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Author Topic: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?  (Read 14515 times)
Markus
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« 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
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 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
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jburneko
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« Reply #2 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
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Georgios Panagiotidis
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« Reply #3 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.
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Five tons of flax!
I started a theory blog in German. Whatever will I think of next?
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 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
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Moreno R.
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« Reply #5 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.
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Markus
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« Reply #6 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
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 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
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Callan S.
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« Reply #8 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.
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Markus
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« Reply #9 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?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 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.
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Christopher Kubasik
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Posts: 1159


« Reply #11 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.
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
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Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #12 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! :)
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Markus
Member

Posts: 32


« Reply #13 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!
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John Harper
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Posts: 1054

flip you for real


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« Reply #14 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:


The Sausage Machine:


Maybe they'll facilitate discussion here.
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Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!
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