*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
September 26, 2021, 11:40:43 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: 82 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
Pages: 1 2 [3] 4
Print
Author Topic: Control and Restrictions in RPGs  (Read 23744 times)
lpsmith
Member

Posts: 23


WWW
« Reply #30 on: September 10, 2005, 01:18:56 AM »

Man, you people and your terminology!  For one thing, it's hard to keep up, and for another, you've used up half the useful words for these things for specialized concepts.  Whew.  Also, can I request that the non-functional links in the glossary be made functional?  I had to search for the named threads manually (after finally realizing they were named threads) and even then didn't find them except indirectly.

This has been a great discussion, though, and has really served to clarify my thoughts.  Let me start by answering the question, "how do I see my axes interacting with IIEE?"

As I understand it, IIEE is a way of establishing 'what happened in this short bit of the scene'.  So, what you all normally think of as 'Effect' is things like "the blow does 10 points of damage and the guy dies" instead of things like, "Six months later, his brother shows up, intent on revenge." (Correct me if I'm wrong here)

So as far as I can tell, all the roleplaying systems I've actually played (though fewer of the ones I've read about here) have the same model of control over each element of IIEE.  (That would be D&D, 7th Sea, Nobilis, and FUDGE).  Namely, the player has complete control of Intent, has a few system-based restrictions for Initiation, probably gets to narrate what happens in Execution, and should have a good idea of the range of possibilities inherent in the (short-term) Effects, and might even get to narrate some of those (I do 10 points of damage; I make it across the ledge; I successfully throw the moon into the sun, etc.). 

All of these affect my 'Character' axis, the earlier ones (Intent and Initiation) perhaps a bit more than the latter.  But more importantly, as a player, I either completely control or can reasonably predict the content of all four.  The GM is there merely as an arbiter for System.

But what happens *next*?  What are the effects of the effects?  You guys like coming up with cute names for things; I'll add my voice to the noise:  the Butterfly Effects.  Butterfly Effects are stuff like "The guy's brother shows up wanting revenge", "Your actions build a tideswell for the reestablishment of a constitutional democracy in the United States", "The prince falls in love with you", or even "Nothing else happens." 

Butterfly Effects are not very predictable by the players, and (in those four systems) are completely under the control of the GM.  You can say, "I hit the guy", but you can't have the exchange, "I hit the guy so that I can kill him and six months later his brother comes looking for me."  "OK, roll it."  If you were to say that, the GM might take it under advisement, but it's not the sort of thing that happens very often in those games.

Are there systems where Butterfly Effects *are* under control of the players?  GM-less systems; sure.  Any systems with a GM?

So, what is Plot made of?  As I see it (and I'm thinking on my feet here), it's a combination of Butterfly Effects and External Actions (stuff that happens that had nothing to do with anything the PCs did).  I'm finally setting on a definition of 'rising action' to be 'changes in the game state to states either closer to a final resolution (victories) or to states further away from a final resolution (setbacks)'.  Changes in the game state to states equidistant from the desired final resolution are not changes that have affected the plot.  So I'm contending that *only* Butterfly Effects and External Actions can change the game state with respect to plot resolution.

And there's your Impossible Thing.  The players control (or at least reasonably predict) IIEE.  That's character.  The GM controls Butterfly Effects and External Actions.  That's plot.

(I have the niggling suspicion that Revealed Truths factor in here somewhere, but I'm not sure where.  It wouldn't change my analysis of the above four systems, since the GM controls the Revealed Truths, too, but it would affect games like 'The Pool' with its 'monologue of victory'.  Have to think about that some more.)

The next question, then:  what kind of Butterfly Effects are there?
  - Ones that do not affect the plot (no-ops)
  - Ones that affect the plot in a manner predetermined by the GM. (brick paths)
  - Ones that affect the plot in a manner that the GM thinks up on the spot, but nevertheless move towards or away from a predetermined climax. (roller coasters)
  - Ones that affect the plot in a manner that the GM thinks up on the spot, and additionally affect the nature of the eventual climax. (brave new world)

And, you know, you can categorize External Actions exactly the same way, with the additional wrinkle that all of them can be either predetermined or improvised.

Now we can talk about what the GM is doing when following different styles.  Let's start with MJ Young's Participationism, Trailblazing, and Bass Playing:

Participationism:  a lot of brick paths of various stripes, with no-ops thrown in when the GM's creativity runs dry, and roller coasters when the GM's creativity is firing on all cylinders.  Very few if any brave new world's.  A fairly even mix of Butterfly Effects and External Actions; most External Actions are predetermined.

Trailblazing:  Lots of Butterfly Effect no-ops, punctuated by Butterfly Effect and External Action brick paths.  Perhaps a roller coaster or two, if the players get creative and force the GM 'off-book'.

Bass Playing:  Almost all Butterfly Effect brave new worlds, with perhaps a few improvised External Action roller coasters now and again.

Other styles pop out at me as well:

Bullying (aka the Frustrated Novelist):  All Butterfly Effects are no-ops; all External Actions are brick paths.

No Myth:  No brick paths of any kind, no predetermined External Actions, very few no-ops.  Plenty of Butterfly Effect and improvised External Action roller coasters, with a few brave new worlds, probably to kick things off.

Uppity Bass Playing:  Still plenty of Butterfly Effect brave new worlds, but a fair amount of improvised External Action brave new worlds as well.  Butterfly Effects gradually shift to roller coasters.

The Tangent Adventure:  Starts with brick paths, then a Butterfly Effect brave new world gets thrown into the mix, and it's roller coasters from then on.

Digressions:  Any of the above, but with lots of no-ops.  Not because (like Trailblazing) the GM is waiting for the players to find the right thing to do, but because they get distracted from the plot and do nothing plot-wise with the result.  Sessions that devolve into nothing but jokes can go here.

OK, that's entirely too much text.  And geez, look at the time.  I always think better in discussions than on my own, so thanks again for all the insightful comments.
Logged
Marco
Member

Posts: 1741


WWW
« Reply #31 on: September 10, 2005, 04:14:52 AM »

My point isn't about character interactions; it's about the distinction between player intent and character initiation.  Someone who tries and fails to do something heroic may very well be heroic; a character who doesn't try at all isn't heroic under any circumstances.  See my IIEE comment in my last post.

Of course--and that's where the theory diverges from the real experience: whether or not my character did anything in the game, my player still tried to have the character do it and (probably) everyone at the table (in anything resembling a traditional RPG session) will be aware of it.

That information *also* goes into "SIS" (if you think it doesn't then you are defining SIS in some very specific ways that I don't think are well defined and, at any rate, not especially tennable). This is why calling things that upset the meta-game IIEE issues is patently incorrect. Whether something is rendered in the game-space is only part of how it is experienced and how it impacts the players at the table.

This is why I'm calling this a "theory" perspective and it isn't referant to any one theory. It's a large portion of the theory-space that places an emphasis on things that game mechanics control but doesn't well address things outside the mechanical scope (and mechanically resolved conflict especially).

Example: A player tries (perhaps constantly) to have his character betray the party. Each time the GM prevents him saying it'll ruin the game in a pure meta-game call. Is the character considered treacherous? I'd say "yes." If you think I'm 100% incorrect because of some IIEE issue to do so, you're simply wrong--I know, for example, how that character'll play when we switch GMs to the guy who's okay with intra-party conflict.

-Marco
Logged

---------------------------------------------
JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
http://www.jagsrpg.org
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland
Josh Roby
Member

Posts: 1055

Category Three Forgite


WWW
« Reply #32 on: September 12, 2005, 09:30:24 AM »

Example: A player tries (perhaps constantly) to have his character betray the party. Each time the GM prevents him saying it'll ruin the game in a pure meta-game call. Is the character considered treacherous? I'd say "yes." If you think I'm 100% incorrect because of some IIEE issue to do so, you're simply wrong--I know, for example, how that character'll play when we switch GMs to the guy who's okay with intra-party conflict.

I guess I'm simply wrong, Marco.
Logged

Josh Roby
Member

Posts: 1055

Category Three Forgite


WWW
« Reply #33 on: September 12, 2005, 09:54:00 AM »

Okay, LP.  Couple points:

You've got IIEE more or less right, as I understand it, although it's not so much a specific process as steps that are common to all (?) resolution processes.  Every game has all four steps; the system just does its 'thing' at one or another step, depending.

A lot of what you're saying is based on task resolution as opposed to conflict resolution; I think you'll find a lot more player control of external actions and butterfly effects in conflict resolution games, especially those where players narrate their own successes and failures.  There are indeed games that allow the players control of the far-reaching Effects, including what you term Butterfly Effects.  Universalis does this, I think Trollbabe does, and a couple more that aren't coming to mind yet (FLFS will).  Additionally, consider spending XP in 7th Sea -- you can buy the Enemy background (I think it's Enemy, or Nemesis) with XP, stipulating that it's the brother of the guy you killed.  Also, remember that "System" is not limited to "published rules" and so any playgroup where the players can ask for long-range effects gives at least some control of Butterfly Effects to the players.  It is by no means cut and dried.

In any case, you still have "Character" (Player Intent, and maybe Character Initiation) and "Plot" (Outcomes, Butterfly Effects, and External Actions) as separate domains.  Now, I won't argue that this is how a lot of games are played -- sure.  Take a look at what this means, though.  Character has no causal effect on Plot.  No matter what the players want their characters to do, it has no direct effect on the development of the game: all the results are the product of GM fiat.  Maybe the GM "plays nice" and incorporates player actions into the developing story; maybe he doesn't.  And you still haven't resolved the extent to which plot development impacts characterization.  The players have no guarantees outside of "Play nice or I walk" and there is no mechanical foundation from which to even judge whether the GM is playing nice or not.  Lastly, this all puts a tremendous burden on the GM, who is essentially responsible for the progress of the entire game.  Sure, we can apportion these parts of the game in such a way, but now you have to answer the hard question: why do we want to?
Logged

Marco
Member

Posts: 1741


WWW
« Reply #34 on: September 12, 2005, 10:40:21 AM »

Example: A player tries (perhaps constantly) to have his character betray the party. Each time the GM prevents him saying it'll ruin the game in a pure meta-game call. Is the character considered treacherous? I'd say "yes." If you think I'm 100% incorrect because of some IIEE issue to do so, you're simply wrong--I know, for example, how that character'll play when we switch GMs to the guy who's okay with intra-party conflict.

I guess I'm simply wrong, Marco.

Well, yes--I think you are.
Look, any stance you take can take is a tool until it becomes the *only* one you are willing to hold. Then it becomes a constraint as well.

I can see several profitable ways of qualifying a statement about how or why the character is/is not treacherous--but if you believe that no set of qualifications allows for half of that (the character *is* seen as treacherous by the player) then you are limiting yourself dramatically.

When the GM changes (if it's a rotating GM game) the player(s) will be well advised to see the character as treacherous if doing so will improve their gaming experience (and it very possibly will).

Constraining what "characterization" is in an RPG is valuable for looking at some perspectives but not others.

NOTE: I can see a valid case for the statement you make (a character who has taken no treacherous action in the game narrative can be said not to be treacherous). However, if you're going to define that in a certain context in an RPG where the sum value of the "character" exists in several player's heads and with many different input sources, I don't think there's any way to say you automatically have the only vaild defintion.

That's what I'm sayin'

-Marco
Logged

---------------------------------------------
JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
http://www.jagsrpg.org
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland
lpsmith
Member

Posts: 23


WWW
« Reply #35 on: September 12, 2005, 10:57:07 AM »

There are indeed games that allow the players control of the far-reaching Effects, including what you term Butterfly Effects.  Universalis does this, I think Trollbabe does, and a couple more that aren't coming to mind yet (FLFS will).  Additionally, consider spending XP in 7th Sea -- you can buy the Enemy background (I think it's Enemy, or Nemesis) with XP, stipulating that it's the brother of the guy you killed.

Hey, good point!  There's still the issue of *any* background in 7th Sea acts as a 'suggestion for the GM' instead of anything actually binding, but that's a step away from the issue.

Also, remember that "System" is not limited to "published rules"

Really?  Ack.  I was really trying to limit the discussion to published rules, given that this is the only bit the game designer has access to.  I was also unaware (from someone else's post) that the 'Social Contract' is usually seen as being *above* the published rules in terms of priority.  Again, the game designer doesn't have access to that bit, so it's sort of moot.

In any case, you still have "Character" (Player Intent, and maybe Character Initiation) and "Plot" (Outcomes, Butterfly Effects, and External Actions) as separate domains. 
[snip]
Sure, we can apportion these parts of the game in such a way, but now you have to answer the hard question: why do we want to?

Right!  Exactly.  That was the whole reason behind me writing up the essay in the first place.  And the answer is:  because the parts the player controls are enough.

When I play a Participationist game, I completely control Player Intent, most of Character Initiation, and at least can predict what'll happen in the rest of IIEE.  'Butterfly Effects' and the rest of Plot I don't control and I don't *want* to control.  I have plenty going on in my corner as it is.  I'm creating a Character.  That's inherently interesting to me, and I don't need a hand in Plot, too.

Imagine an actor in a TV show.  They portray the same character, week after week, and never even get to write their own *dialogue* let alone have a say in the plot-of-the-week.  OK, maybe they get to improvise now and then.  Maybe some writer really screws up their characterization and they go have a chat with the producer.  But they don't have control of anything...except Characterization (and more limited characterization than players have in an rpg, at that).  Why do they do this?  Because the parts they control are enough.  They see their contribution as meaningful.  They do it *well*.

One last bit:

And you still haven't resolved the extent to which plot development impacts characterization.

Sure, plot developments can impact characterization (another example of the 'fuzzy borders' of my axes), but to some extent, the plot can have about as much impact on my character as the character can have on the plot--reverse Butterfly Effects, so to speak.

Like, if the GM kills my brother, I could choose to make that a character no-op (enh, I never really knew him that well anyway), do what the GM expected ('you bastards!  You'll pay for this!'), or do something unexpected, (commit suicide; try to get him resurrected; accept his death as inevitable; show kindness to those that killed him).  All those responses are back in my court.  They're under my control once again, and I can use them to continue to build my character.  The same is even true of the fumbling doctor--how the doctor reacts to failing to save a number of people says more to me about 'character' than the fact that he failed.

(I'm now thinking of exceptions--the alignment system in D&D and the 'Hubris' in 7th Sea, for two.  Neither of which seem to get much use, in my experience.  Which is probably revealing.)

Maybe it's part of the Sim mentality.  Controlling aspects of the story that my character could not reasonably be expected to control just seems unnatural.  Since the character wouldn't say, "Hey, let's have him kill my brother, because that'll be interesting to the plot," it's weird to have me-the-player say that.

Not that it can't be done!  You all do this all the time, and have a great deal of fun doing so.  In the proper setting, I think I'd have fun doing that, too.  But it's weird seeing the apparant mentality "If you're not able to control the plot, there's nothing for you to do."

-Lucian
Logged
Josh Roby
Member

Posts: 1055

Category Three Forgite


WWW
« Reply #36 on: September 12, 2005, 11:44:26 AM »

Like, if the GM kills my brother, I could choose to make that a character no-op (enh, I never really knew him that well anyway), do what the GM expected ('you bastards!  You'll pay for this!'), or do something unexpected, (commit suicide; try to get him resurrected; accept his death as inevitable; show kindness to those that killed him).  All those responses are back in my court.  They're under my control once again, and I can use them to continue to build my character.

Well, your desire to pursue those responses are back in your court -- actually getting to exercise those responses may or may not be possible (and hence out of your control) based on the system you're playing under.  If you had, say, the Bad Temper flaw, the GM could make you roll to avoid flying off the handle and attacking your brothers' killers, or some such.  I understand that the games with which you are familiar, there are systemic structures which preserve your ability to control character initiation of action, but your argument is founded on a lot of such assumptions.

See, it drives me batshit crazy when my character can't take actions and get the success/fail result that I prefer for his characterization.  It drives me up the wall to be limited to having only my character's hands and feet at my disposal for characterizing him.  I want access to his family, to his job, to people on the street.  I want the metalworking arts projects that he creates to say something about him as a person (which in the game systems you cite would only happen if I succeed at a Crafts roll).  I want the freedom to just make shit up as I go because it forwards his characterization -- I want to invent towns and threats and past historical events that frame who he is, and I want to do it outside the bounds of whatever canonical source material the game is based on.  There are these thousand other tools to perform characterization, and ever since I got ahold of them, I don't want to give them up again.

I can't see your Plot/Character distinction as anything other than what usually gets attributed to the GM and what usually gets attributed to the players.  As far as I can tell, you might as well label the Character axis as 'Player' and the Plot axis as 'GM'.  As we've discussed in this thread, both of those axes have many different pieces, the responsibility for which can be split up a thousand different ways, but you have yet to come up with a unifying definition or principle that says "X falls under Character, Y falls under Plot" besides "that's how it usually works".

You've whittled 'Character' down to "Player Intent and Character Initiation" with the assumption that the system allows players to specify character initiation, but you have under 'Plot' the outcomes of those initiated actions, the 'butterfly effect' ramifications of success and failure, the addition of new elements, pacing, a sense of coherent story, resolution of conflict, and creating the conflict in the first place.  Why are all of those elements under 'Plot'?  What unites them together and makes them one thing, rather than a collection of things that the GM is usually responsible for?  If your answer is "everything that is beyond character" you have created an elaborate definition of Actor stance.
Logged

lpsmith
Member

Posts: 23


WWW
« Reply #37 on: September 13, 2005, 07:54:33 AM »

Josh?  Nobody is here to take your new-found toys away.  You are welcome to keep them.

It seems to me that I've already answered all your increasingly-hostile questions, and that half the things you claim I said I didn't say.  Which means it's time to move this out of a public forum--if you still have questions, feel free to e-mail me (lpsmith@rice.edu).

One more attempt at summarization:  My first point:  You can break down the 'stuff' of an RPG session as answers to four questions:

-Where did the story take place?  (Setting)
-Who were the characters?  (Character)
-What happened to them?  (Plot)
-What was it like?  (Tone)

Yes, there can be bleed-over, and answers to one question might have to refer to answers to the other questions.  But you can do this for a RPG story just like you can a literary story.  Surely we've all read books where we liked the characters and were bored by the plot?  Where we liked the setting, but thought the writing sucked?

My second point:  calling something 'the impossible thing' when it can be resolved 27 different ways doesn't make it actually impossible.  It makes it unclear.

In traditional roleplaying systems(/rule sets), this is resolved by giving the players about as much control over their characters as they have over themselves in real life.  This is a very natural way to think about things.  It gives many players enough control to think of the characters as 'theirs'.  There are many, many, other options.

My third and final point:  When you design an rpg, you do yourself a favor if you consciously assign control of various aspects of the story to different players of the drama (yourself, the GM (if needed), and the players).  Do you want to keep control of the setting?  Set your borders carefully.  Do you want to more strongly influence tone?  Have rules that reinforce the tone you want to set.  Do you want your system to explore only certain types of plots?  Have rules that restrict them.  Who do you want to control the plot?  Tell your players.

Restrictions foster creativity.  If your players wanted no restrictions at all, they would do improv theatre (and some do).  But even improv theatre has restrictions--for some reason, it's simply easier to think of 'a noun that starts with A' than it is to think of 'a noun'.

(For the record, I read up on Actor Stance, and can't see how it relates to any of the above points--it's talking about Stance, not control.)
Logged
M. J. Young
Member

Posts: 2198


WWW
« Reply #38 on: September 15, 2005, 12:44:05 PM »

Lucien has given me much to consider, and much to which I need to reply. This is in the order I find it in the thread, so it's going to be a bit disjointed.
I'm definitely *not* saying that roleplaying is always either participationist or trailblazing.  That would be kind of a dumb thing to say, since clear examples to the contrary abound.  What I'm trying to say is that participationist and trailblazing play *can* happen when the GM is solely in control of what-I'm-calling-plot.  Does it help if I say that I believe 'bass playing' can *also* happen when the GM is solely in control of the plot?  And that if both players and GM are given control of the plot, you can have 'bass playing' but you can't have participationist or trailblazing play?
That only helps in a very backhanded sort of way.

In participationism, plot control is indeed with the referee completely.

In bass playing, plot control cannot at all be with the referee, as his responsibility is to respond to what the players cause to happen.  For example, in a bass-playing sort of game, the player could say, "I'm going to search this room for evidence that the villain is tied in with the mayor." He then uses whatever resolution mechanic is required (e.g., rolls dice), and if he is successful, then the villain is tied in with the mayor, whatever the referee thought originally. That's an extreme example, but the point is that if I'm running the game as a bass-player referee, it is up to my players to decide where the story goes, and up to me to support their decisions. That makes it impossible for me to control the plot at all, beyond that I can set it up and handle the pacing.

Meanwhile, trailblazing poses the peculiar circumstance of the sort of shared plot control you suggest for bass playing, but in a different sense. The referee controls the plot in that he decided what should happen; the players still control the plot in that they decide what does happen, but their choices of what to do and their successes and failures along the way.

Using the Cinderella example, in participationism it doesn't matter what the player wants to do, Cinderella will wind up at the ball somehow. In bass playing, it doesn't matter what the referee wants to have happen, Cinderella will go where the player wants her to go and do what he wants her to do. In trailblazing, the player is free to make Cinderella do whatever he wants, but if she doesn't go to the ball it's a breach of the social contract, because from the beginning of play the player has implicitly agreed to try to find the story that the referee has prepared.

You suggest what could happen if the player character decided that Cinderella should commit suicide. "...the success or failure of my suicide attempt is up to the GM....Surprise!  The gun wasn't loaded.  There was a pile of hay at the base of the tower.  The fairy godmother shows up (a blatant GMC if I ever saw one) and hits you with her wand."

Those are all illusionist techniques. Any style of play can use them to achieve desired goals, but as they are used here they are very much participationist in application--they are being used to prevent the player from doing what he wants and force the referee's story on the scene. This approach is completely inimical to baseplaying and to trailblazing, because this is using illusionist techniques to vacate a player's choices of their intended effect on the shared imagined space.  This is the referee saying, "No, you're going to the ball, darn it, because that's the story I have planned," while the player is, through this action, screaming, "I don't want to go to your darn ball, and you can't make me." Because the participationist/illusionist referee has so much credibility, he wins--what the player wants does not count, does not matter, he's only there to hear the story and add color.

Which, incidentally, is what your "characterization" amounts to. This is the little girl on her grandad's knee telling him that the princess' name is the same as hers when he's telling the story. It means nothing in terms of what is happening, but only provides background color. If you want to play a heroic character, and all that matters to you is that this is his attitude, you can do that in this game. If you want to be a hero, you can't really do it, because the referee has already determined all of that, and even if your character winds up saving the day, it won't be because of any decision you made but because that's what the referee wanted to have happen.  What you're doing here is no different from identifying with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars:  A New Hope. "Did you see what I did, man? When I blew up that death star?" You did nothing but identify with a character in a story. You drew a picture of that character on some imaginary canvas, saying, "this is what the hero looks like", but that was completely irrelevant to the story, to which you contributed nothing of substance.

This is not merely a narrativist concern. It is equally a concern in gamism, and to some degree in simulationism.  Your analysis limits role playing to "I'm going to describe a character and you're going to tell me a story about him which doesn't really care who he is."

Concerning Multiverser, one of the reasons the players took the directions they took is that the game is primarily about the character, not anything else. With something like The Postman, I as referee may have an idea of a story that is happening, but what matters is what the players decide to do within that story and how that impacts those events. My story will never be told, because I can't direct their actions.  That's not my job.  That is not to say that I cannot use illusionist techniques. I use them all the time--but I use them to facilitate player choices, not to restrict them. The story is the account of what the characters did. That means that the players must control the story if they really do control character choices, because the story must flow from what they choose.

There are also some mechanical restrictions on what I as referee can do. You suggest a number of possible ways I could force the player characters into my program, but under Multiverser rules I would have to use a general effects roll. If it favored the player, he would get his way, the ease of which would be based on the roll; if it opposed the player, there would be something in his path, the severity of which would again be based on the roll. Those blatant illusionist efforts to put the character where I want him would be a violation of the rules. If the player wants a certain outcome, he has the mechanics on his side to get them. I don't "control" the plot. I have input just like anyone else, but my input is limited.

Your analysis does not account for games like Legends of Alyria where the referee is optional and players are simultaneously playing against each other and working together to craft the best story. Who controls the plot? Whoever decides what the characters do, he controls the plot. Who controls what the characters do? Whoever controls what the characters do, he controls the plot.

I don't mean to minimize what you've done; I just think you're tied in to a view of role playing that's outdated. Sure, people still play that way, but they play a lot of other ways as well, and actually have been doing so for a very long time. The cited article about The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast made the point that interpretations of the conflicting statements "the players control the characters" and "the referee controls the story" demonstrate that the statements are themselves incompatible until interpreted as compatible, but that there are completely different ways of making them compatible.

Quote from: Lucien link=topic=16690.msg178116#msg178116
To clarify:  I'm trying to talk about *systems*, not Social Contracts.  Any social contract must work with what it is given by the system.
This actually makes the discussion a bit murky, because of the peculiar way we use the word "system" here as in conflict with how it is used elsewhere. I think what you mean is that you are talking about game designs, which are not systems but authorities used to support systems. "Systems" (see Lumpley Principle) are the social contract rules that govern how we interact in agreeing on the content of the shared imagined space. They are not the rules in the books, but what we actually do in play. Thus "system" is not something used by social contract but something incorporated into social contract, and "system" determines the degree to which "rules" matter or will be cited during play.

That's why it seems that "social contract" and "system" get confused here to some degree. They are distinct things. Trailblazing is a good illustration of the distinction. The system involves techniques for resolving outcomes, but above that in the social contract level is the commitment by the players to attempt to unravel the story planted by the referee. Similarly, with participationism, the system gives the referee the illusionist techniques necessary to railroad the game to the plot outcome he desires, but above that in the social contract level there is the agreement that the referee is allowed to do this and the players are only in it for what you call "characterization".

That also is why I keep saying that you're describing participationism. That is the only form of which I am aware in which the players are only interested in characterization. In Illusionism they are desperately interested in controling the plot, but are unaware that they have been completely eviscerated in this.  In trailblazing, they are earnestly attempting to bring about the plot that the referee has planned for them. In bass playing, they are quite definitely creating the plot themselves. It is only in participationism that players cede total control of "plot" to the referee and satisfy themselves with the color of characterization. In any other form, for the referee to take control of plot is a violation of social contract, and that's where it matters.

One more passing point, on Actor Stance. If you read System and the Shared Imagined Space, which is the first article in the three part series of which we've been discussing the second, you'll see that stances are definitions of the apportionment of credibility--that is, who has control over what. Actor stance specifically is "I have control over what my character does, constrained by what it is plausible for that character to do in pursuit of his goals." It is different from Pawn Stance ("I have control over what my character does, which can be whatever I want to do"), Author Stance ("I have control over what my character does but can backwrite aspects of what he wants to do to match them to what I want to do."), and Director Stance ("I have control over more than what my character does, as I can manipulate the environment of the game world directly in addition to controling him within it, to achieve the story I want told").

Thus "stance" is entirely about "control" in the sense you mean.

--M. J. Young
Logged

Marco
Member

Posts: 1741


WWW
« Reply #39 on: September 15, 2005, 01:30:35 PM »

Lucien has given me much to consider, and much to which I need to reply. This is in the order I find it in the thread, so it's going to be a bit disjointed.
I'm definitely *not* saying that roleplaying is always either participationist or trailblazing.  That would be kind of a dumb thing to say, since clear examples to the contrary abound.  What I'm trying to say is that participationist and trailblazing play *can* happen when the GM is solely in control of what-I'm-calling-plot.  Does it help if I say that I believe 'bass playing' can *also* happen when the GM is solely in control of the plot?  And that if both players and GM are given control of the plot, you can have 'bass playing' but you can't have participationist or trailblazing play?
That only helps in a very backhanded sort of way.

In participationism, plot control is indeed with the referee completely.

In bass playing, plot control cannot at all be with the referee, as his responsibility is to respond to what the players cause to happen.  For example, in a bass-playing sort of game, the player could say, "I'm going to search this room for evidence that the villain is tied in with the mayor." He then uses whatever resolution mechanic is required (e.g., rolls dice), and if he is successful, then the villain is tied in with the mayor, whatever the referee thought originally. That's an extreme example, but the point is that if I'm running the game as a bass-player referee, it is up to my players to decide where the story goes, and up to me to support their decisions. That makes it impossible for me to control the plot at all, beyond that I can set it up and handle the pacing.

Looking at the essay (linked from the original post again) I think I'm going to disagree. What he's calling Plot is what might more clearly be referred to as Starting Situation (it isn't completely clear because he breaks down plot into four stages and then assigns parts of them to GM control under certain circumstances).

But, notably, the system MLWM is listed as being totally in control of the plot: clearly there is a need for disambiguation here.

I've never felt that plot in an RPG applied to a pre-ordained (and therefore railroaded) series of events cooked up by the GM so maybe that's why I don't read him that way and think that it is indeed possible for a GM to control the plot and still play bass (the example given where the players can control starting sutation after the start of the game, retconning NPC relationships is, I think, a non-traditional game as much as it may be described as a playing-bass game).

-Marco
Logged

---------------------------------------------
JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
http://www.jagsrpg.org
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland
lpsmith
Member

Posts: 23


WWW
« Reply #40 on: September 15, 2005, 11:32:56 PM »

OK, much is cleared up by my realizing that we all meant two different things by 'system'.  In any of my posts, you can safely strike the word 'system' and replace it with 'game design'.  I'll try to be consistent in the future.  I'm also not sure if there's any difference between what I called 'control' and what you called in your essay 'credibility', so I'll try using your term to see if that helps me make more sense.  Slowly, I will assimilate the Forge verbiage, at which point I will be able to talk to nobody else.

[I'll note, though, that in Marco's last post he used 'the system MLWM' to mean 'the MLWM game design'.  But that's fodder for a different discussion ;-]

So, let me re-state one of my hypotheses:  If the game design gives sole control('credibility') of the 'plot' to the GM, some styles of play available to the GM include Participationism, Trailblazing, and Bass Playing.  If the game design gives credibility of the plot to both the players and the GM, Participationism and Trailblazing are no longer options for play, leaving Bass Playing as the only (listed) example left.

(This assumes that players are playing 'by the rules', of course.  The case where they don't may be interesting from the perspective of a player, but isn't that interesting from the perspective of a game designer, unless drift is intentional.)

I feel a bit exposed talking about My Life With Master, since I haven't actually played it myself, but I've read enough to still posit that the 'plot' of a MLWM game is mostly under control of the game design, and those bits given to the players to control have heavy restrictions on them.

My five bits of plot, again, are setup, initial conflict, rising action, climax, and denoument.  Someone can fill in some details here, but here's how I understand that MLWM controls and distributes credibility to each:

Setup:  There is a 'master', who controls characters played by the players.  The details aren't set, but mostly means that there's little game design controlling 'setting' (which the players and GM control, though I don't know who gets to say what, or if it's simply communal).

Initial Conflict:  This I'm not sure on.  Where do MLWM games begin?  Are there game rules that control it?

Rising action/Climax:  There are two possible climaxes the game can progress to, set up to be opposed to one another--one where the servant breaks control from the master, and one where they finally give in (am I right?).  This is nicely set up--any step that takes you closer to one climax takes you further from the other, and visa versa.  The credibility involved ("I am now more likely to break control" "I am more of a slave") is precisely parcelled out by the game design.  Any external-to-the-plot actions may be interesting, but don't move the characters any closer to or further away from either climax, and therefore don't fit under what-I'm-calling-plot.

Denoument:  In other RPGs, the denoument can contain some of the setup for the next story.  Not so here--once you're done, you're done.  You could take your characters and play a MLWM sequel in a different system, but you're no longer playing MLWM.  I believe there are no rules constraining this part of the plot in the game design; the GM and players probably jointly control it (again, tell me if I'm wrong here).

So, given the above, I'd say that all games of MLWM are participationist, with the game design itself in the role usually reserved for the GM in such games.  Everything the players (and GM!) control are 'color'; they're the little girl on her grandad's knee telling him that the princess' name is the same as hers.

But of course, there's tons left of the story left to control--there's Setting, Character, and Tone.  And there's the discovery of how Character impacts the Plot--it may be basically set up in advance, but there's still a lot of 'roller coaster butterfly effects' to experience  (unanticipated actions causing unanticipated repercussions that nevertheless advance the plot towards a predetermined climax).  And, hey, while a choice between two climaxes isn't much of a choice, it's still *a* choice.

OK, a few specific responses:

In bass playing, plot control cannot at all be with the referee, as his responsibility is to respond to what the players cause to happen.  For example, in a bass-playing sort of game, the player could say, "I'm going to search this room for evidence that the villain is tied in with the mayor." He then uses whatever resolution mechanic is required (e.g., rolls dice), and if he is successful, then the villain is tied in with the mayor, whatever the referee thought originally.

OK, that's an example where the game design handed control to the players.  I agree that in that case, the Participationist style is impossible.  I still think that even if the game design hands plot credibility only to the GM, that GM can still craft a bass-playing game.

But if I understand Ron's definition of 'Actor Stance' correctly, the above statement is an Actor Stance statement, even though it affects things outside the PC's actual control.  In your article, you seem to define it differently, bringing credibility into the mix.  Has the definition changed with time?

This approach is completely inimical to baseplaying and to trailblazing, because this is using illusionist techniques to vacate a player's choices of their intended effect on the shared imagined space.  This is the referee saying, "No, you're going to the ball, darn it, because that's the story I have planned," while the player is, through this action, screaming, "I don't want to go to your darn ball, and you can't make me." Because the participationist/illusionist referee has so much credibility, he wins--what the player wants does not count, does not matter, he's only there to hear the story and add color.

Hmm.  While "I don't want to go to the ball!" is a *possible* thought going through the head of the player in question, it is by no means the *only* possible thought.  Maybe the player is having fun watching the GM sweat.  Maybe the player wants to make this re-telling of Cinderella about a suicidal Cinderella.  This 'shared imagination space' is much bigger than you're giving it credit for.

What you're doing here is no different from identifying with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars:  A New Hope. "Did you see what I did, man? When I blew up that death star?" You did nothing but identify with a character in a story. You drew a picture of that character on some imaginary canvas, saying, "this is what the hero looks like", but that was completely irrelevant to the story, to which you contributed nothing of substance.

Wow, it would be hard for me to disagree with this statement more.  What I would be doing is like *Mark Hamill* identifying with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.  If you don't see the difference between me identifying with Luke and Mark Hamill identifying with Luke, I'm not sure we even have the capacity to have a conversation about the topic.  Star Wars would be a *hugely* different movie with the same script, but with Carrot Top playing Luke.  Or Jerry Seinfeld.  Or Pamela Anderson.  Do you see the difference?  That's what a player contributes in a participationist game!  It's what they do!  And it's why I get annoyed every time that contribution is called 'irrelevant to the story' and 'nothing of substance'.  Irrelevant to the *plot*.  No substantive changes to the *plot*.  But *crucial* to the story.

And speaking of Star Wars, wikipedia tells me "Much of the plot and characterizations were borrowed from the 1958 Japanese film The Hidden Fortress".  A lot of the rest was taken from Joseph Campbell.  Who controls the plot of Star Wars?  Akira Kurosawa!  Lucas 'just' replaced the Setting, and rejiggered some of the events, roller-coaster style, in service of the exact same climax. 

Your analysis does not account for games like Legends of Alyria where the referee is optional and players are simultaneously playing against each other and working together to craft the best story. Who controls the plot? Whoever decides what the characters do, he controls the plot. Who controls what the characters do? Whoever controls what the characters do, he controls the plot.

Grar, everyone keeps telling me this.  What I was *trying* to say in the essay was (in your terms) that the game design should parcel credibility to those that play it, and can do so with restrictions if it likes.  I said outright that there has been a lot of experimentation with different distributions of this credibility of Plot in more modern games.  In 'Alyria', credibility to affect the plot is apparantly given to the players.  That's great!  But what about experimentation with the *other* bits that make up a full-fledged Story?  Setting credibility tends to be either 'Here is your setting' or 'Make up your own setting'.  What about a political setup with an undetermined technology level?  (There's a king here, and he does this sort of thing, and if you give him lots of magic he'll do this type of thing, and if you give him lots of technology he'll do this other).  The 'catch phrases' rule in 'The Dying Earth RPG' is a good use of restricting Tone; what else could be done?  Would it even be possible to assign credibility of tone?  Universalis plays with credibility of Character by making it possible for everyone to influence the same character; what else can we do?  What about a game that was about a particular set of characters, and everyone decided beforehand what the Climax was going to be, and there was a single 'referee' whose sole contribution was to make up the Setting?  OK, that probably wouldn't work.  But *that's* the sort of thing I saw in my head when I wrote the essay, and it's frustrating that all anyone else sees is Participationism.

I only used Participationism as an *example*, because that's what I'm most familiar with, and because I think it's been given a short shrift because people don't understand it.  I believe the specific though that went through my head when I read your little-girl-on-grandad's-knee example of the girl suggesting the character's name was, "The hell?!?  The character's *name* is *unimportant to the story*???  What planet does he live on?"  I finally worked out that what you desperately care about is *plot*, and that you didn't care nearly as much about characterization.

[It was obvious, to be fair, that you were trying to be even-handed in your descriptions of the different techniques.  But it was equally obvious that you were failing.]

[Participationism is] the only form of which I am aware in which the players are only interested in characterization. In Illusionism they are desperately interested in controling the plot, but are unaware that they have been completely eviscerated in this.  In trailblazing, they are earnestly attempting to bring about the plot that the referee has planned for them. In bass playing, they are quite definitely creating the plot themselves. It is only in participationism that players cede total control of "plot" to the referee and satisfy themselves with the color of characterization. In any other form, for the referee to take control of plot is a violation of social contract, and that's where it matters.

The differences you describe are differences in player desires, and are mostly beyond what I wanted to talk about.  I subtitled my essay "A mechanistic approach" because intent is too slippery--who's to say what the desires of the players are in a game where the GM is using Trailblazing techniques?  Or if the GM is using No Myth techniques?  Or even bass playing?  If the player isn't told and isn't given plot credibility, can they even tell the difference?  There's too many variables.  I wanted instead to simply talk about what actually happens, regardless of who wants what when.

Mechanistically, I liked the description I came up with in this thread of different types of 'Butterfly Effects'.  Here, it seems to me, is where the differences in GM techniques really stand out.  In addition, they allowed pretty good descriptions of a wide variety of GM techniques, beyond the three described in your essay.  (Discounting Illusionism, since the only difference between it and Participationism is player awareness and possibly intent--probably significant, but beyond my scope.)  In particular, they allowed a good description of the techniques of 'No Myth', a style I became quite enamored of once I found out about it.

I wrote up those descriptions with the example of GM-credibility-over-plot in mind, but it seems to me they could describe useful things even when you gave the players credibility over plot.  If everyone agrees beforehand what the climax of the story is, for example, then everyone can use Participationist techniques to move the plot to that climax--basically, you just don't use the 'brave new world' technique, and try to limit no-ops.

*Ping*, back atcha.  Even if I sound frustrated above, I really appreciate you all taking the time to discuss this with me.  There's a lot of stuff I'm examining closely for the first time here, since before it just mostly seemed obvious to me.  It's kinda neat to see it all dissected ;-)
Logged
Marco
Member

Posts: 1741


WWW
« Reply #41 on: September 16, 2005, 03:46:07 AM »

[I'll note, though, that in Marco's last post he used 'the system MLWM' to mean 'the MLWM game design'.  But that's fodder for a different discussion ;-]
When I said that I was refering to the usage from your essay "the system itself retains control and responsibility for the plot" (talking about MLWM). That's okay though: I'm not taking you to task for not knowing what The Forge means by System. Your usage is pretty common and, I think, reasonably well understood--even here.

Quote
So, let me re-state one of my hypotheses:  If the game design gives sole control('credibility') of the 'plot' to the GM, some styles of play available to the GM include Participationism, Trailblazing, and Bass Playing.  If the game design gives credibility of the plot to both the players and the GM, Participationism and Trailblazing are no longer options for play, leaving Bass Playing as the only (listed) example left.
On the other hand, the term "plot" isn't well understood here. Here plot means "railroaded game" and if the game design gives control of the railroaded game to the GM then what MJ calls Playing Bass isn't an option.

If, by using the term "credibility," you are talking about the case where the GM theoritically can control everything and chooses not to, while that might be technically correct, I'm not sure that I agree with you. Impossible Thing or no (and I think that concept is perhaps the worst one to come out of The Forge) and even barring questionable GM advice in the back of the book, I think there is an extant division between railroading (for the GM's "plot") and the GM adjudicating an action ineffective because of cause-and-effect in the imaginary game-world.

If this is the case then there's no game mechanics (and very few reads of GM advice) I'm familiar with that really gives the GM "credibility" over "the plot."

-Marco
Logged

---------------------------------------------
JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
http://www.jagsrpg.org
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland
lpsmith
Member

Posts: 23


WWW
« Reply #42 on: September 17, 2005, 10:25:16 PM »

If, by using the term "credibility," you are talking about the case where the GM theoritically can control everything and chooses not to, while that might be technically correct, I'm not sure that I agree with you.

No, that's not *quite* what I meant.  I meant that in a game like D&D or 7th Sea or Nobilis, the GM gets to say what happens outside of the immediate zone of control of the characters.  That credibility must be used to describe the plot of the story, so the GM can either use PC actions as inspiration to take the plot in new directions, can use PC actions to take the plot in expected directions, or ignore PC actions and take the plot in expected directions.

Let's say the GM's idea is to have the PC play the part of Cinderella.  We'll say it's a system like d20 where the GM has control of everything but the physical actions of the PC.  The PC picks up a gun and shoots herself.  The next thing the GM had planned was to have the fairy godmother show up.  He hadn't considered the possibility of the PC trying to commit suicide before that moment.  Here's some possible options that GMs using different styles could use:

 - The Railroader:  "*Click*.  The gun wasn't loaded.  *Poof*  Your fairy godmother shows up!  'Having trouble getting to the ball, dearie?  Let's see what I can do to help.'"  [ignore character action, continue with the plan]

 - The Trailblazer:  "*Click*.  The gun wasn't loaded.  What do you do now?"  [wait for character action to match up with the plan]

 - The Participationist:  "*Click*.  The gun wasn't loaded.  *Poof*  Your fairy godmother shows up!  'Thank goodness!  I thought you'd *never* get desperate enough to try to kill yourself!  They don't let me appear until you do, you know.'  She shakes her head.  'Guess you never found the noose in the attic or all the rat poison in the pantry.  Well, here I am!'" [use character action to justify the plan (a sort of GM-version of the sort of justification that can happen in Author Stance)]

 - No Myth:  "*Boom*  Your body slumps to the floor, blood pooling around it.  And... you're watching, standing over it, oddly detached.  You hear a sigh from behind you, and turn to find a see-through figure of a girl about your age in very old-fashioned clothes.  'And the house claims another victim.  We had such hopes for you, you know.  But now you're trapped here with the rest of us.'" [use character action as inspiration to improvise a new plan]

 - The Bass Player:  [after an OOC discussion with the player about what they wanted to have happen] "The retort from the gun alerts the night watchman, who, hearing no answer at the door, breaks in to find your dead body in your room.  Horrified, he searches the room and finds your suicide note and your diary.  He begins an investigation into your stepmother and stepsisters that ends in their incarceration, and new laws are passed that ensure the horrors you went through will not happen again.  OK, what do you want to play now?"  [use your credibility to describe the player's plan]

-The Simulationist:  "OK, uh, you die.  Roll up a new character!"  [allow character action and the game mechanics to force abandonment of the plan]

Note that player intent (beyond "I want to shoot myself") is not considered at all in this analysis.  Player intent could have been anything from "Grar, nothing I do makes any difference--let's try shooting myself," to "I think my character would shoot herself in this situation," to "I wonder if shooting myself is the right thing to do next?" to "Heh, let's see what the GM does with *this*," to "Ah, the perfect end to the story--a tragic death, unloved and alone," to "Hmm, I wonder what the rules are for firing a pistol at point-blank range with no dodge?"  If everyone's on the same page, these intents will match up with an appropriate GM style, but there's nothing in the game design that forces them to be.

If the game design says nothing about which technique to use beyond the "questionable GM advice in the back of the book", all styles are available for use by players of that game.  But in all of the above outcomes, it was the GM who was given credibility to narrate what happens (by the game design, at least).  And 'bass playing' was indeed an option, it was just forced to exist outside of the game design and into the 'Lumpley System'.

Again, I'm only trying to answer the question, "What do you mean by saying 'the GM has credibility over the plot in traditional rpgs'?", and am not saying, "This is the way all rpgs work."  Credibility over plot areas is indeed divvied up many different ways in modern systems.

Now, you'll have to tell me how systems like Multiverser that distribute 'plot credibility' do this, because the mechanics are somewhat mysterious to me.  In the last 'Postman' example, for instance, who decided that the character's death inspired the nation to return to democracy?  The player or the GM?  How did that work out as far as the game design went, and how much was simply agreed upon between the two of you?  Were there dice rolled?  Because I could imagine all of the stories happening in, I dunno, d20 Modern or some such.

-Lucian
Logged
Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #43 on: September 18, 2005, 01:36:14 AM »

I could imagine all of the stories happening in, I dunno, d20 Modern or some such.

Inasmuch as 'story' is a transscript of imaginary events, sure. But such a transscript tells you nothing about how it was arrived at (e.g. the system used, the agendas pursued etc.).

I suggest you (re)read Ron's essay on "Narrativism: Story Now", at least his take on "story", which has direct bearing on this discussion (scroll down a page or so and start with the paragraph headlined "Story").

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/_articles/narr_essay.html

Hope this helps,

Hal
Logged
Marco
Member

Posts: 1741


WWW
« Reply #44 on: September 18, 2005, 03:59:10 AM »

Now, you'll have to tell me how systems like Multiverser that distribute 'plot credibility' do this, because the mechanics are somewhat mysterious to me.  In the last 'Postman' example, for instance, who decided that the character's death inspired the nation to return to democracy?  The player or the GM?  How did that work out as far as the game design went, and how much was simply agreed upon between the two of you?  Were there dice rolled?  Because I could imagine all of the stories happening in, I dunno, d20 Modern or some such.

-Lucian

I think we're pretty clear: I understand what you are saying--that a GM can, in most traditional systems, have a go at railroading events (or not). No doubt. What I was pointing out was two-fold:

1. People here were (I think) reading you as saying that where there was "plot" there was automatically railroading. Not potential railroading--not available railroading--but that if the GM had the capability to control plot then s/he must automatically be doing so. I think that was muddying the conversation unecessiarily (because of unfortunate connotations of the term 'plot').

2. Where you say the GM has the "credibility" to have the gun be unloaded, I think that's not really true. In real life a lot of players will not find that statement credible no matter that it comes out of the GM's mouth and no matter what the GM-advice section in their game book says.

I do understand what you are driving at with "control" or "credibility"--however I think the nuances of that are being ignored and are very important. If the GM is not in synch with the lumply-System, the social dynamic of the group, then such methods may very well not be credible or controling at all (and since the GM cannot force play to continue if the players are fed up, if the game is to continue the GM will have to change his or her input to something that is actually found to be more credible).

What gives the GM actual, real, crediblity is a complex issue based on mechanics and social dynamics. That the GM has control over anything but, effectively, ending the game, is, IMO, an illusion.

You could asign a GM some kind of "Domain of Responsibility: the world" and then define it to be that the GM gets most of the direct input as to what happens there (still gated by the player's willingness to accept that and continue playing--thus, responsibily can be 'missused'). Whether that term is any better, I don't know--but I think the discussion about when and how a GM provides input to the game is only part of a larger issue as to what the range and limits on that input can be.

-Marco
Logged

---------------------------------------------
JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
http://www.jagsrpg.org
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland
Pages: 1 2 [3] 4
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!