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Author Topic: Theory 101: The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast posted  (Read 15577 times)
M. J. Young
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« on: June 30, 2005, 09:02:13 PM »

For those following the series, Places to Go, People to Be has released the next issue, containing the second of the theory series, Theory 101: The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast. This one tackles that apparent contradiction in rule books, that the referee controls "the story" and the players control the main characters in the story, using it as a springboard for the four identified referee styles (Illusionism, Participationism, Trailblazing, and Bass Playing).

I'm interested in any thoughts anyone has on the possibility of a fifth style. I don't feel that these four are logically exclusive, but I can't find the gap where another fits. To summarize them briefly here:
    [*]In Illusionism, the referee seizes all credibility by fiat and so tells his story.[*]In Participationism, the players cede all credibility to the referee so that he can tell his story.[*]In Trailblazing, the referee creates his story and lays out the clues, and under the social contract the players are committed to discovering and telling the referee's story.[*]In Bass Playing, the referee creates the starting point for the story, and then responds so as to allow the players to create the story.[/list:u]As I say, I don't feel that these are a logically complete set of possibilities, but I'm at a loss for where the gaps are.

    Incidentally, I want to thank those who provided post-publication comments on Theory 101: System and the Shared Imagined Space. As it currently stands, the corrections and clarifications will be collected and published subsequent to the appearance of the third, still pending, article, Theory 101: Creative Agenda. If anyone has any comments or corrections on this one, feel free to contact me here or by e-mail.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    --M. J. Young
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    Albert of Feh
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    « Reply #1 on: June 30, 2005, 10:26:55 PM »

    I might just be tired, but Participationism and Trailblazing (as defined here) seem awfully close to each other. In both, the social contract is designed to let the GM tell his story.

    It's like the difference between walking a visible trail to get across the valley (participationism), versus being given a set of orienteering directions and a compass, with instructions to find your way across the valley. You're still going through the same valley, and you'll still end up in the same place at the end.
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    John Kim
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    « Reply #2 on: June 30, 2005, 11:01:26 PM »

    Quote from: M. J. Young
    I'm interested in any thoughts anyone has on the possibility of a fifth style. I don't feel that these four are logically exclusive, but I can't find the gap where another fits. To summarize them briefly here:
      [*]In Illusionism, the referee seizes all credibility by fiat and so tells his story.[*]In Participationism, the players cede all credibility to the referee so that he can tell his story.[*]In Trailblazing, the referee creates his story and lays out the clues, and under the social contract the players are committed to discovering and telling the referee's story.[*]In Bass Playing, the referee creates the starting point for the story, and then responds so as to allow the players to create the story.[/list:u]

      M.J., did you read my recent post on http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=15830">Models of Adventure Structure?  It seems to me that by your definitions, location crawling, battlegrounding, timetabling, branching, and relationship mapping are all part of "bass playing" -- which is defined solely by the GM not having a predefined story complete with ending in mind.  Would you agree, or is bass playing more specific and not inclusive of some of these?
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      - John
      Andrew Morris
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      « Reply #3 on: July 01, 2005, 06:55:21 AM »

      The division seems a bit off to me, specifically in terms of Trailblazing. The two variables at work here seem to be "who controls the story" and "whether the players are aware" of this. That gives four play styles, but they don't match up with the four descriptions you have. I'd break them down something like this:

      GM-Controlled, Players Unaware: Illusionism
      GM-Controlled, Players Aware: Participationism
      Player-Controlled, Players Unaware: ???
      Player-Controlled, Players Aware: Bass Playing

      Trailblazing seems to just be a technique that can be used in either Illusionism or Participationism to me.

      I don't have a name for the missing third style, but it should be as similar to Bass Playing as Illusionism is to Participationism. Bass Playing can work with or without the players' awareness, which is why I think that needs to be split up.
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      Ian Charvill
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      « Reply #4 on: July 01, 2005, 07:29:45 AM »

      Quote from: Andrew Morris

      GM-Controlled, Players Unaware: Illusionism
      GM-Controlled, Players Aware: Participationism
      Player-Controlled, Players Unaware: ???
      Player-Controlled, Players Aware: Bass Playing


      Player-Controlled, Players Unaware: Ouija Board Roleplaying
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      Ian Charvill
      timfire
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      « Reply #5 on: July 01, 2005, 08:03:33 AM »

      Quote from: Andrew Morris
      The division seems a bit off to me, specifically in terms of Trailblazing. The two variables at work here seem to be "who controls the story" and "whether the players are aware" of this. That gives four play styles, but they don't match up with the four descriptions you have. I'd break them down something like this:

      I don't know, I'm not sure that it's as simple as "who controls the story" + "whether the players are aware."

      However, I understood "Trailblazing to be a bit more broad than MJ describes it as. He said that the players can do what they want, but didn't go into detail about what that meant.

      I understood "Trailblazing" to be characterized by the GM setting boundaries for play. In illusionism & participationism, the player has no freedom. In Bass playing, the players have total freedom. I thought as Trailblazing offered limited freedom. The GM creates locations & situations that the characters can freely explore, but they can't go outside those situations/locations.
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      --Timothy Walters Kleinert
      Sean
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      « Reply #6 on: July 01, 2005, 09:06:02 AM »

      Hi, MJ.

      That list seems mostly to deal with Narrativist GM styles, to me. (That relates to John Kim's comment too IMO.) Furthermore, if I were, say, a reasonably competent Ouija Board GM, with non-Nar facilitating mechanics but a group with a highly idiosyncratic social contract and the ability to engage in a functional below-the-surface dialogue about where we as a group are taking the story, I wouldn't find myself in it.  

      Further, the list to my mind is clearly polemical in favor of the bass player, even though I'm sure you'll make your comparisons as judiciously as possible. This has the potential to alienate the many Narrativists out there who are committed to Participationism.

      Also, this is a quibble, but the 'Illusionist' GM style you identify uses the technique of Illusionism, as I understand it, towards a particular end: getting the story he wants told. Qua technique though Illusionism can be used to support anyone's vision as well as anyone else's; when I played highly rigid old-school games I often used Illusionism to try to facilitate the kind of story I felt that the players wanted, not having anything in mind beyond a setting and NPCs myself.
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      Paul Czege
      Acts of Evil Playtesters
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      « Reply #7 on: July 01, 2005, 09:56:52 AM »

      In Bass Playing, the referee creates the starting point for the story, and then responds so as to allow the players to create the story.

      Damn, do I need a Rosetta Stone. How is this distinguished from what Ron calls "http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=706&highlight=#706">intuitive continuity"? Do we need two terms?

      Paul
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      Jason Lee
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      « Reply #8 on: July 01, 2005, 03:46:53 PM »

      Quote from: Paul Czege
      Damn, do I need a Rosetta Stone. How is this distinguished from what Ron calls "http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=706&highlight=#706">intuitive continuity"? Do we need two terms?


      Hmmm... that brings up a question...

      Does Bass Playing include Intuitive Continuity, No Myth and Open Play?

      The glossary classifies No Myth as a sub-style of Intuitive Continuity, but I probably wouldn't as GM responses in No Myth are driven by genre conventions instead of plot elements and its general philosophy is just kind of in conflict with any amount of pre-planning.

      (Open Play/Pinball-Sim being having a prebuilt setting that the GM just plays while the characters do whatever they'd like in it.)
       
      Though, the distinction between the three doesn't really exist much in play, so they do all fit the Bass Playing definition as I see it.  (Due to genre, events, and setting not actually being distinct components.)
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      - Cruciel
      ewilen
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      « Reply #9 on: July 01, 2005, 04:25:01 PM »

      I have another quibble, and I hope this won't be seen as excessively snarky, but I wish people would be a little more careful with language such as
      Quote
      As far as anyone knows, Ron Edwards was the first person to point out the problem in this idea.

      I think you'll find that the idea was well understood and reasonably well pointed out back in the late 80's, if not earlier.

      Thread #1
      Thread #2

      Robert Plamondon in particular seems to have pinned it on several occasions. Incidentally, Google's record of rec.games.frp is extremely sketchy before 1989.
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      Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA
      John Kim
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      « Reply #10 on: July 01, 2005, 05:41:14 PM »

      Quote from: ewilen
      I think you'll find that the idea was well understood and reasonably well pointed out back in the late 80's, if not earlier.
      Thread #1
      Thread #2
      Robert Plamondon in particular seems to have pinned it on several occasions. Incidentally, Google's record of rec.games.frp is extremely sketchy before 1989.

      Wow!  Thanks for the links, Elliot!  I got started with UseNet in December 1991 (just looked) , a little while after this.  Interesting to see precursors to my experience.  Certainly the tension over GM authoring story is extremely old.  You can see it to some degree in Blacow's 1980 article, http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/theory/models/blacow.html"> Aspects of Adventure Gaming.  He writes of the Storytelling style:
      Quote from: Glenn Blacow
      In some games of this kind, there is a distinct impression that the GM has already determined the entire future of the universe, and that the player characters are just improvising the script. In more free-form versions of this game type, the flow of the story and the form of the script are decided by interactions between the GM's general outline of events and the actions of individuals within the campaign.

      Much of the attraction of this kind of world comes from the fact that there is a story being told in which one's character is participating. The world has a purpose, a reason for being, independent of what the adventurers do. Living in such a world is not a little like being a character within a novel. It does require a constant effort on the part of its creator to make the universe -- whether it's a county or a continent -- rational and consistent. And as an FRP forum, it requires a cooperative group of players.

      This is expanded on in some of the followup articles.

      But this is much more explicitly dealt with by Robert Plamondon, as you point out:
      Quote from: Robert Plamondon
      Quote from: Dennis Francis Heffernan
      The problem here is that what you have described isn't a story-telling game, so much as it is a bad GM.

      No, it's the game. (As Dave Berry says, "I Am Not Making This Up.") Story-telling (or "fixed-script") campaigns have been around for a long time, and Torg, for one, enshrines the worst parts in the rules.

      For example:
        [*] Two adjacent sections, giving advice to the GM, are "Alter Reality" and "Fudging Die Rolls."  They advise to the GM to indulge in what I consider to be heavy-handed cheating. [*] In a section on role-playing, the rules suggest that a player who CONSISTENTLY breaks character in order to win should be penalized. (One can only assume that if he paces himself it's OK.) [*] The section on plotting gives, in detail, how to lay out an adventure in four acts, INCLUDING THE ENDING, and that his goal is to cause the plot to be enacted as written. [*] The section that talks about letting the characters do what they want emphasizes, in the example, that after they've had their fun they should be put back on the main plot line.[/list:u]
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        - John
        greyorm
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        « Reply #11 on: July 01, 2005, 08:02:50 PM »

        Quote from: ewilen
        I have another quibble, and I hope this won't be seen as excessively snarky, but I wish people would be a little more careful with language such as
        Quote
        As far as anyone knows, Ron Edwards was the first person to point out the problem in this idea.

        I believe a concern like yours is exactly why the phrase "As far as anyone knows" was included, and why the statement didn't just start with "Ron Edwards was the first" as though it were a given. I don't know how much more careful someone ignorant of preceeding discourse on the subject could have been than to acknowledge the limits of their own experience with it?

        That said, thank you very much for pointing us to these older sources!
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        Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
        Wild Hunt Studio
        ewilen
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        « Reply #12 on: July 01, 2005, 08:57:36 PM »

        But you see, "as far anyone knows" only moves the problem out one level :)

        "As far as I know" would be fine, if a little un-authorial.

        "Ron Edwards, the designer of Sorceror, has made addressing the problem with this idea a touchstone of his theories of roleplaying," might be a fair hack at dealing with the subject.

        Anyway, you're all welcome. And I think you'll find that the threads in question also get into some of the same material we're discussing here. Also, in these threads:  #3 and #4 (Which are after John started posting and, significantly, after David Berkman appeared on rec.games.frp.advocacy.)

        For those who don't feel like reading those threads, what some of us were striving for at that time, with varying degrees of success, was an approach known as "world-based". I agree with John that it was rather like M.J.'s "bass playing" but not everyone would agree that a "world-based" GM should or would "bring changes when it will work for [the players]". Quite a few fans of the style were/are in favor of "letting the chips fall as they may" based on a notionally-objective conception of the "world" (SIS in Forge terms, I think).

        The point is that M.J.'s "bass playing" could be interpreted to include both "reactive" and "objective" or "world-based" GMing. The former is a style where the GM basically observes the players' actions and tastes and reacts to them--so if the players believe that some detail is important, the GM actively decides to make it important (or not), and if the players' (characters') actions develop in the direction of an interesting story, the GM facilitates the creation of the story without predetermining the ending. E.g., if a good story will be produced by having the mysterious dirty-looking stranger who befriends the characters turn out to be the long-lost heir to a far off kingdom, then so be it. But if the characters get into an argument and kill him, the story might shift in a completely different direction--not only the heir, but kingdom ceases to exist. (Or rather, they never emerge from potentia.) The "world-based" GM would shy away from this sort of thing. At most, the world-based GM would guess (or ask) the players' plans at the end of each session so that he could fill in any missing details in his pre-existing outline of "everything in the universe".

        Now, the "reactive" approach might be viewed as a kind of Illusionism, but it's different enough from the preplotted variety that I'd make three distinct categories out of Illusionism/participationism, World-based, and reactive refereeing.
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        Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA
        Silmenume
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        « Reply #13 on: July 02, 2005, 01:03:20 AM »

        Hey ewilen,

        Welcome to the Forge!

        Quote from: ewilen
        Now, the "reactive" approach might be viewed as a kind of Illusionism, but it's different enough from the preplotted variety that I'd make three distinct categories out of Illusionism/participationism, World-based, and reactive refereeing.


        Illusionism only refers to deprotagonizing the decisions the players make - with out their knowledge and thus consent.  Thus the changes you spoke of in the potentia, having never entered the SIS either concretely or through their entailments, do not meet the definition of Illusionism.  The “reactive” approach, which you refer to, is most certainly not Illusionism as was presented.  It is actually seems to be a fairly healthy form of reasonably unfettered Sim bricolage.  Both sides (the GM on one and the players on the other) are working and building back and forth off of what is going on in the SIS as it happens.

        I hope that helps.  I'll now quietly let this thread return to its original intent.
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        Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.

        Jay
        ewilen
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        « Reply #14 on: July 02, 2005, 09:28:05 AM »

        Thanks for the welcome, Silmenume.

        Actually, after referring back to "GNS and other matters", I'd say the reactive approach is closest to what Ron Edwards calls "intuitive continuity"--as others have noted already.

        Whether it's healthy, surely depends on a number of factors.

        Note that the "reactive" form can be done with or without the knowledge of the players, at least in theory.
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        Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA
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