2012-11-16 : Positioning: System and gameplay options

Positioning series table of contents: Where were we...?

Yesterday's convenience of thinking about making a move in a roleplaying game as speaking up to make an assertion? No longer convenient! Time to see what's actually in there instead.

Here's the lumpley principle (so called*): However you and your friends, moment to moment, establish and agree to what's happening in your game, that's your game's system. A "gameplay option," a "move," just means your participation in that system.

So does it mean asserting a fact, so that your game's system can uphold or reject it? No. Asserting a fact is one kind of move, but so is asking a clarifying question, granting provisional assent, changing a number on your character sheet without speaking, or any number of other things.

Does it at least mean participating actively in the system? No. There are active moves, there are passive moves, and both kinds are still moves. A passive move might be to sit and withhold comment and judgment, for instance. Not only is this a gameplay option you sometimes have, it's sometimes the best gameplay option you have.

Here's Meg, making some moves (not in any particular order, no narrative implied):
"My guy draws his sword."
"My guy has a red beard."
"My guy just watches."
"Hey Vincent, what's your guy doing?"
"Wait, is it raining? I thought it was raining."
[Rolling dice] "I got a 7."
"How much time has passed?"
"How many hit points do you all have left?"
[Pointing at a map] "You're over here, right?"
"Can I see them?"
[Making a change on her character sheet, saying nothing]
"Hold on a sec, let me think about this."
"Oh, yeah, good idea. I like that better."
[Nodding reluctantly]
[Picking up dice, holding them at the ready, not rolling them]

I could keep going forever.

I hope that now when I say this...

A player's position is the total set of all of the legitimate gameplay options available to her at this moment of play. Positioning refers to the various factors and processes, including in-fiction, cue-mediated, and interpersonal, that determine a player's position.

...You see the possible gameplay options in question exploding into infinity, not contracting into a defined set of mechanical actions.

Next up, I think, this business of "legitimate."

Disagreements for later! Questions for now.

1. On 2012-11-16, Vincent said:

* Emily and I hashed this idea out between us back in the late 90s. I brought it to the Forge and Ron named it the principle of me. Some people out in the world have been calling it the lumpley-Care principle or the lumpley-Boss principle, to give Emily her due.

Evan, we're going to need to figure out how we want to talk about it, whether it's really a "principle," whether we should name it at all, and if so, what.


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GcL go ""Legitamacy" sounds like the meaty topic"*

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2. On 2012-11-16, Jim D. said:

A question about disagreement of a different kind (and I might be jumping the gun on the next post, and if so, feel free to hold off):

We've all been party to dysfunctional disagreement or arguments (e.g. FISTFIGHT GO) between players, or players and GM, or whichever mix the game involves.  That, or the pathological needling questions a player might ask to finagle a +2 bonus or what have you.  Would things like that also qualify as position, if a degenerate component, or do they fail the "legitimate" test?


3. On 2012-11-16, Vincent said:

At this point, I'm not judging between good games and bad games at all, so yes, the interpersonal factors and processes that determine a player's position do include those kinds of irritating, exploitative, manipulative, and unpleasant factors and processes too.


4. On 2012-11-16, Shane said:

Hi Vincent, great to see your thinking out on the page. I've missed it.

So [Thinking] is a thing of it's own, not just part of the line below?

Jim D: giving the gm that look that says if that threatened npc/item is really lost, she shouldn't plan on snuggles tonight - definitely a move.


5. On 2012-11-17, Roger said:

This isn't a question per se, but... I think this is going to have something interesting and useful to say about everyone's old favourite, 'railroading'.

Also, the more I think about it, the less obvious it seems what exactly is 'gameplay' and what isn't.  Is getting up and getting a bag of Doritos part of gameplay?  Maybe...


6. On 2012-11-17, Emily said:

Markus talks about positioning and the expansive concept of system we're getting at beautifully, in this article:

The Invisible Rules of Role Playing

This iterative nature is necessary for the
ludic, gamelike experiences created in role-playing,
since it moves the focus from creating fiction
externally to acting within it. The existing fiction
provides the constraints and opportunities making
the experience meaningful as a game.
The game
master and the character are structures that are
used to establish the limits of definitional power in
the game. As restrictions of rules give meaning to
ordinary gameplay, in role-playing the restrictions
of defining power give meaning to acting within
the game world. These restrictions also
differentiate role-play from make-believe.


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7. On 2012-11-17, James said:

So, thinking about legitimacy, presuming the following action from someone—

[Gets up and storms away from the table angrily]

First, underneath the context of "I'm done playing this game."  Is that an illegitimate gameplay option, under this nomenclature?  (Always, sometimes, or never?)

Next, under the context of "This is upsetting me, and I'll be back shortly."  Is that a legitimate gameplay option, under this nomenclature?  (Presumably always?)

Alternatively, I think the statements "Let's stop playing for the night" and "Ok yeah it's time" are both potentially legitimate gameplay options, in that they are both options that halt the gameplay.

Obviously everything after those points above are not gameplay options—packing up sheets isn't gameplay, that sort of thing.

(Alternatively, I could be considerably off base, but that's how I'm currently reading this.)


8. On 2012-11-20, Carsten said:

take these questions as thinking aloud to myself:

Isn't the exploding into "infinity" of options actually the advantage that makes roleplaying different from other types of games?

And isn't it the case that any kind of system to resolve things can fail? So that contraction to ONE set of mechanical or "freeform" options is a bad idea?

What I really like to request is that you tell us the conclusion in the next post, otherwise it is hard to stay close to what interests you, and not just extracting what interests me about this topic.


9. On 2012-11-20, Gregor Vuga said:

A question that might be disagreement (feel free to ignore it).

Isn't exploding into infinity potentially close to the old adage of "you can do anything in a roleplaying game" and isn't the job of design (among other things) to successfully limit(or more accurately: focus) the range of legit moves (at least as far as the mechanics are concerned)?


10. On 2012-11-20, Vincent said:

Gregor Vuga: Nah. At least, I'm not concerned about that.

The legit moves explode into infinity, but the non-legit moves and the non-moves explode into a larger infinity. There are still lines between them, and part of the job of design is still to put those lines there.


11. On 2012-11-20, TMC said:


I have a quick question.  What you're stating about positioning is that characters have a positioning in the fiction. Players have a positioning in the real world, and that the character's positioning is a subset of or contained within the player's positioning.  Is that right?


12. On 2012-11-20, Vincent said:

TMC: Broadly, yes, but if you want to get into details, no. (What, you expected a straight answer out of me? I'm no good at those!)

My character's standing on top of a hill behind a low stone wall with a loaded musket in his hands. Your character's charging up the hill with his bayonet fixed. ALL of those details are factors in my position as a player, and ALL of those details are factors in your position as a player too.

This is leading into occult co-ownership, and I'll get there soon. For now, I think the takeaway is just that it's not containment, not a subset, no. All the fictional details contribute to each of the players' positions.


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SDM go "I read it as"*

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13. On 2012-11-20, Vincent said:

TMC, in marginalia: I'm saying that there's no such thing as character positioning, yes.

What we thought was character positioning, wasn't. It was player positioning and we were misattributing it.


14. On 2012-11-21, Paul Czege said:

Ron wrote recently:

"Looking at both Murderous Ghosts and The Plant, I also see that the texts deliberately confound 'you' in terms of character and player, which takes some getting used to. Making that a productive feature is an art of its own, considering how player-to-character identification has been both an unreachable ideal and a boogeyman in our hobby for so long."

If there's no such thing as character positioning, then use of 'you' and conflating player and character was never really as big a deal as everyone seemed to think?


15. On 2012-11-21, Vincent said:

Paul: I think that's so.


16. On 2012-11-21, Paul Czege said:

Would you go so far as to say the path of rigorous distinction between player and character in a RPG rules text creates certain problems?


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llb go "in the DED roughs..."*
VB go "Did it..."*
llb go "wish I knew!"*

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17. On 2012-11-21, Vincent said:

I haven't given it that much thought!

Design-wise, you'll need to let me think about it, or give me an example, or something.

Writing-wise, though, absolutely. I've rewritten plenty of paragraphs into more awkward, no more legible versions of themselves just to preserve that rigorous distinction.

Do you see any certain design problems?


18. On 2012-11-21, Paul Czege said:

Well, the one I might worry about is unintended activation of an arms-length or pawn stance mindset in players, but I can't say I've seen that effect come solely from a game text.

I can say that I've found myself incapable of writing the text of The Clay That Woke without conflating player and character, and that I casually use phrases like "player minotaur" that I expect will make some folks irritable.


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19. On 2012-11-21, Gordon said:

I once wrote a section about "what is a character" that talked a lot about what you did as your character.  Like "As your character, you make choices about who to talk to, what to say to them, how to respond if they insult you, etc."  Then I went back and changed every single "as" to "with."  The intended change being from "in the mindset of your character" to "using (your conception of) the mindset of your character."

Part of me felt it was so wrong, and part of me felt it was so right.  There was a fear of losing something important in that change.

I'm still not sure if it's such a great linguistic construct, but - that thing I was fearing would be lost?  I'm now darn sure it isn't.  Is that where the bogeyman lived?  If so, I don't see him anymore.

(Yes, I'm avoiding using some particular language that has historically proven problematic. It seems wise.)


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GcL go "If you must know and can't guess"*

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20. On 2012-11-25, Josh W said:

Poisn'd would probably be a hell of a lot different if you collapsed that distinction.

Also player/character position has an important split; cool stories often come from setting up the character in a position where they can only make certain choices. Shaping that particular space becomes vitally important to keep in focus.

The character's personality itself as currently established, potentially privately, then helps construct the player's choices.


level of definition of player position = definition of character position + definition due to character personality + other stuff separate from character perspective.

If you find that the game is defining the character into a hole, then you might want to have the player experience that directly, or have outs and control that the character doesn't.

Alternatively, you might want to really push on the idea that player's choices are more constrained and defined than the characters, so that you can skip through sections that don't have the information content to lead to interesting choices at a character level.


21. On 2012-11-26, Vincent said:

Oh, the distinction is real and it's always real. I'm not talking about collapsing the distinction for real.

I'm just talking about, and I think Paul's just talking about, being less obsessively technical about referring to the distinction in text.

Let me see if I can come up with an example from Poison'd. I'm positive there are some in there... Ah. Here's one:

"You can spend three Xs to kill an NPC with no fight, any NPC within your reach. Erase three Xs and say how your character does the bastard."

"Within your reach" is technically incorrect. I'm saying, and I think Paul's saying, that that's okay after all.


22. On 2012-11-27, Josh W said:

Yeah I think there's moments where it becomes really important, in text cause in real life, but at other times the distinction is either obvious because the two are so distinct, and irrelevant because their basically identical.

In some random game, you might say, "when an npc character pisses you off". On the acting side, it's distinct, on the receiving side, it's blurred.


23. On 2012-11-27, Josh W said:

first paragraph, I meant "or irrelevant".


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