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Author Topic: Does Module Play Equal Participationism?  (Read 16525 times)
M. J. Young
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« on: April 28, 2003, 11:40:55 PM »

Over in the thread, http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6242">Do prewritten scenarios=Illusionism/Participationism?,
Quote from: Ron Edwards
M.J., what you describe sounds like straight-head Participation to me. I don't see why or how it's a different category.
He was responding to
Quote from: what I
The basic assumption of module play is that the referee has (either from his own creation or from a published product) a fairly tight concept of what the players are "supposed to do"; the players, as part of the social contract that supports play, have committed themselves to identifying what their characters are supposed to do and to do that.
Module play in this context is the name I've attached to an approach to gaming that is not railroad, and neither what I understand by Illusionism or Participationism; but apparently there's a definitional problem somewhere, which I'm hoping this thread will clarify.

Illusionism seems to be well defined, and is a mode of play I have experienced. This is when it does not matter what the players do, because the referee's story is going to unfold as he planned regardless of their interventions--but they don't know it. In illusionism, the referee is cleverly working the player's choices and actions into his story, and telling them what happens. It would be perfectly reasonable for an illusionist GM having lunch with a friend who is not part of the game to comment on how the story is going to end, because he's already decided that part.

I don't think there's a disagreement there.

My understanding of Participationism is that this is what might be termed Illusionism by consent. It remains the case that the referee is going to run his story, and that it doesn't matter what the players do because the story is going to happen. They will go where they're supposed to go, even if they start out in the wrong direction; they will save the day in the end; they will feel like they were heroes. Along the way they will make decisions and announce actions which will provide color, but which will have absolutely no effect on the outcome. The sole difference between participationism and illusionism is the players know it. They have agreed up front, implicitly or explicitly, that nothing they do will matter.

I've only seen this once; it was in essence what happened when a great illusionist referee was "found out". Some of the players left the game; others became more involved. To at least a couple of them, it became great fun trying to figure out greater and greater things they could throw at him for him to incorporate into the story without derailing the outcome. For others, they were quite comfortable suspending their sense of the futility of their actions, much as all of us are comfortable worrying about whether the hero of an action movie is going to be killed when we know that's impossible.

I didn't coin the term Participationism; if memory serves, that was Mike. At the time, I was pretty certain this was what he meant by it.

This is distinct from what I suggest as Module Play because in module play, although the referee's story is still the expected outcome, what the players choose matters. They have agreed implicitly or explicitly that they are going to commit themselves to following the program intended by the referee. They will look for the hints, and follow the path, and attempt to complete what is expected of them.

It is also an aspect of this sort of play that it is possible for them to fail. This is where the analogies to competition modules and CRPGs come into play: although there is a pre-programmed sequence of events/tasks/elements, the players can go off the thread and lose the game. The commitment is to attempt to stay on the thread and bring about the referee's outcome; but the possibility of reaching that outcome rests with the players, not the referee.

This is only slightly altered if the referee drops hints to bring the players back on track. It is still up to the players to grasp those hints and return to the story if they've gotten lost. In module play, the players must act affirmatively to reach the referee's desired goal, which must be discovered and identified during play. This is distinct from both Illusionism and Participationism in this regard, as in each of these it is entirely incumbent upon the referee to bring the desired goal to pass.

Have I misunderstood Participationism, or have I failed to state a clear difference?

--M. J. Young
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Kester Pelagius
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« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2003, 12:04:36 AM »

Howdy M. J. Young,

For starters, my gut level knee jerk reaction is. . . I don't see the point.

A module is a module.  Just like Monopoly is Monopoly, you know precisely what the goal is supposed to be, but it's in the getting there that the game, and thus fun, is to be found.

Why dissect it?  Ah, but why not, eh?

To me a module has always been representative of a set story encompassing well defined goals.  Now whether or not one label better applies to what a module is or is not becomes difficult to codify for one main reason: every Game Master will approach that same module differently.  Some will be strict, some will play it from the hip.

What a module is, thus, is the sum of the the GM and player inter-relationship.

But the type of module will also change things.  I've read modules that were very linear and might require a rather heavy hand to keep players who liked to wander on track, then again I've seen modules that provide a LOT of room to move around in.  Goals are set, but whether or not the players actually accomplish them are incidental.

Of course the linear modules that require each section be completed in a set sequence will naturally end when the players cease to follow through on the goal.  Which, I always thought, was the point.

Or, to put it another way, a module is a stand alone bit of potential narrative that can be either played with characters generated just for it, integrated into a larger campaign, or. . . well it's really a issue of style isn't it?  Every GM runs their game how they run their game.

Most modules can be just about anything you want them to be.  However not all modules are created equal.  In fact not all modules are even the same, thus they can't all be fit into the pattern you've outlined.  Sure many can, but not all.

When I wrote my adventures I provided set goals with multiple ways for the players to get to the goals, but always knew that the players might not follow through or get side-trekked.  Thus, in the end, what I had was a dynamic set of possibilities that had to be adjudicated based upon what the characters actually did, not what they were 'supposed' to do.

But that's just one possible approach to running a game.

To sum up:  What you're asking is not really a question about the nature of a module, but rather (IMO) a question about GMing style.  Or rather GM approach to how they make use of a module, not so much about the module itself.  The existance of a module in your example is incidental.

Just my opinion.


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2003, 07:59:01 AM »

It is very slightly different, MJ, you've got a point.

The subtle difference is in the fact that you've said that module play allows them to fail. Now, some GMs won't allow that failure, and it becomes participationism if that's obvious, and Illusionism if it's not (I've done the latter a lot; think Fudging die rolls).

But assuming that the GM really allows them to fail, that all is as it is presented, then what you have is non-Forced play for that part. Now, Force was used likely to get the characters to the door. But once there this brand of module play is Open (non-Forced). Note how this is a primary form of Gamist play. The GM selects the "arena", but the players are free to succeed or fail within the arena.

In fact that's a point that Ron made previously himself.

In any case, remember that GMing modes can shift a lot, too. So one moment may actually be Open, and another Forced.

Mike
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2003, 08:20:21 AM »

Quote from: M. J. Young
Have I misunderstood Participationism, or have I failed to state a clear difference?


I'm not certain. I understand Participation to be where the GM has the "oomph" but the curtain, as it were, was up (using the terms in this thread. The players know the GM's control the story, and they're OK with that. This can translate into all kind of player actions. It could be "the players, as part of the social contract that supports play, have committed themselves to identifying what their characters are supposed to do and to do that" or possibly "To at least a couple of them, it became great fun trying to figure out greater and greater things they could throw at him for him to incorporate into the story without derailing the outcome."  The defining feature of Participationism, as I understand it, is that the GM has influence over story-impacting decisions made by the player-characters and the Players know this. From there, it's a matter of how much the GM uses it or not or what the players do to continue to participate in the events of play.

So, what I had jokingly termed "amusmentparkism" in the other thread is a form of participationism. The GM allows for flexibility for the player, but once they hit on one of his plots, they're in for a ride. It is possible for the GM to be felxible in play as far as players actions while it still being Participationism
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2003, 08:55:57 AM »

Hi M.J.,

I'm pretty much in agreement with Jack on this one.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2003, 08:59:33 AM »

Yeah, "amusementparkism" is sorta the opposite of Module play. In that, the player can go wherever they like until they hit a plot, and then the Force comes in. In Module Play, the GM Forces the intro, but then plays open.

I was thinking about it, and most superhero play, at least like we played it, was participationist in it's "plot". That is, the GM says, "Glordo the Beast is attacking the Slatner Building", and off the PCs go to fight it. Basically, the plot is all Forced and rather openly, but the "important" parts of play, the fights, are non-Forced. Sorta like a series of tiny modules.

Note how in many of the cases of the obviously forced stuff (getting to the dungeon, this weeks monster), these things are considered to be unimportant to play. That is, these usually cater to Gamist play where the "plot" is merely the interesting pretext that get's us from arena to arena.

This is as opposed to Sim participationism, where suddenly it's all about the plot, and the players are left only to "act" their parts. Like much of CoC play.

Mike
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2003, 09:18:09 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Yeah, "amusementparkism" is sorta the opposite of Module play. In that, the player can go wherever they like until they hit a plot, and then the Force comes in. In Module Play, the GM Forces the intro, but then plays open.

In the interest of keeping there from being multiple terms for essentially the same thing (not that I think "parkism" should be a term added to the vocabulary, but that's not my decision) it can said that in parkism there are areas of freedom of movement and areas where a plot "ride" kicks in. When you go to a park, you first drive there. That's sort of a ride. Or when I went to Disneyworld, they had the handy tram to bring you from their 100 acre parking lot to the front gate. Also a form of ride. Personally, I see no reason to place both parkism and module play under the same umbrella term, whatever the term if it needs one, with the distinguishing features of the plotted "rides" and the areas of free movement within the "box" of the adventure.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2003, 09:47:18 AM »

See, I see both module play and parkism as simply shifting back and forth between other easy to identify GMing modes. I would only label them phenomenonologically for reference, like you have.

Mike
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2003, 11:48:55 PM »

First, to Kester: the use of the term "module play" is more a temporary designation for a type of game social contract which can be illustrated by a specific approach to a certain kind of module; it was never intended to mean this is how modules are played, but only that I've noticed this style which appears to be different from the others mentioned elsewhere, which seems to be a functional sidestepping of "the impossible thing before breakfast". The question raised was whether this is distinct from what Mike labeled Participationism, or merely another way of describing the same thing.

In my attempt to draw the distinction, part of my question was whether I correctly understood Participationism to mean, in essence, "Illusionism with the consent of the players"; and further, taking that to mean that the players had no power over the outcome of the game nor even the track it followed, but only over things that amounted to color which the referee would work into his story. I think that's how Mike originally presented Participationism (as a sort of functional illusionism, because it was agreed in the social contract), and I think he's confirmed that thought here.

I think that what I've tentatively dubbed "module play" (again, for lack of a better name--something like "track agreement" might be closer) is very different from this in an essential point. But, as often is the case, I may have to get to that in a round-about manner.

I own several Dungeons & Dragons Competition Modules. I've never run or played any of them, largely because I'm always running my own material; but the competition modules have always appealed to me as being among the best I've owned. What interests me about these is the way they appear to be set up for play.

In each case, at the beginning of the module the players are told, this is who you are, this is where you are, and this is the basic idea of what you have to accomplish. This is the starting point. I suppose one could claim that setting the players at the starting point is "railroading"; but I don't see how you could avoid that at some level. As the characters are placed at the starting point, the referee in essence cuts them loose. He will not cause anything to happen at all; he will only unfold what is happening in response to the players' actions.

However, the players have agreed up front that they are determined to discover and accomplish whatever it is that is in the pages of that module. If the task is to find where the ancient mage Ischabuble hid his incants to undo the spell, they will get directions to Ischabuble's tower, figure out how to get in, and search for those incants. There might be a million other things they might do, but they've agreed that they want to do what the module wants them to do.

At no time during play does the referee intervene outside the parameters of what the module allows. That is, there might be "edges of the map" warnings to tell the players they're off track. But the referee does not have the task of making the events happen or bringing about the desired outcome. In fact, it might be that the player characters will fail utterly in their quest, that some or all of them will be killed, that they'll never find what they seek. What won't happen is they won't decide that they're not going to look for these things because they don't think these are important. They have committed themselves up front to accepting that doing what the module says to do is important.

I compared it also to the typical CRPG. I'm not terribly versed in these, having given them up when my Commodore 64 became unreliable. However, I recall playing a text-based version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I particularly remember trying to get the Babel Fish out of the vending machine and into my ear. There is only one way to do it in the game; you either do it that way or you fail. In fact, you absolutely must have the Babel Fish in your ear for the story to continue, so if you fail you're killed in a few minutes. But it's not participationism in the sense I understand the word. The game won't put that fish in my ear or let me get by without it or have Ford Prefect come over to help me with it if I can't figure out how to do it. The game will end, and I will lose. The fact is, when I inserted the disk into my floppy drive to play this game, I was implicitly agreeing that I was going to try to figure out what the game wanted me to do and do that. The fact that I could think of a dozen other ways to get that fish into my ear that ought to work was irrelevant; I had to do what the game required in order to continue.

That's this "module play" I'm describing.

It should be noted that this is presented as a viable and common approach to escaping The Impossible Thing. In this approach, it is the referee's story; he creates it. It is also quite true that the players have complete control over their characters. What makes it work is that the players have agreed (under the social contract) that their characters will pursue the referee's story by whatever means they can manage, and in so doing the players have committed themselves to figuring out what that story is and making it happen.

Again, rather than building a track and keeping the players on it, the referee blazes a trail (that is, he puts markers out along the way for them to find) and hopes the players will be able to follow it.

That might be a good name for it, actually: Trailblazing. The referee has created the story he wants to see played and placed the clues out there for the players to follow; the players, completely uncoerced by anything the referee does or says, commit themselves to finding and following those clues to reach the end of his story.

This becomes dysfunctional either if the players expect the referee to take them where they're supposed to go (participationist players with a trailblazing referee) or conversely if they refuse to follow the clues but would rather create their own stories.

Is that any clearer?

--M. J. Young
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #9 on: April 30, 2003, 05:11:13 AM »

This underscores something I noticed elsewhere, but I think I can put it into simpler terms here.  Illusionism and Participationism (per the new definition) depend on the use of Force (the "influence the GM has influence over story-impacting decisions made by the player-characters") to make them happen.  From the numerous descriptions of what you term 'module play,' this isn't happening.  The players are pretty much left to their own devices with the stated goal of 'following the module.'

Or, the gamemaster isn't expected to 'do it for them.'

Does that help?

Fang Langford
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #10 on: April 30, 2003, 08:26:23 AM »

Quote from: M. J. Young
That might be a good name for it, actually: Trailblazing. The referee has created the story he wants to see played and placed the clues out there for the players to follow; the players, completely uncoerced by anything the referee does or says, commit themselves to finding and following those clues to reach the end of his story.

This becomes dysfunctional either if the players expect the referee to take them where they're supposed to go (participationist players with a trailblazing referee) or conversely if they refuse to follow the clues but would rather create their own stories.

Is that any clearer?

In the second quoted paragraph, I can certainly see it becoming dysfunctional when the players refuse to follow the clues. Using your comparason to text adventures. It would be like trying to make up you own plots in a computer game. It just won't work. But I do not see how participationist players would make this disfunctional because I still see this as just a form of participation. What you have described is a form in which the GM uses a low-level or subtile amount of Force. As I understand it, Participationism means two things: The GM has control of the story and the players do whatever is needed to play along with this. This is how I understand it.

See, Illusionism, as I understand it, is that the GM has control of the story and the players do not know this. Participationism is that they do. Bundled into this concept of the GM controlling the story is the concept of Force which the GM can use to keep things on track.

Way I see it, it boild down to choices. Let me see if I can illustrate it.

Take a group that is playing Illusionism. Suddenly one day, the players realise that they are playing Illusionism. They now have a choice, to stop going along with the GM's plots which will require a complete shift in playing style and may lead to dysfunction if the GM does not wish to budge or they can continue to participate in the GM's plots and, thus, start playing Participationism.

The GM also has certain choices. If the group is playing Participationism but for whatever reason, the group does not follow the plot (either they didn't like it or they diddn't figure it out or whatever) the GM could either allow the players to run off on their tangent and rework his plots accordingly, he could decide to exert Force to bring them back to the plot (depending on how skillfully he does this will determine how well the players take it) or he could allow the play style to shift to something other than Participationism.

These decisions of play style happen all the time, probably in every game session. We're just slapping labels on stuff.

So I do not think Participation requires the players expect the referee to take them where they're supposed to go, as you had said. Participationism merely requires that the players goes along with what the GM has, which can be a fairly fixed plot or can be multiple plots to shame any Choose-You-Own-Adventure book.
Quote
It is also quite true that the players have complete control over their characters. What makes it work is that the players have agreed (under the social contract) that their characters will pursue the referee's story by whatever means they can manage, and in so doing the players have committed themselves to figuring out what that story is and making it happen.

This rather interesting. One might translate this into "You can do whatever you want so long as you do this." But, if you must do this with your complete control, is it really complete control? I believe that so long as everyone plays along with this, it is a form of Participationism.

When it goes awry, there are choices that will be made. When the players go "off the map," as you said, the GM could use Force to bring them back or use Force to take them to another module-- discarding the previous one, or he could drift play to some other style.

This is what I see.
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #11 on: April 30, 2003, 08:37:42 AM »

Quote from: Le Joueur
...Illusionism and Participationism (per the new definition) depend on the use of Force (the "influence the GM has influence over story-impacting decisions made by the player-characters") to make them happen.  From the numerous descriptions of what you term 'module play,' this isn't happening.  The players are pretty much left to their own devices with the stated goal of 'following the module.'

Obviously, I disagree. I think it relies on the *possibility* of the GM using Force. When everthing is running smoothly, the GM won't need to use Force at all. It's when the players stray from the plot that you can tell better. If the GM uses force, then definately, but the GM might be just trying to more artfully use the force so the players do not recognize it as such.
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Kester Pelagius
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« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2003, 09:28:59 AM »

Greetings M. J. Young,

Quote from: M. J. Young
First, to Kester: the use of the term "module play" is more a temporary designation for a type of game social contract which can be illustrated by a specific approach to a certain kind of module<...>

<...>

In my attempt to draw the distinction, part of my question was whether I correctly understood Participationism to mean, in essence, "Illusionism with the consent of the players"; and further, taking that to mean that the players had no power over the outcome of the game nor even the track it followed, but only over things that amounted to color which the referee would work into his story.


Even so I have to reiterate: what is the point?

All games can be classified as "illusionist" in that they provide a specific pre-defined set-up, be it a board or map, in which the players are expected to play.

What is it you are trying to figure out, really, how much 'free will' illusionary characters are allowed in the context of a game?

The answer is: exactly how much room the game allows them to move in.

Or, to put it another way:  Why is this question important to know?


Quote from: M. J. Young
I own several Dungeons & Dragons Competition Modules. I've never run or played any of them, largely because I'm always running my own material; but the competition modules have always appealed to me as being among the best I've owned. What interests me about these is the way they appear to be set up for play.


Right here there's a problem.  You've named a very specific type of module, a type of module intended to be played in a very specific fashion.  Such modules have time limits, scoring, and are usually meant to be played by hardcore gamers at conventions.

A better example, IMO, would have been Ravenloft.  I think its basic premises fit well with your arguement.  Or even Curse of the Azure Bonds, since it has been both CRPG and Module.

Of course these aren't tournament/competition modules.


Quote from: M. J. Young
In each case, at the beginning of the module the players are told, this is who you are, this is where you are, and this is the basic idea of what you have to accomplish. This is the starting point. I suppose one could claim that setting the players at the starting point is "railroading"; but I don't see how you could avoid that at some level. As the characters are placed at the starting point, the referee in essence cuts them loose. He will not cause anything to happen at all; he will only unfold what is happening in response to the players' actions.


First: "background" is not necessarily railroading.  That is the setup which establishes the premise for the adventure/game module.

Railroading is the GM ignoring anything that the players want to do that doesn't fit with their design.  Railroading is a *not so subtle* use of encounters by the GM to get the players to a goal.

For instance:  You mention the edge of the map.  One way to keep players from wandering toward it is to start throwing encounters at them in increasing levels of difficulty to dissuade them from wanting to go in that direction.  But that's not railroading, that's working with the module.  Conversely, the GM deciding they don't want to deal with anything but the players going straight from point A to point B and thus, as they walk along the road, finding reasons to tell the players their characters can't camp, search, explore, or do anything but move from point A to point B is railroading.

Every game requires the illusion of character free will.  But it takes a good GM to maintain this illusion.  And that means working with the players and the module.


Quote from: M. J. Young
However, the players have agreed up front that they are determined to discover and accomplish whatever it is that is in the pages of that module. If the task is to find where the ancient mage Ischabuble hid his incants to undo the spell, they will get directions to Ischabuble's tower, figure out how to get in, and search for those incants. There might be a million other things they might do, but they've agreed that they want to do what the module wants them to do.

At no time during play does the referee intervene outside the parameters of what the module allows. That is, there might be "edges of the map" warnings to tell the players they're off track. But the referee does not have the task of making the events happen or bringing about the desired outcome.


Actually this is incorrect.

It is very much the GMs job, in a tournament type game, to keep the players on track.  Same applies in convention modules, which are less formal tournament modules.  However, in your dorm, garage, basement, or back room of the gaming store game how a module will be run is very different.  Mainly because there are no contraints on how the GM should, can, or could run one.

There are three types of basic encounters that a GM has to arbitrate: Random Encounters, Set Encounters, and (for lack of a better term) "On the Fly" encounters.  These are really just random encounters that the GM is free to place anywhere in the game that they would like.  Not every module makes use of them, but some do.  They are a good GM tool and aide to keep things on track, throw a extra clue in the characters path, or. . . well there's really lots of uses for them.


Quote from: M. J. Young
In fact, it might be that the player characters will fail utterly in their quest, that some or all of them will be killed, that they'll never find what they seek. What won't happen is they won't decide that they're not going to look for these things because they don't think these are important. They have committed themselves up front to accepting that doing what the module says to do is important.


Marginally incorrect.

The players, by mutual consensus, can decide to cease seeking the goal of a module at any point.

The consequences, however, will depend on the type of module being played.  If it's a tournament module, they will effectively have forfeited their score.  If a convention module, they will have forfeited their seat at the table.  If being played at home, depending on whether this module was being integrated into a larger campaign, it could merely end the evenings gaming session or force the GM to rework the remainder of the adventure based on the consequences of the characters taking on a task then abandoning it.



Quote from: M. J. Young
I compared it also to the typical CRPG. I'm not terribly versed in these, having given them up when my Commodore 64 became unreliable. However, I recall playing a text-based version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.


I'm going to stop right here.  The text based games were limited because of what could be coded into them, which limited what you could do in them.  A few better C64 examples for CRPG type games would be: Phantasy, Legend of Black Silver, Wasteland. . .  Ah, Wasteland.

*Kester sits mesmerized by memories of Wasteland*

Yeah, Wasteland or Mars Saga (?) would be perfect examples.  They did let you roam the game map, but many times you had to first find a object or have an encounter to be able to find or encounter something else.



Quote from: M. J. Young
It should be noted that this is presented as a viable and common approach to escaping The Impossible Thing. In this approach, it is the referee's story; he creates it.


Problem is a module really is not "the referee's story".

A Game Master, given this example, is more properly filling the role of rules arbiter.  Which is all a Referee is.

But I think I see what you're tying to say here.  Problem is this is a quandry that will largely depend upon the situation, type of module/play involved, and GM style.


Quote from: M. J. Young
It is also quite true that the players have complete control over their characters. What makes it work is that the players have agreed (under the social contract) that their characters will pursue the referee's story by whatever means they can manage, and in so doing the players have committed themselves to figuring out what that story is and making it happen.


Again, it's not really the Referee's story.  A module is totally prefab.

But, yes, you're right.  The players have to agree to play through the module, at least in principle when they first sit down to roll up characters or choose the ones provided.  In this regard a module is much like any board game.   The players agree to sit down and play according to the rules, be those rules for chess, checkers, backgammon, ludo, or whatever.



Quote from: M. J. Young
Again, rather than building a track and keeping the players on it, the referee blazes a trail (that is, he puts markers out along the way for them to find) and hopes the players will be able to follow it.


Yes, that is possible.  But that is not strictly what a GM does, nor should it be thought to be all that a GM is there for.


Quote from: M. J. Young
That might be a good name for it, actually: Trailblazing. The referee has created the story he wants to see played and placed the clues out there for the players to follow; the players, completely uncoerced by anything the referee does or says, commit themselves to finding and following those clues to reach the end of his story.


Ok I'm confused, this is the third time you've referenced the referee as creator of the story.  This is something entirely different from "module play", unless you are talking about a GM created module?

Just be aware there are other methods.  For instance I have, sitting in a spiral bound folder, somewhere, probably yellowing from age, the first two months of possible play for a old game world of mine.  Yet while it is written up there is a lot of latitude allowed the characters.  I used rumor mills and supplied multiple starts.  I could do this because it was my creation, but for a static module I, as a GM, am limited in what I can do based upon what that module allows.

For instance Ravenloft has address the "edge of the map" issue rather nicely.  So much so that it eventually evolved into its own campaign setting.  Whereas Curse of the Azure Bonds can be called "railroading" since it has a set up that ensnares the players into its premise.  But in reality its just another way of keeping the players on track and away from those edges of the map.

Quote from: M. J. Young
Is that any clearer?


Yes and no.

I still would like to know why the question is important to you as I feel there is some larger issue you are working out here that eludes me.


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
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"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri
M. J. Young
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« Reply #13 on: April 30, 2003, 08:04:23 PM »

I feel like I have to take a step back, and maybe a couple more.

The tag "module play" seems to have confused the issue entirely, as it has brought into this discussion a lot of ideas about how modules are played, and what is meant by a module, and stuff that really has nothing to do with this. The only thing this has to do with modules is that some people use modules this way. Hence I shall refer to it as Trailblazing.

I call it "the referee's story" because it doesn't matter where the story originates. It might be purchased in some supplement, or downloaded off some web site, or pre-written in great detail by the referee, or hard coded into the software of a CRPG, or created as a mere sketch of events by the referee. What matters in terms of role playing game play is that there is a story of some sort in the referee's mind as he sits down to run the game.

I see this as a commonality between Illusionism, Participationism, and Trailblazing. I see the differences in how that story impacts play.

Quite some time back the term Illusionism was presented as a form of play that was regarded as probably dysfunctional and probably railroading. The basic concept of Illusionism is that the referee has a story that is going to play out, and as the game unfolds his story plays out--and nothing the players can do will impact that one way or another, but they are given the feeling that their actions matter. Here are some illusionist techniques that may help illustrate how this works:
    [*]The party comes to a fork in the corridors. They stop and examine both routes as well as they can, and then decide to take the left turning. In fact, it doesn't matter which one they take. One of those corridors leads to the troll encounter which is the next event in the referee's plan, and whichever one they take, it will be that one and not the other that goes there.[*]There is a big boss behind the little villains, and the game is supposed to have the players fight a lot of little villains first and later get to the big boss. The players, however, figure out that the little villains don't matter, and they capture one and interrogate him in a way which gives them the information they need to go around all the intervening little guys and get right to the problem. They go for the big boss, and they attack--but since it's too soon, either this turns out not really to be the big boss, or it is the big boss and he has an escape route of which they were completely unaware which enables him to slip from their clutches. It is impossible for them to reach the big boss without going through the intervening steps, but it will always seem as if they failed to consider something the referee had already prepared.[*]The players are supposed to feel the threat of their situation. Thus the referee throws at them a contingent of some sort of enemy that hits them hard and keeps coming. Combat continues through several rounds, but just as the players are starting to reach critical levels of hit points and other resources, several of the opponents are killed and most of the rest flee--because the referee has been monitoring not the condition of his antagonists but those of the protagonists, whom he has determined will be reduced to a specific level of danger before they move forward.[/list:u]You can see that in this approach to play, the players might feel like they're in control, but they actually control nothing beyond color. They can describe what they're doing, and make choices which seem to have meaning, but all significant events and outcomes are predetermined, and nothing will alter this. When its time to face the final encounter of the game, wherever they go, that's where it will be. If they never suspect, they should come away exhilarated,  feeling as if they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, that they won by mere inches, that in fact they did it, when they actually did nothing. Illusionism can be a very compelling gaming style, as long as the players don't see through the veil and discover that all they're doing is listening to a story. Somewhere I compared it to sitting on grandad's knee as he tells a story:
      "There was a prince."

      "The prince's name was Kester, Grandad."

      "That's right! He had the same name as you."[/list:u]
      It doesn't matter to Grandad that the prince's name was Kester; you added something to the color of the story, but you didn't change the story. That's illusionism.

      Now, Participationism was originally defined something very like "Illusionism by consent". It seems that the gist of this particular thread is what that means. I have taken it to mean that everything just said about Illusionism is true, except for one point: the players know that nothing they do will matter, that they're just adding color to the story, and they've accepted this. They're still like the kid who tells Grandad what name to use for the prince, but they understand that this is not a significant element in the story. They're going to go through the motions and pretend to be doing things, and let the referee bring about the end the way an Illusionist referee does, and enjoy the ride. Tell me a story, and let me throw a bit of color into it from time to time, because you tell good stories and I like listening to them. To me, this is what is meant by "Illusionism by consent". I think that Mike (who coined the term and provided the initial definition) agrees with that, but his post was not completely clear on that point.

      Jack, however, disagrees. To Jack, Participationism means only that everyone knows the referee has a story he wants to tell and that they're willing to go along with that. Whether or not they have control of it makes no difference.

      I see this as a much broader definition of Participationism than was suggested, and probably a broader definition than is really useful. It starts to sound like "the players know that the current adventure involves the relationship of certain facts fixed within the world to each other"--and while in some games the players could know with certainty that this is not true in one way or another (e.g., games in which facts about the world are going to be created as the game progresses, or altered to meet player actions or expectations), it seems much to broad a definition for the purpose of defining a referee style--which is what it's supposed to be. If Participationism means that the referee is going to have total control of the events and outcome of the game, but it's O.K. for the players to be aware of this as long as they're willing to continue under the understanding that their actions are for color only, that describes a functional form of play. If it means something as broad as The World Exists In Fixed Form, that doesn't seem to me to describe anything useful.

      In the midst of discussing dysfunctional play styles versus ways in which The Impossible Thing was resolved, John Kim made a comment about players accepting certain obligations at the beginning of play--that is, we say that the player has complete control over the actions of his character, but if in some D&D style fantasy game the player announces that the character is an elven thief, he has committed himself to playing within the parameters of the elven thief. At the beginning of the game, certain limits are agreed by the group, such as the system of rules, the nature of the world, and the types of character actions which can be performed. John said something about an agreement to play the module, to stay within the confines of the adventure as intended.

      It struck me from that that this was a functional play style which was a distinct and at that point unmentioned resolution of The Impossible Thing: that the referee would bring his story (again, where he gets the story doesn't matter) to the table, and the players would begin at the established starting point, and from that point forward the players had complete control of their characters--they could do whatever they wanted; yet the referee's story would still be played out, if all went well, because the players had committed themselves to discovering and playing out the referee's story. The referee would do nothing to bring the story to pass; if it failed to come to pass, it was because the players couldn't follow the trail he had presented, missed important clues, misunderstood certain hints. Just as there was in Illusionism and Participationism, there was a chain of events which had been laid out before play began which the referee expected would, more or less, happen as preplanned. Unlike Illusionism or Participationism, the referee would do nothing to cause those events to happen beyond provide the clues pointing in the right direction. The players would bring it all to pass, or it would not happen.

      I once ran a module, a slightly enhanced version of The Keep on the Borderlands. My computer had crashed, and taken my prepared materials with it rather abruptly, so I needed something to which to divert the player group rather quickly. I installed a simple hook: the prince of the local city informed the cavalier that monsters of the type that had killed the cavalier's liege (before the game began) had been seen again in the area where his liege had fallen, and good people were needed to drive them back. The group immediately rallied behind this character, and headed out to the location in question, and started searching for the monsters. They did what the module expected them to do. Now, they didn't have to do that. They could have returned to the area of the underground complex they had been exploring, and forced me to improvise with what I had. They could have stayed in the city and carried the adventures into an urban campaign. I had other places they might have gone instead, which were mapped. But I believe a sort of social contract aspect kicked in: they accepted that this was what their characters should do, that it was their job in this particular mode of play to attempt to find and follow the plot, and they did that. I never once forced an outcome or an event after introducing the hook.

      It's not the best example, because of course Borderland is a very simple module that lends itself to non-linear play; but I think it does demonstrate that there is a significant difference in play style between a group in which everyone knows that the referee is going to bring about the story he's brought to the table incorporating them as color within it and a group in which everyone accepts that there is a plotline they're supposed to uncover and follow which the referee has marked but will do nothing about if they miss it.

      Jack claims that both are Participationism. I say that Participationism is the considerably more narrow approach of players who let the referee tell them the story while they drop in bits of color, and that this is sharply different from that to the point that if both are Participationism then Participationism does not define or describe "a style of or approach to gaming". I think it makes a tremendous amount of difference whether everything in the story depends on the referee or the players.

      Thus I suggest Trailblazing as a referee style, which can frequently be seen in module play, CRPGs, and a few other classic gaming situations.

      Does this clarify the point?

      Thanks for your patience.

      --M. J. Young
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    Jack Spencer Jr
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    « Reply #14 on: April 30, 2003, 10:03:07 PM »

    Quote from: M. J. Young
    Jack, however, disagrees. To Jack, Participationism means only that everyone knows the referee has a story he wants to tell and that they're willing to go along with that. Whether or not they have control of it makes no difference.


    Well, let's step back a bit. These are things and behaviors that are and we are just slapping labels on them. It's sort of like sorting apples by roundness and squareness. Rare indeed is the apple that is perfectly round or square.

    What I took from this thread were the concepts of Force, Overtness, and Flexibility. This strikes me as a more useful way of viewing these things that to coin yet another -ism. In fact, I would be happy if Illusionism, Participationism, and The Impossible Thing all fell out of use, but that's just me talking at this particular moment when I am especially bitter about something. :)
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