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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 85 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: Storypunk and Transparency  (Read 4248 times)
Jonathan Walton
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« on: February 21, 2003, 02:12:56 PM »

So I was writing the introductory "What is a Roleplaying Game?" section of Storypunk in my head today.  It started out by talking about different types of social contracts: those that govern societal norms, etiquette, business transactions, government, and even things like gender roles.  Then I went on to describe Storypunk as a particular kind of social contract, a set of norms to assist you and your friends/companions in telling certain kinds of stories.  It would explicitly state that the social contract that governs interactions between players is by default more thorough and complex (and DIFFERENT) than what's printed in Storypunk itself.

Okay, so after I imagined the introduction, I thought about how Storypunk is really, at the core, about the social contract.  If you look at my most recent threads on the game, it deals a lot with the delegation of responsibility among players and how you decide who will take care of what.  Basically, it's a game where messing with the social contract is part of the premise.  The contract is always up for renegotiation during play and it's the adaptation of the social contract that provides excitement and complications.

Furthermore, I realized that Storypunk really isn't GM-less.  It just won't mention the possibility of a GM at all.  Instead, it will simply set out a long list of various responsibilities that the players can choose to distribute (or not distribute) however they wish.  If you want to give a whole ton of power to a single player, that's cool, but it won't necessarily yield the kind of game experience that you want.  However, it is taken for granted that the original distribution of responsibilities won't work.  It relies on the fact that social contracts are flawed systems that can't possibly stand in the face of changing situations.  So the social contract is forced to change and adapt as the game progresses.  Sometimes, having a powerful, dictatorial player might be helpful in finding direction, but most of the time it might just be annoying (especially if you don't agree with what that player is doing).

To speak on another issue, things like narrative themes and player immersion in a character is a part of the system.  The players take on the roles of various characters in the course of the game and use these to acquire certain themes, mostly through repetition.  If you keep playing tragic characters, you might build a theme of Tradgedy that will dog you until you move on to happier stuff.

Basically, I'm pondering changing my design premise (what's been dubbed my "Intent") from "How do you make players take collective responsibility for the game?" to "How do you illustrate what roleplaying is really about?"  Similar to the way that Scott McCloud used comics to explain comics, I'd be using a roleplaying game to explain roleplaying.  Some people have voiced the idea of an "Understanding Roleplaying" book/game before, but I really feel like I'm close to something that might fill this niche.

And so I'm thinking about the idea of transparency.  I want (according to the new design premise, which is still tenative) to make every part of Storypunk to be directly linked to how roleplaying theoretically works.  By making the social contract, themes, immersion, stances, and other bits of theory the subject of the game itself, I hope to say something meaningful about roleplaying while writing a game that is very entertaining.

Am I crazy?  Does this sound possible?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2003, 02:14:40 PM »

Hi Jonathan,

You totally lost me with the transparency part. What does that concept have to do with the other point, the one that teaches what-is-role-playing via a role-playing text? What do you mean by "transparency" in the first place?

Best,
Ron
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2003, 02:48:25 PM »

Sorry Ron, I guess my stream-of-conscious rant wasn't very clear.  Let me try again...

When I mentioned "transparency" in the title I was refering to the way most guidelines in other roleplaying games don't come out and explicitly describe why they're there.  Take the GM.  I don't think I've ever read a gaming text that defended the existence of a GM or explained why you need to roll dice a certain way to arbitrate conflicts.  I'm not saying this is bad.  Often times you want the rules to hide the social contract and other things that you want players to take for granted and forget about.

So, when I speak of transparency in Storypunk, I'm saying that I don't want the system to conceal any of the inner workings.  If there are issues that the social contract needs to resolve, then the players should have to come to a decision collectively.  If the players want to question other players' actions or take issue with the delegation of power and responsbilities, they can just do it, without having a system that specifically allows for it.

Maybe if I came up with some examples:

-- Let's take Protagonism.  Say I want to write a game where different players can vie for being the protagonist.  Sometimes the action focuses on one character and sometimes another, based on who current has control of this postion.  I set up a mechanic (either Fortune-based or Fortuneless) where the players can spend points or roll dice to regain Protagonism for their character or another character of their choice.  The rules specifically say that if a character is designated the protagonist, all attention and action should focus on him/her.  Sound okay?

-- In Storypunk, this would work rather differently.  The method for resolving a dispute would be the social contract itself.  There would be no default rules governing how the social contract arbitrates which character gets to be the Protagonist... unless the players decide on one together.  Think of it kind of like Universalis, except that you'd be applying Rule Gimmicks to the social contract itself.

Bob says "Why can't I be the protagonist?"

Jill says "Well, okay.  It's not fair that I get it all the time.  How about we take turns, so we each get a chance to be the protagonist in alternating stories.  Once this story is over, you can be the protagonist in the next one."

Bob says "Okay."

Later on, Jill and Bob meet Angela, who joins their group.  Since they now have 3 people, the taking turns gimmick alters a little.  Now Bob only gets to be the protagonist every 3 stories, which doesn't sit well with him.  After all, Angela says that she doesn't particularly like being the protagonist, but Jill wants Angela to get practice at it.

Soon, this disagreement could lead to more changes to the social contract.

So, the "transparency" basically refers to the social contract being right out there on the table for everyone to see, critique, and alter, instead of being something that gets taken for granted and arbitrarily controlled by the GM.

Is that clearer?  Anything else I should explain better?
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