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Author Topic: Setting as Part of System (Long)  (Read 6444 times)
ADGBoss
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« on: July 15, 2004, 11:42:17 AM »

In http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=12001">this thread. John Kim wrote:

Quote
So here's the big question.  So creating new characters in Timelord is a change to the system, just as much so as changing the resolution mechanics.  But we commonly think that, say, creating a setting for The Pool is not a change to system.  But that seems to make them unequal.  A problem with "incoherence" as a design criteria is that the less that you specify with a game, the less likely that parts will clash.


I found this to be a pretty interesting statement because Setting is such a nebulous affair with regard to System and Settings relations to Rules.

My first impression is to make a blanket statement that fundamentally may not be true: Setting is not part of System.  It's color or a place/time to explore  or its Situation or... Setting is not so easy to pen down and define.  Especially since that during Play, the Setting very well might (and probably will) change.

When a Setting comes with a game it begins very much like a pristine beach, a pristine beach that is copied and handed out to different groups. It seems a bit static because its the dawn, prestine and untouched but the Setting ideally is alive in subtle and not so sublte ways.  However, for that group, the Setting changes immediately when they put their feet on it.  It retains some context and recognizability between different groups (ie the Sand is warm for all groups, and the sea is full of salt) but other huge or subtle changes will take place.

So is Setting part of System? I believe that it is.

Setting is a given Situation that (ideally) adheres to the Mechanics of the System.  I say ideally because I am not sure Setting ALWAYS adheres to Mechanics.

How are Settings Designed?

Settings are designed in three ways

1) Outside of System OR Outside of the Original System. Off the top of my head I cannot remember any of the "Settings" that had been made to be used with any System / Set of MEchanics. I will say GURPS falls into the latter part of the catagory becuase the varuous GURPS settings are compatable with the main rules but were not part of it.  In some ways #1 an amalgamation of Settings without Systems and Systems without Settings.  

2) Setting First. Lord of The Rings is the best example here. You a world and someone is designing a set of Mechanics that mimic the Reality of that Setting.  Combined the two form a systems (MERPS or LoTR). I do also believe that Glorantha MIGHT fit into this mold, but I am unsure if BRP was sdesigned for Role Playing in Glorantha or added later. HeroWars /HeroQuest would also be an example of Setting first.

3) Setting Second.  In theory you might come up with a set of mechanics and then hump a Setting onto it.  Was this the way D&D originally was? Only the players can say but I suspect they had System first and then decided to add Greyhawk onto it as a defacto Setting.  Though technically AD&D/D&D is supposed to be a Generic FANTASY system. So again its nebulous.  I would say that unless a Setting exists substantially before the entire System is created, that a game design would be Setting Second. Even concurrent design would be, IMO Setting Second.

Setting and Mechanics can be closely tied (LoTR) or Loosely tied (D&D) and this may well be related to Setting First and Setting Second.

Ok, so what does this have to do with John Kim's quote? He talks about How making a change in Setting, creation of a new Timelord, is a change in System.  I would answer that as a No, because my first impression is to say that Setting is inherently a changing part of System.

Setting is not a painting which, if it is slashed mars the beauty of the entire room (That is.  Setting is more like a fish tank, where if you add or subtract fish, add a fake diver etc merely changes the fish tank, enahncing the already existing room (System). Now if you rip out the fish tank and add a Plasma TV, or a Hamster Cage, the room (System) does change a bit because the symbiotic realtionship, however strong or weak, is broken.

Can you create a System without a Setting? Well people do it all the time, adding mechanical and non-mechanical suggestions for adding Setting on after the fact.  Yet that would suggest that Setting is indespensible.  Well yes it is but a SPECIFIC Setting is not necassary for a System ot work.

Opinon? Questions? Thrown tomatoes?  Now how does setting fit into current design theories, both GNS and non-GNS?  I guess thats a question for a different Forum but... food for thought.


Sean
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ErrathofKosh
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« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2004, 12:25:03 PM »

So, to summarize, setting is a part of system.  However, setting is a mutable aspect of system.  Am I reading you right?

If so, I'd definitely concur.  As discussed in that other thread, setting definitely falls under the lumpey Principle.  

In fact:
In Gamist terms, setting is the "board".  It can be as straightforward as a chessboard or as whimsical as a Candyland board, so long as it affords characters strategic opportunities that they can manipulate.
In Simulationist terms, setting is the foundation.  It supports the suspension of disbelief.  Without it, there is no Dream to begin with.  Even if the setting is simple, set down in a paragraph, it has to be there to support the characters.
In Narrativist terms,  setting acts as a spotlight, often providing both the source of a Premise and coloring the reaction of the player and character to it, but at very least highlighting certain nuances of the issue in distinct, definite ways.

At least, that's my thoughts...

Cheers,

Jonathan
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Cheers,
Jonathan
ADGBoss
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« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2004, 12:52:20 PM »

Thanks Jonathan, that is in many ways what I am looking for here. Setting I think is treated much like a pretty rock one might find in some foot hills. ITs pretty and its valuable but its one rock and easily defined. I am questioning whether that one shiny rock is it OR is it worth our time to dig a little bit deeper and see if there is more to Setting then one shiny rock.

I am of the mind that Setting as a phenomena might have a lot more to it but and there could be some new dynamics to it that can be understood.
I have some vague ideas but I want to gage other's ideas as well. Just to see.

Thanks


Sean
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Lxndr
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« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2004, 01:37:37 PM »

Not to bring GNS into this overly, but "System" insofar as it relates to Ron's theory must be separate from Setting, Color, Character and Situation.  As that's a part of the glossary of the Forge, it seems as though we should at least consider this.

In short, if we define "System" as something that's inclusive of any of those elements (Setting in this case), then what word should we use to replace "System" in Ron's theories, which sets the various components of Exploration on equal footing?
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John Harper
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« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2004, 01:48:35 PM »

Exactly, Alexander.

The act of changing setting is part of System, surely. But Setting itself is not part of system. It's part of the SIS, which is negotiated by the players using System. Setting is something that System manipulates.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2004, 06:14:33 PM »

I noticed some time ago (and expressed it here somewhere) that setting was an integral part of system, and had to be understood as such.

I particularly noticed it because the Multiverser: Referee's Rules contain no "hard" setting information. They contain descriptions of how to create settings, guidance for establishing the nuts-and-bolts of imaginary places, references to particularly good settings for play and what makes them good, explanations of the different approaches to adventures within them--but there are no worlds described in the rules.

Originally, we sold the game as a two-book set, Multiverser: The First Book of Worlds packaged with it. With the second printing we had to stop that, because of distribution problems. Thus when you play Multiverser, you use the rules and play in a setting. Further, as play proceeds, you play in more settings, as the game design presses characters into many worlds, all of them different.

What I realized was that the way the game was played was very much a negotiation between the referee, the player, and the setting. Each setting impacted not merely the rules (as bias shifts), but went so deep as to create incentives for different creative agenda. Some worlds introduced premise, some offered opportunities for challenge, and players often rose to the context presented by the world, shifting their play priorities accordingly. Thus when I introduced a setting into the system, the system itself changed to accommodate the setting.

I knew this about the design from the beginning--that Multiverser was a game in which the rules changed in ways the referee could easily apply. I had not realized how fundamentally true it was, though, until more recently.

In regard to the observation that system and setting are discrete elements of exploration, alongside character, situation, and color, that's true; but all five elements are engaged with each other, inseparably intertwined. Character, setting, situation, and color are all integrated into and by system. System, situation, color, and setting are all part of character. Situation, color, character, and system are all parts of setting. Each of these five elements can in some sense be defined by the other four. They are discrete in that we can focus on them individually, but the boundaries of where one ends and another begins are a lot less clear. A character is an element of the system (he is defined by system parameters), the setting (he is part of this world), the situation (it involves him), and the color (he is the sort of person who exists in this type of place).

So to say that setting is a piece of system isn't really new; but it is an important insight to understanding the interrelationships of the parts of the whole.

So as someone who has designed a quite functional "system" without "setting", let me assure you that setting is very much part of system, and impacts it significantly once the two are connected.

--M. J. Young
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #6 on: July 16, 2004, 03:20:30 AM »

Quote from: Lxndr
Not to bring GNS into this overly, but "System" insofar as it relates to Ron's theory must be separate from Setting, Color, Character and Situation.  As that's a part of the glossary of the Forge, it seems as though we should at least consider this.

In short, if we define "System" as something that's inclusive of any of those elements (Setting in this case), then what word should we use to replace "System" in Ron's theories, which sets the various components of Exploration on equal footing?


BL>  Well, far be it from me to guess what Ron meant by "system" in those essays, but I gander that it probably wasn't lumpley's "system."  I have a feeling he might have meant "mechanics," but that's just a wild guess.

yrs--
--Ben
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ADGBoss
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« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2004, 05:25:17 AM »

Quote from: John Harper
Exactly, Alexander.

The act of changing setting is part of System, surely. But Setting itself is not part of system. It's part of the SIS, which is negotiated by the players using System. Setting is something that System manipulates.


See I think thats not entirely an accurate statement. For example, the Forgotten Realms is a setting for D&D 3.5. When FR and 3.5(and 3.0) came together, initially and technically it was NOT FR (the Setting) that was changed it was the basic D&D3.0/3.5 Ruleset that was changed.  The addition of new spells, new ways of doing magic, and new skils & feats was a change in Mechanics and Mechanics are unquestionaly part of System. The same holds true for GURPS. When a new GURPS setting comes out we often get new "rules" which are really new mechanics based on interaction and special circumstances brought on by the Setting. This is BEFORE any Play and and therefore mearly in the embryonic stages of the SIS.

MJ is quite correct: Setting is part of System is not a new idea.  The fact is that I am still unsure how important Setting becomes in relation to mechanics and to System over all, regardless of play style theory (GNS, ThreeFold, Shut up and Play, other)

Are Mechanics that succumb to Setting weak? Should Mechanics always impose their will on Setting for the whole to be cohesive? Or is this entire line ofthinking just a waste of time?

To be honest I think there is something to explore and hash out here but maybe not.


Sean
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: July 16, 2004, 06:57:17 AM »

Hello,

Wait a minute ... I thought I was really clear about this in the Glossary.

SIS = Characters, Setting, Situation, System, Color

System = time in the SIS, which necessarily includes establishing, enacting, and resolving events among other things

Doesn't that, um, sort of clear up all of the issues brought up so far?

In other words, sure there's Setting without System (yet). But System can't occur unless you are already dealing with a Situation (usually implying both Setting and Characters being present). And just to round it out, consider Color to "multiply" the whole shebang.

Best,
Ron
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ADGBoss
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« Reply #9 on: July 16, 2004, 07:26:16 AM »

Yeah I think consensus might point to a deeper look at Setting as unnecassary.   Maybe everything that needs said has been said. I think in my own mind my questions are answered so unless someone has a radical idea to throw....



Sean
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John Harper
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« Reply #10 on: July 16, 2004, 09:11:53 AM »

Ummm, what Ron said. Honestly, that clears the whole thing up for me.
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John Kim
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« Reply #11 on: July 16, 2004, 09:31:25 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
SIS = Characters, Setting, Situation, System, Color

System = time in the SIS, which necessarily includes establishing, enacting, and resolving events among other things

Doesn't that, um, sort of clear up all of the issues brought up so far?

So, what about "Fire Giants are immune to fire".  Is that Setting and not System?  What about "Paladins are immune to disease"?  From my point of view, most resolution processes are thoroughly intertwined with the elements of the SIS.  Many (if not most) rules do not simply refer to meta-game constructs, but rather both define part of the SIS and how to resolve.  i.e. Fire Giants are immune to fire is a fact that is part of the setting, and also a rule to resolve.  Thus, my character might say "That plan won't work, because Fire Giants are immune to fire." (in-character dialogue)  On the other hand, a player might try something, and the GM rules that it doesn't work, saying "That doesn't work, because Fire Giants are immune to fire" (statement GM to player).  

In short, I agree with M.J. that all of these elements are intertwined.  In fiction, the line between these depends on what your story is.  i.e. "The King is dying" might just be colorful background (part of setting and/or color) if the story is set in a village far from the capital.  On the other hand, it might be character and/or situation if the King is the protagonist.
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John Harper
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« Reply #12 on: July 16, 2004, 09:44:02 AM »

Well, of course all of the elements are intertwined. They're all under the big umbrella of "roleplaying" after all. We're giving names to parts of that larger whole, which sometimes looks seamless when you squint at it.

System and Setting are intimately connected and interact in a million subtle ways during play, both assumed and explicit. All I'm saying is, they're not the same thing. They're two different aspects of "roleplaying" that we put labels on. Like Ron said, roleplaying can't really happen without Situation, and that means Characters and Setting. You need Setting for your SIS to click, and you need that in order for System to have something to do.

No one is arguing that Setting has nothing to do with System.
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ErrathofKosh
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« Reply #13 on: July 16, 2004, 10:11:35 AM »

I have been thinking about this thread for awhile now, probably far too long for my own good, and I want to add thoughts before we wrap this up.  Maybe it should be a new topic...

From the glossary, it may be concluded (IMHO) that:

Setting, Character, and Color are Data.  By it's definition color "does not change aspects of action or resolution in the imagined scene."   It's interesting and sometimes important purely on an aesthetic level.  Setting and Character are more important, as they provide input into a "decision."

Situation is a decision about "dynamic interaction between specific characters and small-scale setting elements", i.e. what happens.  It should be pretty obvious that Setting and Character data is needed for this decision.  One last element is needed, of course; the process for making the decision.

System processes the Character and Setting Data into a Situation.

So, in my first post, when I said:
Quote
If so, I'd definitely concur. As discussed in that other thread, setting definitely falls under the lumpey Principle.


...I was wrong.

The lP stated another way:  The process by which the group agrees to a decision during play.  Setting (and Character) is only a part of this process in that it provides data to base the decision on.

The five Components of Exploration are related, but they are not homogeneous.  To summarize:  Data- Character, Setting;  Additional Data- Color;  Process- System; Decision- Situation

Whether you explore the Data, the Process, or the Decision is up to you.

Hope that helps,

Jonathan
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Cheers,
Jonathan
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: July 16, 2004, 10:23:55 AM »

Hello,

Nailed it, Errath.

John, statements like the fire-giants and so forth are just what they are: verbal statements, whether spoken at the table or written in a book. If you then want to see how they're processed in that particular role-playing situation (meaning real people, not imaginary Situation), then you'd break down the five components, which would all be there to look at.

There's no point or purpose in just flashing out the statements naked of any procedural, imaginative, or social context. That's like holding up a dollar bill and demanding someone to answer whether it's paper, an agreement, or a unit of labor.

Best,
Ron
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