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Author Topic: The Lumpley Principle Goes Wading  (Read 20509 times)
Paganini
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« on: August 02, 2003, 10:27:52 AM »

Ejh posted to this old thread:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6537

And here is my reply:

Ejh,

I think you're on the right track, but are in semantic danger.

The thing is, it really is true that rules don't represent the game world. See, the game world doesn't need representing. The game world is the sum total of what we imagine - no more, no less. As you've said, mechanics lend weight to a particular course of imagining. (The reason that a praticular course should be given weight is not defined at the mechanical level; it's an artifact of the social contract layer.) But, mechanics don't tell us what the game world is like, they encourage us - via the distribution of credibility - to imagine the game world in a certain way.

Take Facts in Universalis for example. In Universalis, Facts are the representational element you're talking about; in your example, the Strength of a TFT character is a Fact. Let's say that a group has defined the Fact that "cows can't fly." Is this modeling the game world? Well, no, not really, because the mere existence of this Fact does not, in fact, mean that cows can't fly. What it does mean is that a narration including flying cows has less weight than that doesn't include flying cows. It means that it will be more difficult - but not impossible - for the player to have his narration be incorporated into the imagined reality. In Universalis, the strictness with which this is enforced depends on the lenience of the group (how often they invoke the Challenge mechanics). In more usual games, the strictness tends to be built into the mechanics, leading to a sort of "vote with feet" situation, where the players ignore rules that encourage them to imagine something that they don't care to imagine.
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kamikaze
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« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2003, 02:31:11 PM »

Quote from: Paganini
Ejh posted to this old thread:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=6537
The thing is, it really is true that rules don't represent the game world. See, the game world doesn't need representing. The game world is the sum total of what we imagine - no more, no less. As you've said, mechanics lend weight to a particular course of imagining. (The reason that a praticular course should be given weight is not defined at the mechanical level; it's an artifact of the social contract layer.) But, mechanics don't tell us what the game world is like, they encourage us - via the distribution of credibility - to imagine the game world in a certain way.


That seems inconsistent--if mechanics can't dictate anything, they also can't encourage anything, even the distribution of credibility.

But what lumpley said is important here, because it misapplies one view of what happens at a game table to other people who do not play the same way at all.

Quote from: lumpley

the Lumpley Principle.  It's actually really stupid, a triviality: mechanics are a tool for negotiation among the players, no frickin' duh.


This is true in a sense, but it's a trivial distinction in most groups.  Generally, the negotiation is just "I'm the GM tonight, and we're going to be playing System X", and all the players say "Cool!".  At that point, the mechanics have the force of law, and the GM sits as police, judge, jury, and executioner.  Good players are law-abiding citizens, and will follow the rules even when nobody could catch them cheating.  The GM may decide that a law is unreasonable, or that there are extenuating circumstances, but the entire system of law does not disintegrate from one violation.  Unless the players rise up in unified revolt and pelt the GM with dice, they don't get to break or change the law.

In those groups, the GM's authority is derived from the system of law he or she presides over.

  That's pretty much the antithesis of the Lumpley Principle.

Quote from: lumpley
 I wouldn't've ever mentioned it at all, except so many people seem to come into game design with the idea that mechanics exist to represent the stuff of the game world.


Well, yes, many people do come into game design with that idea, because for most games, mechanics do exist to represent the stuff of the game world.

Different groups treat the rules with varying amounts of respect.  A few groups just drop some books on the table for flavor text, but never actually use the rules.  A few groups play completely by the books, with hours-long debates over the precise wording of a rule.  Most groups are somewhere in between, but lean heavily to one extreme or the other.  The vast majority of groups are much closer to "follow the rules" than "freeform" (the simple fact that most groups play xD+D or Rifts suffices to make that true, and even most tabletop WW groups follow the rules, as the freeform types have gone off to play LARP; all other games make up a few percent, and are statistically nonexistent).  The behavior of a group may change from game to game and session to session, but there are strong preferences.

I'll occasionally play freeform games as a change of pace, and I enjoy them if I'm in a frivolous mood and don't take them too seriously, but 99% of my playing time is much closer to "follow the rules", which I find vastly more challenging and intriguing.  That's just my personal taste, and de gustibus non est disputandum.  That's the perspective I use when designing games, which is unsurprising: game designers normally design the kind of games they like to play.  Even DUDE is a "follow the rules" RPG, and it's about as minimal as RPGs get.  Most of my games are much crunchier.  I perpetrated SIX WORD RPG! as a joke about freeform gaming and the profusion of "one page RPGs", not as a real freeform game.

For "follow the rules" groups, the mechanics absolutely do represent how stuff in the game world works.  If I want to know if a character can leap across a chasm, and there's a rule for it, I'll almost certainly use it.  If I want to know how fast a starship can go from Earth to Proxima Centauri, I'll whip out the rulebook and find out.  I don't just bullshit an answer that will change next session.

If you want to look at that as a social contract enforcing consistent setting, which merely happens to use rulebooks, you can, but it's a distinction without a difference: the results are the same as actually following the rules.  I certainly do not describe my behavior that way, though.  I follow the rules because the rules model how the game world works, I don't want to be inconsistent, and I think it makes a better game, a more fun game, to succeed or fail depending on how well you understand the world rather than how well you can schmooze the GM.

Game mechanics are no different from any other text in an RPG; they're all "rules", in that it expresses the nature of the game world.  If you have a descriptive passage saying that the sky is green, and mechanics allowing you to test the frequency of light from the sky and determine that it's green, those have the same effect.  If the descriptive text says that fights are deadly, but the mechanics show that fighting is easy and safe, they're inconsistent, and one or the other must be mistaken.  I don't think either is privileged information; maybe the mechanics need to be fixed, maybe the descriptive text is wrong.

Freeform groups, by the nature of what they like playing, have an entirely different viewpoint on the balance of rules.  For those groups, the Lumpley Principle is perhaps true; I really couldn't say.  For rules-leaning groups, it's not meaningful.
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ejh
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« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2003, 02:54:07 PM »

Quote from: Paganini

The thing is, it really is true that rules don't represent the game world. See, the game world doesn't need representing.


Maybe we're using the words "representing" differently; I'm suggesting that anything that communicates the nature of the game world to participants in the game "represents" it to them.  That includes rules, flavortext in the rulebook, character sheets, illustrations, *and* the ongoing dialogue/consensus in the actual played roleplaying game.  If nothing represented the game world, there would be no way to share or express it.

It sounds like you're not including the game dialogue when you talk about representations.  I am.

Quote from: Paganini

The game world is the sum total of what we imagine - no more, no less.


Well, yes, but the reason it's "we" and not "I" imagining it is because it has a representation in our real world: e.g. the ongoing game dialogue, also e.g. the rules and background material and the like.

Quote from: Paganini
As you've said, mechanics lend weight to a particular course of imagining. (The reason that a praticular course should be given weight is not defined at the mechanical level; it's an artifact of the social contract layer.) But, mechanics don't tell us what the game world is like, they encourage us - via the distribution of credibility - to imagine the game world in a certain way.


I'm not sure about that "via the distribution of credibility."  If I look at a character sheet in Melee, where a character has a ST of 20, it describes something in the game world directly, with no "distribution of credibility" in the middle (remember, Melee is not an RPG, it's a boardgame/wargame).  I know that character, in the gameworld, kicks ass.

If I look at a TFT character sheet (TFT *is* an RPG), I have exactly the same knowledge about a character in the game.  Why do I now have to interpolate "via the distribution of crediblity"?

Let's say nobody ever actually plays either game.  These were just characters made for a session that never happens.  I can still draw conclusions from the character sheets about the game world.

Or did I just tip my hand as to a conceptual gulf here?  When I say "the game was never played but I'm still talking about the game world" am I talking nonsense, because the game world doesn't exist except to the degree it is manifested in players-and-GM dialogue in actual play?

Because if you would make that objection, then I know exactly where we're disagreeing, and why, and I'm satisifed not to take it any further -- we're both quite correct given different assumptions/definitions.
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John Kim
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« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2003, 03:04:39 PM »

Quote from: Paganini
  The thing is, it really is true that rules don't represent the game world. See, the game world doesn't need representing. The game world is the sum total of what we imagine - no more, no less. As you've said, mechanics lend weight to a particular course of imagining. (The reason that a praticular course should be given weight is not defined at the mechanical level; it's an artifact of the social contract layer.) But, mechanics don't tell us what the game world is like, they encourage us - via the distribution of credibility - to imagine the game world in a certain way.

Take Facts in Universalis for example.

Well, by taking a system like Universalis as your example, you are ignoring what mechanics do in many other systems.  Not all games are universal systems, though.  Sure, it is inherently true that a system like Universalis or FUDGE isn't going to tell us anything about the game-world.  But there are lots of non-generic systems as well.  

For example, consider Traveller character generation -- or for that matter world generation (from Book 6: Scouts).  I'm having a hard time seeing how these work by apportioning credibility.  I would not that in practice, these mechanics are often used when the player or GM is alone.  

Ed suggests the example of Strength in Melee and TFT.  However, I'd suggest a different example.  The magic rules in Skyrealms of Jorune are vital to communicating the what the game world is like.  It is a terrific world, and these rules are integral to communicating features of it.
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ejh
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« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2003, 03:10:55 PM »

Kamikaze --

My turn to defend the Principle.  I don't think anything you've said has contradicted the principle as Vincent set it out, with one exception.  When Vincent says "rules don't represent the game world" that sets off bells and whistles and seems way wrong to you.  I think it's infelicitous of him to put it that way.

How about "unlike other games, besides just the rules and the numbers on the sheet, in an RPG, there is a consensus between GM and players about what happened, arrived at by dialogue.  This is the most important representation of 'what happens in the game world' -- what the GM and players agree happened, happened.  Period.  Now, one of the ways we achieve that agreement, is consulting the rules for issues that they cover.  It is a ground rule that anything the rules cover, they must be consulted on, and anyone who agrees with what they say has credibility, and anyone who disagrees has zero credibility, and in unclear cases the GM rules.  Period."

That's a way of describing how the rules "distribute credibility" without disagreeing with your "I'm a hardcore rules-consulting dude, not one of these freeform freaks" attitude at all.

The rules distribute credibility because they *do* represent the game world, and they validate the credibility of any player or GM who agrees with them.  Of course, the game itself can cover a lot more than any rules could cover, because the game relies on another form of representation *besides* rules -- the verbal consensus of the GM and players.  And such verbal consensus is much more flexible than any rules system.  But where the rules do say anything, they *determine credibility* by *representing the game world*.

Though I've been disagreeing with some of the details of how it's phrased, I think you're selling the Lumpley Principle short when you write it off as "something that only applies to those freeform games."  It is most certainly attempting to describe *exactly* the kind of heavily rules-following game you are saying it doesn't apply to, and your arguments as to why it doesn't apply seem more to me to be a result of Vincent and Paganini having expressed it infelicitously on some occasions than a result of any actual deficiencies in the principle itself.
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Paganini
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« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2003, 03:15:43 PM »

Quote from: ejh
I'm not sure about that "via the distribution of credibility."  If I look at a character sheet in Melee, where a character has a ST of 20, it describes something in the game world directly, with no "distribution of credibility" in the middle (remember, Melee is not an RPG, it's a boardgame/wargame).  I know that character, in the gameworld, kicks ass.

If I look at a TFT character sheet (TFT *is* an RPG), I have exactly the same knowledge about a character in the game.  Why do I now have to interpolate "via the distribution of crediblity"?


It's the same either way; that is, credibility is present in both of your examples. (In fact, credibility is always present, regardless. It's a *principle* after all, not an approach. ;) Say your character has a ST of 20 and you say "I lift the boulder." The GM says "it's too heavy for you to lift." Depending on the specific mechanical constructs of the game, your ST of 20 will lend credibility to one statement or the other. It may be that your character was given a ST of 20 "because that's what he would be able to lift in real life," but in actual, active function, what the rules *do* is to say "who's wish is likely to come true."

The nature of credibility is such that it is not absolute. Your statement may be credible, but still be overidden depending on the circumstances. In one way, this is the real sticking point of GNS priorities and System Matters. Your GNS priority may say you need to lift the boulder, but your system is lending credibility to the outcome that the boulder is not lifted. When this type of conflict happens, system chunks are often tossed to the dogs. (This is, of course, assuming that the group is GNS compatible to begine with.)

Quote
Or did I just tip my hand as to a conceptual gulf here?  When I say "the game was never played but I'm still talking about the game world" am I talking nonsense, because the game world doesn't exist except to the degree it is manifested in actual play?


Well, there is that, too. The line between play and not-play is a bit hazy. I remember a couple of threads about whether or not chargen is play, and whether or not reading setting material constitutes play. My current stance is that the game world doesn't exist unless we imagine it. Your character having a ST of 20 really doesn't say anything at all about how that character will function in the game world. We can't know until we see how the players play. Until the actual play ocurrs, your ST of 20 is just weight in a particular direction.
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C. Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2003, 03:20:55 PM »

Hey Ed,

Quote from: ejh
I'm not sure about that "via the distribution of credibility." If I look at a character sheet in Melee, where a character has a ST of 20, it describes something in the game world directly, with no "distribution of credibility" in the middle (remember, Melee is not an RPG, it's a boardgame/wargame). I know that character, in the gameworld, kicks ass.


That ST of 20 tells you that when you encounter a node of 'credibility conflict' that involves the character's strength that there's a good chance you will 'win'. That ST of 20 represents how much credibility you have in conflicts involving strength. You're more likely to get your way (to say what happens, basically) in an encounter involving your character's strength. The only reason that has any correlation to the game-world is because we name it 'strength', imagine it, and give those numbers context.  All games boil down to credibility distribution, IMO.

-Chris

edit: So, yeah, I just basically said what Nathan said above. :)
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Paganini
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« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2003, 03:29:33 PM »

Quote from: John Kim
Well, by taking a system like Universalis as your example, you are ignoring what mechanics do in many other systems.  Not all games are universal systems, though.  Sure, it is inherently true that a system like Universalis or FUDGE isn't going to tell us anything about the game-world.  But there are lots of non-generic systems as well.


John, you've missed my point. Think of it this way; Any world-information you care to name is nothing more and nothing less than a collection of Universalis Facts. (Facts that are pre-Proposed by the designer, yes, but that makes no difference.) Their function is not to provide hard-and-fast information, but to send our imaginations in a particular direction.

Edit:

Take a look at what Chris just said above in the context of my discussion of Universalis Facts. "The only reason that has any correlation to the game-world is because we name it 'strength', imagine it, and give those numbers context." That's exactly what I'm talking about. It *appears* to be information about the game-world, but it might just as well not, because such an appearance is not crucial to its functionality.
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John Kim
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« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2003, 03:56:11 PM »

Quote from: ejh
 How about "unlike other games, besides just the rules and the numbers on the sheet, in an RPG, there is a consensus between GM and players about what happened, arrived at by dialogue.  This is the most important representation of 'what happens in the game world' -- what the GM and players agree happened, happened.  Period.  Now, one of the ways we achieve that agreement, is consulting the rules for issues that they cover.  It is a ground rule that anything the rules cover, they must be consulted on, and anyone who agrees with what they say has credibility, and anyone who disagrees has zero credibility, and in unclear cases the GM rules.  Period."  

I'm not sure how this differs from other games.  I mean, say I'm playing a game of Carcassonne (a tile-laying boardgame).  What happens is what we the players agree on happens.  For example, the rules might not allow a player to take back a move, but we could agree to let Laura take a move back because she's had a hard day.  Agreement among the players always trumps what the printed rules say, for any game.
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- John
ejh
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« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2003, 04:06:13 PM »

OK, Nathan and Chris, I think we've encountered the real source of discrepancy.  I'm pretty sure I detect in both your replies the assumption that the "game world" only exists in actual play; that the statement "My character's ST is 20" says ZILCH about the game world directly -- the only way it describes the game world is by describing what might possibly happen during play because of it.

Given that assumption, the Lumpley Principle follows: if the "actual play" dialogue is the only "real" definition/depiction/representation of the imaginary game world, then it follows logically that anything else only contributes to representing the imaginary game world by affecting the "actual play" dialogue.  QED.  True by definition.  (Which is why Lumpley has sometimes described the principle as "duh, big whoop.")

The "in game dialogue and consensus defines/depicts/represents the gameworld" is the distinguishing feature of RPGs.  As far as I know, it is unique to RPGs.

However, the fact remains that RPGs have traditionally included other features besides in-game dialogue which are capable of definining/depicting/representing an imaginary world.

Game rules and tokens and stats are capable of depicting an imaginary world.  They do so in wargames.

The 'writeups' in rulebooks and supplements are narrative and description, and obviously written text is capable of depicting an imaginary world.  Little thing called a 'novel' and all that.

The illustrations in rulebooks and supplements, and maps and illustrations made by the players, are capable of depicting an imaginary world.

I've basically never played Runequest, but I know a lot about the imaginary world of Glorantha.  I can tell a Dragonewt from a Morokanth and I know that crystals are the blood of the gods, and all that.  I know that because of representations of those things in the rulebooks.

Now, because the in-game dialogue is the unique defining feature of a roleplaying game, it may be seen as the *privileged* representation of the imaginary world, and from that point of view what you are saying may be completely correct.  However, even so, the in-game dialogue is not the only thing that is capable of representing that imaginary world.

In fact, it is by representing the game-world that traditional RPG rules "distribute credibility" (i.e. affect the in-game dialogue representation of the game-world).  As I said above, in-game dialogue which accords with the representation in the rules is seen as credibile; that which doesn't is seen as incredible, in instances where the rules are consulted.

Hence we have both the Lumpley Principle as obviously true, and the Lumpley Principle as obviously false -- it depends on whether you are taking for granted that in-game dialogue between players and GM is the royal road to imagining the gameworld, and that any other depiction of the gameworld is of secondary relevance at best.

I'm personally not committed to either side of that issue -- as far as I'm concerned, it's a matter of choice of terms and definitions, and I don't have a ton invested in either way of defining it.
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ejh
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« Reply #10 on: August 02, 2003, 04:19:01 PM »

Quote from: John Kim
I'm not sure how this differs from other games.  I mean, say I'm playing a game of Carcassonne (a tile-laying boardgame).  What happens is what we the players agree on happens.  For example, the rules might not allow a player to take back a move, but we could agree to let Laura take a move back because she's had a hard day.  Agreement among the players always trumps what the printed rules say, for any game.


Cause in Carcassone, it doesn't really make any sense to go off into discussions of what is happening in the game world outside the board and the pieces, and expect that to have any effect on the game.  In an RPG it does.

In an RPG, something can "happen" in the game world without anything in particular happening in the rules -- nothing is written on a character sheet, no dice are rolled, etc.  It just happens because people say it happens.  And that's expected, it's part of the game.  Not so in Carcassone (I assume).
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kamikaze
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« Reply #11 on: August 02, 2003, 04:26:42 PM »

Quote from: ejh
Though I've been disagreeing with some of the details of how it's phrased, I think you're selling the Lumpley Principle short when you write it off as "something that only applies to those freeform games."  It is most certainly attempting to describe *exactly* the kind of heavily rules-following game you are saying it doesn't apply to, and your arguments as to why it doesn't apply seem more to me to be a result of Vincent and Paganini having expressed it infelicitously on some occasions than a result of any actual deficiencies in the principle itself.


A principle only says what the actual words of it say, at least from my "follow the rules" viewpoint :).  If someone wants to make a Lumpley Principle v1.1, that's a different matter, but there is no Platonic ideal which the current expression is a shadowy reflection of, there are only the words written down.

Those words may well be correct for games where everyone has an equal voice in the law (freeform games), but are not correct for some other set of games where the rules are the law, the GM is their arbiter, and the players are citizens living under that law.

In "follow the rules" groups, the principle as it has been expressed is directly contrary to how games are usually played.  Negotiation past "we will play with these rules/setting, and you get to be the GM" is rare in the groups I usually play with.

In saying "The rules distribute credibility because they *do* represent the game world", you've just said the exact opposite of what lumpley posted.  That doesn't look like agreement with a principle.  Given that, I think we need a clarification from lumpley as to what he meant, or would like to mean, before we can have any idea if it's correct or incorrect.
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Paganini
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« Reply #12 on: August 02, 2003, 04:36:52 PM »

Ed,

Quote from: ejh
OK, Nathan and Chris, I think we've encountered the real source of discrepancy.  I'm pretty sure I detect in both your replies the assumption that the "game world" only exists in actual play; that the statement "My character's ST is 20" says ZILCH about the game world directly -- the only way it describes the game world is by describing what might possibly happen during play because of it.

Given that assumption, the Lumpley Principle follows: if the "actual play" dialogue is the only "real" definition/depiction/representation of the imaginary game world, then it follows logically that anything else only contributes to representing the imaginary game world by affecting the "actual play" dialogue.  QED.  True by definition.  (Which is why Lumpley has sometimes described the principle as "duh, big whoop.")


Yup.

Quote

The "in game dialogue and consensus defines/depicts/represents the gameworld" is the distinguishing feature of RPGs.  As far as I know, it is unique to RPGs.


I look at it somewhat differently; witness John's previous comments. In any social activity (well, of this type anyway; I guess sports don't count :), what happens is what the players decide happens. Deciding on a rules-set is the just a first step in that direction. A set of rules is a shortcut to concensus. None of the participants have anything invested in following a particular set of rules, beyond the fact that they said they would. It's social contract at every level; rules suggest direction, inform expectation. We throw out or change the parts that we don't want. Have you ever played monopoly (or poker, or any such game) with people who use house rules? Same kind of deal.

Quote
However, the fact remains that RPGs have traditionally included other features besides in-game dialogue which are capable of definining/depicting/representing an imaginary world.


I think this is outside the scope of the discussion. I can represent a fictional world in my sandbox without it being an RPG. The lumpley principle says that game mechanics distribute credibility. If we're not gaming, there are no mechanics, and no credibility to distribute. (You can't have credibility without things being said and people to say them.)
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #13 on: August 02, 2003, 04:43:28 PM »

Quote from: kamikaze
Those words may well be correct for games where everyone has an equal voice in the law (freeform games), but are not correct for some other set of games where the rules are the law, the GM is their arbiter, and the players are citizens living under that law.

I am rather tired of these semantics debates of late. I disagree here. In such cases, the players have decided to abide by the rules, thus they have argeed to the rules being law and the GM being the final arbiter. That is, no one held a gun to the players head and forced them to play in this manner. They agreed to it. This fits neatly into the Lumpley principle as I have come to understand it. Has it changed now?
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C. Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: August 02, 2003, 04:51:47 PM »

Hey Ed,

Just something I want to tack on to Nathan's last post:

Having pieces of narrative and other things that represent the game-world outside of play is fine, but once play begins the manner in which the system apportions credibility may have a profound effect on your perception of that world.

Read a 'Forgotten Realms' novel then go play in that setting using D&D 3e. Then take that same setting and play using The Riddle of Steel. The mechanics shape the medium, in this case that being the imagination. That in turn has an effect on how the setting is realized in play.

-Chris
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