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Title: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Markus on September 10, 2008, 10:15:58 AM
Hello! This is my first post here at the forge. I finally decided to de-lurk because of a very specific question I have, but first of all let me introduce myself as a RPGer.

I started playing about 20 years ago or so... no wait, it's 21 actually, which makes me feel strange, you know. Now I'm 32. Anyway, in my first RPG years I was a fan of having as much "realism" as possible; the more rules & details, the better it was for me. I alternated between being a GM and a player, and I was happy. You know, I dug MERP, Rolemaster, HarnMaster, and the like. Life was simple. Later on, when I was about 16, I started to get fed up with all this stuff and began my own (unsatisfying) attempt at crafting, you know, "stories" via RPG sessions. The only problem was that I didn't have the necessary clarity of thinking to understand what *I* considered to be a "story", nor to understand which elements of the dozens of systems I tried (and/or designed) were useful and which weren't. I naively thought that the less system I used, the better it was (I wanted NO system to interfere with "storytelling", you know). The odd thing is that the few attempts at freeform I played kinda sucked, which puzzled me to no end, until I decided that *some* system was needed (but exactly what and how much, I hadn't a clue). Dissatisfied with the whole RPG experience, I stopped roleplaying for like 8-9 years. Somehow I knew that the RPG medium could be something better than what I had experienced, but I didn't know what to do about it. A couple of years ago I was involved in a LARP some friends of mine were organizing, and, frankly, it sucked. However, I got to know people that renewed my interest in RPGs and heard of the forge for the first time.

Wow, I can't explain how much the stuff I found here helped me! In many, many occasions, what I found was a step-by-step description (and often a solution, too) of all the stumbling blocks I had experienced. So, to make a long story short, now I know what I like in RPGs, and I have a reasonable idea of how to get it (that doesn't mean of course that I get it all the times, but it helps immensely). Finding the forge was like finding my own "RPG RealBook"!

My favourite shade of RPG is vanilla narrativism, with the quirk of an almost zero-tolerance for system handling time. I like simple, powerful situations (that's fantasy most of the times: what Ron Edwards calls the "rock-and roll of roleplaying", only that I suspect I'm more towards punk, to push the analogy further). I like those sessions in which lots of significative, climatic stuff *happens*. As a GM, I want to see the characters taking decisions, and the players caring for those decisions. I totally adhere to the Sorcerer & Sword analogy of "GMing as bass-playing". I'm a bass player, you know, and it's really, really spot-on.

My favourite systems are The Pool (although I suspect that one cannot reasonably play it satisfyingly without reading a dozen or so of pool-related topics here at the forge) and Trollbabe. I kinda like Sorcerer, but believe it or not, the system is already a tad too involved for me right now. Maybe in the future Ižll change mindset, who knows. Anyway, I think that Sorcerer + its supplements is mandatory reading for anyone wanting to play, say, The Pool in the proper way. Oh well, at least what I think the 'proper' way. I also kinda like PtA, but I cannot make it work. In my hands, it feels like a clumsy tool, and I did not understand *exactly* what I'm missing, even though a couple of recent threads shoved me in what I suspect is the right direction... we'll see.

Ok, sorry for the long introduction: here comes my question.

Believe it or not, it all started reading (and playing exactly once) Elfs. You know, that "low cunning" score? It's so funny, so elegant to use in play. Here the system is basically saying to you: "you'll be rewarded if you do *this* stuff". And *pop* goes the bulb in my head! In that moment, I understood no less than two different things: (1) how the bonus dice of Sorcerer should work. Or, to re-phrase it slightly, I found a functional way of looking at the bonus dice in Sorcerer: one I could use effectively in play. And, (2) why I like Trollbabe re-rolls so much. Which brings (finally!) to my question.

I like Elfs' "low cunning", Trollbabe's "rerolls", and Sorcerer "bonus dice", because they're an incentive for the players to actually create new, relevant content/color! And they work marvellously for that. Now, what I don't get, is instead what I'm supposed to do with what most recent RPGs call "traits". Like PtA's, or ThePool's, I'm sure you know what I mean. Via "traits", the system rewards players that add permutations of *the same* content again and again to the story. And I don't get this. I don't know how to make it work, or perhaps I'm not seeing something important.

During one session of The Pool, I got exausthed by the whole thing and basically said, "OK guys, let me do a small experiment. From now on, traits do not have any mechanical effect. They're sometihng that you listed as important dor your character, and both the GM and the other players *know* about it". Can you see my point? The "traits" are still there, or at least, what I consider their "functional" part is still there. Only, no mechanical reward for stating for the sixth time in the session/series that your character is [insert anything here].

So my question is, can you show me a functional way of using "traits", The Pool and PtA style?

Sorry if something isn't clear, but english isn't my first language and I seldom use it outside the web. And, thanks in advance!

M


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 10, 2008, 12:17:10 PM
Hi Markus,

Welcome to the Forge! I had an eery feeling when I read your post; the whole story-crisis history reflects my own.

Anyway, that is a fantastic issue you've brought up. I know I've avoided using designated traits in my games, and even when I had named qualities, I've always been careful to keep them minimally involved in the mechanics of resolution.

Yet I also know that I can use such mechanics, but on reflection, it's hard to say how. I think ... well, at the moment I think here's what I've been doing with them over the years. It's not about using the same trait over and over, so much as having to choose among them at any given instance of play. In PTA, I have three such things to choose from, and I have to use one of them. Which will it be? Mechanically, it doesn't matter whether it's Bad-ass (Edge) or Cute Alien Sidekick (Ally), but it does matter quite a bit regarding how my character deals with the situation. By "matter," I mean the character's Issue.

In playing The Pool, the traits have different numerical scores, and that leads to a different but not-too-different choice, with similar thematic effects. If I use Bad-ass +2, I get two more dice, but that means I am being a bad-ass to this nice little old lady. And I also have to consider the difference between that +2 and the +1 I'd get from the Cute Alien Sidekick, especially if there are no GM's Gift dice in the current conflict. What I'm saying is that Pool characters often have tacit "issues" built into their brief character sheets, which becomes most apparent when the character has seemingly-contradictory traits, and when the traits differ in their values.

What makes all of these most interesting are (a) they don't describe everything about the character (e.g. I could choose not to use any Traits and still be able to do stuff), and (b) you can't stack them. It's actually a big deal in The Pool and PTA that you have to choose which trait you're employing - that means that you're deliberately not choosing one of the others, and that can matter greatly both in terms of actual consequence and in more abstract judgmental terms. It doesn't matter if you can imagine all of your traits being relevant to the current situation; you still have to choose.

Now that I think about it, one thing that turns me off to certain systems is differing from either (a) or (b), for much the same reasons that you're describing.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: jburneko on September 10, 2008, 12:28:03 PM
Rules Quibble:

You're right about not stacking Traits in The Pool and that's an interesting observation of what it means to have to choose between them.

Are you SURE that's true in Primetime Adventures?  I've never played that way.  I thought Edges/Connections could be stacked?

Jesse


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Georgios Panagiotidis on September 10, 2008, 12:43:30 PM
This might not be a "functional" way of using traits, but it's how I've approached them in PTA and DitV at least.

Basically, I don't look at traits only as a mechanical means of encouraging players to generate more content/colour. I rather see them as an extension of the character concept. In PTA for example you have your concept "maverick cop", but the traits "loyal to the end", "insecure with the opposite sex" and "Lisa, neighbour and best friend" would bring a vague stereotype of a character into sharper focus. I look at traits as the main narrative building blocks of who and what your character is. Not the motor that generates new ideas.

It's why you gain traits in DitV as you rack up experience. Your character becomes more pronounced and multi-facetted. In PTA I'd replace certain traits after a while, if there is enough reason for the character to have grown and changed during the course of a season. (I think it's mentioned in the book as well, but I might be wrong.) This use of traits adds colour to the narrative, but doesn't drive character development. And really, if you manage to phrase your traits right, you can use it in all kinds of situations, before it starts to feel repetitive.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 10, 2008, 06:35:11 PM
Actually, I'm not sure whether that's the case in PTA. I need to trot back to the rules to check. (Too ... many ... games in head!)

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Moreno R. on September 10, 2008, 09:30:51 PM
I tend to look at the uses of not-simulative traits from another point of view.

Sometimes, players ask me about the kind of traits you found in PTA or DitV (where you can have a trait like "blind 2d6" and it's a bonus), the traits not directly tied to the abilities of the characters, because they don't see what they represent.

My answer, usually, is that they represent the things you want to see in the story.

If a game give you some way to get bonus dice, I reason, you will. If the game give you a big fat bonus on your rolls if you say "potatoes", any player worth his salt will say potatoes every chance they get, and would have really no problem in getting that bonus every rolls they do.  So, the fact that you WILL get these dice (or cards, or whatever) is not in discussion. You will get them , because you are a player and you will find a way.

What you can change, with the way you choose your traits, is what you will have to use, cite, narrate or play-act during the game, to get that bonus.

So, in DitV, you will get all the dice you earn during fallout, sure. But choosing "blind" as a trait instead of "well-dressed" means that during the story the fact that your character is blind will have a much bigger importance than the fact that he is well-dressed.

PTA traits works like this. You add a connection? You are making sure that he will appear every episode (when you need a bonus card).  You add an edge, that say that you are very lucky? You will tend to solve problems using luck, not skill.   The amount of cards you get don't change at all: you would have found a way to use a trait anyway. What change, is what you did to get that card. What was added (or reinforced) to the story.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Markus on September 11, 2008, 05:34:37 AM
Thanks for your replies, guys. Interesting stuff! Your answers were excellent food for thought, but I'm afraid that my doubt persists. In particular, you managed to show to me some interesting ways of looking at traits and using them, but I still claim that "traits", per se, and as described in the relevant games that I know (which btw are: The Pool, PtA, and DitV), are not guaranteed to generate/represent the effects you're talking about, especially (anf this is my point) regarding their mechanical influence on the game. I'll try to be a bit more specific by replying to everyone:

It's not about using the same trait over and over, so much as having to choose among them at any given instance of play. In PTA, I have three such things to choose from, and I have to use one of them. Which will it be? Mechanically, it doesn't matter whether it's Bad-ass (Edge) or Cute Alien Sidekick (Ally), but it does matter quite a bit regarding how my character deals with the situation. By "matter," I mean the character's Issue.

And that is extremely interesting. My problem with this is that for it to work, there must be an (even unspoken, but probably issue-related) "moral value ladder" implicit in the trait list. And in my opinion, by giving the player the freedom of choosing just about anything as a trait, the resulting list either could or couldn't represent relevant, moving choiches for the player. Sounds fun and functional, I'm perfectly OK with this! But the above is not just "choose three traits", it's a lot more involved and complex thing to do. It's not a part of any of the the systems as written, rather it's something that an experienced and smart player with a refined taste for "story" might attempt to do with the generic "trait" tool.

What I'm saying is that Pool characters often have tacit "issues" built into their brief character sheets, which becomes most apparent when the character has seemingly-contradictory traits, and when the traits differ in their values.

Exactly! It's that "often" that bugs me, as I said above. Let me use an analogy. If I look at my bass guitar, I notice these funny 'position dots' on the neck. What's their use? Nothing strictly indispensable; they're sort of guidelines that help you knowing where you are, and mark important note intervals. Maybe not all of you are familiar with music theory, but think about it: the position dots on guitars are where they are *because of a particular musical culture*, because of what most people in the western world thinks is "musical". Now, you can still play any note on your guitar, but the position dots are there nonetheless. OK, what I'm trying to say is that I'd like to see more "position dots" spelled out in the rules regarding traits, to help me understand exactly what I should try to do with them.

I also have a couple of (still very raw) ideas about what these guidelines could be about. Please consider this example: I'm building a Pool character. As I stated in the original post, I don't have any problem with all the non-mechanical part of character creation: it's useful and puts there all the "flags" (I think that's the correct jargon word for what I mean) you need to communicate to the GM and other players. Let's focus on the mechanical part (the dice boons you get) and see what its effects are. Suppose that, following the rules, I end up with these three traits (ok, it's a lot of bonuses for a starting character, but I hope you'll see my point):

"solves problems by talking to people", +1
"solves problems by beating people", +2
"solves problems by killing people", +3

Now that's a ready-to-go moral value dilemma for you! Sounds interesting to play, isn't it? Sort of a "Dogs in the Pool" thing. I look forward to use this character, and this expectation is *caused and reinforced* by the existing mechanics. And now consider this other (perfectly legitimate) character:

"member of the order of the flame", +1
"family-inherited katana", +2
"magical cat-familiar", +3

I don't know if it's just me, but I don't feel the same power here. Sure, I'll get to talk to everybody about my cool stuff, but so what? I'd do that anyway. And I get rewarded by the system if I mention my precious sword again and again. I'm not saying that it would be a particularly desirable thing to do, but the system is pushing me toward doing exactly that, isn't it?

So a big part of the problem seems to me to lie in the fact that one cannot possibly say "traits", and expect players to immediately understand and apply in a functional way all the above concepts. Maybe a first step could be categorizing the different types of traits, further down the path started (probably, I'm not sure) by PtA by forcing you to think about edges and connections instead of just generic traits. A couple of possible ways of categorizing traits are just forming in my head, but I'm not satisfied with any of them yet.

And, there's another thing I'd like to discuss with you. I don't know yet if it's directly linked to what I said above, but it's definitely there. What does one exactly mean by "use a trait"? In the games I know, it seems to imply that you should make it clear to everyone that the trait you're invoking has some sort of relevance to the current situation. And again, I ask you which sort of desirable impact on actual play this is supposed to cause. Consider the following example.

My Elfs character has to beat a troll guard in a game of chess or he will be eaten. The match is pretty much in balance, when I look at my high Low Cunning score and start thinking quickly. Well, since it's Elfs after all, I declare that while the troll is looking elsewhere, my character quickly dips the troll's Queen in his dark beer jug, and voila, the troll's white queen now seems like a second black queen to the brute. The GM notices the other players' chuckles and grants me the Low Cunning bonus. I could do that because the system tells me how I'm expected to use my Low Cunning score; and it's something that has to bring new, thematically relevant content (Elfs do not have an "Introspective" characteristic for example, you know) to the game. In a way, the system *shapes* the game. If it doesn't, then, what's it use?

Now compare the above to this other situation: I'm playing the Pool. Same situation as above. Only that I notice that I have this "Low Cunning",+1 trait on my sheet. The system says that my trait has to be relevant to the situation at hand. I *might* add some colourful detail, but if I just state that "... and since I'm so cunning, you know, I roll an extra die" I'm basically adhering to the rules as written, and I'm getting a mechanical reward for that.

Now, I'm sure I covered all I wanted to say, but a few minor other points include:

My answer, usually, is that they represent the things you want to see in the story.

Sure, I'm fine with that. But I suspect that the non-mechanical part of the trait (basically, the mere fact that you've chosen and named that trait) seems to be sufficient to do that.

You are making sure that he will appear every episode (when you need a bonus card).  You add an edge, that say that you are very lucky? You will tend to solve problems using luck, not skill.   The amount of cards you get don't change at all: you would have found a way to use a trait anyway. What change, is what you did to get that card. What was added (or reinforced) to the story.

Same as above!

To conlclude: i like those mechanics that 'shape' play in a meaningful, focused way. It usually means forcing players to bring new content to the table, but I'm not sure this is all (see the 'trait usage' question above).

Pheeew, it's hard to write about abstract things in a language that is not your own... Anyway: does any of this make sense to you? Any further ideas or comments?

bye


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 11, 2008, 06:51:36 PM
Hi everyone,

The text about Traits is the same for the first edition (spiral-bound, ninja-SF chick on cover) and second edition (blue book, TV on cover) of PTA. The rule is that you use "any trait" in adding cards to your draw, which is not necessarily singular nor plural. Similarly, in another paragraph it talks about spending traits (plural), but in that context it's not clear whether only a single conflict is being discussed. However, and to some extent overriding that issue, in the Introduction, it explains the limit to using traits! You can only use a given trait for free a number of times equal to your current Screen Presence in a given episode; after that, you have to spend Fanmail to use it. So although the mechanism may be different from that in The Pool, still, there is a reason to consider that you might not want to employ a given Trait in a given conflict.

Markus, you're articulating an assumption that I think needs to be dissected. The assumption might be summarized as "If the system doesn't make players do X, then it can't be relied upon, and that uncertainty is a flaw." I think this reverses the actual relationship between people and system.

No, nothing in the rules of The Pool makes anyone write necessarily-opposed, problematic, thematically interesting Traits. But hell, nothing makes anyone do anything. A person could be forced by the rules to write up all manner of Traits, for instance the Dogs-like progression you describe, and he or she could still play the character as a stupid theme-less mass.

What you describe as an uncomfortable risk, which is to say expecting people who play with you to share your agenda for play, I call a basic expectation. Simply put, I do not play The Pool with people I don't trust to do that - or more accurately, if I feel like playing Narrativist (which is most of the time), then I'm bloody well going to play with people who currently feel the same way. As it happens, a lot of people share those goals, so it's not hard; I'm not forced to stay with a tiny cadre of loyalists - all I have to do is be clear about what I want and gather up whoever's present and interested.

I submit that even with your less-inspiring Trait list, a player of that character and a GM who enjoy Narrativist play and anticipate an enjoyable evening of doing so will find a way for those Traits to be powerful toward that end. It doesn't have to be hard - the simplest way, for example, is for this particular player to play his simplistic character as a foil or support for another character who does come all riddled with problematic theme-jump-starting Traits: Porthos to D'Artagnan, for example.

"System Does Matter" means we are aided in our joint goal to do so, not that we can wind up some little toy that walks us through the automatic paces that produce Narrativist play like a sausage being spat out of one end of a sausage-making machine. At its most extreme, your viewpoint would not be satisfied with anything but such a machine.

Please let me know if I have caricatured your viewpoint rather than stating it fairly. Also, I want to repeat that I do agree with your basic point, that unconstructed Traits that can be used mechanically can be exhausting and boring in play. The reason I'm defending the Traits in PTA and The Pool (if that's what I'm doing ...) lies very deeply in the rules constraints on their use: one at a time in The Pool; (possibly) one at a time and limited in resource terms in PTA. Without those constraints, then phooey. So although this post was rather pushy, I hope it's also clear that I'm not arguing against your fundamental point at all.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Callan S. on September 12, 2008, 10:22:18 PM
Hi Markus,

I think I'd use a music analogy too. The first instrumental musicians were, by necessity, the craftsmen of those instruments. No one else was around to craft their instruments, that's for sure. So at that point, to love music was to innately love crafting the musical instrument from raw materials to begin with. The two were utterly intertwined and probably considered the same thing - whittling a drum from a block of wood was making music as much as drumming it is making music. The way you held the blade and cut into the wood was expression as much as the sequence you played on the drum is expression.

Clearly today, people buy guitars, trumpets, synthesizers, etc without knowing how to actually make those instruments from raw materials. It's not necessarily better than having to craft your own instrument before you can make music. But I think it shows that wanting to skip the crafting stage and cut straight to the music making (well, music training, then making) isn't anything to do with wanting a wind up instrument that plays itself. That wouldn't be a natural extension of the desire at all.

In your own guitar analogy you say you want more markers. I'm wondering if you already own a bookshelf of older RPG's? I'm imagining that you already own alot of raw material RPG's and in looking to new RPG's, you are now in the market for purchasing a premade story making instrument (For anyone else reading, no, premade doesn't mean it's rigid - it's about as rigid as the music you can play on a store bought guitar - ie, not rigid at all).

You might have been thinking indie RPG's were going to cover this, since the older games covered 'raw material to instrument, instrument to play' already and you own enough of these that if you wanted to craft your own instrument, your pretty well covered already.

( Am I way off? Ignore the rest if I am. :) )

But it's not necassarily the case - indie RPG's tend to still focus on that love of instrument crafting. Personally I really got your questions and they are the same ones I've asked many a time in my head or on forums - your questions mirror my own and I share your doubts. Unfortunately they tend to question why the authors love to craft instruments. That can't be answered and they then tend to question what you love and its validity and...ugh!

I'd say the core of your question is "Why are these games selling more raw material, when everyone already owns a bookshelf of raw materials already?" and I think that's a valid question. In defence of instrument crafters, they can see subtle yet powerful differences in two different books of raw material. But to anyone who is not currently interested in crafting their story instruments, a new book of raw material looks exactly the same as the books of raw material they have on their book shelves at home.

I think the answer to that question is that crafting the instrument and playing the instrument are so intertwined as the same act for many authors, they can't imagine someone just wanting a prefabricated instrument. Either they think crafting the instrument and playing the instrument are the same act, or to them a prefab is something cold, inert, alien and lifeless, when their crafting of an instrument is such expression in itself to them. That is why they are still selling raw materials when everyone owns a bookshelf of raw materials. That's the true reason behind 'traits'. In my estimate and all that.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Markus on September 13, 2008, 01:24:08 PM
Thanks a lot, guys: your answers showed me a couple of weak/missing points in my reasoning that I couldn't see myself. Callan, I agree 100% with you. No wait, perhaps I agree 110% or more, because you understood the spirit of what I wanted to say and expanded it further, widening its scope. Yes, I understand your analogy and it was extremely useful to me. Thank you once again. Ron, Callan, your replies prompt me to replace my original question about traits with another, more general one.

"System Does Matter" means we are aided in our joint goal to do so, not that we can wind up some little toy that walks us through the automatic paces that produce Narrativist play like a sausage being spat out of one end of a sausage-making machine. At its most extreme, your viewpoint would not be satisfied with anything but such a machine.

Please let me know if I have caricatured your viewpoint rather than stating it fairly.

Well, I'd say yes, you sort of caricatured it, but in a meaningful and useful way for me. And I'm tempted to respond yes, that sausage machine is a fair methaphor of what I'd consider an ideal RPG system. I think that there is one crucial point in which our expectations and assumptions about an RPG system differ, and I think it's social in nature. I'll try to explain myself a little better.

I fully agree with you that no system can *guarantee* any result. I think you could try to use the PtA rules for dungeon-crawls, and the book wouldn't bite you in the leg after all. But, and this 'but' is crucial for me, in that case you'll be ignoring a whole lot of the features of PtA-as-written.

Sure: if I choose people carefully, I can build a group of talented people that will make the most of what I give them (in terms of system specifically for this discussion), and even without me providing any 'position dots' for them. But that does not mean, in my opinion, that game designers should take what *they* know for granted, *if they want to make their games understood* by the widest possible audience. Of course, whether this is a desirable design goal or not is also a question.

Now consider Trollbabe. Ron, I hope you won't take this as an offense, but I consider Trollbabe to be the best "sausage machine" of RPGs I know as for now. And that's a big plus for me, as I explained above. Let's say this: in my experience, you have a smaller chance to go wrong with Trollbabe, *regardless of the people you're playing with*.

I'll use another musical analogy, they come natural to me. I can surely take some good players and say them "hey guys, let's play a good old 12-bar blues in G now". And they'll immediately understand what I mean, and it will also probably going to be *good* blues. In a sense, my "let's play the blues" suggestion could be viewed as "the system". But, what happens if one of the guys replies "huh? what's this thing you're talking about?". Surely in this case, I'd have done better to give them some more details *before* playing. Then, and only then, they could use the information I'd give to decide how (and even if) to play the blues with me.

I like RPGs that are as close to that sausage machine as possible, because I cannot rely (yet) on a crew of people that will give me a good session whatever we try. My point is, I can do that now as a musician, because I played a lot of blues with a lot of different people! So what I'm looking for in a system is exactly that.

It might be that I'm just seeing non-existant analogies and that I'm trying to replicate too rigidly my musical experience within the context of RPGs. But, but... I *know* that I can play a simple, focused, clearly written RPG with any smart, sensitive person with which I share at least some estethical affinities (even people who don't know what the hell a RPG *is*), and tap that special kind of power I'm searching for. I cannot do the same (well, not with the same success) if the system is not laser-beam-focused on the task of shaping *one* way of playing, because my group isn't going to have the necessary experience to mould it into something usable.

I wonder whether any of the above makes sense to someone else?


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 14, 2008, 04:53:04 AM
Hi Markus,

What you're saying makes perfect sense to me. It's the essence of my essay System Does Matter. I wrote that essay in defiance of the conventional wisdom that system doesn't matter, all it takes is the right GM and the right people, role was everything and roll was nothing, et cetera. Also, given your clarification of your view, I completely agree about Trollbabe.

I'll try to clarify how that relates to our current discussion, because I certainly do not want to be the position of arguing against my own points. When I talk about playing with people whose goals are aligned with mine, that's not the same as generic "good role-players" or "the right GM." Those phrases from the conventional wisdom of the 1990s overlook and even deny the existence of distinct creative agendas of play, among which clashes are incompatible regardless of any vague "quality" of the people involved.

Instead, I'm talking about people whose goals of play do match mine in that instance, and who are willing to see what this particular system can do for them. In that case, regardless of the Traits chosen in playing, say, The Pool, we'll probably get Narrativist mileage out of them no matter what. That's not to say we are overriding or replacing the system, but rather that we are strongly driven to squeeze it very hard in the way it is best suited to respond to. Granted, the "handholds" for squeezing may not be as precisely shaped and color-coded as they are in, say, Grey Ranks, but they are indeed there. As you point out, one of the strengths of such a system is that if you try to squeeze it for some other purpose, it won't work.

So I'm hoping you can talk about how Traits like that have failed for you in actual-play terms. This isn't to say "prove it," but rather to illustrate to everyone reading exactly what the issue is. I can certainly throw in my own experiences along these lines, but it really lies with you as the arbiter of the thread topic.

It may take more threads and time, but I'm hoping for an investigation into how Traits in their most uninteresting form turn out to be boring and exhausting. I suggest that if this happens with The Pool or PTA (or for that matter, Dogs in the Vineyard or My Life With Master, both of which should be included in the discussion), then people are probably failing to utilize the system and falling back on a vaguer, drifted version of play. But there are some games for which the boring/exhausting quality exists for me, in precisely the terms you describe. For me, the main one would probably be Wushu.

Best, Ron

P.S. I find your English vastly clearer and more readable than that of many native speakers. I greatly appreciate your clarity.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on September 14, 2008, 08:20:48 AM
Ron,

Would you see Abilities from HeroQuest fitting under this discussion as well, since many of them seem like Traits from other games.  If not, what is the distinction?...

I'm so glad this conversation is taking place and look forward to digging in.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Callan S. on September 15, 2008, 04:56:39 PM
Hi again Markus,

Glad to hear it made sense to you! :) I can relate to your posts alot, so I'm partly here to give a quick 'YO!' of mutual appreciation, while at the same time helping in practical terms (or trying to help).

I think you want quality X in the games you initiate, but are having trouble finding the words to express what you want to others. I think I know what quality you mean and I'll describe what I think it is in a more condensed form that's easier to discuss. I'll quote you, because I think you've already said it in part, and this quote is a good example.
Quote
But, what happens if one of the guys replies "huh? what's this thing you're talking about?". Surely in this case, I'd have done better to give them some more details *before* playing. Then, and only then, they could use the information I'd give to decide how (and even if) to play the blues with me.
To me this is saying you want informed consent, because then you can just focus on the music making. But 'trait' isn't very informing at all.

Lets describe one way of playing as A: The notion that people turn up, then one or several people figure out how to make them happy after they are already there.

In comparison what I think you want is B: To simply state the entire activities exact procedures (the exact 'sausage machine') and those who are made happy by that, turn up. Those who aren't, don't. No one has to figure out how to make anyone happy and you just do the activity, rather than keeping part of your brain busy trying to figure out how to make people happy/keeping some sort of vibe going (and that assuming it's even possible to make/force someone to be happy). All of your brain is on the music. Well, your example shows you asking people which type of music they want to play (ie, the blues), but essentially that's still you just being entirely focused on the music. Disclosure; the informed consent method is my preference.

The thing is, if your want B, the more vague the wording is in the rulebook, the more it degrades into A (disclosure, showing my own bias in using the word 'degrade'). Trait is a pretty vague word and mechanical constraints aren't a language everyone knows/knows well, so they're also vague.
 
How does that sound? Are you looking to describe a particular quality you want? Would this wording help describe that quality?

PS: And I love that "(and even if)" in your quote. It's just good to see that recognition! :)


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Markus on September 16, 2008, 02:26:17 AM
I just had to post this quick reply after I read Callan's message... YES!

You nailed it perfectly: as in the previous post, I agree 100+% with you. I wanted to say this just in case other people didn't understand what I meant and were refraining from posting their impressions... just read Callan's post, *that* is what I wanted to say.

Anyway, I'm preparing a detailed answer to Ron's question, but the thing is taking *hours* to write, and I can work on it only when I'm off from work (I'd like my english to be more... fluent, but I doubt that it's the right word for written communication). Just don't get the wrong impression that I'm ignoring the discussion!


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: John Harper on September 16, 2008, 12:43:43 PM
I was talking to someone else about System Matters vs. the "Sausage Machine" (love that phrase) and I made a couple of images to help illustrate the concepts.

System Matters:
(http://www.onesevendesign.com/rpgmodel_right.jpg)

The Sausage Machine:
(http://www.onesevendesign.com/rpgmodel_wrong.jpg)

Maybe they'll facilitate discussion here.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: jburneko on September 16, 2008, 02:51:22 PM
The "Sausage Machine" describes perfectly what I wanted before I encountered The Forge.  Back then if you asked me what I wanted out of a game system I would have said this: "I want game, that if played optimally by a computer would produce a compelling story as output."  In fact, I'm pretty sure I DID say that to some people.

Jesse


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 18, 2008, 09:22:49 AM
Hi Christopher,

Quote
Would you see Abilities from HeroQuest fitting under this discussion as well, since many of them seem like Traits from other games.  If not, what is the distinction?...

Unfortunately, "yes and no."

One reason for the "no" is that the typical trait/skill distinction is artificial and usually bad design, as you probably know all about, despite endless paragraphs of justification about it. One can play a character with nothing but what's thought of as a trait (Over the Edge, PTA), or with nothing but what's thought of as skills (HeroQuest). Putting them both in has historically created tons of hassles - GURPS is the earliest significant culprit system, in which you have skills like Martial Arts and traits like Martial Artist, which is a recipe for point-buy headaches beyond imagining. I don't think we can fit such traits from messes like that into the discussion because they're so whacked anyway.

Another reason for the "no" is that I don't think we can use the names or even character-features of traits as their primary identifier. The idea here is that traits are qualities or inherent properties (brawny, et cetera) and skills are trained expertise, in the usual debased nature/nurture split. That idea leads to many messes in game design too. It's related to the long-standing attributes/skill crisis which fortunately we managed to dissect and abandon in the first couple years of the Forge.*

HeroQuest actually solves this problem using the same technique as Castle Falkenstein and Zero, just calling any such thing an 'ability' and using the same rules for any of them. The opposite and equally successful solution is illustrated by Amber, Over the Edge, and Sorcerer, in which there are no such things, and everything specific is handled by using general scores ("attributes"). To put it maybe more clearly, making the game either specific-centric like HeroQuest or general-centric like Sorcerer works great, because, respectively, you can use the specific stuff generally or the general stuff specifically, so it doesn't matter

So that leads to my real reason for saying "no" regarding HeroQuest, because it puts anything and everything a character is or can do into its own "roll X to make it happen" slot, and all slots are the same in terms of game mechanics. There's no 'extra' list of terms (or at least not in Hero Wars; some of HeroQuest's supra-ability categorization confuses me).

Anyway, all that is to clear the field to specify what kind of system we're talking about, which is neither a mess nor the two-alternates solution. We're talking about a system that has a list of terms (or has you invent them) which get invoked to modify the usual course of resolution, which already has its own mechanics. I think that's the defining feature of what Markus is talking about. A game already has a resolution system based on whatever. And it also has this list of other terms, which you can say "this applies" and toss in for some kind of bonus or extra effect. The question is whether that's functional, or whether it dooms the group to invoking them endlessly and annoyingly.

My observation regarding these kinds of traits is that they are in fact often endless and annoying. But the more I think about it, it's a matter of resources (they should be used them) and/or redundancy (they shouldn't stack). PTA limits them through resources, and The Pool limits them through one-at-a-time. Polaris is like PTA, in that you check off Aspects in order to use certain ritual phrases. Polaris also illustrates another design consideration that makes such traits fun instead of annoying - when they play a unique additive/functional role in resolution. That's not the case in PTA and The Pool, in which they simply add cards and dice respectively. But it is the case for Path of Journeys, in which traits play no role in resolution probabilities, but enhance the degree of success if it happens.

Best, Ron

* Which is actually really interesting:
Attributes or skills, but not both? (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=139.0) which reaches back into the Sorcerer mailing list archives from 1999 (linked here (http://www.sorcerer-rpg.com/brochure.php/archives.html); you'll see the relevant topics on the list
Traits & skills (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2050.0)
Mike's Standard Rant #4: stat/skill systems (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=2051.0)
Twist on the skill + attribute dice pool mechanic (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=3009.0)
Choosing and defining the stats (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=9850.0) (good internal links including one to an essay by John Kim)
Traits and skills threads please (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=12179.0) (this gathered together many previous links)
Roll 3d6 ... what is this? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=14469.0)

I'm including all this to back up some of my generalizations in the post; even though we're talking about trait/skill now, the points and insights about attribute/skill apply pretty well.

P.S. Yeah, Jesse, you said that in the Adept forum some years ago, prompting me to lean back in my chair and say to the grim-faced gentlemen who compete to light my cigars, "But no one can reason with this fellow."


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Markus on September 20, 2008, 10:19:35 AM
(Pheew! I did it eventually... I had very busy week.)

Anyway, it happened again... you guys post a couple of replies and each one unlocks some new way of looking at things. This time it was Ron's reply, specifically the "handholds" methaphor, that had that effect. Before I deal with the 'traits' stuff, I'll explain briefly what I think I understood about my system preferences, so that you can put my other thoughts in context.

(1) What I have understood

I think was ignoring a fundamental fact in my previous posts. Do you remember that I said I have zero-tolerance for system handling time? OK, I'm afraid that this is some sort of unwanted inheritance from when I was trying to play with as little system as possible. So I think that in my head, the "rules = a bad thing" equation is still working full steam, even if I consciously know that this isn't always the case. So, in all the cases in which, during play, I feel that a rule is 'just a rule', without sufficient direct impact on the immediate "stuff going on at the table" (a rather crude definition, I'm afraid, but I'm not finding any better way of saying it right now), then I'll mark it as unimportant or even undesirable.

But, as Ron made me understand with the "handholds for squeezing the system" stuff, then I'm ignoring that a player can make statements, so to say, directly *with* the system, if he/she learns to do that (and the system is designed to support that). So, there *are* certain instances of making mechanical-only statements that can be functional for narrativist play, and I was blind to this fact. There is such a thing as the art of "shaping the system from within the system". I'm quite sure however, that this thing needs practice to work right. It needs *experience*. You have to understand all the subtle implications of all the system's mechanics, you have to know how to contribute to a good "story", and how to drive the mechanics of the system toward that goal. Well, I'd say it's not the most immediate of things for everyone, frankly.

Now everything clicked into place for me, and I can see just why I prefer those sytems that do not need this art of system-shaping: very simply, the groups I played with (me included!) didn't have the necessary experience to do that, and that's not surprising after all, since I played with a lot of first-time-RPGers. I can elaborate further on that if you want, but I think it's rather tangential to the current issue.

Enough of that, back to the traits stuff now!

(2) What happened

Ron asked some more details on how the traits didn't fully work for me in actual play. I will not use PtA as an example because my few attempts at GMing PtA fell kind of flat (and thus I suspect there are other 'disfunctions' at work there that could confuse the discussion). I'll describe the session which made me go "stop this trait stuff" first. *Now* I see how that was a stupid reaction on my part, but hey, experience is what you get when you don't get what you want (or something like that).

Social situation of the session: we played at my home, after dinner, but the next day was a working day - we hadn't all the time we wanted and this put a bit of pressure on me, since I was GMing and my position was, well, not exactly that of 'the entertainer', but certainly that of someone who will teach or explain something new to others. I don't see how to avoid that when playing with new people, however.

Who was there: me of course, and three players: my girlfriend, an old friend of mine and a colleague.

My girlfriend played some 'old school' RPGs, in particular Ars Magica and D&D, and found it sort of OK, but without much enthusiasm. Of course I vexed her with my new 'indie' stuff, which she seems enjoying much more than the previous stuff. In particular, I think she suffered a lot from the social pressure that emerges in most 'high concept sim' games (I *hope* that's the right jargon), in which you could say or do something that does not 'fit' with the implicit expectations of other players. In the looser (wrt setting, specifically) nar games that I GM now, that's not a factor.

It was the first RPG session for my colleague. I invited her because we talk a lot about movies, books, etc etc during coffee breaks at work and she seemed like having 'the right mindset' to like this stuff.

My friend is an old-school D&D gamer. I begun pestering him with my doubts about D&D a long time ago (explaining him how it does not support what I want to do during a RPG session, etc etc) and he seems to agree with me most of the time. However, he continues playing D&D and buying all the new stuff. He already played Elfs with me GMing ("one of my best RPG sessions ever!" he said in that occasion, but then added that "he also liked to do more serious RPGing"). He also liked Trollbabe a lot and I was surprised by how fast he understood all the new 'narration' stuff, and used it to deliver some powerful moments! I wonder how he will GM D&D in the future, I might even be tempted to turn up at one of his games.

Why we were playing this and not something else: my friend was showing me a pdf demo excerpt of the new warhammer 40k RPG, and he asked me if it was possible to "play trollbabe in this setting". I basically said no, it isn't (IMHO you just cannot take the Trollbabe mechanics and apply it blindly to something else, unless you also like to put ice cream on your steak or something like that). But I offered to give it a try with The Pool if he provided me a small setting 'one-sheet' (nothing as deep as the sorcerer ones, mind you, just a vague but strong description of the setting).

So he gave me this paragraph in which he described a giant hive-city in a blasted world, ruled by a governor that noone ever sees and who receives the orders from the empire via his dreams. I liked that and beefed up a little the description with some important places and organizations (so that the players could choose something to link their characters to). Please excuse my narcisism, but I *must* share with you this trick I always employ and that I'm quite proud of- giving the right names to things. So I renamed the 'governor' as a 'divan' and voila, one single word immediately shaped all the hive-city: now I knew how the people were dressed, the sound of the names, the style of the imperial court, the look of the palaces, and so on. I also very briefly described an outline of a situation: children are disappearing in one of the hive-city sector, but no one seems to care much for the moment because it happens to pariahs and orphans.

Ok so I gave this one-sheet to the three players via e-mail and asked them to send me a character that had some connection to the elements they liked. I also said them that we could put finishing touches to PCs prior to play, so they didn't have to worry too much about mechanics. Just imagine my enthusiasm when my colleague, first-time-RPGer and all, gave me her character's 50 words- her PC was a small girl just escaped from home, and her father was a bounty-hunter of some renown. Of course she decided to hide in *that* zone of the hive-city... Wow! Not bad at all, I thought. The other characters were a retired sort-of-policemen just asked by an ex-colleague to see if he could see what was happening in the sector. The last character was a joung noble from the 'gardens of pleasure' (the uppermost portion of the hive-city, residence of the ruling families). The law prohibits her to mingle with 'lesser people', but she decided to risk anyway to get involved in a secret sorcerous cult- now that's what I call potential for conflict!

I liked a lot what they gave me, and I could draw a simple R-map (very simple in fact) that included all of them, the secret sorcerous cult, one injustly accused escaped prisoner (guess which bounty hunter is chasing this guy), and a scribe/priest of the 'archivium'- one of the places of interest listed in the one-sheet.

Sorry about all the details, that perhaps are not so relevant to the current discussion. Anyway, this is were my problem started. My colleague chose a trait that basically was like "daughter of Boba Fett, famous bounty hunter, +2" (yes, she wrote 'Boba Fett'- but hey, I thought, in this way everyone is going to immediately know what she's thinking about visually, so perhaps it's OK even if kind of... cheap).

Nothing wrong with that, huh? Well, I thought the same and couldn't wait to see at which time would Boba turn up to save her daughter's life (and grant her those +2 dice). The thing is, she invoked that trait the *first* time she had to roll the dice. Two thugs were attempting to capture her, and she declared that Boba was turning up immediately, after all (goodbye to the potential emotional climax I was expecting). I mentioned to her that she should check if one of her traits applied, and she chose this one. I mentally wondered whether to tell her about the difference between having a MoV, invoking a trait, and so on (there was one marvelous thread here recently in which Ron explained the difference plot, situational, narrational authorities etc... it's perhaps the best thread I found here at the Forge! it should be the mandatory first chapter of every game that has 'narration' mechanics). I *knew* that she was partially overriding some boundaries by stating that Boba was turning up as her way to communicate that the trait was being invoked, but I wasn't inclined to give a first-time RPGer an abrupt stop the first time she contributed to the narration...

So, rather than saying 'no, you can't do this', I explained that since this was her first conflict, I would give her other examples of how she could use the same trait. For example, I said, Boba has trained you in basic self-defense, or maybe you recall something that he said you about not talking to strangers, etc. etc... I said, you have many ways of invoking the same trait, so chose the one that you think will give more boost to our story. She said that her character was particularly cautious because her father told her to do so; I granted the bonus and she won the conflict (no MoV).

Nothing particularly bad per se, but soon both the other players regretted not to have taken a +2 trait (they only had +1s) because that was 'the way to go'. Huh, I asked, and my girlfriend explained me that since you can invoke a trait in pretty much thousands of ways, you should always go for the higher value, isn't it? I was quite shocked and said that no, you should choose the trait that makes most sense in the context of the story... but I saw their point nonetheless. Of course, for a couple more conflicts my colleague continued to use her 'father' trait, and I was feeling like this trait bonus dice were disrupting, rather than reiforcing, the strenght of the story. So I gave back to everyone the dice they paid for traits and proposed to stop counting the +s for the remaining of the session.

(Btw, the session was a blast, and we didn't miss the +s linked to traits at all).

(3) Other miscellaneous stuff

*Now* I see that maybe there are other functional ways of looking at this traits stuff. Another idea I'm considering is this (and it's my attempt to 'fill the gaps' in the system, effectively transforming it in *another* system however). So the idea is as follows: when you use a trait, just state it. No dialogue about if and how the trait is 'relevent' and so on. You get your bonus. However, the narrator (you, if you chose a MoV, but maybe the GM) will be the one responsible for integrating the trait in the narration, after resolution is rolled.

I'll sum up here what I don't like in the 'traits' rules. Most of this stuff is not negative per se; it's just 'lost positive potential' or originates confusion due to vagueness (does this word exist?).

- What is a 'trait'? Is it true that anything goes? It depends a lot on when you write your PC up. If you write your PC after the GM has prepared the situation (and you play with non-shared setting authorities) then traits could interphere in a non predictable way.

- What type of effect can be employed with the trait mechanics, *depending on how you write the traits*? Examples of similar traits that I think are radically different in real use: "swordplay", "swordplayer", "my sword", "a found weapon", "trained in the X fence academy", "I like to cut people's guts", "killer". In play, who provides the relevant color and when?

- What does it mean to 'use' a trait? Do you have to simply name it, do you have to add a bit of color based on it, etc. etc... Who does 'play' the NPCs created by the 'connection traits'?

- Why should be scores attached to traits? Why should the system reward mechanically more the use of one trait over the others?

- Why should the system reward mechanically the players for 'using' (see above) these traits he/she selected during PC creation, instead of choosing other courses of action/ other types of color/ other NPCs etc etc?

(4) That's all

OK, sorry for the long post and the barrage of questions, but I really look forward to hearing the opinions of you all on this!

P.S.

@John Harper - sorry but I don't get the exact meaning of what you represented in the graphs- it's a bit too abstract for my current grasp of RPG theory, but I'd be glad if you wanted to explain it a bit.

@jburneko - I don't feel your phrase describes what I'm after. I'd like to change three things: remove 'optimally' (there's nothing mechanical in the *way* my ideal game is played, even if the mechanics themselves are like clockwork), and substitute "computer" with "a group of people", and add a "most of the times" somewhere:

"I want game, that if played by a group of people would produce a compelling story as output most of the times"

Thanks again to everybody!

M


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 21, 2008, 04:08:00 PM
Hi Markus,

I have some thoughts on your questions, some of which tie directly back into older conversations here. I'll post about that soon.

John Harper recently wrote a blog entry which I think explains his diagrams extremely well: How do we know how to play? (http://mightyatom.blogspot.com/2008/09/how-do-we-know-how-to-play.html)

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Markus on September 22, 2008, 01:37:31 AM
Thanks Ron, now I think I understand what John meant.

From John Harper's blog:

"This is how I know what "playing Dogs in the Vineyard" is. By playing in a group with a shared understanding and communication about what matters to us (a social contract, you might even say), using a rules text that establishes clear expectations for play. Play becomes a process of reinforcing and celebrating the expectations and procedures of the game as communicated by the text (most importantly: not just "the mechanics") and the shared understanding of the group."

John, that's brilliant! I totally agree, and now I get those diagrams too. It's funny how all the ideas that I try to communicate here were already expressed in a *much* better way by someone else... I could just cut and paste things from the web, if I knew where to look.

bye!

M


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Callan S. on September 23, 2008, 06:28:44 PM
Glad you got something, Markus. BTW, do you have a web page or blog I could check out - I sent a PM asking a week back, but I'm not sure your checking them.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 26, 2008, 08:14:43 AM
Hi Markus,

You're being overly modest. No one has ever asked the questions you're asking about traits. You've opened up a key issue in game play and game design which has been central to the revolution in the past 10 years, but also unacknowledged and uncritiqued. This is not a time to claim that you're just a nobody whose ideas or questions have already been addressed sufficiently.

I'll begin what I hope will be a multi-participant, multi-point discussion with a couple of older concepts that are probably relevant.

1. What is a character?

In The class issue (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?t=2802), we broke it into four distinct levels:
- a way for the player to act relative to the other players
- a way to affect the emerging events-of-play
- a contrast or support or any other specific interaction for other characters
- a particular batch of details and capabilities

2. What are the components of character game mechanics?

I identified three fundamentals for a character in game terms: effectiveness, resource, and positioning (Chapter 4, GNS and other matters of role-playing theory (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/5/); positioning used to be called "metagame"). My point here is that saying "trait" doesn't help us much without specifying what it does in a particular system. I suggest that part of the problems with traits is that that's not always clear, or rather, that how they're used in one system can often be 'ported inappropriately over to another.

I think that your questions can be addressed best with reference to the above concepts.

I will now present some thoughts about each set of questions you raised, but I want to say this is a starting point for discussion, not an ending, and I do not really think I've provided any answers. I hope we can see some emerge over time.

Quote
- What is a 'trait'? Is it true that anything goes? It depends a lot on when you write your PC up. If you write your PC after the GM has prepared the situation (and you play with non-shared setting authorities) then traits could interphere in a non predictable way.

The word has been used for a lot of different things, as I tried to indicate in my reply to Christopher. So it's better to define it by your usage, for purposes of this discussion. If you don't mind me trying to paraphrase you, you're talking about a simple descriptive word or phrase which operates in addition to the "basic" resolution mechanics.

Whether "anything goes" is a good question. I think even a little bit of definition can make a big difference in play. In Dust Devils, for instance, there's "used to be" and "is now." In Polaris, Aspects are associated with specific quadrants on the sheet. PTA splits them between Edges and Connections. In The Path of Journeys, there's a trade-off between range and depth. In My Life with Master, they're constructed in a complex way with More Than Human and Less Than Human.

The Pool seems to have the most "anything goes" traits, but as I see it, a great deal about The Pool gives you enough rope to hang yourself. In other words, if you want to choose traits that are (a) applicable all the time and (b) carry no particular interesting thematic weight or contrast, and (c) you aren't playing the character in a thematically interesting way, well, you're the one hanging yourself, and you had all the opportunity in the world to use the rope better. Perhaps it's a matter of Callan's point - The Pool is a hand-crafted invention produced for fellow practitioners, not a marketed object for all and sundry.

(As a side point, all of this has its roots in Champions, long before it became the Hero System. Until Champions, all such material was subsumed in the concept of character class. The change was to break out specific disadvantageous bits of Effectiveness, Resource, and (especially) Positioning into point-based bonuses for character construction. Adding the converse, that is, an equally nuanced advantageous list of items that cost points, was quickly added during the period when Champions/Hero and GURPS influenced one another's design through series of publication stages. This design paradigm was itself revolutionary at the time, but recent design trends have stepped away from it. 3:16 illustrates a very productive "return" to it.)

Burning Wheel: increases Effectiveness in any specific possible way for any other feature of resolution - this is the most general and the most traditional of the designs on this list. What such a design does is create two levels of understanding one's character: the normal resolution mechanics and the particular profile or cocktail of how your character's traits affect timing, order, speed, resources of all kinds, chance to succeed, degree of success, and various defenses, some of them pre-emptive.

Dogs in the Vineyard: increases Effectiveness in terms of chance for success (adds dice), as well as degree of effect; also, with Relationships, permits some Content Authority

Dust Devils: increases Effectiveness in terms of chance for success (adds cards), as well as degree of effect

The Pool: increases Effectiveness in terms of chance for success (adds dice), but not degree of effect

PTA: increases Effectiveness in terms of chance for success (adds cards), but not degree of effect

Polaris: increases the combination of Resource and Effectiveness by permitting certain phrases to be used more often

The Path of Journeys: increases Effectiveness in terms of degree of effect (game term: "SR"), but not chance for success

My Life with Master: in the case of More Than Human, increases Effectivenss in terms of degree of success (in fact, negates roll), but interestingly, does not negate the need for some kind of roll in the scene

Sorcerer? Mayyyybe - specifically Cover, or Past as it's called in Sorcerer & Sword, which is often utilized as a preliminary roll to enhance the dice of a roll using Stamina, Will, or Lore; the same idea applies to a broadly-named ability in Hero Wars / HeroQuest, which is more often utilized to augment (a technical game term) the target numbers of other, more specialized abilities than rolled "on its own." All of these can be considered sort-of-traits by the definition above.

Quote
- What type of effect can be employed with the trait mechanics, *depending on how you write the traits*? Examples of similar traits that I think are radically different in real use: "swordplay", "swordplayer", "my sword", "a found weapon", "trained in the X fence academy", "I like to cut people's guts", "killer". In play, who provides the relevant color and when?

That's related to my point about the game-term components of a character. Some game systems are very clear about what type of effect can be employed, and therefore the phrasing of the trait really doesn't matter except in terms of when it applies. What I think is missing in some systems is the concept of some time when it wouldn't apply. That can either be in terms of not having permission on the basis of the SIS, or in terms of running out of points or some other restriction.

I remember a really interesting design discussion in First Thoughts a while ago, which brought this issue into sharp focus. I'll have to hunt for it.

Are you interested in any comments on the Boba Fett's daughter trait? I think this is the key issue from your actual play account. When can she use it? What does it do? Does the slight reduction in total traits justify the increased power (2 dice) of this one?

Quote
- What does it mean to 'use' a trait? Do you have to simply name it, do you have to add a bit of color based on it, etc. etc... Who does 'play' the NPCs created by the 'connection traits'?

This is probably the core issue for traits in RPG design. It's also often unconstructed, which in practice means that "the GM" (in his or her mushiest, authority + leader + narrator + rules combination) decided at all times. This was a big problem with Dependent NPCs in Champions, who were very often utilized for points, and then a kind of power-struggle would ensue during play whether the NPC would be involved, whether or how they would be in danger, what they might do or say, and whether the hero was "supposed" to care.

When I was GMing Hero Wars, a character had been badly beaten and was relatively helpless before an enemy in a burning forest. I suggested that the player was permitted to roll the character's Relationship ability (a specific NPC), with the in-game effect being that the NPC has just found the two combatants and hurls himself at the enemy. This is definitely not in the rules text, which pretty much assumes that the character is already established to be in a scene in order to utilize the roll, and typically, it's an augmenting roll that boosts some ability of the player-character's rather than a direct attack.

I described this to Greg Stafford at the time, and he praised it as a great improvisational use of the rule, but again, that only underscores the fact that no one really knows how these things are to be used.  (Incidentally, that play-event and conversation inspired the Relationship rules in Trollbabe.)

Quote
- Why should be scores attached to traits? Why should the system reward mechanically more the use of one trait over the others?

That's a very good question. Traditionally, it's a matter of if you have fewer, they're more powerful, and if you have more, they're less powerful. This goes right back to the origin of all point-buy character creation systems, The Fantasy Trip.

However, it also raises the spectre of "game balance," a term which invokes so many various and sometimes contradictory concepts that it's not useful. I think if we set aside concerns of characters being more or less powerful than one another, what remains is a matter of aesthetic taste at the moment. Sometimes you might like playing focused powerful characters, and other times you might like playing spread-out characters. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with that, although it opens up design pitfalls.

(Side note: My own experience with those pitfalls is so painful that I simply abandoned such things; that's the reason why, in Sorcerer, Stamina dice are classified ("described"), but the score itself is not limited to the description's application alone. The exception is found in the demonic abilities, in part because I wanted those abilities to be potential pitfalls.)

Quote
- Why should the system reward mechanically the players for 'using' (see above) these traits he/she selected during PC creation, instead of choosing other courses of action/ other types of color/ other NPCs etc etc?

As I see it, when a system does this (Sorcerer does not, for instance), then my choices as a player about how my character falls out into those four levels are being validated - and in fact, expressed through the medium of game mechanics. I agree with you that the dichotomy between "do what's on my sheet" and "work with what's immediately available in the fiction" often has a poor boundary - either too ironclad or too unconstructed. This is a design consideration that the games I listed above have all wrestled with, and to which they provide various solutions. My claim is that they do provide solutions.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: FredGarber on September 26, 2008, 02:21:45 PM
Hi!  Welcome to delurking- I'm a big fan of lurking, and I usually wait a few days or so, because whatever point I want to make, someone else usually makes it better and more clearly than I do, faster.  But this time, there's something in the feel of PtA (and in your Bob Fett's daughter) story that I think others have missed.  I'll try to quote where I can, but I don't know if I can keep straight WHO said what, so I apologize for that.

1. I'll go with the music metaphor from earlier.  In this example, one of the assumptions was that all the players knew how to play their instruments.  That they knew the difference between, say, "funk" and "rock" and the "blues."  In my version of this metaphor, PtA style-traits (meaning, a way for a player to increase the chance of success, but not degree of effect) are the instruments that the players are playing.  But not every player is skilled at their instrument.  Not everyone likes/tells the same sort of story. Now, when the time came around for your player to play, she blew on her Boba Fett Daughter Trumpet as loud as she could.  And it hurt your ears.  You and she weren't playing the same sort of music.  You wanted a slow build, and she wanted a big blast, and the conflict was resolved by you taking "Game Master" authority and saying "this is how I think you should roleplay" (*)

2. PtA, in representing itself as a television story, emphasizes Actions over Introspections. When's the last time you watched a TV show where the characters sat around thinking about their problems for more than a quick montage?  Film is a visual medium of moving pictures, so even in Gilmore Girls, the epitome of "talky" shows, where and why and who the characters were talking to was the set of the stage ) So when a player wants to do something in the story, they act.  And if they really want to succeed, they'll do it in a way that brings their trait into it.

3. A key point in playing PTA successfully, by the way, is that she should activate it by saying something like "Well, I'm Boba Fett's Daughter, so I think those thugs don't want to mess with me!"  Then, it's not her job to say whether or not Boba Fett saves her, or someone recognizes her, or HOW something else happens.  It's up to the Narrator. I think it is crucial for PtA to not decide what's going to happen before the cards/dice hit the table.  If she won narration, then Boba Fett can swoop down and smush those thugs.  If you won Narration, then you can decide that she takes up a particular fighting stance, and the thugs realize that "only Boba Fett's daughter would use Bending Cricket style kung fu!  We better run before we attract his attention!"

3b. A house rule of mine when playing PtA is that I give players index cards for each trait, and that's an easy way for them to keep track of how many times this episode they have that trait, and also a way for players to feel that they're using the trait.  The best part is that the Narrator is encouraged to use all the cards played as factors in their narration of how the conflict was resolved.   So if Heather uses her "Secret Agent" trait to resolve a conflict over who gets the information from the library, it is easier for the Narrator to see how that would be different than if she uses her "Research Queen" trait. Or if Janet uses her "Goth Powers of Darkness" in the conflict, there's more and more for the Narrator to work with to craft an interesting resolution.

4. Why should the system reward them for a choice they made at PC creation?  Because they Made the Choice.  In taking that trait +2, she indicated that she really wanted a focus of her character to be that relationship with her dad.  It's her tool to help create the story, and to emphasize what her character is all about.  She only gets as many of those as her screen presence that episode, and if she uses him in every scene she's in, then she'll find herself in trouble before long.  Maybe that's the kind of story she wants to tell, of a girl who uses up her safety net and gets in trouble deep!  Maybe she's testing to see how much control she has over the game storyline.

In summary, I think that traits, in PtA, have the following "true reason:" (this is only my opinion)
>> In the beginning, they are a tool for a player to influence the mechanics resolution.  The outcome of a situation will end up more often in the PC's favor, not just random Fortune, because the PCs get an extra card(**).
>> As a player gets more experienced (either with PtA, or with the character, or with the group, or whatever), the useage of traits will shift, and a player will begin to use their traits to indicate to the Narrator that this conflict is important to the character.  The extra benefit isn't so much about I want to win the conflict, but I want to win THIS conflict. 
By then, players should have Fan Mail as a secondary method of just getting an extra card.  By the way, Fan Mail also helps guide the group's theme: if everybody else appreciates when she narrates subtle conflict resolution, then she'll only get Fan Mail when acting subtly. 
>> Finally, the most subtle reason for traits exists. That's not to say it's the most advanced: My wife jumped right to this stage in her second conflict ever.  The last reason is that the player wants to let another character use that aspect of the character to help or hinder the story.  The odds never get much better than 50/50 that a player will win Narration: putting that trait out there is a way for the player who wins Narration to tell a more interesting story, by having more colorful elements to play with.  So, win or lose, Heather is deciding that this conflict over who gets to drive the car to the community swimming pool is more interesting if she brings her Secret Agent powers into it, rather than just be a normal conflict over "team leadership."

Why do traits exist in general?  Because they quantify how and to what level a player can control the shared imaginary space.  Some games make it difficult for players, not GMs, to control the space.  Some distribute the power automatically.

-Fred

(*) Whoops, that was a very insulting sentence up there.  Since you are not a primary English speaker, I'm willing to let that go as what you wrote was not quite what you meant to say.  I'm also not intending to get into an argument about GM Authority taken and what your motives might have been.  I don't know, I wasn't there, and I apologize if that sentence sounded insulting :)
(**) I'm going with the 2nd ed, there.  If you are playing with dice, then it's a plus to the role.  Both are just :influencing the Fortune mechanic for their benefit"


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Moreno R. on September 28, 2008, 08:08:58 PM
Hi!

There is another use for traits in some games (like PTA, for example) that was touched in the recent discussion about narrative authorities in PTA. In some games, traits can be used to mark a dramatic plot point, by changing them. During, or at the end of the spotlight episode, the player can change a trait. re-defining that part of the character.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Markus on September 30, 2008, 06:24:39 AM
Wow guys, thanks a lot for the input. I'm starting to review all the older stuff Ron linked, and I'm finding lots of things that seem to resonate with the my questions. Oh and as always unfortunately, this reply took *ages* to write... sorry about the sedated pace of this discussion. Anyway, I'll arrange my observations in order of size (from macro to micro):

-----------------(1) Side-note: a general problem?

So my main problem seems to boil down to the disconnect between (a) what RPG designers *actually play* (in terms of exact procedures and mechanisms, whether stated or not, and recognized as such or not by designers themselves) and (b) what they later *write* in their books, which becomes the best approximation of the former for anyone who does not have a direct connection to the author. In many, many ways the RPG books I own have their share of this problem, in different amounts of course. I'd say that the full spectrum goes to the almost 100% premise-->system-->written text coherence of Trollbabe, to the almost 0% of ThePool (remember that I'm talking about *the actual, written words* that are considered to be 'ThePool', not an optimized way of playing with the few described procedures, developed via years of experience). To use again to the musical genres analogy, it's like trying to explaining to a classical musician how to improvise on a jazz standard: "So, look, it's quite simple: here is the harmonic progression, these are the time signature & tempo, ok? And then... and then... hmm, why, then you improvise!"

This inevitably leads, IMHO, to games that are played somewhat fuzzily and a bit differently by each group. I don't want to criticize games that I don't understand fully yet, but how many times have I read the phrase "The key point in playing PTA is..." (btw, it also showed up in this very thread)? My opinion is that that key point, if it is indeed a key point, should be there in the text for everyone to grasp. Provocation for any game designers reading this: are your games really *written* so that they can be picked up and played by any person (as opposed to any former rpg player, or even any former indie-rpg player)? And, (perhaps most importantly for constructive discussion) if it's not the case: why?

-----------------(2) Traits: how can I contribute?

So according to my understanding of how this forum works, I'm currently thinking hard about how I can contribute to an useful discussion regarding traits. Let me begin by confirming that as Ron correctly interpolated, I'm "talking about a simple descriptive word or phrase which operates in addition to the basic resolution mechanics". My goals for this discussion are: (a) understanding how people use traits in their games; specifically in the almost 'anything goes' games.  By 'use' I mean the words spoken at the table during play that later get riassumed with 'player X used trait Y'. Based on the previous point, I'd hope to compile a sort of list of (b) all the possible types of traits and (c) all the possible ways to 'use' them (well, 'all' is a big word in both cases, but you get the idea), both with respect to existing games and not-yet-existant ones. My hope is that in doing this, I will understand how to use traits effectively in the games I already know, and, perhaps, someone else will get new ideas on how to design games based on any new stuff coming up.

It's a bit of a daunting task, I know, but anyway, I'll start by putting on the table everything I have to offer right now.

(a) How is a trait 'activated'?
   - by simply stating that you're going to use it, without any restriction or any necessity for consensus at the table.
   - by stating that the trait has some sort of relevance to the current conflict, based on internal coherence of the fiction up to this point.
   - by providing a bit of pertinent color, with respect to the current situation, the invoked trait, and probably *one specified stance*.
   - by committing your PC to a specific course of action, usually with significant thematic consequences (e.g "I shoot him")

(b) How many traits can you invoke for one 'mechanical resolution quantum' (nerdly generalized version of what is usually 'one conflict')
   - any number is fine
   - number depends on specific circumstances (whether in terms of the fiction or mechanically)
   - only one at a time

(c) How do you judge if the requirements to activate a trait (if any) were satisfied or not?
   - one person decides (e.g. the GM)
   - the group decides by reaching a social consensus, whether formal (e.g. voting) or not (e.g. "that's cool")
   - the rules provide inequivocable ("decidable", sorry for the math-geek jargon) requirements on how you can invoke a trait
   - the invoker does not have to meet any requirements, but rather, they are 'passed on' to the narrator (if applicable)

(d) How do you choose which trait to use, among the list of those your PC possess?
   - I'm trying to obtain maximum (mechanical) effectiveness
   - I'm trying try to reveal something new about my PC
   - I'm trying to bring to the table the theme/issue that I hardwired to my PC by choosing this trait
   - I'm trying to choose the trait that preserves the most stringent consequentiality/coherence of the fiction

(e) What type of traits are permitted?
   - descriptor traits: my character has this [quality/characteristic/personality trait]
   - object traits: my character [possess/has a special connection with] this object
   - connections/social descriptors: my character [knows/has emotive connection/is a member of] this group of people or individual
   - ethical statement traits: my character likes/dislikes doing this action
   - [possibly?] 'meta-traits' (find a better name plz): my character *will* [have this impact on the story/receive this amount of spotlight time/have this destiny]

(f) What mechanical effects does the use of traits imply?
   - I'll have more narrational power
   - my character will have an higher effectiveness (many shades are possible, as Ron evidenced with the chance/degree of success examples)
   - it allows to 'control' trait-connected NPCs (many shades of 'control' are possible of course)

(g) Why does this system have traits?
   - they are an occasion for player/player or player/GM exchange of 'flags'
   - they are an occasion for the player to exert a bit of authorial power on the situation/setting prior to play

(h) Why does this sytem have trait-linked *mechanics*? (usually equavalent to: Why does this system reward the use of traits chosen at chargen? and, this also includes: Why does this system use different scores attached to different traits?)
   - because they allow the player to make mechanically-consequential statements about his/her character
   - they are there to 'guide' play towards a sub-set of pre-determined, preferred courses of action/events

One problem that jumped to my eyes while I was compiling the above list is that some games (I could be wrong!) allow for more 'freedom' (but consequently, blurrier focus) than is needed in specific areas outlined above, and I cannot say which *desirable* effect this was intended to create. I'm referring in particular to point (h) above.

-----------------(3) Micro problem: my actual play report

Well, of course I'm also interested in any specific opinion/suggestions that any of you has to offer on my actual play outline... Don't pull your punches please, I'm here to learn something new!

-----------------(4) Conclusion:

Now that I'm re-reading this post prior to hitting this 'post reply' button I'm seeing all my hubris... it's really something huge, and wanting to address it in a single thread is probably just madness. My hope is that someone will find all this useful. I certainly look forward to replies!

bye

M


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 02, 2008, 06:43:53 AM
Hi Markus,

Here are my thoughts on the play-experience that lies at the heart of this thread, as you described it.

Quote
Anyway, this is were my problem started. My colleague chose a trait that basically was like "daughter of Boba Fett, famous bounty hunter, +2" ...

Nothing wrong with that, huh? Well, I thought the same ..
.

I agree with you: this is in fact where your problem started. However, I suggest that it was not exactly the problem that you perceived and dealt with. I think there are two problems to consider, both of which are interesting, but only one which has been acknowledged so far. Furthermore, I think the one we've been discussing is the lesser of the two.

Here's the lesser problem: The Pool does not set hard limits on authority. Its virtue is that it opens the door of questioning these things, relative to pre-existing assumptions, rather than providing a perfect methodology for applying them. I'm used to considering that issue in terms of narrating the outcomes of conflicts, either as player or GM, but not in terms of using the traits.

However! The more serious, even central problem may lie at a more fundamental level. You and the player simply were not sharing a common imagined starting point, not in terms of how the created-plot might go (the usual fear regarding The Pool, specifically Monologues of Victory), but in terms of the raw material to work with. Basically, she introduced the imaginative factor of celebrating Star Wars into your much more Gene Wolf like, issue-rich, surreal science fantasy.

This is a serious issue. In Big Model terms, you simply didn't have the same five-component combination, and therefore what System (one of the components) was for became unreliable. When you say "nothing particularly bad per se," I disagree. A confusion at this level of play will produce multiple minor hiccups and sometimes major empty spots in the system as a whole.

At the moment of play, when she decided to use this trait right away, I think you became distracted by the interesting issue of how authority is exerted when using a trait, in particular the notion that a player can "play an NPC" to the extent of bringing him into a scene. An equally interesting and related point is whether the trait confers any decision-making authority to the player over the NPC, i.e., can she say what he does in general. Don't get me wrong: these are important and under-studied issues! However, in this case, I do not think they were especially problematic. If she indeed brought Boba himself into play for purposes of using the trait, well, why not? Have him fly off right afterwards, and the in-game effect is no different from remembering his advice in the past. Your discomfort with that idea is, I think, disproportionate to any difficulty it raises for play - but perhaps it also lies in the subcultural "weight" of Boba fucking Fett, man! rather than merely "Bounty hunter dad" as the definition of the trait. That's what I mean by the mismatch at the level of Exploration creating hiccups in applying the System.

As hiccups do, that hiccup produced further significant consequences, specifically that the real question was skipped. This real question was whether this trait, or any trait, including simple ones like "Strong," is on constant call. My argument is that in such games, no trait should ever be on constant call, as a matter of fundamental design. I've tried to outline how many of the current games have imposed limits against that. However, your advice to her basically went in exactly the other direction and emphasized how "My father is Boba Fett" was usable in pretty much any way imaginable, for anything.

So the hiccup permitted a trapdoor to open underneath you (the group as a whole), specifically, permitting any trait to be used at any time. The other players very sensibly perceived this situation as broken. After all, if all traits can be used all the time, why not just get one trait at the highest possible value? You then solved this problem-on-a-problem with a patch solution, of removing the dice-value of traits. That solution worked, but it didn't "fix The Pool," it fixed the problems inherent in your permission to use a given trait entirely at will.

Let me know whether you think this analysis makes sense. If so, then as I see it, we need to discuss how saying "no, that trait does not apply" gets factored into functional play. (Or more accurately, to extract the useful points from Creative Tension (http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=390) at Anyway, and to incorporate them here.)

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Markus on October 03, 2008, 03:04:26 AM
Ron, thanks for the help. What you said makes a lot of sense to me, even though it made me understand that I failed to communicate the different... hmmm, let's say 'amounts of trouble' that each thing I mentioned caused in the session.

In particular, the central problem of not sharing a common imagined starting point was surely there, as you stated, but I was actively trying to render it unimportant. I decided that 'this guy in our fiction' was named Boba and had the same look, but it wasn't *that* one at all. I also said this prior to playing, and (my impression was that) it wasn't a confusion-generating point during play. So this wasn't exactly a 'star wars celebration', and perhaps most importantly, my 'sense of ownership' about the setting was extremely low, since it was still quite raw and undefined and I was certainly ready to incorporate just about anything into it as play progressed (except perhaps for sentient ducks, but that's another story).

But of course, the sort of hiccups you describe were definitely there even if I tried as hard as possible to go past them. I wonder whether these are unavoidable when playing with someone for the first time, or maybe there are ways to render them less likely/less important? Specific example: I know that this sort of thing never happened with Trollbabe; I'd go as far as to say that they *cannot* happen in Trollbabe. I think I know exactly why this is so, but I also wonder whether there are other ways to do the same thing.

This real question was whether this trait, or any trait, including simple ones like "Strong," is on constant call. My argument is that in such games, no trait should ever be on constant call, as a matter of fundamental design. I've tried to outline how many of the current games have imposed limits against that. However, your advice to her basically went in exactly the other direction and emphasized how "My father is Boba Fett" was usable in pretty much any way imaginable, for anything.

So the hiccup permitted a trapdoor to open underneath you (the group as a whole), specifically, permitting any trait to be used at any time. The other players very sensibly perceived this situation as broken. After all, if all traits can be used all the time, why not just get one trait at the highest possible value? You then solved this problem-on-a-problem with a patch solution, of removing the dice-value of traits. That solution worked, but it didn't "fix The Pool," it fixed the problems inherent in your permission to use a given trait entirely at will.

That's exactly the big problem I perceived. I recognize that giving her the advice about how to invoke traits caused the "number 9 syndrome" (I just finished reading the thread you linked! more on this later), but the thing that bugged me was, I didn't understand how what I said to her was in disagreement with the system. (Just for sake of clarity: I showed her some examples of how she could invoke the same trait in different ways). How is *that* wrong? The crucial issue seems thus to be this one:

[...] then as I see it, we need to discuss how saying "no, that trait does not apply" gets factored into functional play. (Or more accurately, to extract the useful points from Creative Tension (http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=390) at Anyway, and to incorporate them here.)

Exactly! That's what I was trying to do with my previous post. I'm going to re-read the thread and think about it for a couple of days before posting again... One thing is kind of spooky, however: that the discussion you linked took place while I was compiling the list in my provious post, and most of the points are absolutely identical! In particular, Valamir said a lot of the stuff I wanted to say... that's cool.

I also have a specific question for anyone listening: don't you think that a certain level of internal inconsistency could arise in systems that try to encourage (overtly or silently) more than one of the things I listed at point (d) in my previous post? I'd say that's the answer I care about most, since many systems seem to do exactly that (mutiple, often opposed reasons for choosing traits), and I'm not able to make them work for me.

thanks a lot! bye

M


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Callan S. on October 03, 2008, 06:45:29 AM
That's exactly the big problem I perceived. I recognize that giving her the advice about how to invoke traits caused the "number 9 syndrome" (I just finished reading the thread you linked! more on this later), but the thing that bugged me was, I didn't understand how what I said to her was in disagreement with the system. (Just for sake of clarity: I showed her some examples of how she could invoke the same trait in different ways). How is *that* wrong?
As I understand what has been printed in the text, the trait mechanically can be used at basically any old time. So your advice is not wrong or in disagreement with the rule set. It's identical.

I've run a several drafts in my head, wondering how to address this - I don't know why your advice is identified as the problem, when it's identical to how the mechanics work? It's like you advised her that in chess, a pawn can take a queen - then she takes your queen, your bummed out, and your told the problem is you advised her she could do that.

There is some gulf here I have not the wit to bridge - at least not currently (need more sleep!). I'm posting 'I dunno' cause I'm sick of making drafts in my head! :)

Quote
I also have a specific question for anyone listening: don't you think that a certain level of internal inconsistency could arise in systems that try to encourage (overtly or silently) more than one of the things I listed at point (d) in my previous post? I'd say that's the answer I care about most, since many systems seem to do exactly that (mutiple, often opposed reasons for choosing traits), and I'm not able to make them work for me.
Ever seen one of those optical illusions, where the picture both looks like a young lady and an old lady (http://nexusnovel.files.wordpress.com/2006/10/old-younglady.jpg)? Indeed, which you see first is probably what you desire most to see?

I just agree about the inconsistancy easily slipping in. But I'd say they are popular (ie, there are many systems like that), because like the young lady/old lady picture, they appear to be exactly the thing people want to see in them. Of course, the picture doesn't really do justice to either a young lady or an old lady, and it's the same with RPGs.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Callan S. on October 03, 2008, 06:20:16 PM
Yeah, saying 'I dunno' helped clear my head.

In the creative tension/number 9 post I talked about how many roleplayers, through body language or tone, try to influence someone after they make a move. In an attempt to make them not do that move again, rather than just feeling how the move makes them feel.

I think it's important to note that one can also try to influence someones move even before they've made it. You can even do this as you describe the rules to them, by the way you describe what moves are possible - emphasizing certain options, by downplaying certain other qualities, not even mentioning some qualities (repeatable use, for example), making negative faces while describing what is mechanically a perfectly valid use, or whatever. There are many methods.

You can even do it on a forum, talking about how someone will run the pool next time. Whether that's happening here in this thread, is something to consider.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 07, 2008, 08:51:45 AM
Hi Markus,

For clarity, I had to clip out your (d) from the older post and combine it with your question, so I'll put all that here for reference:

Quote
(d) How do you choose which trait to use, among the list of those your PC possess?
- I'm trying to obtain maximum (mechanical) effectiveness
- I'm trying try to reveal something new about my PC
- I'm trying to bring to the table the theme/issue that I hardwired to my PC by choosing this trait
- I'm trying to choose the trait that preserves the most stringent consequentiality/coherence of the fiction
...
don't you think that a certain level of internal inconsistency could arise in systems that try to encourage (overtly or silently) more than one of the things I listed at point (d) in my previous post? I'd say that's the answer I care about most, since many systems seem to do exactly that (mutiple, often opposed reasons for choosing traits), and I'm not able to make them work for me

Your list and your question are strongly linked to the concept of Creative Agendas and how they can clash at the table. Or to be fully accurate, how differing individual views of what the group agenda should be can result in a clashing, disconnected experience.

Since we are talking about a specific Technique (the traits concept as carefully defined above), a particular use cannot be absolutely identified with a given agenda. For instance, regarding a Legends of the 5 Rings character I liked a lot, I might want my character to be very strongly slanted toward speed, and spend various points in character creation that maximize the appropriate attributes as well as grab the particular traits (one of which gave him +2 initiative as I recall). In that case, however, my interest was for the character to be established as a scary-fast fighter, and therefore for his moral choices to center more heavily on family and love. The increased effectiveness was less of a goal in itself and more of a means to arrive at what the problematic "goal" (actually a question) might be. Therefore I don't want to give the impression that your first option under (d) is Gamist, always and forever, amen. That's why I said "strongly linked" rather than "defines" or "is."

That very point is why I think a given system can successfully encourage more than one of the items in your list, and by "successfully," I mean "doesn't threaten the coherence of a given Agenda." I do think that such a system might do well to privilege one of the items above the others, in mechanics terms. The Riddle of Steel provides an excellent example, in that using the Spiritual Attributes affords insanely high bonuses for thematically-directed play, outweighing all other choices of how points were spent during character creation or what combat option might be chosen at the moment. (This example also illustrates a minor problem with your summary of your fourth item - the theme/issue does not have to be hardwired from the beginning; it might be quite adjustable in play. This is especially the case for The Riddle of Steel, Sorcerer, Legends of Alyria, and The Shadow of Yesterday.)

If all four items were present in a system in more-or-less equal terms, however, then I know from experience that play becomes difficult in Creative Agenda terms, and subject to radical Drift in order to find what's fun "in there." That actually characterizes some games from the mid-1990s very well, especially if the reward mechanic for the game were difficult to interpret as well. I think that's the case for Legend of the 5 Rings.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Callan S. on October 08, 2008, 12:11:49 AM
Aye! Just like a poet could use words very, very effectively to convey their message, someone can use a system very, very effectively and yet still be like the poet, rather than a gamist player.

I wonder if naming traits is a matter of practicality (like turn order based on seating, or whatever) or if it's an authorship tool (like making thematically significant choices, or naming spiritual attributes in 'The riddle of steel' is)? Or can only the designer say?


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Markus on October 13, 2008, 11:32:33 AM
Hi Ron, Callan,
thanks for your replies. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I don't understand them. Well, most of it makes perfect sense to me, but I have this strange feeling that what Ron described is only part of my problem.

I have this example in mind: let's say that I favor story now over everything else, and all the people playing with me share this mindset. No agenda clash whatsoever. In a lot of systems, I'll have at least two items from my previous list jumping at me from my character sheet. Let's say that this particular system tries to do both #1, #2 and #3. I think there is a good number of systems doing just that, to different degrees.

If I understand correctly, basically you're saying, 'drive towards your goal with whatever means the system gives to you'. I'm not thinking about gamism or sim or anything else: my goal is 100% story now. Regardless of my goal however, the system is saying this to me: "do *this* and you'll roll more dice!" "Do *that* and you'll roll less dice!" (or whichever effectiveness-bumping mechanic is at work).

So my question basically remains the same: do you really find that just any kind of "this", in the sentence above, can be a functional narrativist tool? Because I'm completely, utterly failing to see how Ron's "improved initiative" example is a functional "this" in this context.

I care about your answers a lot, because once I understand your point, a whole lot of games that now are just accumulating dust on my shelf could become interesting to me again. Thanks in advance!

PS: I'm noticing that very few people tried to answer to my previous questions about traits. So I'm planning to tackle this problem from a different angle, but I'd like to hear your comment on this before actually doing it. Basically, I'd like to start a new thread here in Actual Play, asking people for examples of successful use of 'traits' in their games, with the largest possible amount of detail down to the very words spoken at the table. I'm interested in all those 'real' events going on at the table, that in most AP reports get summarized with 'I used trait X'. I suspect I could learn a lot from this. Would that be an OK thing to do here in the AP forum, given that it's more an actual play 'request' than an actual play 'report'?

thanks again!

m


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Callan S. on October 15, 2008, 02:59:50 PM
Quote
So my question basically remains the same: do you really find that just any kind of "this", in the sentence above, can be a functional narrativist tool? Because I'm completely, utterly failing to see how Ron's "improved initiative" example is a functional "this" in this context.
Damn, yes, I see what you mean, I think! I usually spot the disconnect your seeing...didn't this time, for some reason.

Okay, I'll describe how I engage the situation. I watched a documentary once on people who make scupltures out of wood. One craftsman described the start of the process it as looking at the block of  wood and seeing what sculpture was in the wood, waiting to be made. Then it was a matter of carving it out.

So they'd see something in that block of wood that they could shape it into (you get what I mean?). The same goes for the improved initiative (in terms of how I engage this situation) - rather than Ron telling you what it means when he uses it in game, its about you seeing or trying to see what's in the 'block' so to speak. This includes the possiblity of not seeing anything at all - it might be too abstract (number nine syndrome is an example of high abstraction). Also, to see something in the 'block' requires creativity from you and creativity cannot be demanded (I could go on for a few paragraphs about that).

For example, what I could see in the improved initative 'block' instead is a character who doesn't necessarily have a problem with family or love. I think maybe he likes being a fast warrior, and like a workaholic, while he might try and placate family and love, it's potentially all token. If the character faced this, he might snap out of workaholism, or he might say in terms of whats important, hes doing it already and will keep doing it. I wonder which?

Pure invention on my part. It's not 'there' in improved initiative at all. It raised a question, a good question, in my mind. But there's nothing in the actual mechanics of improved intiative. Ron attached an issue to it(and I used part of that in forming my question), but its an attachment - its not inherant to the mechanics. It's the emotional attachment that matters.

If you wanted to do it like that, yeah, you look at the system use and you 'see' something in it (which is really just inventing something in it). This can be impossible to do if it's just too abstract - I don't have any answers for what to do in this case, except suggest rules can be written that have considerably lower abstraction levels. Also if someone else is insisting there's something in the trait, it kills the ability to creatively see something in it. Because they keep telling you exactly what to see. I don't know what to do about this at all.

From what you describe of the pools trait mechanics, it's just too abstract for you (too abstract for me as well). And it sounds like a valid system move to plug any old thing into a trait. Doing anything beyond suggesting they do something else would apply force*. There really isn't much to be done except give up on that particular system.

So yeah, it's really up to whether you can see a narrativist tool in any particular "this". If you can't, its doesn't work and that has to be accepted rather than trying to force you to see it. It's like looking at abstract art - sometimes you just can't see anything in it but blocks or lines. Some people might see all sorts of wonderful things, but sometimes it's just blocks and lines and vectors.

Or maybe I see the whole thing the wrong way or something. But that seems to be how it all works, to me.

Does that produce atleast one practical outcome for you, on how to cover this and move on? It might not be a happy one - those books on your bookshelf might be include a large amount of abstraction. But it is one way of moving on, I think.


* To do the full bookwork on this for the sake of general reading: Once in play, anything beyond suggestion is force. And if you just suggest, well they can decline a suggestion and still use Bobba Fett, leaving you at abstraction again. Finally, if you think 'Oh, maybe I didn't suggest in just the right manner' it's heading back over to force. Suggestion means genuinely accepting they might decline - its not suggestion if it involves figuring out how to get them to do something next time.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Marshall Burns on October 16, 2008, 01:39:15 PM
I'm thinking that the main thrust of Ron's "improved initiative" example is that he made the character such that fighting would not be an issue at all -- such that fighting would not challenge the character, which means that A) the character will look cool in fights, and B) effective (and therefore interesting) challenges would have to come from other arenas.  Arenas which, in this case, Ron was interested in exploring.  I'm not familiar with the game in question, but I am familiar with that technique.  In fact, in my game The Rustbelt, in chargen you set your scores arbitrarily to whatever value you want, for exactly this purpose.  This also strikes me as a potential use for traits in the Pool.

-Marshall


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 20, 2008, 09:50:54 AM
Hi Markus,

I'm glad you brought up the issue of "when does this Trait apply" in the [Space Rat] Femme babe action at GenCon (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26870.0) thread, and I'll address that there. Here, I'd like to follow up on my L5R character Kakita Gan and bring this thread topic into the very important concept of Positioning.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Positioning is one of the three conceptual features of a role-playing character (yes, any character; this is high-level theory stuff). Rules for character creation, use, and change only make sense insofar as they play into these three things. Resources are like the battery for the character; if they are brought too low, the character cannot be played. Some games set them as "always on," like PTA, and recently some games have set them to fail at specific stages of play, like Polaris, but most of us are familiar with them through hit points, wound levels, energy levels, and similar. Also, in many games, lowered resources places limits on what a character can do. Effectiveness is about the impact a character can have on any aspects of play - the quintessential Effectiveness mechanic is a damage roll for a successful attack. But it applies to all rolls to do stuff, or for that matter, rules to do stuff including things which do not require mechanics like rolls or card draws. Positioning is about how the character relates to everything else in the game, both fictionally ("Loves animals, Extreme," "Hunted by his villainous grandfather") and procedurally ("spend a Story Point to say that this just-encountered NPC is a relative").

In this construction, many games use rules and points to combine and relate specific aspects of the three things. It's more typical to blend them, mechanically, than to render them distinct. So Experience Points in Champions, for instance, may be spent to increase a character's Strength or Energy Blast (Effectiveness), to increase Endurance or Stun or Body (Resources), or to modify what in that game is called a Disadvantage, e.g. reduce the harm intended by a designated enemy (Positioning).

In this day and age of RPG design, I think Positioning might rightly be recognized as the most central aspect of one's character, but as we all know, historically, the reverse has been the case. A good example: in the 20+ distinct in-setting magic "systems" in Talislanta, all of them feature a Bolt, Shield, and Wall spell, regardless of the absurdity of an "Alchemical Bolt" spell among others. This illustrates that effectiveness in the standing paradigm of combat as previously-established by Champions and RuneQuest, is more central to play than how thematic or flexible magic is. To be clear, by "absurd" I am referring only peripherally to in-game metaphysics and far more to an aesthetic, thematic standard.

OK, so what does all this have to do with Kakita Gan's traits? In this game, there are many detailed features of a character, in addition to the basic attributes and skills: Clan identity, Advantages, Disadvantages, and a list of 20 questions. My point is that most of them are very easily identifiable as Positioning, but that I am also choosing to regard all of them as Positioning, even indirectly. I suppose I could simply have chosen the +2 to inititative for its own sake, but as it happens, I chose it in tandem with many, many features of character building which maximized formal, speed + precision sword combat. On casual or raw inspection, that particular advantage is Effectiveness, but I have chosen to regard Effectiveness and Resources as expressions and reinforcements of Positioning - I took pains to make Positioning central even though the various rules of L5R are a bit of a mess in helping to focus on it, and, if I really had to pin it down numerically, tend toward Effectiveness as where most of character-building effort lies.

How about in play itself? Fighting in this game is pretty risky, so the Traits and stuff I took aren't guarantees of constant combat success. However, as far as one important element of successful fighting is concerned, speed and precision hits, Kakita Gan is about as maxed as one can get for a starting character. (There are other such elements, like going for massive damage or maximizing the interesting Void score.) My point is that the build-philosophy and choice of Traits is not about guarantees or walling off the character from one kind of problem, but it does establish him, in system terms, of having no defect whatsoever regarding a particular take on combat.

One of the most important points about this Trait discussion issue is always to keep in mind the other aspects of character design as well as whatever resolution mechanics are used. Doing so brings up crucial insights - for instance, whether the Traits affect resolution very much, or whether the Traits in question matter in a special way due to their relationships with other things, like attribute scores. For a simple example of that latter, in some systems, a Trait permits an increased attribute score which can ignore maximums arising from other factors. So one character might take the Speedy Trait and get +2 to an attribute called Speed because the character otherwise has poor Speed, whereas another character might take the same Trait to pop his high Speed above the maximum.

I hope that this shows how Traits were one piece of how the mosaic of this character comes together as a Premise-type question. Markus, you specified that we are indeed talking about Narrativist play as the straightforward goal, and I'm saying that if that's the case, then Positioning is the point of character construction, with Resources and Effectiveness not being ignored, but rather utilized as reinforcers of that Positioning.

If that element of character creation is well-understood by everyone at the table, then the rules-extent of Traits isn't a deal-breaker. You can use Traits which are extremely high-powered in how they affect the resolution system, and if the whole point of such Traits is understood to be directed toward Positioning, that's a fine thing.

That's why I tried to emphasize how, when playing The Pool, the importance of Narrativism cannot be overlooked. Not because "story is more important than rules," but rather the opposite: because if story creation is a top priority, then rules like the difference between a 1-die Trait and a 3-dice Trait can be a big part of Positioning for that character.

Bluntly, I do not see that in your account of play at all. As far as I can tell, the player saw no particular reason to use a Trait except for the dice; or if she did, then she was given no credit for that by everyone else. I can name a thousand ways for "My father is Boba Fett" to be a fantastic Positioning trait for heightening the Premise-y presence of a character in play - but unless the player, you as GM, and the rest of the group at the table want to do this and trust one another to do it, then it won't happen. That's especially important when a Trait is a relationship, because that means that the NPC is jointly played by player and GM, and so they must both be committed to its Positioning power. If they are, then the 2 dice (as opposed to 1) contributes to Premise, rather than distracting from it, which is apparently what really happened in your group's case.

Best, Ron
edited to fix initial link - RE


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Callan S. on October 21, 2008, 03:27:30 PM
I think this ties into Marcus' point from before...
Quote
I don't want to criticize games that I don't understand fully yet, but how many times have I read the phrase "The key point in playing PTA is..." (btw, it also showed up in this very thread)? My opinion is that that key point, if it is indeed a key point, should be there in the text for everyone to grasp.
I think his lack of trust that she'd position is actually a good thing, IMO. It's critical analysis of why someone would do something they have not been told to do. To me, that lack of trust makes sense.

Why would she position when the text does not instruct her to do so? Or perhaps more accurately, how much has the text done to inform her that in order to play, she must position?

I think a certain lack of trust at the critical level should always be sustained. Is it possible to play the pool or PTA while maintaining a certain degree of distrust, or do you have to completely trust (no amount of distrust permitted) that she will position?


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: FredGarber on October 24, 2008, 03:17:17 PM
Quote
I don't want to criticize games that I don't understand fully yet, but how many times have I read the phrase "The key point in playing PTA is..." (btw, it also showed up in this very thread)? My opinion is that that key point, if it is indeed a key point, should be there in the text for everyone to grasp.

In my copy of PTA, on page 8, it describes Traits.  The last paragraphs talk about how a trait can be used : "A player can use a protagonist's traits to improve the outcome of a situation where the trait applies.  When the character is doing research, being a retired professor will help, but being an auto mechanic probably will not.  The Protaganist with the professor edge, then, can apply that trait to learn more from the research. Each trait can be used in this manner a number of times in each episode equal to a protagon'st's current screen presence (see below).  After that, the player must spend fan mail each additional time he or she wishes to use the trait."

So using the Trait indiscriminately, in every challenge?  That's this game's Drift, not the game designer not including how to use Traits.  I think that if you enforced that a Trait could only be used so many times an Episode, it might have made her ration how often she brought up the trait.

I still think the biggest problem as described in your actual play is that you expected a story with a different style than your player.  She brought in the Edge "louder" than you expected at that point at the story.  I don't think there's anything _wrong_ per se with that either, but it is a potential risk in a game that lets multiple players come up with the story.

-Fred


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Callan S. on October 26, 2008, 05:23:38 PM
I was reading the thread through again and looking at where I suggested to Markus he wanted informed consent (to which he agreed), then I looked back to one of Ron's posts.

Quote from: Ron
A person could be forced by the rules to write up all manner of Traits, for instance the Dogs-like progression you describe, and he or she could still play the character as a stupid theme-less mass.

What you describe as an uncomfortable risk, which is to say expecting people who play with you to share your agenda for play, I call a basic expectation. Simply put, [/b]I do not play The Pool with people I don't trust to do that[/b] - or more accurately, if I feel like playing Narrativist (which is most of the time), then I'm bloody well going to play with people who currently feel the same way.
No problem with someone playing with those who they trust to do a procedure and excluding others.

But in terms of designing, do we all just decide to leave it there? It's purely up to a player and not the text?

For example, I can imagine someone reading a game that forces the player to write up all sorts of theme based traits. I can imagine this person, if they didn't like thematic play, going "Eww, not for me" and they decline to play/they exclude themselves. They don't need someone else to decide if they can be trusted to follow the procedure - they simply exclude themselves to begin with.

There doesn't just have to be some person who decides who he trusts to do the procedure and exclude others. The text can inform readers enough that they will exclude themselves. And both of these can work in tandem!

But a trait which can, as Marcus notes, be defined as anything...is that rule informing a potential player enough to thematic content? Enough that they will exclude themselves should they dislike or currently not be interested in doing that?

Really that's all a design choice - as a designer you can leave it just to people to only play with people they trust to position. Or you can have both that and the text helps readers exclude themselves. Me? I'm leaning toward both! I think that the exclusion is so useful to supporting play, the text should support it too.

Or am I grasping at straws to draw some conclusion here? Well, even if I am, that straw looks a good one to keep in mind either way.

Side note: Markus' actual play account was using the pool, not PTA.


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 26, 2008, 05:52:11 PM
Hey,

I think it's time for this thread to spawn sub-threads. One has already occured, the one about Space Rat. In it, Markus 'ported over the question about how exactly is the use of a given trait actually invoked during play. That's a really good question and for purposes of discourse, I think we should let it drop in this thread and deal with it over there, in the context of the specific game and instance of play which I've described.

Callan, the question you keep coming back to is how text is involved in the process. I think that it must be said: text alone cannot do it, at least not yet. For one thing, I can count the number of times that everyone at the RPG table has read the actual text on the fingers of one hand. For another, the state of the hobby is such that one-on-one, or one-on-group teaching is the standard expectation. A person who GMs a game is supposed to teach it to everyone else; if there's no formal GM, then the person who teaches it to everyone else actually becomes something of a formal GM anyway.

So the problem is not really with the text in relation to play, it's with the text in relation to whatever real-person teaching process is at work and only then in relation to play. Believe me, speaking as a struggling author in this hobby, the capacity of readers and role-players to read exactly what they expect, in full defiance of the words on the page, is astonishing. And unfortunately, since only one or at most two people are reading it, there is no corrective mechanism among the group as a whole for whatever they think they've read. We do not know yet, as a subculture, how to make text and learning and subsequent play actually work together. "Write more clearly" is a fine thing, I struggle with it constantly, but it's only one nail, and hammering it ever harder isn't the sole aspect of the solution. This is a work in progress at the largest scale, across many games and certainly across many years to come.

This isn't to shut you down - far from it. You are asking yet another excellent question from the guts of this thread: what should text fairly present about using a technique of this kind? I think it's fair and even right for you to claim this particular question as yours, the thing you're really seizing upon in this thread. It would be absolutely excellent to make a whole thread on just that one thing.

Because, I tell ya, I can't keep up with the convolutions and ins and outs of this thread. It's too big. It's had too many questions raised and too many (although few) settled. More stuff in it is too much for me to manage at the same time as working with parallel dialogue in new threads.

I think you're the best person to start a new thread about your question, most especially maintaining the pointed observation, perhaps even accusation, that I entered into the "teach this system" mode rather than "discuss this text's actual written rules" mode in order to talk about using Traits in playing The Pool. That was absolutely right. I want to get at that and we need a thread to do it.

Best, Ron

P.S. Added for clarity: I'm not closing this thread. Markus, I'm interested in whether my points about Positioning are making sense to you, and we can continue that here. (edited in - RE)


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Markus on October 27, 2008, 04:48:05 AM
I have so many things to say I don't even know where to start... OK, let's do it step by step, most important things first:

(1) As I mentioned in Ron's hugely helpful Space Rat thread, I feel that this thread is now a tad too abstract for my taste, and most importantly I feel it's starting to going in circles without much actual progress (at least for me)... So if it's OK for everybody (and btw, thanks a lot to everyone who joined the discussion!) I'd prefer to move *most* of the discussion to other threads, in which we discuss specific side issues backed with pertinent actual play, and not in abstract terms like here.

(2) One thing I really, really cannot understand now is *why on earth* I called this thread "Blah blah...*PtA style*". And one wonders why us roleplayers have difficulties in grasping innovative rpg concepts? OMG, I even fumbled the TITLE of my thread, that should say all. OK, enough self-flagellation for now. On the bright side, the wrong thread title is also due to naive generalizations that now, after this discussion, I wouldn't do again. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that maybe another reason for closing this thread is that it's got a hugely off-topic title. Especially because: (see point 3)

(3) The one bit of this thread I think we can still discuss here (if anyone is still interested, that is) is about my actual play report and how/why *ThePool* as a system failed me (not as a whole, but in subtle, specific ways). I feel I have a lot to learn here from this.

(4) Ron, this 'positioning' stuff is so crucial I can't believe it does not appear in every other thread here (but in retrospect, maybe it does, under the cover of other stuff). It's also a bit frustrating for me: I seem to be close to grasp something new, but I'm also sure I'm not quite there yet. I *think* I understood positioning in general terms; but in my head, the new concepts perfectly 'lock-in' with my original questions, to the point of reinforcing them. Specifically, you said:

"In this game, there are many detailed features of a character, in addition to the basic attributes and skills: Clan identity, Advantages, Disadvantages, and a list of 20 questions. My point is that most of them are very easily identifiable as Positioning, but that I am also choosing to regard all of them as Positioning, even indirectly."

and,

"On casual or raw inspection, that particular advantage is Effectiveness, but I have chosen to regard Effectiveness and Resources as expressions and reinforcements of Positioning - I took pains to make Positioning central even though the various rules of L5R are a bit of a mess in helping to focus on it, and, if I really had to pin it down numerically, tend toward Effectiveness as where most of character-building effort lies."

In my understanding, you (and, very importantly, all the people playing with you) had a clear creative agenda in mind, and according to this, you used whatever tool the system gave you to make it happen, even if the tool itself wasn't probably the best to do that, and even if the tool turned a simple thing into a complex one. Yes, you can eat a pork chop with a spoon, if you want. Which makes me wonder, isn't this an exemplary case of system drift?

Now, if the above is true, one alternative way of describe what you did could perhaps be the following. You read the L5R rulebook, which was your sole medium through which you could learn what this game was. The text was completely silent in how to support your crateive agenda, but you saw how that system could be used toward that end nonetheless. And now the crucial point that's giving me hedaches: in my opinion, even if you then played L5R completely by-the-book (re: the system mechanics), you *added* a meaning that wasn't originally there, by functionally drifting the system. So, in my current way of seeing things, you didn't play *the* L5R game; the text vagueness renders it impossible to state whether the way you played is the one that its author envisioned, or not.

Now, I'm finding strong analogies between what you described for L5R and what you suggested I should consider for ThePool. I can see the merit of your suggestions, and they'll help me a lot in my future sessions. But, given the reasoning above, did't you basically suggested me something very close to drifting the system? I mean, with ThePool it's a way more subtle and small drift wrt that you needed to do with L5R, but isn't it system drifting nonetheless? I ask this because I still cannot tell how my way of communicating/playing ThePool was less "by the book" than yours (prior to my "patch"); BUT, I can see that mine was a *much less functional* drift given my Story Now CA.

What was the specific system portion drifted? The traits rules. Why? Because The Pool, I literally mean the written text, leaves me in the dark re: how to use this technique in my games. I was in a position in which I *needed* to add something to the system; and that something I added was probably not the best solution. Now I can see it.

...Even as I'm writing this I can see how this thread is moving more and more into abstraction and away from real, at-the-table play, which is something I feel is not what I'm searching for. So if any of you has specific comments on this I'll be happy to hear them, BUT I'll also be happy if you just ignore my last post; we'll continue discussing the 'real' stuff in other threads.

thanks a lot again!

M


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Peter Nordstrand on October 27, 2008, 10:03:10 AM
I think it's time for this thread to spawn sub-threads. One has already occured, the one about Space Rat.

Hm. I'm not normally one to blow my own horn, but if I could I would, as Letterman says. Traits in While We Were Fighting (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26901.0).


Cheers,

Grumpy


Title: Re: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 27, 2008, 10:26:01 AM
Thanks for including that as an important related thread, Peter, and perhaps those of us who are interested can generate some discussion there.

Given Markus' last post, I have decided to dictate that this thread is now closed. I'll be starting a new one to address the issue of Drift, quoting his questions about that.

Callan, I don't want to put you on the spot. I don't know if you want to start a new thread per my recommendation, but if you don't, I'll be happy to do it, attempting to preserve the issues you raised and obviously making them subject to your revision or clarification. However, probably not for a few days. Let me know by PM.

Best, Ron