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Author Topic: [Space Rat] Femme babe action at GenCon  (Read 3464 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: October 16, 2008, 03:41:31 PM »

I demonstrated Space Rat quite a bit at the Forge booth. It was a reasonably strong draw, with a brightly-colored cover, intriguing name, and the quick pull of the femme babe concept. For a while, I enjoyed displaying it with It Was a Mutual Decision, as a "rats & girlfriends" combo. Here, I want to go into how it worked, how I parceled out information during the demo itself, and especially how it apparently delivered for a lot of people. I also want to discuss some aspects of "traits" in the game, as it's relevant to the discussion in Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?

I brought three characters; Calamity the Cowgirl right from the rules, and I made up two others, Splenda the Dynamo Girl and Minda the Scheming Girl. The latter represents a fairly off-beat application of the rules, with traits like Adaptable and gear like the Ultimate Pocket Organizer. She suited players who enjoyed stuff like "rolling to show up at the right moment." We usually used two of the characters, for two players choosing whoever they wanted, with anyone else at the table being more like a cheering section.

For purposes of the demo, I referred to a scenario as if we were playing it, without really playing it. It involved a pod-ship with tentacles kidnapping the Galactic President from his rodeo-type State of the Galaxy Address, and a later scene when the femme babes were on the ship, which is bigger on the inside than on the outside. If Calamity was involved, she was in the rodeo; if Minda was involved, I often let the player decide (and roll for) how she entered the action, and I also tended to start a character in a shitty little piano lounge where Jack was supposed to be having a date with her, but disappears into the bathroom and is never seen again. Typically these became "catch the kidnapping ship" conflicts, which gave us a chance to look at basic resolution and learn about Attention Stars.

Then I'd quickly explain the Luck rules, and run two final bits separately for each character: a fight with some Gamma Men, and a scene with Tim the Mutant Gamma Man. The joke here is that Gamma Men are really ugly (see the bottom of page 8 in the review PDF and Tim, being a mutant one, looks like Tim Koppang who was readily on hand at the booth to point at during the demo. (He had no idea why I kept doing this.) Anyway, Tim, which is to say, the character, begins the encounter in his fern-bar like ship's bridge by complimenting the femme babe, being amazingly courteous and nice (unlike Jack!) and offering himself basically to become her new Jack, for a "life of true crime and love."

It was tons of fun to watch people's eyes light up right when I described the Luck and interference rules. They already enjoyed the color and the basic concept, they'd seen that resolution was pretty easy, they understood the tacit competition among the babes for Jack's attention, and now they learned that even when their own character isn't in play, they are still totally engaged via the Luck testing. Instance audience and partial authoring mechanics? Yay! The final scenes were always full of Luck testing. and many of the demos ended with people laughing, comparing Attention Stars, and wanting to play more. As with Dread the day before, I had no beef at all with demoing this game all day long. I totally lost count of how many times.

Space Rat offers an excellent example of the issues Markus raised in the thread I linked to, on the positive side of the ledger. Using the Traits and the trait-like feature Gear typically isn't problematic. They are weakly (but interestingly) constrained in that, for any action, you can alter your chances by using two of your Traits, Gear, or both, but only two at any given time. They don't get checked off or diminished through use.

Basic resolution in Space Rat is a little bit like Fudge. You use an attribute (say Body) which is, say, "Good," then the necessary level for the action is announced, say, also Good, and that gives a target number to hit with 2d6 (rolling high). When you use a Trait and/or Gear, it bumps your starting level up by one for each, usually two, so now it would be your Incredible Body vs. Good to determine the target number. You can see the table on the character sheet, finding that that's 5 or higher. (You get an Attention Star if you exceed the target by a whole bunch.)

Why are they fun? Because they're thematic rather than tactical, meaning that the benefit of using them is real but not overwhelmingly important, and also not different from one to the other. It matters more which one you choose, in terms of what you want your character to be "about." This is also built into the reward system - you want to build up lots of Traits and Gear, not necessarily to be able to use them more often, but so you can have a broader thematic range of options.

I want to stress that the key aspect of Traits and Gear in Space Rat isn't that sometimes they're barred to you because "they don't apply." That might happen, but it's anything like what I used to observe in certain kinds of Champions play, if someone likes the idea of a "hole" in their character's effectiveness, then the fun thing to do over time is to build up everything else, both in breadth and depth, so that the "hole" became ever more obvious.

This whole concept of Traits as a kind of thematic package for what the femme babe is like at her awesome-est is also crucial to the comparative aspect of play, among femme babes, both in concept/color and in terms of Attention Stars. Color + Reward: you just cannot beat this game for how well-integrated they are. It's comparable to My Life with Master, carry, 3:16, Grey Ranks, and Dust Devils, but unlike these games, it features utterly positive protagonists and a light-hearted spirit to play in general. That's amazing.

Best, Ron
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2008, 03:52:57 PM »

I want to stress that the key aspect of Traits and Gear in Space Rat isn't that sometimes they're barred to you because "they don't apply." That might happen, but it's anything like what I used to observe in certain kinds of Champions play, if someone likes the idea of a "hole" in their character's effectiveness, then the fun thing to do over time is to build up everything else, both in breadth and depth, so that the "hole" became ever more obvious.

That clicked for me. Thanks for the interesting write-up. Reminds me of how I should get in touch with the spaceratcreatorguy and try to get some of that game for Finns, too.
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« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2008, 03:15:35 AM »

That clicked for me. Thanks for the interesting write-up. Reminds me of how I should get in touch with the spaceratcreatorguy and try to get some of that game for Finns, too.

Eero, lets get the Finns some Rat.  nathan DOT russell AT perilplanet DOT com

Why are they fun? Because they're thematic rather than tactical, meaning that the benefit of using them is real but not overwhelmingly important, and also not different from one to the other. It matters more which one you choose, in terms of what you want your character to be "about." This is also built into the reward system - you want to build up lots of Traits and Gear, not necessarily to be able to use them more often, but so you can have a broader thematic range of options.

It took me a long time to grasp what made the femme babe's fun.  If you go back to the original 24-hour game it is full of rules on how to create equipment, skills and specialisations and all kinds of other things.  I then spent a long time developing and building on all these concepts before realising they were not necessary.  I was running a game and kept wanting players to do things that I thought were appropriate for their character concept but the rules were discouraging.  Players had become hung-up on how many damage descriptors their ray gun had, or whether their rocket boots had movement x2 or x3.  I realised "Who cares?"  You're Natalia the Femme Fatale Girl, get in there, flirt with those Deadon Guards and then impale them on your cigarette holder!

It was really, REALLY important to me that the traits and gear didn't overshadow the character herself.  In early games skills and gear provided too much of a bonus and it became possible for players (especially my savvy playtest group!) to stack skills, specialties and gear and become a bit of a one-trick pony.  A lot of players would avoid doing things if they didn't have an ability or piece of equipment that would aid them.  So all that stuff went!  All traits (and gear) do the same thing, it's just up to the players to decide when and how they want to work them into the story.  I tend to play fast-and-loose, giving players plenty of leeway.  In one game a player wanted their femme babe to swallow the Villainess whole (that was way out of left field!), taking advantage of her "contortionist" trait tp open her jaws wide enough!  I think that the trait and gear descriptors give players a clear description of the character and lots of options, without limiting opportunities - which is really important in a free-wheeling game of over-the-top action.  I am very pleased with character advancement.  It avoids the escalation of power (where characters get more powerful weapons or special abilities or whatever) that early versions of the game suffered from.  When a femme babe progresses now she simply gains more ways to impress Jack, providing players with new and interesting ways to get into and out of trouble!

It was tons of fun to watch people's eyes light up right when I described the Luck and interference rules.

For me, the Luck rules are the game.  There are plenty of rules that help you roleplay your femme babe and get her into and out of exciting adventures, but the Luck rules catapult the players into the adventure too!  I love the additional layer to the game that has players sitting about the table encouraging one another to "Go on, spend a Luck point!  Give it a go!" when what they are really thinking is "Oh I hope he stuffs that Luck roll!".  It brings a smile to my face now, just thinking about the number of times Luck has changed the entire direction of a game.  Because a failed luck roll gives control to the player who called for the test, anything can happen! I have run games where femme babes have been sucked into the vacuum of space, assaulted by monkeys in party hats and solved the entire "mystery" in the first ten minutes of play!

Tim, being a mutant one, looks like Tim Koppang who was readily on hand at the booth to point at during the demo. (He had no idea why I kept doing this.)

Ron, I love the idea that your games made reference to other people in the booth!  Space Rat pokes fun at lots of pop-culture stereotypes and encourages players to not take anything too seriously.  It specifically talks about the self-referential style (page 43 fans!) and encourages players to embrace this.  At GenCon Oz we had encounters with "generic" convention goers, several cries of "that's no moon..." and a lucky escape by hiding in an old lead-lined refridgerator... Next time I run the game the characters may very well run into a group of roleplayers that are eerily familiar to the players!

Thanks for all the effort you put into demo-ing the game Ron.  They sound like fantastic intros to Jack Cosmos and the femme babes.
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« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2008, 03:54:12 AM »

Ron, thanks a lot for posting this... I was really stuck about how to move on with the traits discussion in the other thread, since it was becoming a tad too abstract. Also, I'm really starting to see a common theme in all the posts above, and it seems to be the answer to one of the questions I posed before. Here comes my usual, abrupt barrage of questions. :-)

Why are they fun? Because they're thematic rather than tactical, meaning that the benefit of using them is real but not overwhelmingly important, and also not different from one to the other. It matters more which one you choose, in terms of what you want your character to be "about." This is also built into the reward system - you want to build up lots of Traits and Gear, not necessarily to be able to use them more often, but so you can have a broader thematic range of options.

-Am I correct in inferring that the key point in the sentences above is (mechanically speaking) that the traits are "not overwhelmingly important, and also not different from one to the other"? And that *this* allows both (1) the traits to be "thematic rather than tactical", and (2) making the choice between them a, well, thematic choice?
-Suppose that the traits had different (even slightly different) scores attached to them. Would the game be the same? What kind of repercussions do you expect from such a change?
-Suppose that using traits *was* "overwhelmingly important" when compared to using the bare resolution rules. Again, how would the game change?
-I'm very interested in you observation about this game's reward system (which I don't know, actually) being represented by an increase of the thematic range of options. I really see what you mean, and again, I have the strong suspicion that all this is possible *also because* the traits (if I understand correctly) won't change, from the strictly mechanical viewpoint, the character's effectiveness in any way. Does that make any sense to you?
-And finally, the question I promised (hmm... threatened?) to ask again and again from now on... In this game, how were traits invoked? I'm asking about the actual words spoken at the table (well, close paraphrases would do). And when you say that traits might happen not to be applicable: who would choose between applicability and, well, lack of such? To which specific, real, "at the table" action would he/she respond to? How would he/she communicate to others this non-applicability?

Players had become hung-up on how many damage descriptors their ray gun had, or whether their rocket boots had movement x2 or x3.  I realised "Who cares?" 

-Do you find that the problem you are describing was generated by different traits having different scores attached to them? If so, what specific kind of real, "at the table" dynamics were going on *because of this mechanic*?
-Suppose that traits didn't have different scores (and if I understood correctly, they actually don't in the current version of the game, the one Ron was talking about). What would change? You can draw from actual experience, judging from the following quote:

A lot of players would avoid doing things if they didn't have an ability or piece of equipment that would aid them.  So all that stuff went!  All traits (and gear) do the same thing, it's just up to the players to decide when and how they want to work them into the story.

-How did/didn't this patch change the game for you? (Side note - this is very similar, if not effectively identical, to what I did in a game of ThePool I described in a recent thread here... that's quite interesting).
-I'd like to pose my mandatory question to you, too (the one about the actual words spoken at the table when using traits).

Thanks a lot!
bye,
M
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2008, 07:05:02 PM »

Hi Markus,

The issue of traits' mechanical effectiveness is real, but I don't think it's central. My current argument in the parent thread is that we're talking about a higher-level issue that's related to Creative Agenda but most importantly, wrapped up in the core character feature called Positioning. I'd like to use that set of ideas as my platform for answering your questions about traits' effectiveness here.

Quote
Am I correct in inferring that the key point in the sentences above is (mechanically speaking) that the traits are "not overwhelmingly important, and also not different from one to the other"? And that *this* allows both (1) the traits to be "thematic rather than tactical", and (2) making the choice between them a, well, thematic choice?

You're correct in inferring its importance, but my thinking is that it's not the key point. Depending on how the rest of the character and system is constructed, it's even possible that having traits with different scores would help rather than hinder. I'm thinking of Dust Devils, in which one's Used To Be and Is Now traits may be rated 1/3, 2/2, or 3/1. Tying those numerical values to those two concepts means something when playing the character. "Used to Be a Gunfighter 3 + Is Now a Drunken Sot 1" is definitely not Positioned the same as "Used to be a Gunfighter 1 + Is Now a Drunken Sot 3," and in that case, the distinction between the extra cards for your hand reinforces the Positioning rather than diminishes it.

In Space Rat, however, no such structure is evident for the Traits, and so I do think it's helpful for the Traits to be numerically identical, exactly for the reasons Nathan describes.

I should also point out that the game's reward system is based on Attention Stars. You get these Stars for several things, but most often for rolling very high over your target number. By using Gear and Traits, you reduce your target number and therefore increase your chances of rolling this well. The "winner" for getting Stars begins the next adventure with the key NPC, Jack. They are also used to increase Attributes, to get new Traits, and to get new Gear. (It's also useful to know about the Luck system, which will help one's chances in rolling, but also opens the door, wider and wider as you go, to being interfered with and forced into failure by another player.)

Quote
Suppose that using traits *was* "overwhelmingly important" when compared to using the bare resolution rules. Again, how would the game change?

I think that you've kind of answered yourself with this phrasing, because "overwhelming" is pretty much synonymous with "more important" or "takes over." If that were the case, then certainly, strategizing Traits would become the core of play and provide a lot of (reasonable) temptation to shift play in a Gamist direction. My claim, though, is that simply having different numerical values or effects per Trait is not itself enough to tip the scales - that would depend on a lot of things. I mentioned the structural content of the Dust Devils traits as one example, but here's another angle: the thematic impact of Color and its related feature as starting setting-issues of play. In Space Rat, if people understand from the outset that (a) the femme babes are 100% committed to impressing Jack, and (b) despite his fame and heroic reputation, Jack is an incompetent dolt and cad, then they are less inclined to treat improvement as a goal in its own right, and to concentrate on the hilarity of the femme babe being the real hero without realizing it. That's what I found in my demos at the con and, more-or-less, when we were playtesting the original version. But the problem is, not  all groups are oriented at looking at such material in a constructive way from the outset, and therefore they  do seize upon mechanical improvement as the point of play out of hobby-based habit. Don't get me wrong - mechanical rewards matter a lot, but they are only features of the more social and creative reward system.
I hope that makes sense and raises food for thought.

Quote
And finally, the question I promised (hmm... threatened?) to ask again and again from now on... In this game, how were traits invoked? I'm asking about the actual words spoken at the table (well, close paraphrases would do). And when you say that traits might happen not to be applicable: who would choose between applicability and, well, lack of such? To which specific, real, "at the table" action would he/she respond to? How would he/she communicate to others this non-applicability?

I'll answer for the con games, and I hope we'll use that as a foundation for talking more about this issue in general. I'd be happy to bring in The Pool as well at that time. These were demonstrations, which included instructing people about the rules as we went. I'd say, "There goes the pod-ship, the president trapped in its tentacles. [To the Calamity player] What do you do?" Typically the answer involved chasing and catching up to the ship. Sometimes the person would say Calamity would try to lasso a tentacle to grab onto them and climb to the president; one person had Calamity fiddle with the controls on her mechanical horse (no legs, just hot jets) to use it as a scooter to catch up to the ship. I'd then identify the Attribute the roll would be based on, which was typically Body for athletic stuff but in that one case was Mind. Then I'd ask which combination of Gear and Traits they wanted to use.
I want to focus on that point. This question was literally part of the System, in Big Model terms. Now, in my experience, after playing a new game for a little while, that question becomes unnecessary as people take it upon themselves and start working the levers themselves, as it were. But in the beginning, there's not only the question to alert people that they can use Traits and Gear, but that there are standards for doing so. Those standards appear in the following way.

The player says, "Um, I use my Radiation Ray!" In that case, I as GM would reply, "How does that actually help you catch the ship?' Notice that I'm not literally saying, no, you stupid fuck, pick a reasonable trait; for all I know, the guy has some wonderful idea in mind for how the Ray might be employed. However, the fact is, the player is usually just reading what he sees, and in that case, once I ask my question, he usually processes the fact that he cannot just point at stuff on the sheet - that there's a rationale behind this. The harsh reality is that, although it's not stated outright, if you state a Trait that you cannot justify in terms of the fiction, meaning it doesn't connect with the other people's engagement in the imagined fiction, then you're not actually contributing to anyone's enjoyment of the game, yourself included ... and so the response of anyone at the table along the lines of "Lame!" or "I'm not seeing how that works," or anything in between, will actually have the authority to mean You can't use that. In these early stages, the mentoring/polite approach is certainly better.

A slightly different version of the same process appears when the player is a little more helpless. Having stated the goal to catch the ship, he or she looks a bit lost. That's when I say, "Look at your Traits and Gear - using them makes it easier to do." This is not ideal, at least not in isolation, because the player might fall into the trap of simply treating the stuff on the sheet as buttons to push and only ever using those buttons, but it's at least a start.
It also occurs to me that I customize both of these responses based on whether the player has (a) stated a desired outcome like "catch the ship" and not described how the character is doing it, or (b) stated what the character is doing but no actual goal or desired outcome is apparent. The first one is easier, as all I have to say is "what do you do" and move into the Trait issue from there if necessary. The second one is kind of a pain in the ass, and in the early stages of teaching a game like this, I often have to pose a possible outcome that the character desires and is using these ations to do so. I typically say something like, "So, does that mean you're trying to catch the ship? Or wreck it, or follow it, or what?" And again, any rough spots about using the Traits can proceed from there.

Later in play, it's usually the case that everyone is pickin' Traits off their sheets all the time, in any number of ways, for any number of actions. At that point, no formal approval or suggestion process is involved; everyone is simply using the rules and a given range of group standards for when Traits apply is now understood. (Again, I'm not talking about high bars of acceptability or being forced to justify stuff, but rather about simple enjoyment of the fiction that's enhanced by someone using a Trait.) What's interesting is when in this situation, someone stumbles and invokes a Trait that is, bluntly, not connecting with anyone. So for some action at some point, Bob says, "I use my Radiation Ray!" and it makes me or anyone feel jarred or disconnected from what I was imagining, or what we were expressing as shared imagining through spoken words. Given that this is a momentary, atypical event, i.e., Traits have been used joyously and appreciatively by everyone for a long time, the ruder objection is actually pretty acceptable in my experience. Somebody says, "Bob, lame! What the hell?" And Bob typically says, "Yeah, true .... so, I have no Trait for this roll. Damn. Here goes!"

Markus, do those points begin to address your question?

Best, Ron
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Markus
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« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2008, 03:37:22 AM »

Ron, thanks a lot for this reply. I have so much to say that I'll just do it step by step. One word of caution however: most of the stuff in my reply below is extremely theoretical; perhaps a bit too theoretical, I'm afraid. It's true, I'm kind of exploiting the Actual Play forum as a kind of "plz school me on RPG theory" forum lately. I only hope that these discussions are useful and/or entertaining to other people here as they are for me!

Most of what follows is really what I intended to say from the first moment I decided to delurk here at TheForge, but I didn't have neither the vocabulary nor the concepts to express it clearly. I'm not sure that I really got it yet, but consider this just my first attempt at asking this stuff clearly.

Oh, and there's another caveat: those reported below aren't fully-formed concepts yet, but just a tangled mass (mess?) of different ideas. I don't think I'll ever manage to put them in proper form by myself, so, if anyone is interested, please join in! So, let's start:

(1) The purpose of trait scores

Just for clarity, the very broad issue I'm trying to understand here with your help is what kind of effects are linked to the presence/absence of numerically different scores attached to different traits. I'll try to summarize my current understanding on this specific subject, which was definitely influenced by Ron's reply above.

There is only one thing that I'm reasonably sure of so far, that is, if you have trait scores in a system, then players should also have a rationale for choosing between traits, which must *not* be connected to those scores. So, three different scenarios seem to be possible:

[Just a quick side-note: when I wrote 'if you have trait scores...' above, I must confess I almost deleted the word 'trait', so that it would have been 'if you have scores...'. Right now, I cannot say if 'trait' is needed at all or not in that sentence... But for god's sake, let's try to answer to one question at a time].

(I) Several games provide that rationale directly as part of the system. For example, one relatively common mechanical/thematic scheme seems to be the "kinda-like-Faust" dilemma: different scores are accessible, but they are linked, for example, to specific actions which can be put in a ladder, based on a non-mechanical variable (usually that's some sort of moral value ladder).

(II) Other games do not provide such an 'external' rationale, and this leaves (in my opinion) only two options regarding trait scores in those games. The first one is simply not using trait scores, as seen in SpaceRat. The second one, which I didn't see until Ron's "Used to Be/Is Now" example above, is that the game does employ trait scores, but they also serve a different purpose altoghether *in addition* to the mechanical one.

(III) Then, there are games which do have traits, trait scores, but no additional/external purpose/rationale for either assigning those scores during chargen, or choosing between them during play.

And now comes the difficult part. Although most systems call "traits" the mechanical elements used for achieving (I) and (II) above, I find that in practice, they're different as day and night. In "Type(II)" games, traits are mostly a *descriptive* tool. Using them during play involves the *celebration*, for lack of a better term, of the fictional elements represented by that trait, *as already established* either during chargen, or by the system itself.

In Type(I) games instead, when you choose between traits during play, your choiche is mostly influenced by that non-mechanical, perhaps even non-stated value ladder, which in turn implies the score you'll use mechanically as an almost secondary consequence.

So I feel that in those Type(II) games, traits are mostly "premise reinforcement" tools, whereas in Type(I) games, traits are "premise creation" tools. In Type(I) games, I see traits as useful and functional, and I know what to do with them.

I'm currently struggling with Type(II) games, but I think I'm almost there. The trick seems to lie in understanding them as positioning tools, as Ron suggested in previous threads.

My problem with Type(III) games is that I really don't know what to do with traits, neither at chargen nor during play. The Pool could be an example of a Type(III) game, but I think there are a lot more around, some of which are extremely succesful games. No, I won't name any, simply because I'm not *that* sure I'm right; this is just intended as a platform for costructive discussion, not a "defend this game from unjust accusation" competition.

Oh and when above I say that "I don't know what to do with traits", I don't mean that I suddently forgot how I use them in more structured, Type(I)/(II) games. Rather, I mean that I have too many options open, including deciding which *type* of significance giving to trait scores. In my view, that's not much less work than designing a whole system from scratch.

[And, yes: I hate to always use ThePool as a negative example. More on that in this thread: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26918.0 , to which I'll respond asap].

Pheew, that was difficult stuff! I wonder if it makes any sense to someone else.

(2) "At the table" use of traits

Ron, your example was *extremely* helpful. So helpful that I just can't believe that I could never find something like that in any game text. I mean, you described specific, absolutely non-abstract techniques that are almost necessary to make good use of traits. Some of those are indeed extremely intuitive, and I also used them in my games. But others definitely aren't (for instance, your suggestion about how to build a functional dialogue between GM and players about the pertinence of a trait). My impression is however that the specific techniques you described are *not* implicitly linked to the word "trait". I say this because in some games, slighlty different procedures than those you described (or a sub-set of them) are explicitly prescribed.

So this becomes a broad question to all games designers passing by: when you decided to use 'traits' in your game, did you intend to cause "at-the-table" effects such as those described by Ron? Or, did you intended to achieve something different? My point is that in either case, you should describe it all in more detail. One can't just write in a game "oh, and you have traits, which give you bonuses if they're *applicable*" and expect it to produce any foreseeable effects in play. And if that's true, why do we need traits at all?

I have a lot more questions on this subject, but I'd like to have a 'reality check' first, waiting for some replies and comments.

thanks a lot!

M
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2008, 11:41:38 AM »

Hi Markus,

You wrote,

Quote
I'm kind of exploiting the Actual Play forum as a kind of "plz school me on RPG theory" forum lately. I only hope that these discussions are useful and/or entertaining to other people here as they are for me!

That's what the Actual Play forum is for! Really. I've said it a hundred times and no one believes it. The GNS and RPG Theory forums are still active at the Forge. They were not "shut down," but folded into this one.

Quote
There is only one thing that I'm reasonably sure of so far, that is, if you have trait scores in a system, then players should also have a rationale for choosing between traits, which must *not* be connected to those scores.

I think that concept needs to be modified a little. I suspect you are thinking that any attention to the quantitative score automatically translates to effectiveness-increasing strategy, and then that automatically translates to diminution of the Shared Imagined Space. (There may also be a little Gamism-phobia at work here; I don't know if that applies to you, but it has certainly shown up in similar discussions with others.)

You're on the right track, though. My refinement of that statement would be that using Traits, scores and all, needs to be integrated with the imagined fiction just as much as the "core" resolution and reward mechanics. This is a tricky deal because as we're using the term here, we're not merely talking about descriptive components on the character sheet (that could be anywhere), but rather a very specific mechanic that operates as a cross-cutting modifier to the usual devices of resolution.

I think that integrating them into the fiction absolutely requires that they play a role in Positioning, which applies to all three Creative Agendas, not just Narrativism. To put it in movie terms, if we were talking about something like Kill Bill, and if we were using a system like The Pool, then the hero's "Expert swords-woman" Trait is rated very highly. My point is that this does not impair or operate at cross-purposes to her protagonist-actions, but rather acts as a reinforcer for specific sorts of actions that we are saying will be highly consequential (more chance of success), as part of being that protagonist. With other actions, the player is forced to rely only on GM gift dice and that character's Pool. With sword-ish actions, she basically has two or three permanent Gift dice.

I'm not seeing how that somehow undercuts any aspect of resolution mechanics, theme, or Creative Agenda of any kind.

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And now comes the difficult part. Although most systems call "traits" the mechanical elements used for achieving (I) and (II) above, I find that in practice, they're different as day and night. In "Type(II)" games, traits are mostly a *descriptive* tool. Using them during play involves the *celebration*, for lack of a better term, of the fictional elements represented by that trait, *as already established* either during chargen, or by the system itself.

In Type(I) games instead, when you choose between traits during play, your choiche is mostly influenced by that non-mechanical, perhaps even non-stated value ladder, which in turn implies the score you'll use mechanically as an almost secondary consequence.

So I feel that in those Type(II) games, traits are mostly "premise reinforcement" tools, whereas in Type(I) games, traits are "premise creation" tools. In Type(I) games, I see traits as useful and functional, and I know what to do with them.

That's interesting and defensible, but it seems overly artificial to me. For instance, I had no idea with my character Kakita Gan whether his scary-fast duelling expertise would be either a problem or a solution relative to the events of play. I only knew that refining that aspect of the character into its most perfect state (given the options for character creation) created opportunity for it to be consequential in some way. Even if it simply meant that his greatest adversity would be in another realm of performance entirely.

Still, in terms of "truth at the table," which is to say how people experience play in a particular instance, I think your distinction is valid.

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My problem with Type(III) games is that I really don't know what to do with traits, neither at chargen nor during play. The Pool could be an example of a Type(III) game, but I think there are a lot more around, some of which are extremely succesful games. No, I won't name any, simply because I'm not *that* sure I'm right; this is just intended as a platform for costructive discussion, not a "defend this game from unjust accusation" competition.

I think your issue is pretty easy to address. First, Type III is actually Type II that was picked up and played by an audience who knew what to do with it - no, how to use the Traits is not "in" the game, but since the people who knew and liked Type II simply used them as such, much as I described in this thread, there turned out not to be a Type III in practice. In other words, your II/III distinction is not between games but between game texts. We are really just discussing how to use Type II.

You also wrote, regarding my advice and descriptions for how Trait-use is taught,

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My impression is however that the specific techniques you described are *not* implicitly linked to the word "trait". I say this because in some games, slighlty different procedures than those you described (or a sub-set of them) are explicitly prescribed.

That's correct but it's especially relevant to Traits (as we have defined them in your parent thread) because they operate orthogonally to the "basic" resolution system. When that's not the case, there's no double-decision-making involved, so the teaching process has a much more straightforward arc.

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So this becomes a broad question to all games designers passing by: when you decided to use 'traits' in your game, did you intend to cause "at-the-table" effects such as those described by Ron? Or, did you intended to achieve something different? My point is that in either case, you should describe it all in more detail. One can't just write in a game "oh, and you have traits, which give you bonuses if they're *applicable*" and expect it to produce any foreseeable effects in play. And if that's true, why do we need traits at all?

I'm interested in the answers too. I really want to stress that many, many of the games that use "Traits" do not qualify for this question because we are really talking about a very particular mechanic. Descriptors in Sorcerer do not count, for instance. Whereas some games use that mechanic but do not call them Traits, as with Spiritual Attributes in The Riddle of Steel and Muses in Nine Worlds.

Best, Ron
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Markus
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« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2008, 07:53:06 AM »

Hi Ron,

this is just a quick reply to say that your answers were much appreciated, and they prompted me to re-read with more attention some specific passages of your essay on narrativism. And... I'm finding a lot of sections that seem like the transcript of some of the discussions we've had here lately (only clearer, and in better form). I don't have anything significant to reply yet, but I have this good feeling that I'm "beginning to understand". So the bottom line is... thanks a lot!

M
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