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Author Topic: [L5R, The Pool, and others] A new look at Drift  (Read 6313 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: October 28, 2008, 03:43:08 PM »

Hello,

I've chosen to begin a new thread using one of Markus' final posts in Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PTA-style) to me? as the starting point. All of the following words are Markus'.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Also, see [Space Rat] Femme babe action at GenCon for a related thread that addresses a different point from the parent thread.)

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2008, 03:45:48 PM »

Hi Markus, and welcome to our new thread.

You are finally returning the ideas-based discussion here at the Forge to what it used to be: pure and powerful intellectual discourse. In this case, you're demanding a full and complete review of the concept of Drift, and I'll be the first to say that I didn't even realize it needed review until you posted these questions. RPG Theory is alive and well again, I'm happy to say, as I hoped when re-directing its content to Actual Play. What follows is my current thinking about Drift.

As defined in the Glossary, Drift concerns Creative Agenda - either shifting from one to another, or more likely, finding and strengthening one from a state of relative incoherence.

To be Drift, Drift does not require altering textual rules. In many threads, we've often said "Drift the rules," but on reflection that was shorthand, and in discourse terms, sloppy, more often than not. To be so precise as to approximate legalistic prose, the best way to put it would be, "Arriving at a preferred Creative Agenda through altering the System, to the extent of ignoring or changing the written rules into new rules; whether deliberate or opportunistic, whether realized or unrealized, and whether negotiated or arbitrary (i.e. imposed by one person) does not matter." Only the first ten words are the Drift part. The rest of that phrasing would be a means to that end.

The game author's intent is actually irrelevant. You will find in general that "intentions" play no role in the Big Model at all, or more accurately, intentions are never invoked as a unique causal factor. Drift refers to what the play-group is doing, with no reference to the game author whatsoever.

This brings up the fascinating question, so far unconsidered, of what the group may be Drifting from. On the one hand, and most obviously, they'd be Drifting from their own play that happened to be another Agenda, or from a state of incoherence in their own play. Or on the other hand, their Drift is expressed from the outset of play, relative to the instructions they're trying to follow - either a textual Agenda of a given type (which may or may not have anything to do with the author's state of mind), or from a textual state of incoherence. I'll try to examine it in the following three cases.

1. When the group Drifts relative to a given text which has an extremely powerful CA embedded or implicated in its current rules, direct and obvious rules-changes are often necessary. Often they're even modular, pure subtraction or addition, and it's very likely the changes are aimed at the reward mechanics.

My D&D3 game from a couple of years ago presents a perfect example: we utterly abandoned the issue of leveling-up. We'd found during preparation, using non-jargon language, that everyone wanted a Narrativist experience, and the result in practice was to cut the whole Experience Point and level issue free from the rest of the system. Interestingly, this wasn't a planned rules-shift but a gradual and logical result during play. I did spend a little time and energy tracking Experience Points (carelessly, sometimes to the aggrieved horror of folks reading the threads), but as it happens, no one cared. After a couple of sessions, we stopped thinking about it much. They even should have gone to 4th level for the final session, and we simply didn't bother. No one cared about how many points anyone gained for a given encounter. That whole aspect of the system just ... Drifted away.

2. When the group Drifts relative to a given text which is kind of a CA kitchen sink (contradictory and muddled and the rules go every which-way), the Drift feels less like a change from A to B than focusing on A "after all." The rules-changes tend to be more about diminishing certain sections to the point of ignoring them, bringing certain ones "closer to the fore" than their representation in the rules, and inventing new rules to cover what feel like gaps. At its most minimal, this sort of Drift may not involve altering any rules at all.

The L5R game I talked about in the parent thread is an excellent example of the most minimal form, closes to the purest definition of Drift. Yes, we did Drift, but it's not accurate to say we Drifted the rules. We "altered focus" on them a bit in terms of which rules were most relevant to play, and arguably, for a game like that, a group must to this in order to play anything but Zilchplay. Again, this doesn't have anything to do with the game author's intentions.

Champions in its first three editions and Amber offer yet more excellent examples. I'd sure like to see some Actual Play threads which pick up those up from this thread.

3. When the group Drifts relative to a given text which is essentially silent about CA and whose rules don't seem to gel in any CA-specific way, well, it's hard to call this Drift so much as simply arriving at CA, period, without any useful guidance from the text in doing so. Rules-changes may or may not be involved. This is probably the source of some of the sloppiness in using the term Drift, as a group might begin playing such a game, mess with the rules little by little as they go along to focus more and more on a given CA, and end up with what is essentially their own fairly radical individualized version of play. So the discourse tends to focus on the rules-changes and call that the Drift.

I think nearly all the really messy late-80s style fantasy games, and their later imitators, ended up being played like that - AD&D2, and pretty much anything like it. It seems to describe the essence of "kitbashing" held up as a golden ideal of gaming. It also seems to be the origin story of many, even most of the Fantasy Heartbreakers listed in my two essays, especially explaining why most of them present quite easily identifiable CAs in their combinations of rules and prose.

This #3 topic relates to an ongoing and often difficult conversation about what a game text is supposed to do regarding Creative Agenda, and whether silence is better than explicit explanation, and for what audience. Ralph Mazza and I often take opposing views on that matter, but I confess I'm not a fanatic for my usual side in that argument. In practice, Ralph already won, because I wrote Spione to be as explicit about the goals of play as possible, including explaining how the rules serve that end, and I'm re-writing Trollbabe the same way.

Now let's talk about The Pool, which is actually none of the above cases, and it's unfair to treat it as if it were. That's because it is not a finished game text, but rather an idea and a draft, and most importantly, it makes most sense as part of a dialogue in 2001-2002, much as Emily describes in Conversations.

I do not mean this as an apologist but rather as a clarifier. The active members of the Forge in early 2002 were all trying games like Soap, Wuthering Heights, the early version of InSpectres, Elfs, the first drafts of Universalis (God help us), and others, as well as enthusiastically reflecting on everything we'd played so far. To those of us engaged in that conversation, "Try The Pool!" carried with it the implication of using certain non-problematic elements (to us) in their most functional and relevant way relative to the nifty-new part, specifically the rules for dialogue and (to a lesser extent) content based on a player resource and player-decided risk. Certain "absent" elements did cause problems, most often the issue of whether a successful roll was related to the character's aims in the conflict (I said yes, Mike Holmes said no). But for whatever reason, in the history of that dialogue, no one had trouble instantly identifying Traits as a Positioning device, perhaps not central to the thematic potential of play, but at least not disruptive to it.

That doesn't mean that the absence, even pitfall, doesn't exist - as you demonstrate quite fairly, it does. And if The Pool were a finished game, then it'd be like my case #3. But it's not, which is to say, the 2001-2002 conversation isn't over, for which, Markus, I thank you. However, that also means that, to me, there is no point and in fact no fairness in indicting The Pool as some kind of inadequate excuse for a system. No one ever claimed that its text was a fully-realized game (for that, see The Questing Beast, which I do think is a fully-written and well-written game). Even more importantly, no one ever claimed it was some kind of magic Perfect Play This item that would not only deliver the instantly non-problematic play-experience, but also cosmic enlightenment about game theory, a clean kitchen, or the ultimate orgasm.

For us at that time, The Pool was an exceptionally significant door into new ways of thinking about play, and it can still play that role today. However, in the relatively feverish "indie scene excitement" that burgeoned in 2005-2006, some of which I did not regard very highly in technical-critical terms, I think that many of the titles which were very powerful in that early conversation, as well as some subsequent ones like PTA, were wrongly proffered as Ultimate Game Magic Pills.

Best, Ron

P.S. Side note: One jarring thought occurred to me last night - is arriving at a Creative Agenda at all, ever, in fact Drift? At first that seemed like a nifty idea, but then I decided not. A group may already be greatly-oriented toward a particular Agenda in a particular case, and so there isn't any "movement" in hitting that Agenda from the first moments of play onwards. And since that actually does apply to many of my experiences, for instance using Tunnels & Trolls (Gamist) and Sorcerer (Narrativist), then OK, Drift isn't intrinsic to focused-CA play.

edited to fix link format - RE
« Last Edit: October 28, 2008, 09:57:32 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Simon C
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« Reply #2 on: November 03, 2008, 12:37:18 AM »

But for whatever reason, in the history of that dialogue, no one had trouble instantly identifying Traits as a Positioning device, perhaps not central to the thematic potential of play, but at least not disruptive to it.

Sorry, it's slightly removed from the topic, but would you mind explaining that a little?  From the provisional glossary, I get:

"Positioning: A Character Component. Behavioral, social, and contextual statements about a character. Formerly (and confusingly) called Metagame. See also Currency."

So are you saying that you understood traits as statements about the character, but not how traits should be written to support what the players want from the game? 

To address the issue a little more, especially your final note, would you say that all (most?) successful play requires a period of "settling in" to a system, working out how to use the game, if not "as intended" (which I agree is a red herring) then in a way that works for that group? Most game rules give you quite a bit of scope for how particular mechanics are employed, and, especially in groups that play the same game a lot, idiosyncratic play styles develop.  I would argue that some of the best games facilitate this process rather than fight it.  I guess what I'm asking is, is there ever not Drift, in the sense of using a set of rules to achieve a goal? That's obviously a useless way to define Drift, because it's everywhere, all the time.  But could you call Drift the amount of work you have to do to get to the kind of play you want from the rules as written?

The idea of how much you, as a designer, should make explicit the goals of the game in terms of how it should be played is really interesting to me in that respect.  Should a good game obviate the need for such an explicit statement?  Given that the author's intent is irrelevant, why make that clear in the game at all?

I'm gonna think on this a bit and hopefully come up with some actual play for this.  My ideas have been really rocked recently by some games I've just played (which is where this whole post is coming from), so I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: November 03, 2008, 12:30:13 PM »

Hi Simon,

You wrote, including my quote,

Quote
Quote
"Positioning: A Character Component. Behavioral, social, and contextual statements about a character. Formerly (and confusingly) called Metagame. See also Currency."

So are you saying that you understood traits as statements about the character, but not how traits should be written to support what the players want from the game?

Yeesh. I'm pretty sure I don't follow your paraphrase at all. First, let's be clear that we're not talking about any and all game mechanics or lines on a character sheet that anyone ever called a "trait." We're talking about a specific mechanic, as follows.

1. Given a basic resolution method, the mechanic modifies its application in some way. The most common ways are (a) to add a bonus or penalty to the resolution method, or (b) to dictate when a given listed feature can be utilized for the basic resolution.

2. The modification is contingent on current fictional conditions, specifically that the character is behaving a certain way ("aggressive +2"), facing a certain sort of adversity ("+2 vs. orcs"), or is subject to some specific change in the fiction ("+2, my bounty hunter father," i.e., he shows up).

I wrote that primarily to get my head straight about what I was talking about, so I can then see whether your paraphrase fits.

Annnnd ... I think it does fit. Yes, we understood how listed Traits (of the kind we're talking about) were used in a positive, non-confusing, Creative Agenda reinforcing way. In fact, I think we understood that a lot better than the stuff we did debate, especially aspects of resources and narration. But we didn't understand much about how to translate our understanding into text for people who did not share it, probably because it's difficult if not impossible to solve a problem you don't have, or know you have.

Reflecting about it a little bit, I now understand why the three character traits in The Mountain Witch yield phenomenal confusion and flailing for some groups, yet for other groups they are seamlessly integrated into the rest of the rules.

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To address the issue a little more, especially your final note, would you say that all (most?) successful play requires a period of "settling in" to a system, working out how to use the game, if not "as intended" (which I agree is a red herring) then in a way that works for that group? Most game rules give you quite a bit of scope for how particular mechanics are employed, and, especially in groups that play the same game a lot, idiosyncratic play styles develop. I would argue that some of the best games facilitate this process rather than fight it.

To answer your question, Oh Fuck Yes. You might enjoy Learning the interface, my discussion of how extreme and weird the process can be, and why.
However, your argument that it's better to provide scope rather than focus is highly debatable. I'd have to know what you meant by "best" and also by "styles" in order to enter that debate properly. An actual play example of your point would be very helpful.

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I guess what I'm asking is, is there ever not Drift, in the sense of using a set of rules to achieve a goal? That's obviously a useless way to define Drift, because it's everywhere, all the time. But could you call Drift the amount of work you have to do to get to the kind of play you want from the rules as written?

To your final question, mayyyyybe. I'm OK with the fact that a given group has historically been forced to "fit" a given game text into the shape of a desired Creative Agenda (or more often, fail to do so) through massive rules interpretation. But that's not fundamental to the act of role-playing, or following rules for role-playing. Also, I'm pretty convinced at this point that no game ever popped "how to play" directly into people's heads through its rules text on the first go. There's always some learning curve. I think that shouldn't be called Drift but acknowledged as its own phenomenon worthy of its own discussion.

It is possible that we've been using Drift for too much over the years. Possibly, developing a CA for your group out of a given rules-text which is vague and unhelpful about that issue isn't Drift, although we have tended to call it that (and in so doing, confound rules-altering with Drift). I'm hoping that this thread yields some dissection and perhaps useful new terminology for all of this.

Quote
The idea of how much you, as a designer, should make explicit the goals of the game in terms of how it should be played is really interesting to me in that respect. Should a good game obviate the need for such an explicit statement? Given that the author's intent is irrelevant, why make that clear in the game at all?
I'd like to distinguish authorial intent from coherent and inspiring explanation. My intention that people play Sorcerer in a Narrativist fashion is irrelevant, but the combination of rules, explanatory text, illustrations, and examples are themselves a "thing" which we can consider. Generously, one might include the further dialogues and explanation here at this forum in that "thing."

Also, given that role-playing is doable with not just two (confusing enough) but three discernible and incompatible Creative Agendas, the instructional texts are going to have a really hard job. In fact, every single boardgame, card game, and similar game out there is home free in that regard, by comparison. Clearly, reading the game text should inspire the Creative Agenda which its rules are built to facilitate.* But is that inspiration there because the CA was stated flat-out, or because the way the rules fell together make the CA so obvious?

I think that the answer is not either-or, but a matter of knowing how to combine "here's the point" with "here's what to do." Maybe 'knowing how' isn't the right word at this point in time, so much as "trying one's best."
I recommend the very brief but pointed text of Zombie Cinema as a good example of stating the CA up-front, then identifying precisely the most important element of play that facilitates it, and then backing up both of those points with the rest of the rules.

Best, Ron

* "But Ron, not every RPG is built to facilitate a single CA." An RPG which is not built to do so is either a gibble-gabble of mixed messages, like Exalted, or a recipe for Zilchplay. Also, please note that many, many RPGs published all along the history of the hobby have been built toward powerful and coherent CAs, long before that vocabulary was developed, so don't misunderstand me as saying that only independent Forge-inspired texts are good.
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Simon C
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« Reply #4 on: November 03, 2008, 11:24:10 PM »

So, there's "techniques", there's "rules", and there's a whole bunch of other things that go together into what gets called "system".  I guess what I'm saying is that what emerges as play at the table is the product of system, and system is built from a whole lotta things, only some of which are provided by the text of the game, and even in cases where the game text provides a heck of a lot of direction in terms of technique and so on, system is still "constructed" at the table.

The best example I can think of this is something like The Mountain Witch, which I think provides a heck of a lot of direction in terms of how to use the game text to produce a system.  Tim goes out of his way to describe not just the mechanics, but how those mechanics are used at the table, why they're in the book, and what effect the produce in play.  But when I sat down to play The Mountain Witch there was still a large amount of work making all those things come together into coherant (in the non-jargon sense) system.  Specifically, things like "The Mountain Witch Trick" take a lot of learning to use in an enjoyable fashion.  The first few times I did it, the players were kind of stumped and looking at each other blankly.  Over time, I learned how to phrase these questions better, and the players got better at using those opportunities to reveal their Fates.  I would argue though, that the process begins anew with each group.  What I was doing was not learning how to play the game, but learning how to apply these mechanics with this group.  Some groups, most groups even, get very adept at turning new mechanics into coherant (non-jargon again) system (or turning new mechanics into something very much like the old system), but they're still constructing, they're still adapting.

What I'm arguing, I guess, is that what you call "learning", I would call "adapting". There is no "platonic ideal" game of The Mountain Witch, towards which all play aspires.  I think we're always constructing system, and that the concept of "Drift" is about creating an artificial line between some kinds of adaptation, and others.  To me, it's always a quantitative, rather than qualitative difference.  There is a qualitative shift when your construction of system explicitly ignores written advice in the game's rules, but I think the concept of Drift has been extended past that, perhaps unwisely.

(I should mention here that I'm drawing on a background in Structuralist and Post-Structuralist theory that makes the concept of "constructed" system very appealing to me.)

Now, as for the question of authorial intent versus explanation of "how to play", I think I agree.  There is of course a whole lot of system that's built on how you're supposed to use a mechanic, rather than how you can use it.  I think Sorcerer is a very good example of that, in that there are lots of ways to play the game that follow the letter of the mechanics perfectly, but ignore a lot of the other advice about using those mechanics, and produce objectively less fun as a result.  In fact, I think almost the whole game of Sorcerer is about how the mechanics are employed, rather than the mechanics themselves, which is maybe why a lot of people, me included, found Sorcerer very difficult to play straight out of the book - we're used to slotting the mechanics into our usual procedures for play (is there a jargon term for that?).  Sorcerer's mechanics on their own don't "force" you into a notably unique style of play the way, say, MLWM does.

I think that's reasonably uncontroversial, and perhaps a bit of a diversion from what is the point of this thread.  Questions of how best to communicate "how to play" are always going to plague design, I think, but I think it's pretty well accepted that a lot of that communication happens outside of the plain mechanics of the game.  How much of that is straight up instruction, and how much is just advertising is hard to know, but I'm not sure it's super important.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: November 06, 2008, 11:50:21 AM »

Hi Simon,

I'm OK with the Structural/Post-Structural thing, and you can probably see it in how I distinguish between System (how we play) vs. rules (what a book says to do). One of the problems with this whole family of Traits threads is that those two issues are getting confounded. 

Your point about "adapting" is valid, although I'm pretty comfortable with calling that "learning." Perhaps I'm a bit pre-post-modern in thinking that a given rules set may well (a) teach a particular set of routines to play and (b) the users arrive at enjoyment of play via emergent properties in those routines, to a degree which they did not anticipate or fully appreciate before. This may be a fuddy-duddy attitude, but as it happens, that describes what occurs with plenty of things called games that are not RPGs.

Anyway, the whole point of this thread is to see whether the term Drift needs to get a total overhaul. My thinking is yes. Taking your points into account, here are some of the diverse notions that the term tends to get used for.

- arriving at CA by putting rules into practice (your "adapting") to get System and presumably a functioning CA
- playing by CA 1, shifting to CA 2 (rules changes or no rules changes)
- using rules which nicely facilitate "adapting" to CA 1, finding them unsatisfactory (i.e. never actually playing CA 1), and making new rules which then facilitate the preferred CA 2
- using rules which are a mess, facilitating no CA, finding them unsatisfactory, and making new rules which then facilitate a CA of choice
- and as a separate subject, "changing rules" ranges from the kind of fade-back and bring-forward I described with our L5R game, all the way to altering the written rules so drastically that you have genuinely made a brand-new game

Basically, that's way too many ideas and nuances to get subsumed under a single term. Time to roll up our sleeves about it.

Best, Ron
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Simon C
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« Reply #6 on: November 06, 2008, 01:38:25 PM »

Thanks for that restatement Ron, I think it's a great refocusing of a thread that was in danger of drifting off into etherial "theory land" without reference to what's actually important or useful.  With those things more or less understood, let's move on to the actual meat of the question.

A few questions:

Is Drift always about a change in CA? Is houseruling your game to make it "more realistic" or faster or so that Katanas are more awesome an example of Drift?

Is Drift something that is either present or not, or is it a matter of degree?

Then there's the biggest question, which I think will underpin how any others get answered:

What is the concept of Drift useful for? Are we using it to identify when a group is going "off the reservation" with a game, such that normal successful practices for playing that game may not be successful for them? Are we using it to more successfully describe techniques for changing CA within a given rules set?  What's the most useful definition of Drift?

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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: November 06, 2008, 03:02:17 PM »

The game author's intent is actually irrelevant. You will find in general that "intentions" play no role in the Big Model at all, or more accurately, intentions are never invoked as a unique causal factor. Drift refers to what the play-group is doing, with no reference to the game author whatsoever.
What about the intentions of the author of that drift? The one person who (successfully) directs that drift? (that includes whether they know it or not that they directed it)

I'm not sure it detaches from the game authors intention when it's just a matter of someone at the table taking over the authorship position (probably the GM/person who owns the book).

Mind you, I'm skeptical how creative agenda apparently just kinda...forms out of social contract, in the big model. I rather think creative agenda is decided outside of social contract by one individual (ie, the big arrow starts earlier than the social contract). So I might be opening another can of worms in the wrong thread.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2008, 03:00:39 PM »

Whew! Not a simple topic. I should start by saying again that my goal here is say, "Drift as currently defined and used is not sufficient," as opposed to "Here I clarify what Drift has been established to mean." In other words, I don't want to contort an inadequate term into multiple and new shapes; I want to find out what is happening so maybe we can create a better taxonomy.

Hey Simon, you wrote,

Quote
Is Drift always about a change in CA? Is houseruling your game to make it "more realistic" or faster or so that Katanas are more awesome an example of Drift?

Is Drift something that is either present or not, or is it a matter of degree?

... What is the concept of Drift useful for? Are we using it to identify when a group is going "off the reservation" with a game, such that normal successful practices for playing that game may not be successful for them? Are we using it to more successfully describe techniques for changing CA within a given rules set? What's the most useful definition of Drift?

"Tus preguntas son mis preguntas." I totally support all those questions as current unknowns and I'd like to see them worked out. As far as I can tell, we need different words for different phenomena; the one word has finally broken under the weight of all its meanings.

Originally, Drift was about Creative Agenda, with rules-change being one form of dramatic evidence for it. Then people including me starting talking about "drifting the rules," and that was often used independently of whether CA was involved. I tried to outline some of the subtleties of arriving at CA, too, upon using a text.

Callan, you bring up stuff that is a little easier for me, but it's really important that we go over it too, so thanks.

Quote
What about the intentions of the author of that drift? The one person who (successfully) directs that drift? (that includes whether they know it or not that they directed it)

I'm not sure it detaches from the game authors intention when it's just a matter of someone at the table taking over the authorship position (probably the GM/person who owns the book).

Well, again, I'm not really psyched about the whole "intention" thing. Maybe we're just using different terms. I'd probably say something clunky like "the goals that become evident as actions and interactions proceed," for which I typically use the word "agenda," or "goals of play."

Anyway, that said, I think the core point is that you're still talking about something the author wants, and I'm saying that's not the issue. The issue is what actually comes together (if it does) as a function of what the text says to do. So we should be comparing that one person's push toward a CA with

Regarding the last issue you mentioned,

Quote
Mind you, I'm skeptical how creative agenda apparently just kinda...forms out of social contract, in the big model. I rather think creative agenda is decided outside of social contract by one individual (ie, the big arrow starts earlier than the social contract). ...

It's totally appropriate here, but as I see it, there's no can of worms. Any social mechanisms by which CA forms are actually acknowledged in the model, but I don't list them or spell them out. My logic is, "whatever happens among the group such that CA gets established at that level." That could be anything: nice, nasty; centralized, democratic; whatever. I suggest that you're over-stating it when you specify one person only, but yes, it doesn't have to be all-equals-all-the-time either. You're totally right to say that such things don't form out of nothing or through mysterious ways. All the Big Model says, though, is "however it happens" and diagrams where.

CA, though, is not established at the moment that anyone (one, some, all) simply says what they want. It is established only insofar as it's expressed in play at the level of reward cycles over extended time; when and if that happens, that is certainly a function of group dynamics.

Also, that "one person" may generate personal desires outside of the Social Contract, but those are irrelevant and floating in space until they get communicated somehow in the context of "let's play this game." So at that point, Social Contract is up and running.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: November 14, 2008, 03:11:08 AM »

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Any social mechanisms by which CA forms are actually acknowledged in the model
Hmm, I'm not refering to social mechanisms to form CA. If someones hungry and you offer them food, sure, the offering is part of the social mechanism, but deciding to offer it at all? Thats a decision they made outside of the social mechanism.

In terms of drift I'm comparing what sort of 'food' the author offers in his text Vs what someone in the gaming group offers as food when he knows what sort of CA members of the group hunger for.

Food for thought, hehe!
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Callan S.
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« Reply #10 on: November 15, 2008, 02:44:18 PM »

Just a footnote: If it wouldn't be called creative agenda at a stage before the social mechanism, that's okay. What I'm getting at if the guy offers narrativist meat next saturday and you get a narrativist CA on saturday, if he hadn't offered any, what CA would have shown up? Certainly if they wouldn't have gamed at all, his initial thoughts (which are outside the social mechanism) are pivotal in whether a nar or any CA forms at all.

And if they gamed but no one offered any meat (hey, I own a book, turn up on saturday and we'll read it!), what does the text inspire in the people at the table/what meat is in the text, in terms of CA?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: November 16, 2008, 08:47:21 PM »

Callan, we may or may not be hitting an impasse. Let me know.

My thinking is that whether someone decides "we'll play Narrativist" before the group sits down together is not relevant. Even if every single person in that group nods, smiles, follows that guy's lead, and proceeds to play accordingly, it's still a group dynamic that actually produces the CA. I'm not sure why you're focusing so hard on whether "it" exists before that point. I may not be understanding what events in real life regarding a real game that you're talking about.

I do think it's a relevant inquiry, because one of the issues we're driving at in this thread is arriving at a CA in two cases: (a) a text which is very helpful, directive, and consistent, even if not explicit about goals; and (b) a text which, if followed, results in massive confusion about goals. So yeah, talking about where CA "comes from" (and I don't mean motivation, I mean actual inter-personal dynamics) is key.

Thanks for your attention to this series of threads. Full disclosure: more than once, I've become aggravated by your posts in them, then stepped back to wonder why (because I rarely react emotionally to internet posting), to find that you were bringing up stuff that was absolutely relevant, just not what I felt like talking about myself. Which is bogus on my part. I went back over all of them to look over where you're coming from and what you've said.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: November 17, 2008, 03:22:08 PM »

Darn, looks like an impasse! My understanding of the forge term drift was that it occured in your point #2, because the text/rules didn't really push any particular kind of fun. I'd taken drift to mean that with the one text, I'd think it was gamist, while the guy over there takes it in a sim or nar direction. Drift was more like a description of how some people or whole groups can use the same text yet be so far away in terms of play - they got there by drifting there. It explaned alot to me about why people at the same table could be on such different wavelengths. On reflection I think I just invented this meaning for drift.

Invention or not, while I understand drift in #2, I don't entirely understand the example in #1. Here's probably one of those annoying questions: Why did you all take a supposedly strong gamist text like 3E and go nar with it? Why take a wrench and use it like a hammer? To further complicate that question, I'm not sure 3E actually is a strong gamist text. Everyone goes 'Oh, of course it is' and leaves it at that...but where's any actual evidence or critical method for determining that? Perhaps as a text its still in much in the same position as #1? That's my second annoying question, sadly. Anyway I'll leave it at that.
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #13 on: November 18, 2008, 11:24:12 AM »

I have to say, this thread has me scratching my head a bit.  I won't say that Drift isn't due for a thorough going-over, but I'm equally unsure of whether or not the term is as unclear as you are all making it out to be.

If I remember correctly, the concept of drift arose out of a need to describe one aspect of functional and dysfunctional play.  This necessarily implicates Creative Agenda, which is a core concept of functional play.  Specifically, Drift has always been about shifting from one CA to another as a function of actual play.  Any misuse of the term to mean simply changing the rules of a game (without changing CA) is a red herring insofar as arriving at an working definition is concerned.  In other words, it is very possible to change the rules of a game without shifting its CA.  This isn't Drift, it's just an expression of preference within a given CA.

The question of what a group Drifts from is an interesting one.  I have always taken it to mean, "Drift from the objective CA of a game as defined by what the text encourages."  This is not a reflection of author intent, much in the same way that the theme of a book or movie has nothing to do with the author's intent.  It is defined only by what appears in the finished product.

I think Drift is also strong enough to encompass the shift from the CA that a group begins playing with to another CA during play.  In other words, you have to pick a starting point, but that starting point isn't as important as the shift itself -- at least not for purposes of defining Drift.

To go through Ron's list:*

- arriving at CA by putting rules into practice (your "adapting") to get System and presumably a functioning CA

This is certainly not Drift as I've defined it.  Learning a game is learning a game.  You can't Drift if you don't have a CA to Drift from.  To me, this is an entirely different phenomenon.

- playing by CA 1, shifting to CA 2 (rules changes or no rules changes)
- using rules which nicely facilitate "adapting" to CA 1, finding them unsatisfactory (i.e. never actually playing CA 1), and making new rules which then facilitate the preferred CA 2


These are both clearly covered.

- using rules which are a mess, facilitating no CA, finding them unsatisfactory, and making new rules which then facilitate a CA of choice

This is the most interesting example to me.  At first, it appears similar to just learning the game.  But I suspect it's something closer to this:  We tried to learn the game.  That didn't work.  So we had to change things to make it work.

But is it really drift if there isn't an effective starting point?  The game text doesn't support one CA or another.  The group didn't start out with a coherent CA.  Therefore, intellectually, I tend to say "No Drift," even as I am aware that I've used to term to mean just that.

- and as a separate subject, "changing rules" ranges from the kind of fade-back and bring-forward I described with our L5R game, all the way to altering the written rules so drastically that you have genuinely made a brand-new game

Could be Drift.  Could simply be changing the rules.  It all depends on the change's effect on the current CA.  Creating a genuinely new game is a side-effect, but not an indication of Drift.

What I would add to the list of questions is this scenario:  Each player begins the game with a different CA in mind.  In play, we see each player attempt to push his own ideas about CA (dysfunctional play).  But then as the game proceeds, the group arrives at a common CA.  This may or may not involve rule changes.  Is that Drift?

*I realize, Ron, that you didn't mean your list as some sort of test.  So I apologize for the re-purposing.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2008, 11:22:11 AM »

Hey guys, I apologize for taking so long to get back to this. All the points required some reflection time.

Callan, you wrote,

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My understanding of the forge term drift was that it occured in your point #2, because the text/rules didn't really push any particular kind of fun. I'd taken drift to mean that with the one text, I'd think it was gamist, while the guy over there takes it in a sim or nar direction. Drift was more like a description of how some people or whole groups can use the same text yet be so far away in terms of play - they got there by drifting there. It explaned alot to me about why people at the same table could be on such different wavelengths. On reflection I think I just invented this meaning for drift.

Yeah, that concept is about the same as Incoherence, in reference both to the text and to subsequent play, rather than Drift. Drift might be a response to that situation, though.

Quote
Here's probably one of those annoying questions: Why did you all take a supposedly strong gamist text like 3E and go nar with it? Why take a wrench and use it like a hammer? To further complicate that question, I'm not sure 3E actually is a strong gamist text. Everyone goes 'Oh, of course it is' and leaves it at that...but where's any actual evidence or critical method for determining that? Perhaps as a text its still in much in the same position as #1? That's my second annoying question, sadly.

Not much to say here. I asked Dan and Chris what they wanted, and they told me. Granted, I articulated the Narrativist option clearly rather than decreeing "This be Gamist, yarrr, let's go!" The reason I did that at all is because I know that the pure color and cultural mind-share of D&D often spark interest in Narrativist play, and I suspected that might be the case for these two. I took great pains not to diminish the attraction of the Gamist approach and articulated them both as equal and fun alternatives.

Regarding the text itself, I'm not sure what to say except to read it and play it in the absence of pre-existing personal priorities wrapped up in the term "D&D," which is probably an annoying answer. However, I'm not saying it merely to annoy you back, but because the text does a pretty good job of integrating Color and Reward, at least for the player (much less so for the DM; the DM's Guide is a mess). Basically, the system is the starting character sheet's way of making a later version of the character sheet, and options within the system affect everything about how that is to be done. Which, as a phrase, is practically synonymous with "good design," and given that quality of design,I think it's easy to see that those system-options are fundamentally strategic (how does my character relate to the party) and tactical (how do I hit hard and stay alive at the same time). In other words, the system becomes fun when you Step On Up.

Tim, you wrote,

Quote
If I remember correctly, the concept of drift arose out of a need to describe one aspect of functional and dysfunctional play.  This necessarily implicates Creative Agenda, which is a core concept of functional play.  Specifically, Drift has always been about shifting from one CA to another as a function of actual play.  Any misuse of the term to mean simply changing the rules of a game (without changing CA) is a red herring insofar as arriving at an working definition is concerned.  In other words, it is very possible to change the rules of a game without shifting its CA.  This isn't Drift, it's just an expression of preference within a given CA.

From the standpoint of the current Glossary definition, that's correct. Except for two things. CA isn't actually a property of a text in isolation, despite the crucial if often-tenuous relationship between the rules (in the book) and play itself (system). More importantly, we're now confronting the issue of common usage definition.

The grim fact is, we never talked about Drift as only about CA-shifting. We always included some aspect of rules-messing, and "Drift the rules" is now an established and familiar phrase.

I'm a big proponent of resisting common usage if the term was previously nailed down by rigorous and referenced discourse and the divergent usage is easily identified as a clique or localized phenomenon (e.g. Fantasy Heartbreaker as a blanket derogatory at RPG.net). However, if the term is revealed to have been squishy from the start and demonstrates diminishing utility, then current and common usage is important to consider as we initiate or resume rigorous discussion about it. I think that's the current case. So Glossary-schmossary. We have to look at Drift with fresh eyes now.

There's one more, significant issue in your statement, too. CA doesn't define functional play; the only claim is that coherence results in functional play more reliably. Therefore Drift doesn't actually imply arriving at functional play. In fact, we probably need to think of attempted Drift, in which a person or group is hunting for a way to get to a CA but not necessarily getting there, or if they do, arriving at functional play that way.

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The question of what a group Drifts from is an interesting one.  I have always taken it to mean, "Drift from the objective CA of a game as defined by what the text encourages."  This is not a reflection of author intent, much in the same way that the theme of a book or movie has nothing to do with the author's intent.  It is defined only by what appears in the finished product.

Well, I'm going to say that all of that is now a topic for debate among multiple viewpoints. One problem with your interpretation is that "objective CA" in texts is itself a troublesome topic. I've been careful over the years to specify why I think a given text points toward a given CA, but I've also noted that this kind of thinking and logic is very, very hard for others to get into. Witness your own care in your phrasing to excerpt author-intent, which is testimony to others' instant tendency to invoke it unless stopped at the outset. The facts that many texts are ipso-facto incoherent in CA terms, and that the incoherence varies from a simple mess to particular magical-thinking kinds of incoherence (e.g. the Impossible Thing among others), make discussion about this difficult.

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I think Drift is also strong enough to encompass the shift from the CA that a group begins playing with to another CA during play.  In other words, you have to pick a starting point, but that starting point isn't as important as the shift itself -- at least not for purposes of defining Drift.

I agree with you from the basis of the Glossary definition, but the question is whether this holds up as we refine or re-shape the notion of what Drift is.

Quote
Quote
- arriving at CA by putting rules into practice (your "adapting") to get System and presumably a functioning CA

This is certainly not Drift as I've defined it. Learning a game is learning a game. You can't Drift if you don't have a CA to Drift from. To me, this is an entirely different phenomenon.

I agree with you on that. That point is mainly there to establish a strong idea of what isn't Drift. Also, it's important because what that feels like isn't easily distinguished, is perhaps indistinguishable, from the next point.

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...  But I suspect it's something closer to this:  We tried to learn the game.  That didn't work.  So we had to change things to make it work.

But is it really drift if there isn't an effective starting point?  The game text doesn't support one CA or another.  The group didn't start out with a coherent CA.  Therefore, intellectually, I tend to say "No Drift," even as I am aware that I've used to term to mean just that.

Currently, that question is entirely unanswered. I can't remember any time when we devoted attention to the idea of what might precede the Drift, and what that means for the definition.

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What I would add to the list of questions is this scenario:  Each player begins the game with a different CA in mind.  In play, we see each player attempt to push his own ideas about CA (dysfunctional play).  But then as the game proceeds, the group arrives at a common CA.  This may or may not involve rule changes.  Is that Drift?

I think it would be included in the Glossary definition, in theory, but I'm also skeptical about it being a real phenomenon. Genuinely incoherent play (as opposed to Zilchplay) doesn't resolve into coherent play, in my experience.

Well, all I can say is, the discussion's begun, and at the moment, I don't have a decided position to defend. I only know we have to hammer out the concepts and maybe end up with a set of distinct terms rather than one. All thoughts and contributions are welcome.

Best, Ron
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