2012-12-20 : Positioning: Retroactive

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

One more implication of fictional positioning and the lumpley principle before I move on to whatever's next (possibly: "so wait, what about resource and effectiveness?"):

When some fictional detail becomes true in the game, we don't know what it means. The GM says "in the room there's a table and a few chairs, 4 chairs in fact, and one wall is all mirror, of course it's one-way, they can watch you through it," and we all nod. Yes, yes, all true.

If fictional positioning worked like real positioning, like the positioning of the pieces on the Chess board, we would be able to see how these new facts change our current set of legit available moves. "Aha, now my pawn can move here, and my bishop can no longer move there."

But in roleplaying, every move is uncertain until you make it and find out. This means that the significance of an established fact is ungiven until the game's over, until you can look back and see how everything came to fall out. A year later: "wow. Do you realize, if there had been a closed-circuit camera in that room instead of a one-way mirror, how differently everything would have gone?"

In Chess, the positions of the pieces on the board create your possible moves.

In a roleplaying game, the reverse: the group's reception of the moves you make gives the already-established fictional details their currency significance. The group's reception of your moves creates your fictional position, retroactively.

1. On 2012-12-20, Dan Maruschak said:

Are you sure you're talking about "real vs. fictional" here? There are other real games that don't have discrete positioning like chess, e.g. billiards, golf, football, where you might not be 100% confident of the result of your "move" at the time you make it.


2. On 2012-12-20, Threlicus said:

Hrm. I have to disagree with the difference you've identified actually being a difference. Your move is expressed in a more verbal way than a move in Chess is, sure; and the potential complications arising from details are much more difficult to divine than in Chess, but it is a matter of degree, not nature.  Consider, for example, the 'Poisoned Pawn' variation of the Najdorf Sicilian opening. White makes a move that apparently invites Black to win a pawn for free; but the tactical complications that erupt if he does so are quite fierce. Some of it is immediately foreseeable, some, many moves down the road, much less so.

Similarly for a GM making the 'one-way mirror' move above. Maybe tactical complications aren't going to erupt in this scenario (or maybe they are!), but the players can foresee some of the implications of the move, at least as compared to the 'closed-circuit TV' move instead. For example, it means that breaking through the one-way glass might be feasible but using tech skills to disable to 'loop' the camera aren't. An NPC having a recording of the event becomes a less feasible move, for the GM later (although maybe not completely implausible).  NPCs who are not plausibly physically present can't be asserted to have watched the event, without some other fictional positioning. Yes, the ultimate consequences and significance of these and other details are unknown until play happens, but that's true in chess no less than here—sometimes it matters whether the pawn is on d5 or d6, sometimes it doesn't. In both cases, you have to play to find out, though players usually have some idea in advance, an idea that can be thoroughly disrupted by future developments.

It's true that the *immediate* consequences of the move are clear in chess in a way that is a little less so in RPG, but, in my view, that's just a result of the verbal (contra mathematical) nature of the moves being made.


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

Dan: Yes, I'm sure.

It's not about the uncertain result of your move, it's about the uncertain legitimacy of your move.

In a roleplaying game, "I set my pistol down on the table, very slowly, pointing it at nobody" might seem like a legit move to you when you make it, but then turn out to be not legit after all - the equivalent of picking up a ball and putting it in the pocket with your hand, or whacking your opponent's golf ball into the woods with your club, or moving your bishop in a knight's move.

It's not then that you've misunderstood your fictional position, it's that you've misguessed what your fictional position will turn out to be.

Threlicus: This should answer your disagreement too, yes? A 'poisoned pawn' situation doesn't mean that now I have to guess whether it's legit play for me to move my bishop on the diagonal and my rook on the square, right?


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

I forgot to say it, but please, for this post too, ask questions where you don't understand (or think you might not), but save your statements of disagreement for later. Thanks!


5. On 2012-12-20, Threlicus said:

Sorry about the disagreement then! I did wonder if you had meant to say that.

I have to think a little bit more before I decide if I really understand the distinction you're trying to draw (and whether I think it is merely a consequence of the verbal-versus-mathematical expressions of rules), but I will point out that I think the example that you gave, of consequences seen a year later, is more relevant to your poisoned pawn example than what I think you're trying to get at.

Although maybe it'll help me comprehend better if you go back to Dan's query: Suppose you're playing pickup basketball, and there's an implicit rule against fouling although it's fuzzy and ill-defined. You hit a guy in a particular way, but you don't know before you do it whether it's going to be called a foul by the group or not. Is that different from RPGs in this area that you're looking at, and if so, how?


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VB go "No problem!"
BL go "Verbal vs. Mathematical"*

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

Good question.

That kind of uncertain legitimacy also exists in roleplaying games, in interpersonal positioning.

And, like, I'm kind of fuzzy on Chess. If we sit down to play, you might have to tell me that no, I can't castle like that, and I have to redo my move. There is ALSO uncertain legitimacy in cued, mechanical positioning.

The difference isn't that this uncertainty exists in your fictional position, but that the certainty that exists in cued positioning doesn't. Misguessing your fictional position might always bite your move.


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

Ah, maybe this-

In Chess, if I move my bishop on the diagonal to capture your rook, and you make a displeased hiss and scowl at me, I know why. It's because I made a legit move that displeased you.

In a roleplaying game, if I say that my guy puts his pistol down on the table, and you make a displeased hiss and scowl at me, maybe I made a legit move that displeased you, and maybe I made an illegit move. At that moment, I can't know which. This is the difference.

Now, I should add, most of the time, you won't misguess your fictional position, so it won't bite you. The vast majority of the time, everything works out fine. I'm not concerned about the times when it goes bad, I'm pointing out that the possibility that it always might go bad means that something different is happening. I don't think it's shocking or anything, it's just that collaborative fiction doesn't behave like real physical objects.


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8. On 2012-12-20, Dan Maruschak said:

I guess I'm not sure I follow. In golf, I can imagine a situation where one player picks up his ball, the other one freaks out and screams "What are you doing!? Play it where it lies!", and the first one says, "Yeah, but that means within one club-length, so I'm just moving the ball over here." It turns out they were playing slightly different games from each other without realizing it. Or I can imagine a tennis match where a ball lands near a line and they have to figure out if it was in-bounds or out. Are you saying these kind of things are also in a different category? Maybe it would help if you expanded the gun-on-the-table thing a bit—why does one person think it's legit (otherwise they wouldn't say it) but the other one doesn't?


9. On 2012-12-20, Ben Lehman said:

"Wait, your guy doesn't have a gun! It's a federal building, obviously there are metal detectors at the entrance!"



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10. On 2012-12-21, Gordon said:

This may be quibbling, and I hope it's not disagreement.  Certainly I don't think it challenges the general usefulness of this point/series in any way. But - I'm having trouble with "always."  Is a true, absolute always important here?  It seems possible to design SOME (certainly NOT all, or even most) fictional positioning such that it is certain, or at least as certain as cued positioning (i.e., challenging it requires applying the LP in an area outside that of the move itself).

Let's see - alter the "Angel Wings" move to "Mirror Mage: Whenever you have access to a mirror large enough that you could fit through it, you can go instantly ..."  In the example above (room, chairs, one-way mirror wall), making the move using the mirror seems WAY legit - more even than going to Mom.  Like, bishop-moves-diagonally legit.

Now, when you say "My guy uses Mirror Mage," the response might be "Oh, did I say one wall was a mirror?  I meant four plain, dingy walls, with a beat-up videocam in one corner."  But that (and any variant that removed the mirror) might be considered pretty darn illegit itself. In fact, it could be explicitly ruled as illegitimate - "no changing details after a move that references it/them is invoked."

I guess I could say that "mirror in move text[a real written thing]" + "mirror in room description[real that someone just said that]" + "rule that you can't take back a used detail[real text in the book]= Cue, rather than fictional positioning.  That seems awfuly strained, though.

But - maybe I'm just missing something.  If someone can point it out, great!  If not, I'm content to wait and see if this "not-quite-always" point even matters to what Vincent is building.


11. On 2012-12-21, Roger said:

What I find myself most reminded of by this is that old thing about "To do something, you gotta do it."  I always thought before that it was just an issue of not sucking.  But now I'm starting to think the reason things like "Well say so can I try to talk the guard into letting us go?" is that it's literally impossible for anyone to answer that question meaningfully except in retrospect.  Assuming I'm picking up what you're laying down here.


12. On 2012-12-21, Dan Maruschak said:

So other than the obvious difference that the possibly-out-of-bounds tennis players are starting from a point of visual perception and the gun-in-a-federal-building RPG players are starting from a point of "looking" at their imaginations, I'm not really following what two different categories you're putting these scenarios in. It's related to uncertainty? Both sets of players justifiably believe incompatible things that must be reconciled before play can continue, no? Comparing to the golf hypothetical, The I-still-have-my-gun guy presumably believes that a fictional situation that would take away an element of his character effectiveness wouldn't happen "without his noticing", and I'm-allowed-to-slightly-move-the-golf-ball guy presumably believes that physics and plantlife aren't allowed to conspire to prevent him from taking a normal golf swing for his next shot. What different categories are these in? Similarly, why is whether or not a foul happened in Threlicus's basketball game an "interpersonal" thing rather than a question of physical fact about whether that type of contact was illegal? How about strikes and balls in baseball? (Sorry if these queries are veering too far into disagreement territory).


13. On 2012-12-21, Vincent said:

Don't say "other than the obvious difference." The obvious difference is the one I'm talking about!


14. On 2012-12-21, rabalias said:

There's lots of ways that the "obvious difference" (i.e. that the game situation only exists in our heads) can express itself:

- Mismatch of views about what is happening right now in the current scene. I say "I punch him in the face", and the GM says "no, he's a kinda giant worm thing, he doesn't have a face". Or in the mirror example, I say "cool, I look and see who is on the other side of the mirror" and the GM says "you're on the shiny side, dude, you can't do that".

- Mismatch of views about what is possible in this situation. I say "I punch him in the face" and the GM says "there's no way you can punch him in the face; you're just way too clumsy". Or in the mirror example "I throw a chair through the mirror". The GM says "one-way mirrors are always made of hardened glass; the chair would just bounce off".

- Mismatch of views about past actions. I say "I shoot him in the face" and the GM says "you never mentioned bringing a gun" or "you had to get through security so you couldn't have brought a gun". In the old Sebastienne example from the last post in this series, I say "I use angel wings to go to Sebastienne's dining room" and the GM says "you've never been there". I reply "oh, I thought I could have slipped in at some point".

- Mismatch of views about intent. I say "I shoot him". The GM says "cool, his head explodes like a watermelon". I say "no, I only wanted to wing him - shoot him in the knee or something".

...some of these are a product of an ambiguity in the world as described so far; I never said where I would shoot him, so maybe the GM isn't wrong to say I shot him in the head - depends on the etiquette of the situation and the protocols of the game we're playing. Some of them are product of a lapse of reasoning on the part of one of the participants; maybe the GM mentioned there was security on the doors and I just forgot. Sometimes it's ambiguous which situation we're in (maybe I just assumed the GM would say something if security detected my gun).

I've seen some pretty horrific mismatches in the past, where scene upon scene turns out to be predicated on a misunderstanding. They can be tough to unpick.


15. On 2012-12-21, Josh W said:

Vincent, what happens when you write play reports of your games, then read them through before starting? Would you say that turns "fictional" into "cues", in the sense that they are now nailed down in reality?

'Cos there are some things about shared creation in rpgs that strike me as literally about the vagaries of memory, and how they can be utilised, and others that are about lack of formality in causal structures: A position of a chess piece in a still room is a physical fact, but what it does, how it moves, that's open to rules hacks, although convention fixes it as certain things. And in rpgs, there's a whole series of things we have nailed down but not yet considered the significance of. Everyone knows my character is the baron of some kingdom, what does that mean?

That gray area as you get further from the computer like formal systems and into those complex interacting assumptions of causality that different players have inherited or inferred from other fields, strikes me as the perfect ground for developing "tabletop rpg" ideas. I'm sure that's where you're heading too Vincent!

Also about the retconning stuff, instincts from burning wheel and mechanics like that are absolutely killer for setting up an ambiguous status quo in short order; establish the usual, the default, with exceptions, such that other players can play off of it.


16. On 2012-12-22, DWeird said:

I recognise this as the same reason I don't play raw freeform anymore - knowing what to expect meant immersing myself into an arcane arrangement of traditions of play that any one of us only barely understood.

I'm kind of hoping for the "and here's why all this is awesome and interesting and useful" part, though... As of now, it feels like this went from "if you've established that your character is holding a gun, all other things being equal, it's a legitimate move to assert that your character fires it at someone" to "if you've established that your character is holding a gun, god knows what your legitimate moves are", which is kind of confusing.

I know where we started from and I know the steps this took, but I'm losing grasp of where this is going, or, more importantly, why.

Am I missing something?


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R go "RQ, I disagree w/your example."*
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17. On 2012-12-22, Gordon said:

It seems to me that the question addressed in this topic is "where do we look to determine the legitimacy of a move in a role-playing game?"  The answer put forward is this: ever and always, per Boss-lumpley, we look to the assent of our fellow players - which (emphasized in this topic) they can only give after they know what the move is.  So "all other things being equal, it's legit" and "god knows what's legit" are just different ways of revealing this is how and when we establish legitimacy.

I guess my question is this - is it EVER possible for there to be, between the rules and the fictional situation presented, enough information that the assent is essentially pre-granted?  Enough so that to retract that assent would be just as illegitimate as trying to convince everyone that a bishop can too move like a knight sometimes?  It seems to me that my Mirror Mage case in #10 is an example of that.

Now, I think that roleplaying has often chased after that total pre-assent state as if it should happen a lot, or even ALWAYS - and yeah, that's a mistake.  I assume that where this is heading is that once we accept/understand the assent-driven nature of the process, we can be much smarter about influencing assent (and constructive dissent?).  But again: does that mean that pre-existing assent just NEVER happens, and we can't/shouldn't sometimes play/design from a fictional position that includes some moves about as certain as a bishops' diagonal move?  It doesn't seem to me that Principe Baker-Boss requires this, but if assuming it does is what's needed to keep building, I can do that for now.


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18. On 2012-12-22, Gordon said:

Not enough room in marginalia.  I'm not sure exactly what to make of this thought, but it might trump my previous post, so before I shut down the computer ...

Maybe I (and others?) are hung up on a particular use of "legitimate."  Because if I say "desireable" instead, suddenly le Principe does gain full dominion.  It's always possible for someone to ADD information such that, while my move might still be valid, it's not one I WANT to make.  Again, with the Mirror Mage: "Uh, whoops,I really want you folks in this room a while - can I change the mirror into a camera?"  Given the right circumstance (trust of the speaker, reasons offered by other players, etc.), I might choose to forego the legitimate move.  In other circumstances, it might be very bad form to be asked to forego, or to agree to forego - but I won't KNOW until the opportunity has passed.

So even if my example does demonstrate a pre-known legitimacy, it doesn't demonstrate an absolute "this WILL happen barring players escalating to 'bishops can too move like knights' claims."

Can't quite think this through right now (it's late), but - do I do damage to anything important if I tack "desireability" into a very broad definition of "legit"?


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19. On 2012-12-24, IJC said:

Is this because the "shared imagined space" isn't actually a thing, and so we are constantly having to work to establish congruence between our private imagined spaces?

Essentially, that your saying that SIS isn't a noun, it's a verb?


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GP go ""SIS" is just a fancy word for "conversation" IMHO"*
R go ""Shared" and "imagined" in "shared imagined space" are both verbs."
BL go "R+1"*
GcL go "R ++"*
IJC go "R -- sure, past participles, what else would they be?"*

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