2014-02-15 : Lies in RPGs

Copied from my G+. Comments, questions, here or there!

Setting aside the practical difficulty of design, in principle, any rule you could legitimately include in any game, you could legitimately include in a roleplaying game.

For instance:
"Remove the jokers from a deck of playing cards, shuffle it, and deal the entire deck out to the players."
"If you lose the round, you have to wear the hat of shame."
"If your pawn lands on a space already occupied by another pawn, you bump them back 1 and take their place."
"Odds are 2 to 1 against you, so every dollar you wager, if you win, you get two dollars back."

There's nothing in principle that prevents these from being rules in a roleplaying game. The only thing that prevents them from being rules in a really, really good roleplaying game is the practical difficulty of design.

If this is so, then:

In principle, you could legitimately design a roleplaying game wherein the players lie to one another, as in Diplomacy, I Doubt It, or Liar's Dice.

In principle, you could legitimately design a roleplaying game wherein the players lie to one another about the rules of the game, as in Crossed/Uncrossed, Are We In the Game?, or Triangulation.

In my Sundered Land game Warriors in the Ruins of the Future, the GM (the "butcher player") lies to you about what your character sees and hears, to evoke or simulate the confusion of the battlefield.

In Willow Palecek's brilliant game Sunshine Boulevard...


...the other two players lie to you about the game you're playing, including some truly dreadful lies about the rules you're playing by.

If you hang out in RPG design circles, you can watch a good solution for a particular design (like "in this game, don't fudge the dice") become a best practice (like "you should design your game so that nobody fudges the dice"), become conventional wisdom (like "obviously your game doesn't include dice fudging"), become an immutable principle (like "well-designed games don't include dice fudging").

The fact is that a well-designed game can include as much dice fudging as it wants. As much fudging, as much bluffing, as much lying. Of course it can! The hard part is just designing the game well, but that's always the hard part.

Including lies might be the very best solution.

1. On 2014-02-16, Josh W said:

The trick is probably turning "this is bad design" into "these are the inherent flaws that must be overcome".

So if you include lying in the game, you need to minimise the footprint of the game in terms of longer term deception, you need to consider the barriers this puts between players and it's effectiveness at sustaining or building those barriers, some stuff about "ethics in the absence of informed consent", similar to when people are doing pranks or double blind experiments, and about the break in interpersonal feedback created by false impressions of intentions.

For example, games with lying in them generally have a blank moment at the end where people are like "what the hell was that?" and have to reinterpret what just happened. Game rules with lying that slowly bring the lied to player on board, or even inverse the power/information dynamics at the last stage, will probably be more satisfying than those that just leave that space blank and hollow.

So a sunshine boulevard type game that explicitly gives narration control to the lied-to player at the end about "the fate of the serial killer" will probably assist in that reinterpretation, and help with creating closure similar to "the master always dies at the end" in MLWM.


direct link

This makes...
jdl go "Only the "whole game lie""*

*click in for more

2. On 2014-02-16, E. Torner said:

I think the "immutable principles" here are, in fact, what was established by The Forge community: that systems should be able to operate as written, without players having to intervene in the rules to match their own agenda.

But as I'm discovering, uncertainty (some of which is produced by lying) is actually a designer's best friend. Competently control what is uncertain in a game, and chances are that your game will lead somewhere.


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This makes...
Rick go "uncertainty is king. :)"

3. On 2014-02-16, Gordon said:

It's good to highlight that "particular, reasoned solution becomes unvarying, reflexive principle" transformation - thanks, Vincent. To Josh W's "bad design" trick I'd add a trick on the "good design" side - that there is only good design for a particular purpose. Overly-simplifying: Diplomacy is good design for people who can socially reconcile in-game lying and rest-of-life interaction. If you can't do that, it's a lousy design.

Defining "for a particular purpose" is also tricky, of course - to some extent a game (roleplaying or otherwise) of course gets to self-define, but it also runs into the realities of human interactions, socioeconomic factors, and etc.

Many game design-principle fights I've seen (again, RPG or not) are really arguing about the, um, reality of those realities. That theoretically including lies might be the very best solution is unimportant when it runs into "it's OK to lie like that to your friends in the context of a game" vs. "it's not OK to lie like that to your friends, ever."


4. On 2014-02-19, adam mcconnaughey said:

i think many games that include rules like

"if your character does something risky, roll a d6. a 3-4 is a slight success, a 5-6 is a better success"

without further specification what the difference between the two of those is

fundamentally include a form of dice fudging.

as do any games that include rolls where the outcome is a suggestion, instead of a hard and fast rule (for example, rolling on the location table in remember tomorrow).


5. On 2014-02-19, adam mcconnaughey said:

fuck it, apocalypse world includes a form of dice fudging, in practice

like, when a player rolls a mixed result on, oh, idk, act under fire, and you the MC can't think of a good hard bargain to offer, and you just give it to them.


6. On 2014-02-19, Paul T. said:

While lying and deception can certainly have their place in game design (as any bluffing/lying game can easily show), I feel that making this analogy misses the point a little bit.

I don't think the problem with "fudging the dice" is the fact that there is lying present in the way the game is played.

After all, it's very much expected that any player can lie on behalf of his or her character: trying to (for example) figure out whether an NPC cult leader is lying to you or not is a very normal part of RPG play. This is not at all unlike Diplomacy or Liar's Dice, where deception about one's game moves (or dice results) is an explicit technique.

Lying about what rules you are playing by, however, is trickier territory. Sunset Boulevard is right on the dividing line there, depending on how it's presented. But the Forgean attitude towards "dice fudging" (and similar) has more to do with an admonition not to lie to your friends about the nature of a game than it does with functional deception within the strategic battlefield delineated by the game itself.

I suppose that's just a side point on this issue, but I feel it's important.


7. On 2014-02-25, Paul T. said:

(As a quick aside/addition to my comments, I think that this is why so many people have trouble playing Diplomacy. The game's design makes the lines between "in-game deception" or bluffing and real-life "lying to your friends" very blurry. A group which cannot agree on where that line lies ends up with some unpleasant feelings and - generally - does not enjoy playing. That distinction is vital, I feel, and the group needs to agree on it. The designer can do a lot to make that easier!)


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