*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
October 14, 2019, 09:28:21 PM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 148 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
Pages: [1] 2
Print
Author Topic: No Premise: Dust Devils, The World The Flesh and the Devil  (Read 6381 times)
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« on: March 04, 2002, 09:33:30 AM »

Hello,

I want to discuss a problem I'm seeing with a lot of would-be Narrativist game design at the Forge. It is the problem of No Premise. It's most serious in two games that I'd very much like to play, but would have to inject my own whole-cloth Premise into. After years of doing this for GURPS, Rolemaster, Champions, et al., I'm not especially inclined to do so any more, not for a game which is pretty much earmarked as being "about creating stories."

Now, if I'm misreading the intent/philosophy behind either of these games, then I stand corrected. However, each shares mechanical elements that do not lend themselves well to traditional Simulationist play, and I will carry on as if their general design was at least to be compatible with Narrativist play.

The World, the Flesh, and the Devil
This game runs the risk of being unique for uniqueness' sake. It has three wonderful attributes, none of which is linked to any of the others except mechanically. (1) Character creation is really Situation creation, which is very excellent, but utterly without context - the Situation is basically "whatever you want." (2) The whole WFD trio of concepts are, as they stand, good Color for the System; however, very few actual stories include all three elements as a source of adversity (C.S. Lewis' trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength), and I'd like to see what sort of Situations the author thinks lend themselves to this treatment. (3) The resolution system offers some neat back-and-forth about who-says-what, which is nice, but not unique, and I don't think such a system means much unless we know why we're doing it.

Without a Premise which resonates with these three features (actual situation, W/F/D as concepts of adversity, trading narration power), there's no point. It's a motor without wheels/wings/propellor or a seat.

My suggestion: give examples of Trials. Even more importantly, give an example of what kind of information each player needs to be working from in order to write his or her Trial. I don't care who this information comes from: a player, the GM, everyone chatting, whatever - but it has to be there. What would it include, what would it look like?

Dust Devils
Here, the problem is the pure, classic, Premise issue, exactly as I distinguish it from "genre" in my essay. What is this game about? It's a "western." This is no kind of answer - what is a western? Why play in one? That answer assumes that if you say, "dust, gingham dresses, bullets, men in chaps with weathered faces," that everyone Just Knows what the shared creative task is about. If you do that, here's what you get: set pieces, talking heads, murder mysteries, posturing, and arbitrary violence. It'll be "in the west," but it won't be a western.

My suggestion: specify, specify, specify. Decide what sort of western we are talking about, and provide a variety of examples that point to it. For instance, if I wanted bleak and morally-terrifying western, I'd cite the films Django and Unforgiven, and perhaps Joe R. Lansdale's novel The Magic Western. If I wanted serious man/community conflict of interest drama, I'd cite the films High Noon and No Name on the Bullet, and Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage. If I wanted historical/inspiring, I'd cite Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove and James Michener's Centennial.

I do not especially favor the notion of, "Well, just choose and go with it." Some of these choices have some severe consequences for system interpretation and design. I suggest that if you say "just choose," you'll end up with parody. I also suggest that if you do choose, then certain aspects of the game can become better specified (Knack naming, for a minor example; the uses of the reward system, for a major example).

Best,
Ron
Logged
Jason L Blair
Member

Posts: 636

Nothing is sacred.


WWW
« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2002, 09:47:50 AM »

I just want to back this up. I rarely comment on game design, theory, etc. but I'm all about Premise. I like games that give me a premise. Otherwise, the game is really just a generic system with or without a particular slant/nifty/verbage/whatever and I'm not a fan of generic systems. Heck, I'm really not a fan of systems at all. I want to see ideas and innovation and frankly, I only get those things from the setting, premise, and whatever else surrounds the system. I'm wired funny, I guess. I usually don't think about systems or understand them just by reading them.

I'm sick of asking people what the premise of their game is and getting, "It's fantasy" as a reply. Sometimes I rephrase it and ask "So what do you do?" People usually respond to this with "Oooh, whatever you want! There's exploring, treasure-hunting, blahfuckedyblahblahing!"

I d/led Dust Devils and despite my system-numbheadedness, I liked what I saw. (I haven't checked WFD out yet.) I have ideas on how to use DD, but I'd like to see something more added to it. Some non-system meat. Or heck, a whole bunch of different cuts of meat.

I agree with those who say that system matters. But I can't digest a system without a driving force behind it.
Logged

Jason L Blair
Writer, Game Designer
jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2002, 09:47:54 AM »

Hey Ron,

I've been thinking about this too and I have a quick question just to clearify what exactly you're getting at.  When you say there's no Premise, do you mean that the game has no clear discussion of a Premise in general or do you mean there's not Premise directly reflected in the system?

For example, do you consider The Questing Beast to have a Premise?  There's an awful lot of discussion in the text of exactly what that game is ABOUT but that is not built directly into the mechanics themselves.  It's possible for me to abstract out The Questing Beat's system and not bring the Premise with me.  However, I can't abstract out Sorcerer's mechanics without also bringing the Premise along for the ride.

Just wondering how specific you were being?

Jesse
Logged
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2002, 10:04:39 AM »

Hello Jesse,

Either or both of your stated sources of Premise are fine with me. Let me break it down:

1) Premise is articulated. The system does not introduce contradictory elements (i.e. some Premise-conflicting priority).
2) Premise is articulated. The system incorporates reinforcing elements.

I'll even include everyone who's responded so far by citing Little Fears as a good example of #1, and (in agreement with Jesse) citing Sorcerer as a good example of #2. I also think that The Questing Beast is more like #2 than #1, but that a person might be forgiven for not seeing that if he or she hasn't played - and TQB is certainly #1 even if I'm wrong in my claim.

My problem with our two "devil" games is that neither provides any treatment of Premise but rather relies on Color.

Best,
Ron

edited to repair my cruddy HTML
Logged
Valamir
Member

Posts: 5574


WWW
« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2002, 10:05:03 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

Hello,

I want to discuss a problem I'm seeing with a lot of would-be Narrativist game design at the Forge. It is the problem of No Premise. It's most serious in two games that I'd very much like to play, but would have to inject my own whole-cloth Premise into.

Dust Devils
Here, the problem is the pure, classic, Premise issue, exactly as I distinguish it from "genre" in my essay. What is this game about? It's a "western." This is no kind of answer - what is a western? Why play in one?


Well, I for one disagree (at least on an intensity level) with this sentiment.  The root of my disagreement stems from what I would call Explorationist play.  Now I now you've put Exploration as the bigger box around GNS but I for one happen to be a believer in Exploration being an end in and of itself...and seperate and distinct from Simulation.

I throw that in as background, not to drudge up the old GNS debate, but rather to highlight where I'm going with this.

I've got no problem whatsoever with the entirety of the "Premise" of a game being "the experience of play".   Dust Devils is a Western.  Thats all I need to know about it.  I like westerns.  I like western movies, I like western novels, I like western history, I like western mythology.

"Whats it about?"  Its about being in a western.  I don't need the game to tell me whether its a Clint Eastwood western, a John Wayne western, or a Gene Autry western.  I can figure that out for myself.  

Personally I think Premise is a great tool.  But like the Relationship Map thread we just had, I don't think its the perfect tool for every situation.  I don't think EVERY single roleplaying game needs a dose of Egri.  What worries me is that this tool is not just being overused but has taken center stage as the measuring stick by which games are evaluated.  

Exploration of Genre can be (if done well) just as powerful, fun, and legitimate a "premise" as any other.  Why do I believe this?  Well because if its enough to get me to play the game it must be sufficient, and I contend that I am not unique in this.

In short, not every game needs a capital "P" Premise.  Sometimes a premise is just dandy.

BTW: I also happen to love the word Genre, but that's another story all together.
Logged

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2002, 10:13:00 AM »

Ralph,

I think you might have missed this paragraph in my initial post.

"Now, if I'm misreading the intent/philosophy behind either of these games, then I stand corrected. However, each shares mechanical elements that do not lend themselves well to traditional Simulationist play, and I will carry on as if their general design was at least to be compatible with Narrativist play."

So let's not discuss Exploration as an end in itself. That's out of the realm of the kind of game design I'm talking about.

Your willingness to "just play a western" indicates that you'd know how such a western ought to go; you'd "figure it out yourself" to use your terms. However, my claim is not that you (or anyone) cannot do this, but that organizing and conducting a role-playing game with others is going to require some textual backup.

My claim regarding the results of not having this support is based on many years of folks "just knowing" what fantasy is, "just knowing" what superheroes are, "just knowing" what westerns are, and so forth - and I claim that, bluntly, they don't.

Best,
Ron
Logged
Matt Snyder
Member

Posts: 1380


WWW
« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2002, 10:17:38 AM »

Thanks for posting about Dust Devils, Ron. I KNEW the issue of premise (or lack of one!) would come up, and rightly so. That partly why I asked you to take a look, knowing you might have something to offer in that vein.

I think the game does have a single, specific premise, it's just that I've done a poor job delineating that. That's partly 'cause I threw the thing together in less than a week. It's also partly because I'm still struggling to specifiy the premise. It's not that I want folks to "pick one" -- I have a single premise in mind. Getting it across in language is where I've failed; my admittedly uncertain grasp of premise doesn't help either! So, I'll address a couple points you raise and try to shore that up.

First, I'll try to define concisely the premise I have in mind here:

Premise, as they might say in Dust Devils: "Can a no good sunnuvabitch make right with his ugly, evil past and be a man the God-fearin' people of the West respect and admire? Or, will the Devil get the best of him, and everyone see that he's a cheat, a liar or a no-good killer."

Or, as we might say in 2002: "Can a person reform his or her dark past and become a hero, or will that past haunt their actions until death?"

Or, perhaps simpler: "What does it take to be a hero in a lawless place where it's hard to just stay alive?"

Or, simplest of all: "Can a person change?"

After watching The Outlaw Josey Wales this weekend on TNT, it struck me that the movie, along with a host of others I cited earlier (especially Unforgiven), is what Dust Devils is all about. Josey Wales is a real sunnuvabitch, yet he's a hero. He doesn't reform his killin' ways; in fact, he makes use of 'em right up to the end, at which point we know Josey Wales may be one helluva gunfighter, but he's not the outlaw he used to be.

Unforgiven is very much the inverse (in fact, the inverse of Westerns in general, I argue). William Munny is an outlaw, and makes no bones that he was a no good sunnuvabitch. In the movie, though, he's reformed ... and he's terrible at it. He can't farm, he can barely ride, and he can't shoot too well, either. Yet, when he finally snaps (after they kill his best friend), he's no longer comical. He becomes a frightening avenger. Meanwhile, lil' Bill is a lawman, and yet he's by far the meanest S.O.B in the movie. His rule of law is by might, not right, and he does not seem to apply the law uniformly or fairly. When he's not being a damn tyrant, he's pathetic. He can't build a decent house, which is repeated in the film as a comical trait of Bill's

William Munny reforms his ways, and the result is pathetic, even comical. But in the end, his past comes up to haunt him again as he shoots down five or six men and scares away as many more. His legend lives on that he's a "known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition."  But is he really? That's the great issue in the movie, and it's just the kind of thing Dust Devils should facilitate.

Ahh, I digress. The point is that both these movies exemplify Dust Devils' premise. That's why I've incorporated the Devil mechanic. Hell, that's why I named the game what I did (it was going to be Ghost Town, but that just didn't fit).

Quote from: Ron Edwards

Dust Devils
I also suggest that if you do choose, then certain aspects of the game can become better specified (Knack naming, for a minor example; the uses of the reward system, for a major example).
 


Yeah? I'd love to hear any specific suggestions regarding these. Hopefully, I've done a somewhat better job of specifying the premise. Still wrangling with it, you might say, but I hope this clarifies the game and its premise. Now, as for addressing Knack, Stakes or any other aspect of the game, I'd love to hear suggestions. Like I said, Dust Devils was cobbled together in record time, and the version floating out there in the wild frontier of the 'Net is for tweaking. I want to absorb the advice posted here and elsewhere, and make Dust Devils a nice, tight and cohesive little game.

Thanks for the discussion thus far! Looking forward to more.
Logged

Matt Snyder
www.chimera.info

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2002, 10:34:02 AM »

Wah!

Matt, that's exactly what I was looking for in Dust Devils. Take that exact post, clean out all that guff about "Gee, don't know if I have this right, now," and put it straight into the first section of the game. That's IT. No further messin' with it necessary.

Okay, now that I have the idea, crack the knuckles, type.

1) Naming Knacks and traits - don't be funny. You don't have a funny Premise, so don't encourage dumb-ass or parodic descriptors. (OK, granted, I really like "crazier than a shithouse rat" for its own sake, but does it really belong with your Premise? I suggest not. It's more a The Good the Bad and the Ugly kind of descriptor.)

2) The reward system. It's all about dealing with one's own Devil, right? So to hell with improving attributes. I mean, if you desperately want to keep that, OK, but it's not a big deal, and I suggest junking it. I suggest that you can spend poker chips to "keep your Devil at bay" in some fashion and perhaps (much more expensively, between sessions) actually alter your Devil.

Best,
Ron
Logged
Valamir
Member

Posts: 5574


WWW
« Reply #8 on: March 04, 2002, 10:49:47 AM »

I grant that's a great premise, and in fact I suspected (as I'm sure you did too) that that's where it was going from the "Devil" mechanic.

But my point is simply this, why?  Why does that have to be expressly stated at the first thing in his game?  Why do we as players need the game designers to spoon feed us our Premise?

I'd argue that we don't...Any more than we need a dozen splat books to spoon feed us our setting.

I see nothing wrong with a system that 1) provides resolution mechanics and 2) provides plenty of color being complete in an of itself.

Just as I can provide my own setting details, I can provide my own Premise too.  Certainly its fine to have a Premise explicitly tied to the game such that that it becomes precisely what that game is about and nothing more.  But I don't believe its a *requirement*...even for Narrativist games.

I stand by my statement that it is perfectly acceptable to design a game, even a narrativist one, and NOT explicitly have a capital-P Premise built into the game design.  I and my play group should be perfectly capable of coming up with our own.

One could perhaps rightly argue that capital-P Premise is a prerequisite for Narrativist PLAY.  But it is not by necessity a prerequisite for the game design.  A game can facilitate Narrativist Play without being limited to a single Premise per design.
Logged

Matt Snyder
Member

Posts: 1380


WWW
« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2002, 10:56:46 AM »

Ron -- Glad to hear you liked what I had to say about Dust Devil's actual premise. I've tried my hand at rewriting the intro. It's short, but that's how I want it. Do you think it captures the premise well enough?

"INTRODUCTION

There comes a time when a man's got to shoot or give up the gun.

That's what Dust Devils is all about. This game encourages players to create shady, gritty characters with a dark and dangerous pasts. Maybe they saw Hell up close and personal in the War of the States. Or maybe they ran with a wild bunch in their youth. Whatever the grief, it should be the kind trouble that haunts them still. The kind of grief that keeps them awake at night or at the bottom of a of whiskey bottle.

A player's duty, then, is to portray a character coping with his difficult past, and to discover through play just what kind of man or woman he is now. How do they handle those tough times, and how do those tough times relate to the conflict the character explores now?"
Logged

Matt Snyder
www.chimera.info

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra
erithromycin
Member

Posts: 159


« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2002, 11:10:59 AM »

Premise is what makes Narrative though, surely?

Without it you've got no 'through', nowhere to go, nothing to see, no matter how many dungeons and wonders you've built already. You've got no lens to look through.

Like Ron said, most fantasy games have no premise, but they create the beginnings  of one systematically:

If power comes from successful violence, where can I find peace?

You're right, Val, in saying that Premise is vital for Narrative play. I also think you're right in saying that we of The Forge are capable of supplying Premise ourselves, but I think you might be missing something.

Why does Premise have to come after system?

Why not give games a Premise, if it's essential to play? Indeed, why not give two, or three, that can be supported properly by the game, perhaps by changing the rules a little?

Look at WFD:

Is there a Premise you could build around World?

How about "Do a man's deeds outweigh his sins and weaknesses?"

How about Flesh?

"Is who we are more important than what we do and how?"

Or the Devil?

"Are we defined by the darkness within us?"

Premise is, in many ways, the cradle of story. Once you've got that, you're motoring. Why deny the chance to spark something?

drew [hanging tags...]
Logged

my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A
Matt Gwinn
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 547


WWW
« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2002, 11:18:17 AM »

Valamir,
I think the need for a Premise is important if for no other reason than to distinguish one game from another.  Think about it, without a Premise more defined than "A Western" you might as well just play GURPS.

If you want to define your own Premise that's fine, but at some point you're going to need to know what system best suits that Premise.  Now, maybe you know enough about game design to figure that out on your own, but most gamers don't and a well defined Premise can save a lot of wasted time on games that just don't satisfy your needs.

,Matt
Logged

Kayfabe: The Inside Wrestling Game
On sale now at
www.errantknightgames.com
hardcoremoose
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 669


WWW
« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2002, 11:39:32 AM »

In the year or so I've spent at The Forge, Premise is the one big revelation I've had.  And I'm not just talking about Narrativist Premise either, but the idea that all games have a Premise.

Which brings me to this thought: Is it possible for a ruleset to be Premise-less?  As Matt and Drew just pointed out, it is possible to look at a game and suss out a Premise, even when one isn't presented as such by the author.  Can we do the same with other games?  The Pool (not TQB)?  WYRD?  GURPS?

Of course, as Ron and others have pointed out, Premise may exist but be betrayed by aspects of the system itself.  But if we can look at a game and see through to a Premise, isn't it just good game design to put that information up front for all to see, so that everyone's on the same page (wouldn't that be more important in a game where the Premise is muddled by bad game design)?

Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe not every game has an imbedded Premise, and that by looking, I'm just creating something that isn't there.  So be it...I need the mental exercise.

- Scott
Logged
Valamir
Member

Posts: 5574


WWW
« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2002, 12:13:31 PM »

Quote from: erithromycin

You're right, Val, in saying that Premise is vital for Narrative play. I also think you're right in saying that we of The Forge are capable of supplying Premise ourselves, but I think you might be missing something.

Why does Premise have to come after system?


Oh no, I'm not missing that at all.  Premise embedded right in the mechanics is a great thing.  I'm just saying that it isn't (and shouldn't) be a required thing.

What got me on this track was Ron's initial post regarding WFD and Dust Devils.  I'm not trying to comment specifically on those games and whether they do, don't, or should have a Premise.

What I'm commenting on is the attitude that they should be EXPECTED to have a Premise built into the mechanics.  Ron's position was that he felt something was missing in these games.  He didn't even feel that he could play them because they were lacking.  And that what they were lacking was as explicitly defined Premise.

My point, and I still stand by it, is that an explicitly defined Premise *can* be a great game design tool, but that it is not *required*.

*IF* there is a specific Premise that the designer wishes to have explored, then yes, absolutely, state that Premise up front so that everyone is on the same page and make sure your game mechanics direct play towards that end.

However, I don't think that this is some sort of "one true way" to design an RPG...not even a Narrativist RPG.  

The game designer MAY wish to simply create an environment where by players can explore a favorite genre.  The mechanics may not be directed at a specific Premise, they may be directed at evoking mood and imagery.  

Now, if I wanted to play a Narrativist game using those rules, I (and my play group) are perfectly capable of creating our own Premise for it without needing it explicitly stated in the game.  

For example, maybe I want to play a western game where the Premise pits Family Loyalty and Love against Ambition.  I could do this perfectly well in Dust Devils whether that Premise is explicitly stated or not.  I don't need to have this spoon fed to me.  Nor do I need a new western game system every time I want to explore a different western Premise.


Quote

Why not give games a Premise, if it's essential to play? Indeed, why not give two, or three, that can be supported properly by the game, perhaps by changing the rules a little?



Allow me to parse your first sentence differently.

"Give your game a Premise, only if it's essential to play"

If a specific Premise is not essential to play, than a specific Premise does not have to be defined in the game.

If there is no single Premise that you are going for, then allow your players to choose which one they want to go for.  

In other words:  "Don't choose my Premise for me unless that specific Premise is the one and only reason for the games existance to begin with".
Logged

erithromycin
Member

Posts: 159


« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2002, 12:14:38 PM »

Well, before I even start to try and figure out if GURPS has a premise, let's a) take this into another thread [would Theory or Design be best?] and b) remember that some games attempt to give us premise, but instead give us pitch.

Premise: "How willing are you to defy your family to do what is right?"

Pitch: "You're a crusading knight and your sword is made of your ancestors."

Premise: "Is it better to live in chains or die free?"

Pitch: "Stalag 17 crossed with Die Hard."

Premise: "Should one be true to one's nature or to a cause?"

Pitch: "Anarchist bees with machine guns."

Many games, in my opinion, have the latter, but not the former. Here's one for you:

What's the Premise for Vampire, and how does the system support it?

Edited in:

Yeah, Val, I'll buy that. Where Premise is essential to play, a Premise should be, at the very least clearly suggested in the system.

Though then we're in an interesting GNS place.

Does Narrative Play require a Premise, and, if so, is a game that claims it is Narrative but does not provide a Premise a liar? [1]

drew

[1] In a fluffy way, mind. :)
Logged

my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A
Pages: [1] 2
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.11 | SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!