2005-01-11 : Archive 147

Will everybody get it better if we call it Stakes Resolution? So we have Stakes Resolution vs. Task Resolution?

Anyhow, down here, Charles says:

"Also, it seems to me that it [Stakes Resolution] is susceptible to some strange effects as it interacts with established but unknown aspects of the world."

It's not, but that's another convo. Here I want to say:

"Established but unknown" is great and fruitful!

Play Universalis and you will learn that in reality, the only way to establish a fact about the game world is to introduce it into play and get every single player's assent to it. If even one player hasn't knowingly agreed to something, it may not be true. GMs never have secrets; what they have instead is plans, which are inescapably contingent and subject to the whims of every player at the table.

It's true; whether you find it sad, liberating, disturbing, a relief, whatever - play Universalis and you'll see that it's true, in every game everywhere ever, and there's nothing to be done about it. It's the group's assent that makes a thing true, nothing else, and keeping something secret from the group is the same as making it be maybe false.

Play Dogs in the Vineyard and you'll learn something else. Not contradictory, but complementary: you'll learn that the key to effective planning is to have each thing you introduce set up the next thing. Get the players' assent to the first thing and like dominoes - you've got their assent to every element in your plan. You can treat these subsequent elements as secrets safely!

You'll also learn that you can't do it without choosing your secrets very carefully. Every secret has to follow from the thing the players have agreed to without depending on what the PCs do or what they think. As soon as you cross that line and your "secret" depends on the PCs taking some particular course of action or thinking some particular way, it's not reliable, it's just a contingency plan, and no amount of wishing or hoping will make it otherwise.

Then you have to choose, GM: let your plan go, or force the players' characters into a particular course of action. If you choose the latter, you suck. (Aside: play Vampire: the Masquerade and you'll learn lots of skills to hide the fact that you suck, but you won't learn to stop sucking.) If choosing the former will mean that your game isn't gripping thrilling exciting unforgettable, you made a suck setup and you should do better next time.

Charles goes on to say:

"Which I guess gets us back into who controls the unknown, and also the possible advantages of Schroedinger's world design for producing fun story."

I say: "possible advantages"? How about "exclusive privilege."

...But I'm talking about Schroedinger's plot design, not world design. Every detail of the world can be written down behind the GM's screen, that's fine - as long as what's written stops abruptly at the right-now-moment of play. It's when the GM's notes say things like "after they search the safe..." or "gotta get the PCs up to the cabin in time to..." that you lose fun story forever.

All the players can control the unknown-but-past, like in Univeralis, or just a few or one can, like in Dogs - it depends on what you want out of this game. But only the group's informed agreement can possibly control the unknown-but-future.

1. On 2005-01-11, Christopher Chinn said:

Hi Vincent,

Right, part of play is that everyone at the table is allowed a certain amount of input(credibility), and when what they THINK they have and what they actually get don't match, problems occur. Any point where the amount of input you're supposed to have gets denied or stolen by another player(including the GM), basically, you're being cut out of the game.

The strength of Dogs and Sorcerer's Soul is that they both provide clear guidelines for Schroedinger's world design- the GM can set up the situation, but can't cut out the player's input through their characters.


2. On 2005-01-11, Charles said:

Oddly, what I think of as Schroedinger's plot/world design from the Advocacy days is exactly what you say suck GM's do: no matter which way you go, you meet the knight who is fighting off the demons, and just as you arrive, he is dealt a mortal blow. The demons flee your arrival, and you have a few moments for the knight to deliver his plot point before he dies. Where is the knight? When does this happen? Well, the knight is where you are, and it happens when you get there. So the players decided to go to Burma? Their they find the knight, fighting off etc.

The other form of Schroedinger's world/plot ("You need a shovel, yeah there's probably one here somewhere") seems standard, but games that depend on it too heavily tend (in my experience) to feel a bit thin ("Well, let's see, you need a family contact in this town to do that, so maybe your Grandmother lives here"). That world stuff written down behind the screen (or in the character bio) can lend several different sorts of interest to a game, and there are levels of detail that are unlikely for any but the best GM (or player) to come up with on the fly.

But yes, only what is known, (or should be known) exists. However, it doesn't need to have been shown to exist in play, it just needs to be known to exist. Our game has a 200 page history of the order and a record of every mage who is known to have ever lived. Obviously, that entire history has not been demonstrated in play, but it is all true. If I try to do something on the fly that contradicts the history, I would hope that another player would say, "Hey, that character can't be your mage lineage cousin, you come from completely different branches of the house." If they don't, and I create a contradiction between the game as played and the world as written, that is a problem. Maybe we change what is written, but more likely we change what happened, or we re-interpret what happened.

Your Certamen example is another case of this. What happened in play violated what was known, and what happened in play had to be reinterpreted so that it wasn't what happened. Maybe what was known was known because it happened in play, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that it was known.

In some games, GM fiat powers are large enough that the GM is the only one who needs to know a fact about the world for it to be true: "No, the guards in this complex don't have keys to that door, so you can't find one on the guard." In other games, GM fiat is not that big, or there is no GM.

So I agree, what happens happens only because we agree it does, but that also means that if one player knows something about the world, something on which they will not give ground, then that thing is true even though noone else knows it. If I try to introduce a fact that disagrees with their known fact, they will not accept my fact as true. Since they don't assent, that fact is not true, and their fact remains potentially true. If they try to introduce their fact, and it runs up against something that I hold to be true, then we have reached an impass. If that happens at all often, then we are suck players playing a suck game.

From all that, we can derive my version of your claim: nothing is true until all players assent to it being true, but it doesn't matter whether they assent in play or out of play. We can also derive another point, secrets about the past that are kept from the people who make decisions about the unknown-but-past are a really bad idea.


3. On 2005-01-11, Vincent said:

All very true.

There's also "nobody mess with the dark woods to the north, they're mine."

We've had a couple of very interesting cases in our game where we've "discovered" things in play that none of us had thought of - like Teller's way of playing 20 questions, answer randomly for ten questions and then decide what you're thinking of. Acanthus' rock throwing incident was one. I want to write more about them but I haven't figured out how, yet.


4. On 2005-01-12, Ninja Hunter J said:

"Our game has a 200 page history of the order and a record of every mage who is known to have ever lived. Obviously, that entire history has not been demonstrated in play, but it is all true. "

I would argue that, if you all agree on it, it has happened in play. That agreement was play, even if is was uninspired. The reason you say it was out of play was because it doesn't meet your standards for good role-playing.

The technique of coming up with a bunch of stuff about the world together seems like a good idea. Every game of PTA starts like that, for instance, and I'm about to start a Dogs game where we're going to have to shift the social order a bunch to make the players happy. We're still getting together and making up a story, it's just not as well written as the rest of the story because we want to get to better parts.


5. On 2005-01-12, Charles said:

I just hesitate to expand the concept of in-play to that point. I feel like out of play discussion and creation can be critical, but operates under radically different dynamics than play. Declaring that to be part of play muddies a useful discinction.

Unless what you mean is that it is the act of declaring to all of the players that the written history will trump in-play decisions, if the two contradict, and gaining the assent of all of the players is the moment at which a history of an imaginary world becomes the history of the imaginary world in which the game is set.

That moment of statement and assent operates along sufficiently similar lines to what I usually think of as "in play" that I agree that that happens in play, even if none of the other trappings of gaming were present.

So I think I agree, but I think that caution has to be used in using such statements, since they are easily confused with the "If it hasn't been seen on stage yet then it doesn't exist, and it could be anything" lines of argument.

Also, doesn't it approach a logical fallacy? You seem to be arguing that "Since what happens in play only happens in the game world by the consent the players, therefore if the players consent to something happening in the game world, then their act of consent is a part of play." Merely because the act of consenting (or of negotiating consent) to something being true in the game world comprises the totality of what happens in play, doesn't necessarily mean that all acts of consent or their negotiation about what is true in the game world are "in play".

But yes, we are getting down to some semantic-ideological distinctions here.


6. On 2005-01-12, Ninja Hunter J said:

"Unless what you mean is that it is the act of declaring to all of the players that the written history will trump in-play decisions, if the two contradict, and gaining the assent of all of the players is the moment at which a history of an imaginary world becomes the history of the imaginary world in which the game is set."

Yer, that's what I mean. It's the sitting down, making stuff up, and agreeing that is play. Not just making stuff up, but making it up and agreeing with each other that it is true.

The only difference between that and the "I'm a half-orc named Grondor" part is the part of the story you care about at the time. All those 200 pages matter to you and your characters. Otherwise, you wouldn't have written them. They're part of the story. Making them up and agreeing with each other about the details is the same thing as playing characters; it's just that the characters are the single most compelling part of the story.


7. On 2005-01-13, Charles said:

Okay, put that way, I agree totally.

Also, I was talking with Sarah about this (she being the author of the 200 page history) and she pretty much took your side on this. One thing she noted was that (as she's been mostly involved in Fan culture rather than gamer culture for several years) in fan culture RPGs mean online, written RPGs, in which the center of play is located in the writing of text. Some people do IRC or IM conversations sometimes, but what takes place in a conversation (an in character conversation) only becomes true once someone has written it into a story. If both people agree to revise the dialog, or even abandon the existance of the conversation, then the revised and written version is what is real. For fan online RPGers, the writing and sharing of text is the basic part of what is in-play. For them, the question would be whether the real-time conversations between their characters were in-play, or just background work on the game.


8. On 2005-01-13, Ninja Hunter J said:

This makes me want to do a bunch of world-building stuff. I'm a-startin' to miss it. Emily, let's build something bigger for our next thing.


9. On 2005-01-13, Emily Care said:

It's the sitting down, making stuff up, and agreeing that is play. Not just making stuff up, but making it up and agreeing with each other that it is true.Hear, hear.

Yeah, Josh. I'd totally dig it. And Charles, bring on the 200 page tome. : )


10. On 2005-01-16, Sarah said:

Hey. :)

I'm working on getting the 200 page tome on-line right now, actually. It's weird, though, because of course the 200 page "tome" is really just a *summary.* It was my rather desperate attempt to provide an abbreviated encapsulation of some of the more important information from the infamous "Big Black Book." I reckon the Big Black Book itself would probably be well over a thousand pages, typed out.

Wow, but I'd love to get the Big Black Book written up in a decent format sometime, though...



11. On 2005-01-16, Vincent said:


I don't have a very clear picture in my head of the Big Black Book - I mean, I think I remember a literal big black book, but can I ask? What's in it, and what are some ways you all bring its content to bear on live play?

When I made Eva, we used it - the notecards are part of it, right? - to establish her lineage. Does it mostly constrain new characters, or do you refer to it other times too?

It's nice to hear from you!