2012-12-04 : Positioning: Two Timelines in Text

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

I'm back! I've decided to say a bit more about the two timelines before I move on after all.

Here's character move from the Divine playbook for Monster of the Week:

Angel Wings: You can go instantly to anywhere you've visited before, or to a person you know well. You can carry one or two people with you, but then you need to roll +Weird. On a 10+ you all go where you wanted. On a 7-9, you don't quite manage it. Either you leave the passengers behind, or you all appear in the wrong place.

A while ago we looked at some rules and identified when they referred to real things and when to fictional ones, and that was easy. In this move:
- "You" in "you can go instantly" refers to your character, the Divine, who is fictional.
- The place your character is going is fictional.
- The passenger(s) your character brings along are fictional.

- "You" in "then you need to roll +Weird" refers to you, the player, who is real.
- The dice you roll are real.
- The number listed next to "Weird" on your character sheet is real.

To see the two timelines intersecting, you just put the real things and fictional things in order. Which comes first, your character choosing to bring passengers along (fictional) or your rolling two dice and adding your weird (real)? Which comes first, your character choosing to bring passengers along (fictional) or your character having to lave them behind after all (fictional)?

If the answers to these questions seem super obvious to you - "well Vincent, the move lays out the timeline right in its text. FIRST your character chooses to bring passengers along, THEN you roll and add your weird, and THEN your character has to leave them behind (or whatever, depending on the roll)" - then YES! Hooray! You're with me. It IS super obvious.

The move also happens to include a beautiful piece of fictional positioning. Most of the moves' references to fictional things are to immediate fictional things - your character right now, the passengers, where they all arrive - but in its opening sentence, "anywhere you've visited before" and "a person you know well" refer to fictional events in the unspecified past of the fictional timeline. In order to use this move at all, you have to create or remember things that happened to your character in the fictional past.

"You can go instantly to anywhere you'll someday visit, or to a person you'll someday come to know well" would be a whole different move.

1. On 2012-12-04, Vincent said:

"Create or remember": One of the wicked and interesting features of the fictional timeline is that the entirety of its length is available to us at every moment of play (as Tim Ralphs points out, down here). Here are two examples. I'm playing a Divine in Monster of the Week, and Meg is the MC.

Example 1
My character's past has never come up in play in any way.
Me: I use my move Angel Wings. I go to my mother.
Meg: Okay.

We're establishing right now, in this real-world moment, that my character's entire fictional timeline has included his having a mother somewhere, and that he knows her well enough for the move to work.

Example 2
Two sessions ago, there was a fancy dinner in the home of one Sebastienne DuLane, which ended in a fight with a vampire.
Me: I use my move Angel Wings. I go to Sebastienne DuLane's dining room.
Meg: Okay - wait actually. You weren't there that night, were you?
Me: Oh that's right! I wasn't! I was researching while the other PCs went to the dinner party.
Meg: So, nope. You can't go there.

In example 1, we create and establish something new in the fictional past, and in example 2, we remember something in the fictional past that we'd established earlier in the real past. Nevertheless, in both examples, it's the fictional past that decides whether I can use the move.

Again, questions welcome, and hold your disagreement for later!


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This makes...
ET go "*huff* *huff* I'm sorta keeping up in collating all this, VB"

2. On 2012-12-04, Tim Ralphs said:

I'm super happy with so much of this, and I wonder if I've worked out where I lose you. Let me re-state what I think you've been saying and then see if you agree:

1) At any point in our play, we have a whole host of gameplay options and moves. Some of these are available to us because of established details in the fiction. We can describe the fictional details that give rise to those gameplay options at that particular point of play as being the fictional position.

2) Assuming our game has some notion of a fictional present, some of those details are likely to be immediate fictional things. Some of those details may be from moments past, future, ambiguous. But whatever, in so far as we can put these fictional events in an order, we can consider there to be a fictional timeline.

Does that sound about right?


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This makes...
llb go "I'm amused"*
TR go "Hume is such a mystic!"*

*click in for more

3. On 2012-12-04, Vincent said:



4. On 2012-12-04, Weeks said:

This was really helpful to me.  In your last post, "I think of the moment of roleplaying as the point of contact between two timelines" resonated with me and everything was good.  But further down, "fictional positioning is how the fictional timeline touches the real timeline" was confusing and I tried twice to figure out how to ask about it but gave up each time.  The how is, I think, what you've just cleared up for me while also being more obvious about the connection to IIEE.


5. On 2012-12-04, Judson said:

So, this is one of those "I don't understand something, but the question sounds like a challenge" questions.

Why is this a timeline, specifically?  Especially when we're talking about "positioning," it seems like it should be a space/time thing.  Except, the space in stories is R-mapped (and I'm less clear on how to map the real side of things.)

So, in your example, not only are we establishing that at some time in the past I have a parent-child relationship with Mom, but we are also establishing that at some time in the past I have a parent-child relationship with Mom, both.  Or that in no time in the past did I have a was-in relationship with Sebastienne DuLane's dining room.

So, right, and prefiguring a future post; choose one; or Vincent makes a hard move?


6. On 2012-12-04, DWeird said:

This makes the whole thing clear as sky, but I wonder if one of the graphs from last post is to blame for the confusion, the one that implies that the fictional positioning line in the fiction timeline had a one-directional flow.

Since the fictional timeline has a chronological order, but player access to it does not have to be, fictional positioning could work both ways on the timeline - if I do a flashback, I'm constrained by what will happen in the fictional future, if we say "Lets finish today's game by a big shootout at the end", I sort of have to drive towards that.

A character's options are affected only by past fiction, but a player's legitimate options are affected by whatever's part of the established fiction, past or not.

Is this about right, or am I missing something?


7. On 2012-12-04, Vincent said:

You're right.


8. On 2012-12-04, Ben Lehman said:

If the fictional timeline has a chronology, it in no way works like an actual chronology (or, for that matter, a timeline.) Events may be placed in "past" or "present" or just "happening" and be arranged, edited, eliminated or redefined later.

For instance, because I say "I'm going to see my mother" now and it works doesn't actually have any real binding on future actions. In a later game, the GM decides that my character grew up on the streets and never knew his mother. No one objects: no one cares overmuch about that scene from a few sessions ago. (maybe no one remembers, maybe the GM's new thing is cool enough to sell it.)


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This makes...
R go "Isn't this, like, a crack in the SIS?"*
BL go "No."*
VB go "I agree with Ben..."*
JMW go "Shared fiction is only as vulnerable as "sharing""*

*click in for more

9. On 2012-12-04, Vincent said:

That's fine with me.

edit: I mean, unless your position is that the Angel Wings move can't work. Like, maybe you're saying that because fictional timelines can be rearranged and are never really binding, we just can't construct them when we need to.

I'm pretty sure that we construct them all the time, and that not-really-binding as they are, they nevertheless manage to act as interesting and productive constraints on our play, and that (as in this move) they're fruitfully available to game design.


10. On 2012-12-04, Ben Lehman said:

Oh, no, obviously it works. I don't think that the things we construct particularly resemble timelines, unless our practice of play (er... our rules) involves constraining ourselves to such things.

Remember when I started playing with you guys and got totally confused about "precedent" and "established" as terms of art? This is why. I was much more used to establishing past, present and future on an ad hoc, temporary basis only as needed.


11. On 2012-12-04, Gordon said:

"anywhere you've visited before, or to a person you know well" as a (beautiful) fictional positioning example - check.

Existence/construction of a fictional timeline at the moment of executing the move - check.

Persistence of that (or any) particular fictional timeline, esp. in a "parallel" way to how the real timeline persists - not important, right?  I mean, as you say, wicked interesting, but not important to where you're driving right now - or is it?

Finally - perhaps because I'm not familiar enough with MotW/AW hacks in general, I'm not sure (in a very interesting and interested way) about the real v. fictional positioning of the "either" section.  Obviously, the fictional character arrives alone/elsewhere or not in the fiction, but - is it neccessary that the character has a (fictional) reason and they (fictionally) make the choice, or might the player (real) simply decide for whatever (fictional and/or real) reason(s) to have that result happen, with no character/fictional connection beyond the simple facts?

I think there's some interesting stuff in there. Or not, and in any case it may not be relevant to what you're currently getting at.  But I mention it just in case it's a relevant question.


12. On 2012-12-05, Tim Ralphs said:

Thanks for the confirmation. In your last post I had seen the two time lines, which in the diagram ran parallel to one another, and read that you were saying that earlier points in the real timeline correspond to earlier points in the fictional timeline, and vice versa. Which, you know, might be true sometimes but is obviously not inherently the case.

I had also read you as saying that the moment to moment shifts in fictional positioning went to create the fictional timeline, if that makes sense. Clearly that's also not the case, the whole fictional timeline creates the fictional position.


13. On 2012-12-05, Christoph said:

Hello Vincent

First, I really like this series of posts!

Second, I'm trying to understand why you didn't use a similar invention in Example 2 as in Example 1. Surely you could have placed someone you knew in the dining room (I guess there were lots of people invited, like the other PCs), or that you could say that in fact you had "scouted" ahead in anticipation. What sold you on restricting yourself to the established precedents, rather than just invent new ones?
If I'm understanding Ben correctly, his stance is that the fictional timeline *is* quite arbitrary (more so than what your series of posts seem to imply), something I tend to agree with. Yet, you seem to place particular value in *treating* it not quite that arbitrarily, and I suspect I could learn something from that distinction.



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This makes...
AD go "This is pretty interesting, to me!"

14. On 2012-12-05, Greg Pogor said:

Vincent, do you mind if I translate in french & quote parts of this whole thing on my blog? The french gamers need to know.


15. On 2012-12-05, Vincent said:

Okay, good! Clearly this helped.

Ben: Yep.

Gordon: Not important in principle, check. It may or may not be important to a given piece of game design.

Regarding "either": Good spot! I agree with you that the question's hanging (and furthermore, does the player choose which, or does the GM?) I don't think that the particular answer matters in principle, it's just a design question.

As it happens, Monster of the Week answers it elsewhere in its design (player chooses, nobody second-guesses), so it's just fine that the move doesn't spell it out. If every move had to spell it out every time, that'd be pretty redonk.

Tim: Yep.

Christoph: "Surely" I could have? That depends on the game design. In Monster of the Week, maybe I could have, but it's not a given that I surely could. I'd want to pick my battles.

"You can go anywhere you want, if you can invent a reason why you've visited there before" is not quite the same move, not quite the same piece of game design, as "you can go anywhere you've visited before."

Treating fictional timelines concretely or arbitrarily is a design decision. As a designer, you choose whichever way better serves the rest of your design. I may later go on to explain why I think it's fruitful for designers to choose to treat them concretely, but for now my point is really just that you can choose to treat them concretely, and that "fictional positioning" is a name for one way of doing so.

Greg: Feel free!


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This makes...
GcL go "More concrete = more to check in determining "legitimacy"?"*
GcL go "Oh, and "player chooses" . . ."*
VB go "Entirely optional in this case."*
CB go "But, what's the difference..."*
VB go "Aha, good!"*
CB go "Thanks! Standing by."

*click in for more

16. On 2012-12-05, Ben Lehman said:

Sorry to keep doing this, but just wanted to be clear: The decision about concrete or arbitrary is case-by-case (often it is rule-by-rule, sometimes it is situational.) It's not like "this is a concretely-treating game" and "this is an arbitrarily-treating game" necessarily.

P.S. I have a hunch that it's actually genuinely impossible to be 100% concrete or 100% arbitrary wrt fictional content over the course of play. I can prove it for concrete but I can't for arbitrary and anyway it's beside the point.


17. On 2012-12-05, Vincent said:



18. On 2012-12-07, Josh W said:

That picture on the last post seems to refer to a specific practice of fictional positioning/system interaction:

Add stuff mostly after the previous events, maybe filling in a few gaps here and there, deal with it and agree it now, and then move on to fictionally later things.

Look at archipelago; people implicitly follow this kind of structure of positioning, with one exception in "destiny":

A wave of storytelling flows forward towards the future, producing maps and histories as side elements, with any issues getting immediately edited by "try a different way" or standing.

Microscope takes an entirely different view of time, but still has positioning, in the sense that the timeline fills out and conditions later contributions by players. It still temperamentally avoids retcons though, except as edge cases, because it is exactly about those kinds of causal links through time.

Universalis instead has much weaker fictional positioning; I'm not talking about the fact that you actually write down this structure of precedent all the time, I'm talking about the fact that this only gives you an advantage in challenging people, (two coins to one) inconsistencies can happen whenever you want, although they become expensive. Course, that?s the possibilities of action given the rules vs the fact that someone?s clearly written down a note saying the opposite ten minutes ago!


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