more than one way to avoid that.  There are probably an infinite number of ways to look to fictional facts to determine what happens without devolving into bullshit.

I think most pro-character realism argument is simply grasping for agency and certainty in the face of not knowing how to contribute.  Any system that tells you what you're there to contribute and how to reliably do that avoids those pitfalls.

"We're here to experience and portray madness and horror; you die when the GM decides it'd be fun to kill you; you announce what your character wants to do, the GM fills you in on relevant environmental factors, the group agrees on realistic odds of success, you commit to action, if it's uncertain you roll dice approximating the odds."  Already better than most CoC games, but still task-based, fiction-based, and fairly traditional.


40. On 2011-07-20, Judson said:

Moreno, you seem to be arguing most strongly for the position that the person to make those calls is one impartial to the outcome and invested in the integrity etc. precisely because in the CoC scenario you describe (and it echoes my own experiences with CoC) the argument is between two people who aren't impartial.  Your difficult player is invested in his idea of "historical accuracy" (and, I infer, in using that as a club to advantage his guy), and you're invested in the atmosphere of horror you're trying to build.  Certainly, the mechanisms of CoC push players and keepers into those corners, and as a result there isn't anywhere to stand that's above the fray and able to make an impartial decision.


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