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Author Topic: the big three you never see  (Read 14838 times)
Paul Czege
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« on: November 26, 2001, 09:18:00 AM »

Hey everyone,

I was sitting last night reading Hardball, by Chris Matthews, and had an awareness that the fiction and nonfiction I read, and the movies and television programs I watch are utterly pervaded by three specific narrative situations that in contrast are almost entirely absent from roleplaying games: politics, law, and medicine. I used to watch ER obsessively, until it got sucky, and like a dork I bought and read The Medicine of ER to better understand the terminology and treatments, and the drama and reversals in the conditions of the patients. I've read The Making of a Surgeon, Scott Turow's One-L, about his first year at Harvard Law School, F. Lee Bailey's To Be a Trial Lawyer, and Roy Black's Black's Law. I used to watch L.A. Law, and The Practice. I watch The West Wing. TV shows and movies are full to overflowing with lawyers and doctors and politicians: A Few Good Men, JFK, Extreme Measures, Thirteen Days, Presumed Innocent, and a zillion more. We're fascinated by them as a culture. Yet I've never seen a roleplaying game or scenario that featured a player character group of politicians, doctors, or lawyers. Why do you think that is? I know I've personally never tackled it. Is there some unconscious hurdle? Games have mechanics to simulate firearms combat, why not the practice of law, medicine, or politics? I haven't seen GURPS Lawyers, GURPS Doctors, or GURPS Elected Office on the SJG publishing plan. What do you think?

Paul

[ This Message was edited by: Paul Czege on 2001-11-26 12:18 ]
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jburneko
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« Reply #1 on: November 26, 2001, 09:47:00 AM »

Hello Paul,

It's funny you should bring this up because I was thinking about this very thing just a day or two ago.  It seems to me that this is related to my "Roleplaying The Ordinary" thread but with a different emphasis.  You're right.  Why don't we see, "Legal Thriller: The RPG"

The quick snap answer is: Too much technical information.  

But that doesn't necessarily have to be the case.

Back in High School I did Mock Trial.  Now that I think about it, that really just boiled down to a Gamist LARP.  In this case you really do need as much real technical information as humanly possible because that's the whole point of play.  The idea was to see how close to a real trial you could get and if you could win.  There's a level of Gamist abstraction in the form of a time limit and deliberately ambiguous set of facts designed to level the playing field.

However, speaking from a Narrativist point of view the technical information and detail isn't really what shows like The Practice are about.  Sure, they try to be as acurate as possible and a lot of suspense and drama comes from some of the nail biting technicalites regarding the rules of evidence BUT the real story weight comes from the effects of those trials on the participants.  In the case of a show like The Practice, it's the lawyer's themselves.

It's issues like: What do you do when you have to defend a man you know is guilty?  What do you do when you have to defend a man who is paid to plead guilty and you know he's innocent?  What comes first, The Client, The Law, Morality, or your Career?  These are the things that actually make these kinds of stories compelling and I think these questions are fair game for an RPG.

So yeah, I think a kind of Legal Handbook for RPG players would be cool.  It would present the technicalities in a sort of a watered down digest form so that players can get a feel for the various hoops lawyers have to jump through to be used as the player's feel fit.  Given this I don't see why an abstract resolution method such a Story Engine wouldn't do the trick.  You could use the sourcebook to tell you exactly what's decided at an arraignment vs. a hearing vs. an actual trial vs. different kinds of settlement meetings and then just use a story engine scene resolution roll to determine the outcomes of those different kinds of legal conflicts.

All this of course applies to Medical and Political situations as well.  Basically you need to identify the Premise behind these kinds of stories, you need access to some kind of Jargon and Procedures for Dummies to get a feel for the technicality without needing a degree and then some kind of a abstract resolution system to resolve those various points of conflict.

Jesse
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: November 26, 2001, 11:21:00 AM »

I don't buy it, Jesse.

When I play a wizard I don't actually know squat about magic. I just announce my intent and all I have to know is what dice to roll. Any drama that may occur has nothing to do with my technical knowledge of magic and everything to do with playing a person in a situation. The Premise of Sorcerer is not "how to summon demons in Ron's world". In fact you won't find any details on how to summon a demon in Sorcerer. Just how many dice to roll, and a suggestion that you make the description make sense to what you're character is attempting.

In a Lawyers game, I think that most players can get by with what they know from watching Law & Order. For a medical game ER. And, heck, there's hardly anything technical to politics at all. West Wing viewing would make you a good player, I'd guess. Just as my Tolkien will get me through Fantasy.

I think that what makes these sorts of games rare is a few simple things. First, is the wargaming heritage thing. Not enough killin' in these sorts of games. You'd think that after a quarter century we'd have everything, but we just haven't gotten through it all yet (though isn't somebody doing an ER RPG?). Another reason was mentioned recently, and that is that these genre's are not as escapist as others. Which is what many are looking for in RPG's. Doctors, well, maybe, but how many fantasize about being a Lawyer or Politician? Just doesn't have the glitz of Space Marine.

And it's already been done, actually. Sorta. Sure no specific game has been written for these things (that I'm aware of,tho it wouldn't surprise me to find one somewhere), but most generic games would suffice, and probably do for those GMs who want to work up such a one shot. Or even for a campaign, though I'd think that even more rare. I find that the idea of tailored games, for games that resemble our world, strikes me as odd. Not that it couldn't be done. But I'll probably grab GURPS and go from there. I'm sure the players will catch on.

Another problem that I see is that these sorts of games would have to be all about mystery. Doctors diagnose. Lawyers dig for evidence. With politicians it's constant determining strategy. This is fine, except that, like all mystery stuff, there ends up a lot of GM leading, usually (Gives me an idea...). As Ron says, this doesn't always make for the best Nar play. Yet it seems like Nar territory for some reason. Conflict there.

The last reason that it hasn't been done is because you haven't done it yet. Let us know when you have it all worked out. :wink:

Mike

P.S. I had a good friend who is a lawyer and wrote a RPGish boardgame called Big City Shysters. Loads of fun as a satire. The object of the game was, of course, money. Justice, when it occured, was a byproduct.
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jburneko
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« Reply #3 on: November 26, 2001, 11:40:00 AM »

Hello Again,

With all due respect I think you may have missed the point of my thread.  I said that I think the reason it hasn't been done is that there is this perception that there is too much technical information.  The post then went on to explain how the real "meat" behind a legal thriller is the moral issues that don't really need technical details to be explored.  I said with a BASIC technical reference, i.e. something that basically summarizes what we can glean from watching a show like The Practice we can add a semi-believable foundation for which an abastract conflict resolution system can be used.

So, in essance.  We agree.

And I think you hit the two bigger nails on the head anyway.  Wargamming roots, and Escapism.

I also don't think the clue centric mystery would be counter to the narrativist "feel" that you're getting.  I think the idea is where the priorities lie.  If you've agreed to defend a client and then while building your case you discover concrete proof that he's guilty then what do you do?  The Narrativist simply puts more game weight on that question than on the actual clue hunt itself.

Jesse


[ This Message was edited by: jburneko on 2001-11-26 14:41 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: November 26, 2001, 11:51:00 AM »

Hey,

Jesse's on it, to my way of thinking.

I'd like to add Romance to the mix, both in positive terms of "will Mr.-Obviously-Right and Ms.-Obviously-Right get together" and in negative terms of "I can't believe that cheating skunk is doing it again." Pure soap opera, without any parody.

We are discussing human conflicts: obligations, lying, love (and not), and conflicts of interests. Without these, no stories. With these, stories can be made using otherwise utterly fantastic elements.

I could go into my patented rant now about how science fiction of merit is NOT speculative in any way, or about how fantasy fiction of merit is NOT escapist.

Instead, I will restrain myself merely to pointing out that when an allegedly "story-type" RPG premise has strayed from steak (the above conflicts) to sizzle (eight centuries of detailed pseudo-history, whether past or present), then I'm gone.

(Just so no one feels especially picked on, I consider 20+ pages of critical hit tables to be sizzle too.)

Best,
Ron
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #5 on: November 26, 2001, 12:11:00 PM »

As a former trial attorney, I would fervently agree that only a basic knowledge of legal process would be necessary to run a good story centered on human conflicts and dramatic moral dilemmas.

Story Engine?  Yeah.  That'd be a good pick if I were running a trial.  Set each scene to correspond with the parts of the trial you wanted to cover, and it doesn't get too technical.  Basically, you'd skip voir dire (the most important part of the trial IMO) unless you absolutely wanted to deal with specific jurors to weight the drama a bit further.  You'd probably want to drop opening arguments also, since opening argument does nothing more than outline what you're going to talk about -- you're not allowed to openly advocate anything at that point.  Then move to key witness testimony and focus on the absolute meat of that examination.  You wouldn't want to go through any of the tedious foundation setting, document introduction, etc.  Keep objections to a minimum, since many get extremely technical and interrupt the flow of the trial (sometimes a good reason to make one, even if you know it'll be overruled), then move to examination of THE key witness, which is where most TV and movie trials get their big bang.  Finally, go to closing arguments, which are dramatic and lay out the two sides in clear, though often polarizing, language.

Traits could be general: Technical Knowledge and Persuasion, or you could break it down to a more granular set of Examination, Argument, Evidence, [subject] Knowledge (e.g., Criminal Law, Appellate Procedure, etc.), Ethics, and the like.  Alternatively, you could take a Hero Wars approach and have skills like Flimflam Jury, Good Ol' Country Lawyering, Dramatic Pause, Accuse, Badger, Poker Face, Pettifoggery (with a nod to Pelgrane Press), Make Lame Argument Sound Plausible, Gregory Peck Impression, Make Nice with Cops, False Sincerity, Generate Paperwork, and Plausible Denial.

Don't worry about legal accuracy; most TV and movie trials drive me nuts.  I sit there muttering, "Object-object-object!" or "WTF? Mistrial!"  (For what it's worth, The Practice seems to be the exception.  For a great example of abysmal legal ethics, watch Ally McBeal.) Focus on the core moral dilemma at stake.  Sometimes it's the lawyer's choice to make, sometimes it's the client's.

Practically speaking, you can go out right now and grab a writer's book on medical thrillers or legal mysteries or police procedure.  There are a ton of great genre-specific sourcebooks in that market.

Best,

Blake

[ This Message was edited by: Blake Hutchins on 2001-11-26 15:21 ]
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #6 on: November 26, 2001, 12:23:00 PM »

Heh.

Just for the record, Ward 13 is a medical drama game using the InSpectres rules.  I'm not saying it's a great one, but it was inspired by ER (and The Kingdom).  The supernatural stuff is fluff; the game really is about trying to do your job and save people, despite all sorts of obstacles.

Paul, someone out there feels the same way you do.  :smile:

- Scott
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John Wick
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« Reply #7 on: November 26, 2001, 01:09:00 PM »

The reason we don't see Lawyer/Doctor/Politician RPGs?

Because they can't kick down the door, kill the ork and take his stuff.

I'm not joking.

Take care,
John
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: November 26, 2001, 01:25:00 PM »

Hey,

If I'm reading John's post right, what we're talking about is access to imaginary power, of the abusive variety.

I certainly agree that a vast amount of role-playing is exerted in order to accomplish this. The question is whether role-playing, in and of itself, is composed of Nothing But.

I would disagree (using "would," since no one has actually proposed this) that role-playing is composed of Nothing But access to imaginary, abusive power. Mean-spirited as Violence is, and to a lesser extent Power Kill, these essays criticize that approach. SOME degree of faith exists out there that role-playing, that is, the actual act, can be based on something else.

Could a role-playing game based on something else be written and marketed? I think it can be. I think John has himself authored a game or two that fits this bill.

Can such a game be a rock-em, blow-out, total Hit that brings young gamers streaming into stores? Well, probably not. Could such a game ... IF stores were very different from the way they are now .. IF certain other details of Ye Olde Industry were changed ... could such a game actually attract the interest of potential role-players?

Maaaaaybe.

Best,
Ron
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #9 on: November 26, 2001, 02:03:00 PM »

John,

That'd be the Criminal Defendant RPG.  You've just described some of my former clients, only without mentioning the copious amounts of crank and Olde English 800 involved.

Best,

Blake
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joshua neff
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« Reply #10 on: November 26, 2001, 02:42:00 PM »

I love this thread, because as much as I love the sizzle of secret histories & weird cabals & mad science & strange magic & whatnot, I would love to see more "non-genre" (for lack of a much better term) RPGs. Police dramas, legal dramas, medical dramas (or comedies--a Barney Miller RPG anyone?), or Jared's high school RPG for example.

Ron, I think, is right. The lack of slam-bang "kick down the door & kill the orcs" action wouldn't bring in loads of new, young players anymore than Love & Rockets or Strangers in Paradise brings in lots of readers, especially when they're on the same rack as Chastity & manga adaptations of Star Wars. They certainly wouldn't bring in more 13-year-old boys. But I think they would bring in different roleplayers, people who maybe didn't think they'd be into the activity, precisely because they thought it was all about "Dude! My ranger just went to 7th level because we killed that lich mage!" Obviously, RPGs aren't solely about that.

Business aspects aside, I agree that law is not the main issue of a TV show about lawyers (as Blake said, watch 5 minutes of Ally McBeal--even a non-lawyer like me squirms at the absolute travesty of law in that show), it, like pretty much most stories, is about human relationships. What's Buffy the Vampire Slayer about? Kicking demon ass & casting cool spells? Nope. It's about love.

So, on one hand I'd say you want an RPG about cops? Or doctors? Or lawyers? Run Sorcerer & have the players make all the PCs be cops (no, not like Demon Cops--more like Homicide), or lawyers, or doctors. Or do the same with Mage or Changeling or Witchcraft. On the other hand, remove all the kewl whistles & bells--have the game be solely about cops or lawyers or doctors (or go with Ron's idea & run a straight, no-parody-intended romance, which I think would be really cool). As has already been suggested, Story Engine be good for that. Hell, you could use GURPS or Hero if you wanted to (yeah, Paul, there are no GURPS supplements for that, but how hard would it be to write up your own stuff for it?).

I personally don't know anyone who only reads SF, fantasy, & horror, only watches genre TV & movies--so why limit ourselves to "fantastical" RPGs? (I also agree with Ron--the best fantasy is absolutely not about escapism.)

[ This Message was edited by: joshua neff on 2001-11-26 17:44 ]
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« Reply #11 on: November 26, 2001, 03:46:00 PM »

Quote
Ron Edwards wrote:

Could a role-playing game based on something else be written and marketed? I think it can be.is a market for it.

[ This Message was edited by: Le Joueur on 2001-11-26 18:52 ]
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #12 on: November 26, 2001, 03:49:00 PM »

(Even more interesting, Fang & I were writing our responses at the same time and we both made the same point.  He stated it better, but I offer a possible solution, such as it is.)

Interesting.  I've been thinking along these same lines myself.  Partially because I've been a long time ER fan, mostly because I've been a Crichton fan, partially because lately I've been watching movies based on John Grisham novels.

I'm not up on politics for RPG potential, but that's just me.  In either case, I'll offer my thoughts.

The problem with lawyer, doctor, politician or even Iron Chef RPGs is that it's tough to figure out how to make it work w/o sending the players to law school or medical school or what-have-you.

This is a bigger problem to circumnavigate than one might think.  The comparason to magic made earlier in this thread is not as helpful since unlike magic, the law and medicine are real.  With magic you can make up any old thing or research deeply into occult or wiccan or Qabals or whatever to make it "real."  However, lawyering and doctoring have very real proceedures and elements that cannot be boiled down to such euphuisms as "I cast my Fireball spell, that cost me 8 magic points."

Some people are stickers for accuracy and will notice when a game glosses over elements of the practice, or worse, gets them wrong.

I agree that the real drive behind these stories are the human relationships, but a system is hardly needed for that.  At least I don't see the point.  Personally, we could simply have the characters interact with each other and be done with it w/o any system to back it up.  Besides, such a system could wide up being as confining as we pretend alignments are.

This is why I personally believe that the place for the system is the nuts & bolts of the game world/setting/whatever.  That's the part that specificly needs a system, I think.

A primer for the practice can be helpful, but it's just a step toward putting the players through eight years of schooling before they really have a handle on the practice.  I'm more in favor in a system that somehow allows the characters to be experts in their chosen field while the player remain as blisfully ignorant as they've always been.

This is sort of what I attempted in my game with the Crisis Situation mechanic.  I came up with it while trying to dope out how to do an ER RPG.  Essentially, the players are dealt cards and they play them in turn similar to Uno or Crazy Eights (but w/o the Draw or Wild cards) by following suit or number.  The suits tell you how the situation is going.  A simple version is black = bad  red = good.  The means that when it is going bad, it will more likely continue to go bad since it's easier to follow suit than number, but it can still change at any minute.

The beautiful part of the Crisis Situation is when you play a card, you may say anything that reflects the situation *Including something accurate.*  I could see an ER-like trauma being played out and a Lavage (sp?) kit is called for even though it has nothing whatsoever to do with the case at hand and is not a proceedure to use.

I could see this being altered to fit lawyer arguing a case in court or pretty much any situation.  I'll bet there are different way to do this, too.

As to Mr. Wick's comment.  Well, if you keep selling RPGs to D&D player, yeah!  You've got to somehow get people not interesting in D&D to find out about and play your game.  If you spend enough time on an RPG forum, newsgroup, chatroom, etc. eventually someone will say something about bringing new people into the hobby, how it needs new blood.  This is true, but usually such statements go along with some home brewed game they've cobbled up, which is usually a D&D clone (or at least a GURPS clone)

How the hell will you bring new people into the RPG hobby with the same old thing?  We need new bait.  That's what The Forge is for, right?

[ This Message was edited by: pblock on 2001-11-26 19:12 ]
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #13 on: November 26, 2001, 11:11:00 PM »

If I remember right, a long time ago I read a non-Dune Frank Herbert novel called "The Dosdai Experiement" in which the main character has to deal with an alien legal system.  That's one solution to the problem of real-world knowledge - shift the context.  You don't have to go the whole way and invent a new culture/system if that's not the direction/feel you want in the game.  Just make it somehow clear (alternate history?  social-contract suspension of the right to say "that's not how it really works"?) that what the game is about is the issues that arise in a (e.g.) legal context, and the details may NOT match the "real world".  As others have said, audiences make that kind of mental bargain all the time when watching legal-derived drama.  RPG participants should be capable of the same.

Gordon
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contracycle
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« Reply #14 on: November 27, 2001, 02:02:00 AM »

I agree, shift the context.  I'm a big fan of the ide of historically inspired RPG's - not necessarily the Secret History approach either.  Rather than trial lawyers the RPG, I think the roman senate might make a better situation.

On the role of violence, I have come to think this is a necessary part of the kind of tension we require to motivate emotional investment by the players.  I would not be too firm about that, because I think its possible to create other kinds of tension, but whether they have enough bite to sustain interest over time is something else.  I will be addressing this in terms of the dynamic role of the antithesis in my dialectics essay, if it ever gets finished.

Quote

What's Buffy the Vampire Slayer about? Kicking demon ass & casting cool spells? Nope. It's about love.


Which is why its unwatchable garbage, IMO.  All it really is is Yet Another Soap Opera - dull and shallow.

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