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Author Topic: Less Points of Contact for me, thanks  (Read 8577 times)
Frank T
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« on: April 16, 2006, 11:25:16 AM »

Once again, I owe a big Thank You to Ralph Mazza who, this time quite unintentionally, triggered an important realization for me. He did so by asking the seemingly harmless question about last year's single best gaming moment. That made me think real hard about the games I played throughout last year. And between all the pervy forgy games I have been boasting about all along, I find myself picking an almost-freeform Unknown Armies game as the single best one.

So I go consider. Those good games of Dogs, and PtA, and Polaris. What was missing? Why didn't they have me as delighted as some games of past years, or as said Unknown Armies session? When talking about the Dogs/PtA/Polaris games, I really felt they should have. But now I see why they didn't: Looking back, analyzing play, I focused on the fiction we created, and on the choices I as a player made. Those were great, real good stuff, shared Creative Agenda and all. Sounded like a hell of a game, just like in all those Forge actual play posts that sound so absolutely tremendous and make me want to play all those games straight away.

But I forgot the technical level. The way those fictional contents and choices were negotiated between the players. It's a Technical Agenda thing. I just don't like too many Points of Contact. It's not my thing. Also, I don't like it when conflicts of interest are resolved all mechanically, and the SIS stuff becomes optional. I prefer it if conflicts are resolved by player negotiation, deeply rooted in the SIS and in-game casualty, and assisted, not replaced, by fortune mechanics.

I confirmed this today when I played in two consecutive games of Capes and The Shadow of Yesterday. I just like the way things are negotiated in TSoY much better, especially outside bringing down the pain. It's like... y'know... the SIS is more important to the game. We're still addressing premise every now and then, and I really love the keys and the way they bring out what's important to the players, but we're not going through some highly formalized process that require us to think in game procedures most of the time. We're just negotiating freely.

Now that I realize this, I wonder what took me so long to figure it out. But well. The implications on my actual play and game design will be much harder to grog.

Any comments? Anyone been here before can tell me what's the next step?

- Frank
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2006, 02:58:34 PM »

Any comments? Anyone been here before can tell me what's the next step?

Frank,

I fuckin' feel what you're saying, man. It's how I am, as well - the very-formalized games don't work for me.

My next step when I realized how I wanted the game to play, but I wanted features of new-style games, especially that thing where the players tell the GM what they want to see, and then they get rewarded for pursuing it - I made a game called TSOY.

If I can make a suggestion, try stepping made and playing some older indie games. I think Sorcerer and you would get along.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2006, 05:41:07 PM »

Hi Frank,

I agree with Clinton, but I also want to raise another, deeper point for you to consider.

When someone contributes something solely verbally to the SIS, it is neither more nor less "artificial" or "immersive" or whatever term you want to use, than someone contributing the same thing with dice or cards involved as well.

Think about that for a minute. There is only one way for something to enter the SIS - if it is communicated among the group. It doesn't matter whether dice were rolled before that communication or not, at the highest, most analytical level.

In some cases, people have found ways to let the dice construct constraints on what can get communicated next. Historically, this has been a deprotagonizing constraint. Now, people are interested in letting those dice become creative springboards. Here's an analogy: a trumpet cannot make the same sounds as a kettledrum, which is a constraint - but that same fact allows certain specific things to be done with a trumpet which are joyous in their own right.

I suggest that you are accustomed to playing in such a way that when dice get rolling, everyone stops communicating about the SIS. When dice aren't involved, everyone switches "on" and communicates about it. This is your habit, and your general idea of how play works.

So I'm now going to imagine that you are playing a game like, say, My Life with Master or The Shab al-Hiri Roach, in which dice-rolls occur very early in a resolution proces. You roll the dice. You and the rest of the group switch off communicating about the SIS and look around for some points to cross off or some other mathematical thing to do, which is what dice are for, in your minds. But, oh no! In these games, there is very little to do, mathematically. Instead, somehow you are supposed to start contributing to the SIS right at that point, right when the dice hit the table. However, having already shut off, you're now in the position of starting up all over again, and faced with communicating about the SIS "from the beginning" with these big, nasty, numbers on the big, pointy dice staring at you and insisting on being included.

I will be very clear: this habit of yours is common and it's easy to understand why it's become common. However, your habits are not the same as "you." You can recognize, I think, that if I say "I run past the door!" during a game, it can enter the SIS and be exciting in either case: (a) because I'm about to roll dice, or (b) because I just rolled dice. What I think you should consider is when, and why, you switch off from the SIS when you pick up dice or have to look at what they've rolled.

And also consider, perhaps, that in many games, the dice and cards work in such a way that they let you know whether you have the trumpet or the kettledrum, at the moment.

Best, Ron
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rafial
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« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2006, 06:11:07 PM »

Hmmm...  Good post Ron.  Because I was about to jump in and say huh, because what I like about TSOY is that from my experience, it's got *lots* of great points of contact with the SIS.  And I like that, because it lets me reach out and grab the system and steady myself, and makes the SIS feel real nice and *solid* for me.  And after reading Ron's post, I can see how my impression and Frank's impression can be both be different parts of the same camel.
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Frank T
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« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2006, 12:58:40 AM »

Well, TSoY still has quite some points of contact, which is fine with me. Especially the instant feedback of the reward mechanics is great, much better than awarding XP after the session.

Ron, I think what you say is true for many gamers. However, I have tried for the past year as best I could to go along with all sorts of different approaches to SIS negotiation. I had some good games of PtA, with some awesome narrations after rolling for conflict. I played Dogs and thought: Wow, without the raising and seeing around, we never would have made such a cool fiction.

But. I only just realized what I like about the oldschool way of negotiating the SIS. Which is: You take a piece from the SIS and use it to negotiate. The SIS reinforces itself. It makes you think about the SIS in order to negotiate further. Maybe, looking back, the fiction you create isn't as cool as the one you made with a highly procedural game. Not even as rich and detailed. But along the process of negotiating, you were more invested in the SIS.

This is strictly the way I feel about this personally. I'm not sure if it has anything to do with "immersion", or what people generally call immersion. To me, it's not about "staying in character" or "not being distracted from the SIS". It's just about thinking more about the already existing SIS elements, and less about game procedures.

- Frank
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coffeestain
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« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2006, 03:52:16 AM »

Frank,

Can you explain how games like DitV, Polaris, and PTA make the existing elements of the SIS irrelevant to future contributions?  Because I don't buy that and I want to know why we're not seeing it in the same way.

If I did believe that was the case, I wouldn't be at all interested in those sorts of games either.  I can see how these games can place some creative constraints on the players, but I think saying those constraints make the existing SIS "optional" is an exaggeration.

Regards,
Daniel
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Frank T
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« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2006, 05:00:42 AM »

Hey Daniel,

I think saying those constraints make the existing SIS "optional" is an exaggeration.

You are right. The SIS is not optional in PtA, or Dogs, or Polaris. And the SIS still reinforces itself to some degree in those games. But look at these actions:

PtA: Frame a scene, set stakes for a conflict, narrate the outcome of a conflict.
Dogs: Set stakes for a conflict, pick your raise or see.
Polaris: Frame a scene, issue a conflict statement.

All these are governed by the games' rules in terms of procedures. No one can argue with you about it, unless you are way out of bounds with what seems fitting to the already existing SIS elements. In other words, you don't need the already established SIS to back you up. The mechanical procedure is is perfectly sufficient to get credibility and alter the SIS.

Now lets look at TSoY for contrast. If you want to make something happen here as a player, you absolutely need to rely on the already established SIS, and use the in-game causality (not casualty...) to argue your point. Maybe you'll make an ability check, even get into Bringing Down the Pain, but you always start with something that has already been established.

This is not a quality issue, mind you. Neither is it to say that the SIS in PtA, Dogs or Polaris is lame. On the contrary. As I said, the fictional content of the SIS was freaking cool in most of the games of PtA, Dogs and Polaris I've been in. But still, I personally feel more invested in the SIS if I need to rely on it in order to gain credibility. Plus, I don't like procedures that might keep me from using the SIS in that way. Like:

PtA: A great opportunity opens up but my character is at Screen Presence 1 for this episode, so I cannot grab the opportunity unless I want to steal the other player's spotlight.
Dogs: My character is bystander to a conflict, and I would intervene for just a single raise, but that can only happen if a) the player in the conflict agrees or b) we open up a new conflict entirely.
Polaris: My Protagonist gets involved in a conflict, but I'm neither heart nor mistaken, so I have to discuss what my Protagonist does with those players.

Now please, there is no need for PtA, Dogs and Polaris fans to jump in and tell me how all of this can be easily handled. I know perfectly well that these things can be worked out. I do see the logic behind the procedures and the way they help create certain fictional contents. I'll also probably play more of these games because I like them. Still the less pervy games seem to work better for me.

- Frank
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2006, 01:51:05 PM »

I think the title may be a misnomer; it seems to me that the difference you're talking about is not more vs. less points of contact, but where those points of contact lie. PTA, for example, has very few PoC in general, and the points that it DOES have are of course keyed precisely to the game's goals. There is NO in-game lodeling for different kinds of events in a physics sense, very little data to define a character, and what data there is, has its effect in play in a very simple way. Where the points DO contact is mainly in the conflict of interest arena where you'd prefer to use straight negoatiation. So understandably it gets in your way to have a set of cards saying, "no, Susan doesn't relent and forgive Alex." Myself, I get annoyed in the same way with different points of contact, mainly physical ones that say things like, "no, sorry, Dorian can't rush to Eris' side and take the Death Curse in her place, 'cause he can only move 30' and she's 40' away. . ."

So yeah, it's a matter of perspective, and of course preference. The points of contact that bug me in tSoY, for instance, is they way Keys work in advancement, specifically the, uh, specificity of what actions grant exp, like, "gain 1 xp when you do THIS, and gain 3 xp when you do THIS." It really turned me off to a game that otherwise looked like a lot of fun. But obviously for some people, like yourself and of course Clinton, it IS fun, and agame like PTA less fun.

Peace,
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Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2006, 09:01:35 PM »

Hi Frank,

All these are governed by the games' rules in terms of procedures. No one can argue with you about it, unless you are way out of bounds with what seems fitting to the already existing SIS elements. In other words, you don't need the already established SIS to back you up. The mechanical procedure is is perfectly sufficient to get credibility and alter the SIS.
Could you be seeing it as creating 'conch shell' play?

I'll quote Ron replying to Raven out of the recent deaths door thread. It was a good thread.
Quote
Raven, one thing I've been encouraging and experiencing for a few years now, is that spotlight time during role-playing is not monologuing, but rather being the recipient of enthusiastic suggestions, cheerleading, and a general verbal barrage. This is the norm in my current regular group, and any time the spotlight-person doesn't feel like dealing with it, he or she just says, "shut up, let me do it," and everyone else does.

Remember the excited chatter that accompanied every stated action in our game of It Was a Mutual Decision? Not only was it present within a given team (all the guys / all the gals) but also across teams, and in many cases, suggestions from the other "side" were accepted and utilized. It may have been our turn to "speak" as a group, but if Juli or Kelli said X, we listened to X as if it had been piped up by anyone in the group. When you see the rules, you'll see that this wasn't a happy accident in that particular group, but explicitly present in the rules with procedures to make it happen.

This is a big deal. I've been pretty fervent about this topic in narration-heavy games ranging from The Pool to Trollbabe to Polaris. Everyone can talk. One person has the rubber-stamp, possibly a conductor's baton, and if they want to use it, the gavel. They do not have a conch, which inflicts silence and deference upon everyone else as soon as one person has it. Major principle: conch play is no fun.

Conchs may seem reassuring if the person has been trained in play or (as you describe, Raven) has a background of being ignored or silenced. But that reassuring quality is an illusion, a sweet notion that disappears as soon as you hold it for a bit and play turns into a series of struggling monologues delivered in voids, and people dread their turn to speak, not out of shyness, but because it's dull.
Raven didn't actually want conch shell play, as he noted in that thread. But I'm posting it because much like wanting rules to create conch shell play, one could also percieve rules as being there to create conch shell play. What do you think?
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
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« Reply #9 on: April 17, 2006, 10:17:32 PM »

FRANK! BA-BY!!

I prefer it if conflicts are resolved by player negotiation, deeply rooted in the SIS and in-game casualty, and assisted, not replaced, by fortune mechanics.

Quote
Well, TSoY still has quite some points of contact, which is fine with me. Especially the instant feedback of the reward mechanics is great, much better than awarding XP after the session.

You just described the exact kind of play I’ve been playing for the last 9 or so years and have been trying to peel apart here for over 2 years.

Quote
I only just realized what I like about the oldschool way of negotiating the SIS. Which is: You take a piece from the SIS and use it to negotiate. The SIS reinforces itself. It makes you think about the SIS in order to negotiate further.

What you have described is mythic bricolage.  When that process is prioritized you’ve entered into the Sim Agenda.

Quote
This is strictly the way I feel about this personally. I'm not sure if it has anything to do with "immersion", or what people generally call immersion. To me, it's not about "staying in character" or "not being distracted from the SIS". It's just about thinking more about the already existing SIS elements, and less about game procedures.

You are absolutely correct in that it doesn’t have to have anything to do with “immersion.”  It isn’t it about “staying in character” nor is it an issue of "not being distracted from the SIS."

It is exactly as you have described it – It's just about thinking more about the already existing SIS elements, and less about game procedures.

Frank, allot of the noise you’re getting is from the paradigm of mechanics drive play.  And it is true – for Narrativism and Gamism.  The big brick wall I’d been slamming into was arguing, though never so cleanly as you just did, that the SIS is not just what is being made possible by mechanics, but rather the SIS provides its own means for continued furtherance.  Or as you more effectively said – “…take a piece from the SIS and use it to negotiate.  It makes you think about the SIS in order to negotiate further.”

That is Sim – if it is the prioritized mode of play.

There is lots and lots and lots going on between the players in such play, much of which is way below the radar screen.  Unfortunately this is where Chris’ articles come in.  There are “procedures of play” and there are “rules,” but they are negotiated during play in the concrete and not in the abstract.  “In the concrete meaning” the player does something in the SIS which implies a “rule” and it is accepted by the whole of the table (The Lumpley Principle.)  Much of what does get accepted does not require a FK resolution mechanic but is a process of give and take between players at the table.  Typically the volley is between GM and player, but I do not think it “must” be this way.  Also that give and take is rarely an accept/deny duality but typically partial acts with few to lots of complications/entailments volleyed back and forth.

In Nar we do concrete things in the SIS to imply thematic statements.  In Gam we do concrete things in the SIS to imply our guts and skillfulness.  In Sim we do concrete things in the SIS to imply further “rules” that reside within the SIS.  By “rules” I do not mean mechanics or physics but any behavior or population of objects that is predictable to some degree.  I should note, and wonder if this resonates with you or not, is that in the game I play in its not success or failure, powerful thematic moment but rather new and interesting interpretations of the SIS (and source material) that get the most “rewards” in play.

The end result is a “Dream” that is more than what it was when we first sat down to play.  But to make this work one must pay very, very close attention to the SIS

I am curious to read more about what is going on in your mind.
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Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.

Jay
Frank T
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« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2006, 01:23:06 AM »

Joel,

The „less PoC“ statement was mainly about Capes vs. TSoY. You are right, PtA doesn’t have such many PoC if you count them one by one. But if you look at an Actual Play of PtA, you’ll find that these few PoC are extremely important to what happens in the SIS. So I’d say it may be low PoC nominally, but it is high PoC qualitatively. Let’s not argue this though, since you have understood my primary point. Just to be sure: I’m not interested in rules for movement or lifting capacity either. I’d also like to stress that I still had fun playing PtA. I was just, up to now, wondering why it didn’t knock me off my feet, given the fantastic stories we told. The answer is right here in this thread.

Callan,

I see where you’re getting at. However, in the games I played, for the most part, there was a fair amount of kibitzing, cheering and the like. With our “Veritas Mundi” PtA game, Nicolas used to say that it was a perfect example of how he had always wanted to play. So no, I don’t think my problem has anything to do with conch shell play.

Jay,

Sweet! Yes, your points about Bricolage make sense to me. I’m not so sure about the Creative Agenda part, but I’ll leave that for the specialists to figure out. I’m mostly about Technical Agenda here. So yeah, that’s it, I guess. I’m a Bricolage guy.

Quote
I should note, and wonder if this resonates with you or not, is that in the game I play in its not success or failure, powerful thematic moment but rather new and interesting interpretations of the SIS (and source material) that get the most “rewards” in play.

That depends a lot, since it’s been a long time that I had a regular group. I have played in games that used the style of negotiation I describe above and were quite focussed on completing some sort of “mission”, with varying levels of competition among the participants. My take is that this was High Exploration Gamist play, with a powerful Challenge and the performance required by the players happening strictly in terms of judging and utilizing the established SIS elements.

I have played in other games using this style of negotiation in which powerful thematic moments were present, and appreciated by the participants. Yet other games fell apart because the players were obviously pursuing different creative goals. I for my part can say that I tend to find “mere” interpretation of SIS and source material boring after a short while (this used to be different in the past). I mostly rely on hard conflicts of interest to drive play.

- Frank
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2006, 10:14:36 AM »

Frank,

Yeah, I gotcha. I think my comments were more refining than disputing. And about the movement rate comment, that was simply the first example that popped into my head of PoC that drive me nuts, not necessarily that I thought those were the PoC that you were after. And of course I did also add the example of tSoY PoC that bug me. So anyway, yes, I believe we're clear.

Man, all this talking in letters feels like a military operation or something. . .:)

Peace,
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Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
Frank T
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« Reply #12 on: May 03, 2006, 10:14:01 AM »

So, I'm back after thinking this through for a while and talking it over on my Blog and Forum. The title of this thread doesn't nail what I'm about. I'm not about Points of Contact. I'm about making the SIS matter. As in: Currency, Resolution and Reward System are tied to what happens or has already happened in the SIS.

I shall call this style of play SIS-heavy. Now, if you play SIS-heavy, what happens is that you are forced to pay more attention to the details of the SIS, which probably leaves less time for addressing premise or stepping on up. I don't know. Procedural games like PtA enable you to focus the fiction very forcefully on what really matters to the story. PtA especially enables you to tell amazing stories, fast, witty and meaningful. You can still do this when playing SIS-heavy, as many an Actual Play thread of Sorcerer or TSoY has proved. But you cannot nearly do it as efficiently.

Even if it bogs you down on the one hand, though, there is a return on the investment in the SIS, at least for me. When playing SIS-heavy, the characters and the world feel more important and also more real to me. They matter more to me.

Does this mean I have entered into the Sim Agenda, and possible addresses of premise or challenge are just supportive acts? Or is SIS-heavy vs. procedural a Techniques level preference that does not relate to Creative Agenda? I don't have a clue, but one way or another, this has been an important realization to me.

- Frank
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donbaloo
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« Reply #13 on: May 03, 2006, 11:16:09 AM »

Hey Frank.  Awesome thread, as you're putting into words some of my own frustrations that I haven't even been able to pinpoint really.  I'm finding several of these threads here lately, folks describing what I'm dealing with when I can't even come to grips with it myself.  I like your notion of SIS-heavy because I've been waffling between what my group prefers GNS wise, but I know for a fact we fall under your description of SIS-heavy.  And you've enlightened me as to why we're having trouble with some of the procedures involved in the new games we're trying.  We're accustomed to play wherein lots of story "conflicts" sometimes get negotiated out according to the SIS around us.  What makes sense for the story within the boundaries of the "known world" as we've created it?  As a result, we found ourselves in TSoY playing out scenes and negotiating out conflicts (in character more or less) according to their logical conclusions within the SIS and then we'd stop and think, hmmm, that probably should have been a mechanic driven conflict.  I know you used TSoY for the other end of the argument originally but its what I have to go on.

Its also probably why when I listen to various play sessions of PTA and DiTV, or read Actual Play posts that really focus on the meta-game conversations, I can't connect with how exciting it is for the players.  There's more talk about what "we" want to see happen and why than there is of the thing actually happening.

Admittedly, I've very little of substance to add to the thread.  But I do want to ask, so what now Frank?  You've had this realization but what does it mean in regards to what you'll be playing next?  Or designing, if that's what you're working on?  What system can get this done most effectively for you?
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Chris McNeilly
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« Reply #14 on: May 03, 2006, 11:24:40 AM »

Can someone give me concrete examples of Points of Contact, please?
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