*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
September 02, 2014, 11:10:28 PM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 36 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
Pages: 1 [2] 3
Print
Author Topic: Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?  (Read 13704 times)
jburneko
Member

Posts: 1429


« Reply #15 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
Logged
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« Reply #16 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? which reaches back into the Sorcerer mailing list archives from 1999 (linked here; you'll see the relevant topics on the list
Traits & skills
Mike's Standard Rant #4: stat/skill systems
Twist on the skill + attribute dice pool mechanic
Choosing and defining the stats (good internal links including one to an essay by John Kim)
Traits and skills threads please (this gathered together many previous links)
Roll 3d6 ... what is this?

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."
Logged
Markus
Member

Posts: 32


« Reply #17 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
Logged
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« Reply #18 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?

Best, Ron
Logged
Markus
Member

Posts: 32


« Reply #19 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
Logged
Callan S.
Member

Posts: 4268


WWW
« Reply #20 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.
Logged

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« Reply #21 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, 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; 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
Logged
FredGarber
Member

Posts: 95


« Reply #22 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"
Logged
Moreno R.
Member

Posts: 547


« Reply #23 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.
Logged

Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Markus
Member

Posts: 32


« Reply #24 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
Logged
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« Reply #25 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 at Anyway, and to incorporate them here.)

Best, Ron
Logged
Markus
Member

Posts: 32


« Reply #26 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 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
Logged
Callan S.
Member

Posts: 4268


WWW
« Reply #27 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? 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.
Logged

Callan S.
Member

Posts: 4268


WWW
« Reply #28 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.
Logged

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« Reply #29 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
Logged
Pages: 1 [2] 3
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.16 | SMF © 2011, Simple Machines
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!