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Author Topic: [Whitecollar Punks] Ronnies feedback  (Read 2705 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: November 05, 2005, 10:20:32 AM »

Hello,

The last four October Ronnies are giving me fits for their writeups. I've been musing over this one, I wanted to use it to talk more about the whole Parlor Narration issue I brought up in the Ronnies thread.

Part of the Parlor Narration issue is the conch problem. Conch rules solely provide a mechanism for allowing people to soliloquize by turns, with complete control over the SIS in each case. Such rules may be complex, with turns, "spinners," and so on, but ultimately, they say, we're here, so roll, OK I say this.

How is that fixed? Well, one way is to consider the fictional content and how game mechanics change it. In a confrontational game like this one, the fictional stakes need far better definitions, defined specifically as adversity for the characters. That leads directly into the key weakness of conch design, embodied in this phrase:

Quote
If you get the stakes, you get to decide whether or not the stated thing happens.

My response: red flag, instant stop. I know of no successful instances of this approach to play. I've seen it attempted many times, and it's always dreadful; the outcomes become a matter of speech-making, and the course of play is both exhausting and boring. Resolution systems are not, and cannot, be about "getting the right to dictate freeform." Why not? I'll discuss that only with people who post extensively about their real-life experiences in Actual Play.

One of the early versions of PTA was built on that principle, and Matt was 100% correct to change it to a more Dust-Devils-like model, in which stated conflicts were resolved by dice rolls, with narration restricted to describing how. My call is that resolution must be tied to the SIS, not to open doors for freeform "right to say how it goes" in all particulars. I've also argued for that interpretation of The Pool for years, and it forms the basis for my criticisms of octaNe.

Part two of the Parlor Narration issue is structural, although you can think of this as another angle rather than totally separate from the conch thing. Right now, what I'm seeing is that when my character's turn shows up, I get +1 Retirement, then I get a scene for each frustration, with something at stake, and in each one, I have the choice to shirk, submit, or fight. Meanwhile, what's everyone else doing? And what do I do when it's not my turn? As far as I can tell, we all just sit there. Structurally, there seems to be a lot of waiting around, until the Fights start (not to be confused with the "fight" option just mentioned, which is isolated from the other characters).

Part three of the issue involves decreasing the scale of analysis down into the resolution and procedural level within scenes. Bear in mind, addressing only these wouldn't be constructive without looking at the above issues first.

1. Fighting seems bizarre; what, you walk into the other guy's office? Everyone participates in every fight? I'm totally not getting how that happens, fictionally speaking. The ritual/procedure among the people is there (and I sort of like the fists-and-tokens mechanics), but I'm not seeing any SIS that makes any sense to go with it, or that it represents or resolves.

2. Am I reading correctly, that the whole game is over when only one guy finally goes down? Can that be right?

Overall, and again speaking in terms of making/enjoying a fiction, Pain confuses me; it reads more like "Hope" or "Love." If I'm not mistaken, you get the shit beaten out of you, and if you don't die, you can make the world a better place. Otherwise you melt down or give up.

And finally, looking over everything so far, I find these quotes from the text a little puzzling:

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The narrative aesthetic here is about romanticizing the primitive and violen[t] among perfectly normal people.

Quote
The goal of the game is to suffer, and through suffering find the strength to change your life.

This is ... well, let's not get into a debate about the source fiction, because that'll lead us into debating about whether Pahlaniuk is writing novels or extensive whining monologues. What matters is the game. What I'm seeing at present is a means of generating lots of tokens, and then people get to "decide" how those tokens get distributed. And then one's tokens provide various authority mechanisms, including erasing others' previous contributions.

What I'm not seeing is any reason to assign tokens unless I'm assured of killing someone else's character, because all it does is take away my rights to dictate what happens. This is kind of a bummer - literally killing one another's characters in order to maintain the right to speak. What am I missing, Eero?

Oh yes, one little detail: rename Retirement "Capitulation" or something like that.

Best,
Ron
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2005, 02:07:37 AM »

The last four October Ronnies are giving me fits for their writeups. I've been musing over this one, I wanted to use it to talk more about the whole Parlor Narration issue I brought up in the Ronnies thread.

Thanks for the explanation. The conch thing especially was interesting, I'd never considered it such a problem.

Quote
How is that fixed? Well, one way is to consider the fictional content and how game mechanics change it. In a confrontational game like this one, the fictional stakes need far better definitions, defined specifically as adversity for the characters. That leads directly into the key weakness of conch design, embodied in this phrase:

Quote
If you get the stakes, you get to decide whether or not the stated thing happens.

This all comes down to the ultimate reason of fighting, here. I'll explain what I was thinking about it at the time of writing down below.

Quote
Part two of the Parlor Narration issue is structural, although you can think of this as another angle rather than totally separate from the conch thing. Right now, what I'm seeing is that when my character's turn shows up, I get +1 Retirement, then I get a scene for each frustration, with something at stake, and in each one, I have the choice to shirk, submit, or fight. Meanwhile, what's everyone else doing? And what do I do when it's not my turn? As far as I can tell, we all just sit there. Structurally, there seems to be a lot of waiting around, until the Fights start (not to be confused with the "fight" option just mentioned, which is isolated from the other characters).

Except each of the players is gamemastering one of the frustrations for each of the characters, so on another player's turn you're playing his character's loved ones, causing frustrations. I think this is important, because the main motivation for choosing shirking or submitting should be coming from the SIS particulars, which are pretty much delivered by the other players. (You'll note that there's no reason to not shirk ever, unless you consider the stakes set by the other player significant.) Then again, they don't have any significant limitations to how they deliver, so there's not much interaction in these scenes in that regard... The way I was thinking it should work would be a kind of a player-to-player challenge: how tight a scene/situation can I weave from this frustration and still deliver enough punch to force the other player to submit to it? What can I do with this frustration to make the stakes hurt? So it's not meant to take long, just a short vignette of narration, which the active player responds to immediately.

Quote
1. Fighting seems bizarre; what, you walk into the other guy's office? Everyone participates in every fight? I'm totally not getting how that happens, fictionally speaking. The ritual/procedure among the people is there (and I sort of like the fists-and-tokens mechanics), but I'm not seeing any SIS that makes any sense to go with it, or that it represents or resolves.

Here's the crux of the matter, I think. My reasoning here was very much the other way around: you first figure out a tentative scene (the part where somebody claims willingness to fight, that's when they have to come up with a reason and stakes), then everybody decides whether to fight, and with whom. And every fighter has to explain for himself how come he's participating. So in a sense it's that you first have the mechanical incentive to fight, and then you justify it for the narrative somehow.

The intent here was to emphasize the will and the special nature of these "fighters" over the mundane. When the punch is thrown, it's a narrative convention that all these fighters just happen to be around. Perhaps you're alarmed when somebody is thrown out of a window on top of your car? Or a friend phones you from the office and tells of the fight going on? Or you've been stalking that bastard for weeks, just waiting for the opportunity. The reason is very much figured out retroactively.

Perhaps an imaginary example to make sense of it? It's my turn:
Me: OK, I wanna fight. So I break my pencil, get into the car and drive over to that bastard Jim's construction yard.
Jim: Well, that's just fine and dandy with me, pal. I'm itching for a fight meself.
Joe: Hey, I want to participate, too. Is it OK with Jim if I crash my pizza delivery bike by accident on Eero's car just as he's climbing over the construction yard fence?
... and so on. In other words, the SIS situation is created by all the players in tandem. Everybody has the right to narrate himself into the fight, so in that sense everybody is potentially in every fight. But you still have to give some kind of justification in narration. The only actual limitation is that while the active player can try to provoke the fight (say, break something at the construction yard), he cannot initiate the fighting mechanics if the other players are willing to take the provocation. The fight requires two willing participants.

Quote
2. Am I reading correctly, that the whole game is over when only one guy finally goes down? Can that be right?

Yeah, that's it. Mainly it's because I needed some cut-off point, and couldn't be bothered to figure out what to do with a player who's character died. That could probably be handled better, although it should be remembered that this "genre" is not ultimately about people dying. The fighting is more of a therapeutic thing, and if somebody dies, that's because somebody was trying too hard. I was kinda thinking that all the other characters would be pretty shocked by the death of their "friend" and cure their fighting habits, ending the "fight club".

Quote
Overall, and again speaking in terms of making/enjoying a fiction, Pain confuses me; it reads more like "Hope" or "Love." If I'm not mistaken, you get the shit beaten out of you, and if you don't die, you can make the world a better place. Otherwise you melt down or give up.

Guilty as charged. I justify it by the genre; the crude, short-tempered heroes of stuff like Great Teacher Onizuka or Falling Down are logically so wrong in their approach to problems. But, strangely, assuming the story is positive in any sense at all, in the end those same heroes somehow manage to fix things. I read this as meaning that thematically their suffering somehow allows them to solve their problems, and in the end the suffering was not in vain.

So yeah, you could make it so you have "Pain" that is translated into "Hope" or something, but I don't see any need for that. The Pain is Hope and Hope is Pain as far as these guys are concerned. That's why they fight.

Quote
And finally, looking over everything so far, I find these quotes from the text a little puzzling:

Quote
The narrative aesthetic here is about romanticizing the primitive and violent among perfectly normal people.
Quote
The goal of the game is to suffer, and through suffering find the strength to change your life.

This is ... well, let's not get into a debate about the source fiction, because that'll lead us into debating about whether Pahlaniuk is writing novels or extensive whining monologues. What matters is the game. What I'm seeing at present is a means of generating lots of tokens, and then people get to "decide" how those tokens get distributed. And then one's tokens provide various authority mechanisms, including erasing others' previous contributions.

I'm the first to admit that the ultimate reward system in the form of investing Pain tokens is not written as cleanly as it should. I'd have to playtest to get any sense of how to ultimately handle it. But the basic idea should be there: the excess Pain is leached to whatever constructive, outside the character purpose the player wants. He could also improve his own life by removing frustrations with the Pain, or he could opt to let his character die by not leaching the Pain. Whether all this translates into the thematics I outline above I don't know. I take it you think not?

Quote
What I'm not seeing is any reason to assign tokens unless I'm assured of killing someone else's character, because all it does is take away my rights to dictate what happens. This is kind of a bummer - literally killing one another's characters in order to maintain the right to speak. What am I missing, Eero?

I'm probably missing a lot of examples of play. I'm kinda assuming here that the process of narrating frustration and fight scenes necessarily creates SIS content the player invests in to some degree. It doesn't have to be anything big, but the Pain statement thing assumes that you the player want something long-range constructive to resolve from the story. Like, your character is a teacher with really frustrating students, and you want those students to solve their problems and not become a loser like their teacher. That's what you invest Pain for. Additionally, there's the angle of certain death or grind-down if you don't invest Pain. So it's very beneficial to find something constructive for your character to do.

Other than that, I'm not sure I get your meaning above. Investing Pain lessens the chances of your own death and lowers the overall threshold for another character dying. But it's a pretty round-about way of going about killing another player's character. Are we event talking about the Pain statements you make at the end of your turn, or is this something else? Furthermore, how does killing another player's character ensure your right to speak? The game ends when one character dies, so you won't get any more chances than the other player to narrate anything.

Quote
Oh yes, one little detail: rename Retirement "Capitulation" or something like that.

Quite so.

Where's the game at: after your initial Parlor Narration comment I started thinking about dismantling the strict turn-based nature of the game. Which is pretty interesting, because apparently your critique wasn't directed against that at all. Still, I figure that the game could perhaps be better if I removed the turns and made encountering frustration and getting into fights a matter of traditional SIS negotiation, perhaps with a GM. That way players wouldn't be assured of a constant cycle of frustration-cum-pain, but would have to direct their character to it through the SIS events. I might need some basic system for conflict resolution outside fights, but that shouldn't be hard.

Then again, after your comments it seems to me that I apparently have some enormous blind spot here. Your comments read like you aren't seeing anything fun in the game at all, while it seems just dandy to me (well, some mechanics are unnecessarily clumsy, but other than that). I'll have to playtest it, perhaps I'll understand the ultimate point of where you're driving at then. As I understand it, there's some issue with generating SIS, so perhaps I just didn't write down something I consider self-evident?
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