2012-12-27 : Positioning: the Okay Cycle

I believe that we're coming up on the end of this positioning series, yeah?

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

There's an important effectiveness->positioning currency cycle I want to point out, it's common in roleplaying (but probably not universal). Let's call it the "okay" cycle:

"I get in my car."
"I drive out to North Adams."
"I go to my grandmother's house."
"I'm like, hi grandma, and whatever, and after the pleasantries I go up to the attic."
"Okay. Your grandma makes you tea, you eat a cookie?"
"Sure, no hurry. Afterward I go up to the attic."
"I find my box of high school memorabilia."
"Okay. It's at your grandma's, not your parents'?"
"It is, yeah. I find it?"
"Sure, okay."
"I get out my yearbook, my girlfriend's photos, my 11th grade poetry, yeah?"
"I perform the Ritual of Lost Passage."

Each "okay" marks an effective move that changes the player's positioning, see how that works?

Here's kind of a bold claim, if you're an old Forge-head like me: this cycle can functionally serve as a reward cycle, absent any reward cycle in the game's design.

(If you're not an old Forge-head, that's the opposite of a bold claim. It's an eye-blinkingly self-evident piece of obviousness, and you can't believe we old Forge-heads had to come this far before one of us realized it.)

1. On 2012-12-27, Vincent said:

Notice also the challenges when I go up to the attic and when I find my box of high school memorabilia. These are fiction-based, not cue-mediated or interpersonal, challenges to those actions' effectiveness. A cue-mediated challenge might call for me to roll dice, point to where something's written on my character sheet, or something like that. An interpersonal challenge might call for me to bully the GM, ask her to please just go along with me here, or something like that. These happen to be fiction-based, so all I have to do to win the actions' effectiveness is create the appropriate snippets of fictional stuff.

If you want to think about how adding mechanics would affect the cycle, just imagine me making a Driving test to get to North Adams safely, or making a Sweet Talk roll to break off the conversation with grandma without hurting her feelings, or pointing out that I have "I lived with my grandma as a teenager" on my character sheet to justify that my crap's in her attic.


2. On 2012-12-27, Evan said:

How does the "okay" reward cycle then compare with something like Robin Laws' beat analysis from Hamlet's Hit Points?

I mean, where on the one hand you're fictionally positioning your character and, on the other hand, every beat's still got some emotional valence.

Like, cookies are yum - so that's an "up" beat.
But then the PC asks "I find it?" which creates a tiny tick of suspense before the GM totally acquiesces.

Each one of these moments is an opportunity for game mechanics other than sheer narration to intervene, but I wonder specifically how mechanics affect/upset/enhance otherwise straight call-response storytelling time.

(If that makes sense.)


direct link

This makes...
ET go "And my hyphen was swallowed again by the evil question mark. Curses!"
VB go "Got it."

3. On 2012-12-27, Vincent said:

It makes sense to me. I don't think there's any one way these interact, I'm all "which mechanics? Under what circumstances?" To really look at it we'd have to really look at it, bust out the rules texts and the actual play, and then we'd be able to draw conclusions about particular games, maybe, but not about games in principle or in theory.

I think!

Am I off track? What do you have in mind?


4. On 2012-12-27, Ben Lehman said:

this cycle can functionally serve as a reward cycle





5. On 2012-12-27, Evan said:

Well, I conceive of each "beat" in Robin's system to be both an asserted fact, as well as an opportunity for mechanics to intervene (given also that inter-player negotiation is also a mechanic of sorts).

So I'm sitting at home in Iowa, and therefore I'll grab a RIFTS book off my shelf and create an AP in my head.

PC: I wonder if my grandma survived the demon attack.
[Dramatic downbeat: she could be in danger. Question posed: Did she survive the demon attack? Fictional position: worried PC with personal investment]

GM: I don't know, did she?
[Dramatic beat: GM confirms the fictional positioning]

PC: I jump into my Mountaineer ATV and set a course for North Adams.
[Procedural upbeat: PC is doing something about it, and advancing the narrative. Fictional position: heroism, but possibly tragedy... 'cause she could be dead]

GM: It's rough going on difficult terrain to grandma's house. Roll me your Pilot: Automobile skill.
[Mechanics engaged. Fictional position: terrain is rough enough to pose danger to PC, Question posed: Will the PC fail and have something awful happen to them?]

PC: I succeed - I make it to grandma's house.
[Procedural/dramatic upbeat: PC encountered no adversity and proves generally competent. Fictional position: difficult terrain is not as interesting as what grandma's house holds.]

GM: OK. It's as you remember it, no demons in sight.
[Procedural upbeat: PC is getting stuff done. Dramatic downbeat: Things are normal...too normal. Fictional positioning: There are further details that need to be revealed, otherwise why do we care about grandma's house here?]

PC: I rush in and head immediately to the attic.
[Procedural upbeat: PC is still getting stuff done. Dramatic beat: Deflated the suspense about grandma's house a little, but something might be in the attic. Fictional position: The PC is not so much interested in the house as they are in the attic, OR they're making a hasty entrance to deliberately expose impetuous character to danger]

GM: OK. She's there and has cookies for you.
[Dramatic upbeat: She's alive and has tasty food! Procedural downbeat: Where's the plot?? Question posed by scene answered, but not by player-engaged mechanics. Fictional position: Either this is a purely phatic gesture rewarding the PC for something, or a new mystery, or a marker to now explore the PC's relationship to grandma. Things are pretty confused at this point.]

PC: OK ... ?!
[Pretty confused.]


In effect, the game system was only invoked for one skill check, and the rest was just conversation. On the other hand, fictional positioning was employed throughout as GM and PC are feeling each other out for what they are or are not interested in.

My analysis says...
GM = interested in PC proving himself as a competent driver
PC = invested in finding out about grandma

Now we look at the presumed thought behind the negotiation process...
GM = "The PC can't get up to his grandma THAT easy. "
PC = "I am anxious that grandma is in danger and even more anxious that I possibly can't successfully drive up to her, but Oh phew! I make it and want to see if she's there... which she is and everything's just fine."

To say it just so: there's the fictional-positioning / player / dice timeline, but each beat along that timeline then carries some kind of emotional weight, and the different interpretation of each beat by each player determines the next round of fictional positioning, and so forth.

Nevertheless, it's rewarding just to have that negotiated space of (mis)interpretation proceed.

Is this wrong?


6. On 2012-12-27, Jesse Burneko said:

I've been thinking about this a lot lately.  That's because there are a few RPGs that have really captured my attention but don't have what I think of really strong reward-cycle focus built into them.

Shadows of Esteren being at the forefront of that list.  But also games like Unhallowed Metropolis or even Deadlands: Noir.  Just yesterday I discovered ImagiNation whose central concept really grabs me.  I look at these games and wonder if the "okay" cycle will be enough for me to get out of them what I want to get out of them.

Maybe this is getting ahead of you but do you see more explicit reward cycles as attempts to "prune" the legitimate move space?

I know that, that is what I keep attempting with many of my own designs.  Sometimes the legitimate move space I want is so tight that when I close my mind I can actually hear the vocal intonation I want players to use when announcing actions and speaking dialog.

Or maybe that's running down the wrong road?


7. On 2012-12-28, David Berg said:

I dig it, Vincent.  I've said "roleplaying just to roleplay" in the past, and met a lot of resistance, but this is basically what I was talking about.  Once we agree that we care about manipulating the same imagined content, any such manipulation is a social act.  And there's plenty of fun just in that!  In fact, I like it so much that I demand that mechanical procedures had better serve a really damn good purpose if they're going to interrupt it.


8. On 2012-12-28, Jim D. said:

I dig this a lot.  One question, though, regarding "okay cycle" as "reward cycle":  are we talking about, here, whether the "okay cycle" is a reward cycle inherent in itself (that is, "roleplaying is fun!"), or in the confines of (and I may be confusing the terms "reward cycle" with "advancement" here) the GM making assumptions about your guy's effectiveness which change over time?  (That is, "watching my guy be awesome / get better at things so his effectiveness isn't challenged in play is fun!")


9. On 2012-12-28, Evan said:

I see the "okay cycle" as a specifically short-term reward cycle.

The whole premise of building conflict into a scenario or campaign rather than engaging in mere phatic affirmation ("okay!") of what players are saying is that the character is well-established enough in the player's mind for the player to then cede glory to the threats posed to them.

This actually isn't often the case - players get rewards out of "just being their guy" and "doing stuff" without either activity really requiring narrative adversity.


10. On 2012-12-28, Vincent said:

The long-term version of the "okay" reward cycle is an Overton Window.


11. On 2012-12-28, Vincent said:

Jim D: I think what I'd prefer to answer is that the Overton Window effect of fictional positioning over the long term is available to designers to incorporate into their designs, and is easy enough to set up, and reliable enough, that it's safe to incorporate it into your designs.

In Apocalypse World, the long-term changes in fictional positioning and the mechanical advancements go hand in hand. They're loosely connected, but connected; when one or the other sprints ahead, which happens sometimes, the game feels weird and off-true.


12. On 2012-12-28, Jim D. said:

Slick.  Okay, I'll buy that.


13. On 2012-12-28, David Berg said:

Not sure I follow.  Example of design incorporation?


14. On 2012-12-28, David Berg said:

Or, wait, maybe I do follow, and it just seems really obvious to me.  Are you saying anything more than "Over the long term, what happens is what the players all agree to allow to happen; by setting up their rationale for agreement, you impact what will happen"?


15. On 2012-12-28, Gordon said:

Not the oldest or headiest of old Forge heads, but - "this cycle can functionally serve as a reward cycle" sounds fine to me.  Isn't the issue how and/or why it does so?


16. On 2012-12-30, Josh W said:

I call this cycle "I love it when a plan comes together" or "the reveal", which shows some of it's weaknesses, or alternatively "the synthesis" which is a little more general-purpose.

The question is whether you are setting up a specific secret plan that you're angling for, or whether you just transmute the random mass of situations into something cool later on.

The former makes you more likely to just set your self up for some cool reveal, or no-one at all, the latter makes you more likely to get scooped in awesome ways by your co-players.

There's a knack to setting up both, putting cool things in to set up new dynamics, which I love because of how you embellish causality in doing so, and equally because of some of the stuff that comes out of it.


17. On 2013-01-02, Vincent said:

David: No, I'm saying more than that. For example, as I said, the connection between Apocalypse World's mechanical improvement and the long-term development of the characters' fictional positions was by my intentional design, not an accident.

Gordon: Hm, I dunno. Look at a game like Salt River, maybe. In these terms it has a perfectly good, strong, clear reward cycle built right into it, and in play it worked perfectly well, but I think the old Forge would have been quite skeptical.

Josh:Ahhh, yes, the knack to setting up both!


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This makes...
GcL go "What I think the old Forge might have said"*

*click in for more

18. On 2013-01-05, Frank T said:

Heh. So it turns out I'm not an old Forge-head in the strictest sense. ;)


19. On 2013-01-08, David Berg said:

Vincent, sounds good.  I can certainly spot how putting "retire to safety" on the Advances list will put that on the map for some players, and how it lends a real-world "officialness" and permanence to a fictional state that might otherwise be transitory.  Checking off the box is the difference between "and things looked fairly stable" vs "and things looked fairly stable—for now!"

I also see how the cycle of Play More -> Roll Highlighted Stats -> Earn Advances -> Get Better at Stuff predicts a positive trajectory, leading to things like safe retirement (though in theory a Front's countdown clock might exert a competing pressure).

Is that what you're talking about?  If so, how does the fictional positioning Overton Window factor in?  If you can muster an AW example of a design intent, a rule, and the group's role in the long-term positioning change, I think that'd help clarify this (for me, anyway).

If this is off-topic, no sweat, I'll save it for a future discussion.


20. On 2013-01-18, Zach Donovan said:

Hey David,

Here's how I'm reading Vincent on this one:

As play progresses, and I, as a player, go through "okay" cycles about my character with the rest of the table, certain fictional elements become accepted as "true" about my character - a precedent is created.

Once I establish the existence of my high school stuff at Grandma's, that stuff is there and will stay there until some other fictional force changes it. Unless someone else burns my Grandma's house down (which itself would require an "okay" cycle), I will continue to have access to that stuff.

This is, in a way, advancement - I have established access to a resource I didn't have before.

Of course, the same applies to abilities - if someone say okay when you say "I turn invisible," it's likely you'll be able to do the same under similar circumstances later.


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