Traits and the darkness that comes before

Started by Callan S., October 31, 2008, 12:50:07 AM

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Callan S.

The title is a reference to the prince of nothing fantasy trilogy and in itself refers to discovering not what is happening now, but discovering what made 'now' exist to begin with. This thread is a split off from Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?

The question there was about traits and how they are functionally employed. But before that, in what way did the author intend to present them? I'm going to focus on a post from Ron in that thread,
QuoteCallan, the question you keep coming back to is how text is involved in the process. I think that it must be said: text alone cannot do it, at least not yet. For one thing, I can count the number of times that everyone at the RPG table has read the actual text on the fingers of one hand. For another, the state of the hobby is such that one-on-one, or one-on-group teaching is the standard expectation. A person who GMs a game is supposed to teach it to everyone else; if there's no formal GM, then the person who teaches it to everyone else actually becomes something of a formal GM anyway.

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

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

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

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

Starting at the top again, because right here in the words 'at least not yet' seems to be a goal I haven't really seen expressed in the gaming community at large. Usually what I see is some variant on 'Text alone cannot do it' and it stops dead, right there. But for anyone else reading, if you feel you already add 'at least not yet' or just want to try the idea to see what it's like, by all means swing into the thread and show me wrong! :)  ....please....
Quote from: RonCallan, the question you keep coming back to is how text is involved in the process. I think that it must be said: text alone cannot do it, at least not yet.
If it's a goal for text alone to at some point be sufficient, where is the corrective process that might eventually achieve it?

The way I see "teach this system", the process of teaching leaves no room to recognise that that the system itself may have failed to achieve the 'text alone is sufficient' goal. When we teach, we assume the student is the one which is lacking (in knowledge), rather than the text taught as being lacking.

The concern for productivity I'll express is, as system is never seen to be lacking (only the student is), I cannot see any corrective measure in place. When that is the case, the 'text is sufficient' goal will never be achieved.

That's one problem with trait usage (or even skill usage). Not so much their direct usage at the table, but what came before them (begat them), and whether that prior thing is self corrective or not.

But as said, this problem rests on whether 'text alone is sufficient' is actually a goal for the designer.

Going the other way, I think it is valid for a designer to decide their game involves a master & apprentice tutorage. However, if the game is sold on bookshelves, or downloaded, where is the master to learn from? To me, selling or downloading in this format says it is a 'text alone is sufficient' game (or an attempt at that). Again, I think even here with a master & apprentice goal, an author will have failed to meet his or her goal.

It's hard to give an actual play account for this, as it's about multiple plays and not the actual play part, but reflecting on it and considering whether it meets ones goals or not.

I'll refer to a recent throw together thing I made and played with my 9yo son. It canabalised components from D&D 4e (I wont indulge the notion I played 4e, though) and used the neat figures we had bought. I was investigating something else with its design, but the upshot was that we have run the same dungeon about six times so far and its intended for further plays until a target number. The dungeon is essentially static - some small components change, but it's essentially static. I sense (yes, just sense) that this is anathema to most roleplayers ("My god, the SAME (enjoyable) thing over and over?") and if it does serve as a distraction here, then I do feel somewhat shut down in having to start my own thread and include an actual play account in it that might result in such distraction.

Onto play. One key component is that there is a dungeon strength score and a good guys/heroes/the players strength. At the end of each dungeon run you are to roll a D6 for each (if the heroes lose the dungeon, they don't get to roll at all - when the centipedes got us once, that happened). Whichever gets to 100 first (yeah, that's a few dungeons) wins the whole thing/campaign. Okay, after running the dungeon for about the third time, I forgot to do this after the dungeon was completed - I had just gone onto packing up. This is terrible of me - this is the spine of the whole step on up (with each dungeon being a series of smaller step on up inside it). And my son said 'Shouldn't we be rolling for the strength thingie?' and he was right! I was not teaching him - indeed, on a pivotal component of the game he retaught me. He didn't teach me some new insight. It wasn't some new wiz bang concept to explore. He just taught me what I had forgotten but was vital. As much as I knew it was vital, I had forgotten it. Importantly, he invoked pure text to reteach me...okay, he said 'strength thingie', but he refered to exactly the procedure we had used with the d6's.

Another thing is that if you stop at a certain point in the dungeon, you get to roll a d6 for heroes strength. If you risk going further to a second check point, you get a d6+1 (this was written down). He did charge up here when...I hadn't fully prepped it, and more had an outline in mind (though I would only work within that outline). I had been thinking there should be a treasure once the vampire spawn (with the minature rules, not the minion rules) was defeated and spoke this aloud. He said that the +1 on the d6 was enough of a treasure! He grasped the larger step on up spine to realise it was a considerable treasure in itself! I didn't add any treasure. I feel he corrected me, or to be more exact, I reflected on play and it's talk, and I realised that putting (any more) treasure here didn't meet my goal. And again, he refered only to pure text - the +1 had been established in text (okay, scratched on a page in pencil, but text none the less).

Finally in the first parts of the dungeon the player can describe how some aspect of the dungeon helps the enemy and the player gets a resource (it's not policed, any statement will do), or nothing if they stay silent. The prob is (or starts with) that the first three rooms are the same winding corridor...and after playing it several times, its started to grate on me having this imagination applied to the same damn corridors over and over. I don't even have a prob with what he says, there's just something...askew, that I can't name. I want to change it - I even say to him when he's pausing to think one up 'you don't have to make one up' but he does (and yes I've even forgotten to do this once or twice (not deliberate!) and he's reminded me about it. Instead of drifting away from this thing that bugs me, yet not actually removing it from the rules, I have to face the rules aren't quite making me happy. Which makes me concentrate on not ignoring my own rules, but changing them to meet my goal, in future.

In terms of drifting, I'm not refering to agenda drift, but I am refering to part of what agenda drift involves - it ignores certain options that the player has. You can see in many forum posts (one to three a week on the D&D forums) where the group has been ignoring that the combat rules (for pretty much any older game) actually have the option of targeting other players...until that new (or troublesome old) player comes along. Then they say that player is bad, when the group has been in denial all this time, denying the option existed. They either don't self correct at all, throwing the player out, or call him bad and declare a no PVP rule. They never seem to admit they fucked up in 'forgetting' about the option/denying to themselves it exists, and then after admitting that, declare a no PVP rule. There's never that honesty, it seems - it's always someone elses fault or that someone else 'should' know better.

But it doesn't really stop there. This thread talks about what came before - why are the authors of the game observing that they have left the option to PVP in, yet so many end user gnash their teeth over this? Does this meet the authors goals? Or does he see it the same - the player used what he wrote in, but the author himself drifts away from it in his own play. And so the author denies that it exists to stop the design from meeting his own goals?

That's more of a broad, throw away question. It's good to mull on, but I don't want answers about something that broad from anyone. Really I don't want to ask any questions - no more than the ones I've asked in the past decade or so. Most RP folk don't seem to be interested in a 'text alone is sufficient' goal, not even out of mild curiosity, even as they insist important things are in the text. Basically I'm surprised the traits thread came up. Mostly, apart from the occasional post from me to test the waters (a recent one was on 'The GM can change any rule' in god, the options denied), I'd just given up and beetled along, gathering what scraps I could.

That is to say, I'm not trying to prove anything and wont really bother to (I attracted a stalker on and a zealot on storygames...I feel kind of done with working with the general public on it). It's just one of occasional pings to see if anyone else pings back.


Hi Callan, "ping". :-)

Here's my 2c on the subject. Hmmm, let's see how to put it: I'm fully convinced that text can do "it" alone, but the real, functional, achievable goal is understanding what "it" is exactly. Right now, I can only offer a sports analogy, let me know if it's helpful or not.

Let's consider, hmm, basketball for instance. Consider the following two sentences:

(1) I'm pretty sure that you can stuff all the rules and procedures called "a basketball game" in a few pages of plain text with a couple of diagrams.
(2) I'm absolutely sure that no encyclopedia will ever teach you to play basketball as a NBA pro.

Do you find the sentences above in contrast? I doubt so. But I feel that in the RPG community, something similar is silently at work. I mean, *of course* an rpg text will NOT teach you to play *in a satisfactory way*, or *in accord to an aesthetic canon*. Communicating aesthetic canons is what Art does, and we cannot realistically expect game designers to be *also* great artists.

However, and that's an important however, I think that a lot of rpg texts are vague about absolutely, 100% quantifiable stuff such as rules and procedures, and I don't find a plausible excuse for that. Curiously, this vagueness never comes out regarding *numerical* stuff: rules that imply the use of numbers. But when it comes to rules that regulate dialogue or interpersonal dynamics, a huge blur appears usually (yes, there are few notable exceptions!).

That's it for me as I currently understand it. Simply, a lot of this "qualitative" aspect is included in the "it" we discussed above (can text alone do "it"?). And, following this wrong assumption, a lot of the perfectly describable stuff gets dumped along in the blurry region.

Ideas? Comments?


Callan S.

Thanks Marcus!

I think I get what you mean. I was thinking along these sorts of lines before and it makes me think about art. To use paintings as an example, the artist or a viewer can look at it and 'see' something there. For example, in this one I see...feel...great, unknown loss of real lives.

The thing is with art, you can't really tell someone they are wrong in what they see. You can say what the author has said he sees in it, and that has some weight if the person wants to know what the author wanted to convey. But you still can't really be wrong.

Okay, with a roleplay game I think it's fair for the author or other readers to see something moving in the texts of the book, like with my example above in regards to the painting. And I think here as well, you can't be wrong.

BUT in terms of mechanics, yes, you can be utterly, utterly wrong!!! What you see in the book, yeah, it's there in the art of the books creation, but no, that doesn't mean its in the mechanics as well. A good painting of a horse doesn't mean you can ride that horse, and a book about themes doesn't mean you can actually ride those themes in actual play. Mechanics use is a REAL event, its not what you see in the art - just like the painting of the horse, just because you can see something in the art of the text doesn't mean the actual, real event will have anything to do with the art you see.

So I'm wondering if amongst designers right now theres a bit of seeing something in the art, then assuming that thing is in the mechanics as well.

I take your point about the quatifyable stuff and yes, why don't they just code it down into pure, hard mechanical procedure? The above is perhaps one reason why - because it (again) disrupts the corrective process. The designer thinks what they see in the art is also in the mechanics, so they stop designing because 'it's there' and it never gets any better than blury design, as you put it. It can even degrade.

On a side note, I would like to say that I'm glad so many designers have had the guts to write something instead of being stuck in analysis paralysis. But if there is no corrective procedure there, it doesn't matter how much you put out, it'll never get better.


Hi Callan,
just a quick note - I think you are slighlty misreading what I wrote (aaarggh, I don't know really, since english is not my 1st language, bu anyway):

What I tried to say is something way simpler than the (fascinating!) considerations in your last post. I'm not saying that mechanics cannot facilitate or even contain the 'seed' of a certain type of play: quite the contrary, in fact. I'm saying that mechanics will never contain the information needed to use them well, *according to one aesthetic canon*... BUT, this is not related in any way with the issue of not describing certain *rules*, such as those I mentioned above, and whether they are recognized as "rules" or not.

Practical examples: what on earth is a "trait"? what does it mean to "frame a scene"? what does it mean to "set stakes"? I could name a few games in which you find exactly the words above to describe game procedures, just as if those described above were as definite and understandable as "roll 1d8 and read the result". Maybe I'm a bit dumb, but to me, "frame a scene" without further guidance is as descriptive of a mechanic as "roll a die".

Last point: perfectly described mechanics are *not* in contrast with the creative use of them during play! Want an outstanding example? I might be repeating myself, but: Trollbabe.



Marshall Burns

There's a thing I've been thinking about.  RPG texts are written to communicate the shape of the game's design.  It tells you the names of all the pieces, and what their functions are, and it (maybe) gives you an operating procedure.  And, if games were machines that you operated to yield a product, this would be perfect.  But they aren't machines, they're instruments

Game texts need to go beyond communicating the shape of the design (it's still important).  They need to go beyond a book that tells you what all the pieces of a guitar are called, and how the concept of fretting the strings for different pitches works (and maybe there's a sidebar with the Law of Strings in it), and lots of techniques like pizzicato and the golpe and so forth.  A game text should be like a book that instructs you how to play the guitar.  It would have to include all of the technical stuff, but it should also tell you what it's for.  It should discuss the effect of various techniques -- not just how to use them, but what happens when you do, and what that effect is good for.

My Rustbelt ashcan doesn't do that.  It tells you the techniques and expects you to realize what the effects are.  And there's been some people who didn't get it.  I think I wrote it that way because I taught myself how to play it, and I taught myself how to play guitar, piano, banjo, mandolin, bass, and drums (figuratively & literally), and I expected everyone else to have the time, focus, and ability to do the same.  Which isn't a reasonable expectation, is it?


Ron Edwards

Hey Callan,

Full disclosure: Callan sent me a preliminary draft of his first post a week ago. However, I very brilliantly partly drafted my reply and then did not provide myself access to it over a three-day weekend.


My first response is to clarify what scope I'm talking about in the text you're talking about.

If the world of learning to play RPGs were limited to a reader, a text, and a group, that would be one thing. The reader would have a need and a preference and a given background, and the book could be tailored in every detail to those things.

But it's not. It's all happening in a culture of a huge variety of readers' backgrounds and a significant variety of preferences. Those backgrounds are chock-full of what can only be called prejudices what's supposed to be in the book, and those preferences are chock-full of complicated misconceptions (e.g. the notion that the best game should be able to satisfy any and all CAs at once, or pretty much any other nonsense that we exposed here by discussing CA).

Really instructing and learning in this context isn't a matter of simply dumping knowledge XYZ into the head of someone who's perfectly capable of grasping and very much wants XYZ in exactly that form. Ideally, even fantastically, it would be more like a real university course. In such a course, a great deal of the effort is dedicated to stripping down and banishing horrendous and uncritically-held viewpoints and expectations. The course of study (syllabus) is designed as a process, in which certain insights or skills can be assessed as we go along, and which then informs the exact way that the next step will be presented and reinforced. At its best, such a course would not be indoctrination but rather a liberating experience, producing graduates who can surpass their instructors, expand the discipline, or even revise it.

And even such a course is working with certain social-context advantages too.  The people in the class, however uninformed or confused they might be, at least put some money and some kind of commitment to paying attention to what's presented. They have also effectively agreed to be subjected to a performance rating which is non-negotiable and not trivial for their future. Plus the social and interactive aspects of the course experience.

We don't have any such course. There's no social context for it, there's no shared vocabulary for it, there's no institutional memory for it, and there's no system of assessment for it. We don't even have the relatively chaotic but at least functional multiple-decentralized schools as in martial arts (probably closer to my actual ideal). We're limping along with practically random juxtapositions of (a) different people, (b) different backgrounds, and (c) different books in hand, only connected by (a) a completely hazy and at times genuinely stupid means of production and distribution, and (b) the chattering confusion of internet pseudo-socializing.


So what's a book to do, reasonably speaking? At this point, I choose a target audience, sometimes on the basis of pure hope, certainly on the basis of personal passion; and I write and promote to that audience. In my case, the hoped-for audience is not "indie gamers" or (hand on forehead) "story gamers," but rather anyone who can catch my wavelength on the color and reward of this particular game. I also try to support a community whose sole link is enjoyment of that game. The book is a central piece of this overall strategy, not a be-all manual like The Hitch-Hiker's Guide. At this point, 2008, the yield of every kind is real but slim - and no wonder! Ten years ago, I even had to invent the method of delivery of the book! Ed Healy and I had to call attention to the phenomenon of independent RPG publishing, despite its long-standing presence, in order even for people to know it exists! That's why I say, "not yet."

I do see the changes, and many of them are in the right direction(s), so my "not yet" does not mean being put off over a distant, hazy horizon. But it definitely means that we do not live in a world where "the perfect book" can be written for a given purpose, for the people who know they want it and know where to look, and to such precision that it needs those people's needs. Instead, each of us is either part of the problem or part of the solution(s) toward approximating that ideal in the future.

I think that pushing toward better books, better community, better play-experiences, and better discourse are all part of the solutions. But I think the kind of expectation you're describing here is not.


It's hard even to believe that you're really expecting something like the following. If we took pretty much a random scoop of people whose understanding of statistics is minimal and highly colored by misconceptions (i.e. real people), who did or did not want to learn statistics, and for those who did, for any number of a wide range of purposes ... then we give them absolutely nothing but a book which presented a given subtopic (say, inference based on p-values, an important but definitely not all-inclusive branch of statistics) ... and you want this book to be so clear, so amazing, so perfectly pedagogic, so obvious once you look at it, that no one in this crowd has one single glitch in understanding what it's for, what to do, how to do it, how to deal with stumbling blocks, and how to include others in doing it to. On first reading.

Being me, I can't help but interject: Oh boy! Can this thing suck my dick, too? After all, it's equally likely. As I see it, a book is no more capable of achieving the goal in the above paragraph than it is of performing said carnal act.

I also think that this expectation not only fails the human-reality test, but also fails to grasp that learning requires practice, failure, re-assessment, reflection on why you're doing this in the first place, and social reinforcement. I am trying not to be nasty, but as stated by you, those consumer expectations remind me of a baby bird. The baby bird doesn't articulate what it wants, it just screams - and if what it gets isn't exactly the right shape, size, flavor, texture, and frequency of delivery, then it's no good. The last thing it wants is to have to learn anything, do anything, reflect on anything, or practice anything in order to eat. (At least real baby birds are trying not to starve; I don't see any excuse for fellow members of this hobby.)

Are you really saying there's no corrective procedure in this culture, the one centered on the forum you're reading? That's nonsense. I've written for years about how the text-writing culture needs to step up to the realities of the reader. A lot of it has to do with what Marshall mentioned, like teaching the guitar. Some people agree and have tried really hard along with me - if you look at Burning Wheel Revised, Burning Empires, It Was a Mutual Decision, Spione, Dogs in the Vineyard, Polaris, Dirty Secrets, and many others, you'll see clarity directed toward the real people that simply has no parallel in the prior history of role-playing texts. Resistance and fearful rejection of that very point constituted the primary reason for the reaction against my brain damage posting.


Here's what I like the most about your account of play. You and your son both took responsibility not only to read the text, but also to acknowledge that the text was its "own thing" that you were trying to do, and most importantly, you both acknowledged that either of you could refer to it. You totally abandoned, for the better, the whole idea that the book and its owner are one thing, with the owner being like an interpreter, and then the owner going to the players and being for all intents and purposes the book for them. I think that's fantastic. It's why I've always tried to write my game texts for the group to read, not one person who is going to be not only the GM, but the sole filter for their contact with the book.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that it's morally incumbent on anyone to play a game slavishly toward exactly how a book is written. I am saying that interaction with the instructions by any and all participants is something we all accept as an option when we're talking about a board or card game, including the reference and enforcement of those instructions. But in RPGs, that's not historically the case. And that is a powerful, difficult subcultural expectation to overcome as a game designer and author. If four or five people are reading your book in order to play together, that increases the chances that your instructions will be understood, either to be used or to be rejected for group-acceptable reasons. But if it's just the one guy, then he can read it and perceive God Knows What, and tell everyone that it's done that way. (I should make a parody Sorcerer text of what the game would be like based on accounts of what people insist the book says, until I give them page references, and then they swear that the book literally changed its text since the last time they opened it.)

Well, that's what I got. It was a little spiky and I don't know how it'll be received.

Best, Ron

Callan S.

Hi Marcus,

I think your saying that although it involves player skill, many parts are just procedures and rule following that could be written down. I'm saying that although it involves art, many parts are just procedures and rule following that could be written down. I think I'm just getting at the same thing from a different angle, I think. Did I summerise you correctly? :)

Hi Ron,

I think your shooting the messenger. I've said that when one teaches, one assumes the student is lacking rather than the text. And this removes any corrective process in terms of the text (specifically here, if you teach how traits are supposed to work, you wont recognise the ways they don't actually meet their design goals). I am just describing a reality, like gravity. Assuming I'm correct on that - whatever the situation is now with people having a bunch of prejudices about text (I'd agree about that), that doesn't make this teaching situation go away.

I'd anticipated having to start my own thread would make this into an analysis of 'What Callan wants', even invention of what I want, and avoid engaging the message.

Whether it's true that when people teach they cease to test if the text is sufficient, is the matter for debate.

And if we entertain the idea it's a reality, what ways and means yet remain to bypass said prejudices?

Callan S.

Ah, damn! Marcus, I meant to ask, can you please give an actual play account of trollbabe - here or in a new thread is fine. I've been meaning to ask since you first brought it up in the prior thread. I think it'll have some important contrasts in it.

Ron Edwards

Hi Callan,

Quotewhen one teaches, one assumes the student is lacking rather than the text.

I don't think that's teaching, I think it's a frequent failure of teaching - even wholly failing to teach, period. I hope this view of mine sets up a basis for agreement, so hold on while I try to explain.

Any and all of the following can be "lacking": instructor, student, text. In fact, I suggest that the learning process is better off if all three admit it as the likely default, and if each assumes responsibility for addressing that throughout. There is an entire school of thought about university teaching that's based on this very idea, best expressed in the sciences. And it does not become paralyzed in an opinion-fest, either. I can list the techniques for the instructor, if you like.

More relevant to this thread, is that I think that three-cornered admission and commitment to work toward improvement of all three is what's been happening in this exact website and its predecessors for ten years. Perfectly? No, partly because I don't even know what "perfectly" would mean in that context anyway. But better than any other dialogue and community in the history of the hobby? I think so.

My final point is to call you out on insinuating that I'm trying to derail the discussion through personal attack. I have not attacked or criticized you in one single word or sentence. Far to the contrary, I've identified your incredibly important point-at-issue, encouraged you to bring it into the light, and even celebrated your actual play that helps illustrate what you mean. I'm trying to understand and support what you're saying. If ideas or specific phrasings don't make sense, then I attack them without mercy, but not you. Quit posting like I'm the enemy.

Best, Ron

Callan S.

All the enthusiastic investigation was applied to the messenger, rather than the message, would be a clearer, but less punchy way of putting it. Rather than insinuate, I would have moderated, sought a moderator, or ditched the thread if I thought there was any personal attack at all. Ok, we'll leave here and move into the other area.

In terms of the corrective process, it's not just about one being there at all of course, but what goal or goals the corrective process is aimed at. Before I was assuming you had the text is sufficient goal, and reading prejudices was an obstacle to overcome toward that. What I was thinking was; why overcome it when, from what I know, its far easier to avoid it entirely and still achieve the goal?

I'm thinking maybe you have the text is sufficient goal, and another goal you have is to banish reading prejudices and similar (well, that might not be ideal wording for it if it is a goal, but I'm not great at this). This goal might rival or even come before 'text is sufficient' in priority.

What you've been saying would click into place really well in light of those goals.

To contrast I guess I can only say I don't have that banishment of reading prejudices goal. I aim toward a text that is as clear as the rules for chess and the majority of boardgames/cardgames. I do aim for simple rules/procedures that are like baby steps (baby bird steps?), but chess does this too (it's very simplistic in its rules, given the sublime heights of its play). But ultimately, even when breaking it down to simple steps (the sort of steps I know even a nine year old can do), at a certain point I just leave it to a certain darwinism kick in. If their reading prejudices are getting in the way that much, I just give up on them. Though this isn't too dissimilar to being able to fail a university course. Also, they might follow the steps but find no heart in it all, so to speak. That might be their problem, or my design just doesn't reach far enough in the people I'm aiming for. But I'm already rambling so I'll save discussion of that for latter.

If it is a goal for you, I'm not challenging it by stating my own, just making my own goal out in the open.

It sounds a clunky question to ask, but would you say something like banishing reading prejudices is a goal for you, Ron? In regards to traits or any sort of roleplay components? Before I just thought it was just a means to a goal, rather than a goal itself. If so, what sort of priority does the goal have? In terms of corrective process, other people would have to atleast know (preferably share) your goals in order to correct your teaching.

Is this post too probing? I've got a slight itch at the back of my intuition saying it is. It can all just be ruminated on, rather than answered here.


Quote from: Callan S. on November 04, 2008, 06:58:02 AM
Ah, damn! Marcus, I meant to ask, can you please give an actual play account of trollbabe - here or in a new thread is fine. I've been meaning to ask since you first brought it up in the prior thread. I think it'll have some important contrasts in it.

Hi Callan,

why, sure! I have a Trollbabe session scheduled for next wednesday at a local game club, so this is just perfect. Just a quick question however - what do you mean when you say that "It'll have some important contrasts in it"? Also, is there any specific thing I should take notes on during the game? (Oh well, it's not that important anyway, you can always ask later: I have a quite good memory).



I wrote a huge post, then chucked most of it. Here's the gist:

I think that writing a game text that expresses to anyone (hoi polloi and "brain damaged" gamer alike) how a game is played, how it's intended to be played, and how NOT to play is a valid, reasonable, and possible goal of game design

[regarding "how NOT to play:" this is valid instruction if playing a game in a particular fashion detracts from the inherent fun or design intention of the writer; at the same time, recognize that players may alter games with all sorts of house rules to better cater to their own brand of "fun;" as a designer, one can either let this go or provide "fair warning"]

While games with an excessive amount of fiddly rules or unusual concepts and nuances may require more specific writing, games can be designed to run smoothly with minimal speed bumps and without external demonstration or promotion.

Granted, I have never been actively observed by the designer of any of the games I've played, so it's possible I am completely delusional as to whether or not I was playing in "the intended fashion." But  all the games I've played were simply "out of the box;" purhcased, read, and played by myself and my friends, and most of the time we enjoyed playing.

Some games failed to provide adequate instruction for full enjoyment, but this is a design flaw. Some games provided excellent instruction but were still not enjoyed because the mode of play was not to my personal taste (Steve Jackson's Toon springs immediately to mind).

I don't fault the "random scoop of people whose understanding of statistics is minimal and highly colored by misconceptions." I DO fault assumptions made by designers that results in lack of specificity in writing including: readers' knowledge of other RPGs,readers'  knowledge of source material/theme, readers' experience gaming in a certain way, and similar social contracts/conventions within the readers' own gaming group.

I understand striving for economy in writing. I understand writing to a particular audience ("wargamers," established groups, whatever). I understand that if you're an indie game designer with a day job, you probably don't want to spend time "re-inventing the wheel."

But games texts CAN be written to not only explain what the game is but HOW it's to be played and what play is supposed to look like (and not look like)...and it can be written to speak to any shmuck off the street.  Maybe designers need to get away from slapping the "what is role-playing" boiler plate page at the beginning of their text and get back to simply explaining the game as a game. Hell, drop the RP from the G if this is going to lead to laziness in design!


Ron Edwards

That's great, Jonathan, and I can't imagine anyone disagreeing with you. Nor can I imagine any more heroic effort than about a hundred to two hundred people bleeding their minds out trying to do exactly that. And no less, starting from certain knowledge that our every starting assumption and existing standard was probably inadequate. And furthermore, staying open to feedback and trying harder and harder, over and over again, based on that feedback.

That's funny. I just got mad.

It's weird to get so mad over something I agree with so much. It's clearly irrational. Defensive, maybe? Bitter? I hold up my own work,Spione, as the current pinnacle of my life in trying to write with exactly the clarity and inspiration that is being described in this thread. Everyone who's read it says it's the clearest instructional text they've ever seen; when they play it, they say, "Gee that's funny, it really works." I don't know how to offer that without screaming, "Have you even fucking read this?" and bashing either my or someone else's head into a wall.

And yet that's stupid. It was a good post. You are writing in good faith and, as I said, saying something I agree with. I'm not mad at you or "offended" or any bullshit like that. I don't know what to do with my own responses.

Callan, your question is well within my boundaries, no problem. You asked whether changing reader prejudices is a goal. No, it isn't. I wrote Sorcerer 100% in the spirit of the notion you described, that if someone didn't happen to be on my wavelength enough to get it, then fuck'em. I've tried to write better since then in all kinds of ways, including extending the range of what's acceptably on my wavelength, but I don't see how anyone could wave a wand and change the "way people are."

There is a goal, though, that perhaps makes my points sensible - that communicating about the text and its use is part of the process as well, in addition to reading it. That's not to say that the text can be left inadequate and the real communication be left to the follow-up, but rather acknowledging that the text alone can only go so far. Especially when teaching a social activity, or introducing ideas which require some reflection. Maybe this communication is with the game's author. Maybe it's with other people who like it. Maybe it's with the people who might like to play the game with you. Maybe it's as personal as simply reflecting upon the material after having read it and reacted once.

Here's my thing. I take a person who skims a book once, maybe tries what he thought he read in it, badly, and then dismisses the whole thing as "sucks," and I say, that guy doesn't rate a data point regarding the success of the book. It wasn't inadequate. It wasn't poorly-written. It wasn't incomplete. He sucks, and is not my problem as an author.

What I can do, for anyone who does want to get the maximum they can out of this book, is to be open to the communication I was talking about. I can even set up a community for such discussion, and provide ways to contribute one's own versions or experiences with the activity. So that's a real goal, in addition to the text itself.

Does that answer your question? Yes, a text needs to be sufficient, or what I simply call "good," and yet there is only so far any text can go. It has to be read by a person who wants to engage in learning it, and it has to land in a social group which is capable of trying in good faith. I think that's reasonable.

Anyway, I'm not sure what you want from this thread.

Best, Ron

Callan S.

Fair enough. But I think in terms of teaching and whether the text is adequate/good enough, I think we should devote some talk about what critical method each of us as authors use to determine if a text is adequate/clear/complete. That's happened a bit in this thread for sure, which is great!

In terms of it though, my own critical method does not match. I think I know the sort of critical thinking you refer to by someone who "...skims a book once, maybe tries what he thought he read in it, badly, and then dismisses the whole thing as "sucks,"", which is to say, not much thinking at all. I understand with dismissing that sort of 'effort' and I would dismiss it as well! But in terms of my own method, because the only present critical review was (rightly) dismissed, whether the text was inadequate was neither proved, nor was it disproved. Whether it was poorly-written was neither proved, nor was it disproved. Whether it was incomplete was neither proved, nor was it disproved. In terms of my own method, there is absolutely no reason/proof as yet to claim the text wasn't inadequate, or that it wasn't poorly-written, or that it wasn't incomplete. With my method, we'd still be in a limbo there of neither proved nor disproved until a trusted critique is applied. Though it was proved that the 'he' in your example, does indeed suck! Which is a good thing! >:)

In terms of teaching, I think its important to talk about the critical method used by the teacher to determine if a text is adequate, clear and complete. And that's probably it for this thread, really. Wrap up posts are welcome and appreciated, of course :)

Hi Marcus,

I think remembering and writing about when other people or yourself were excited and/or happy, and what mechanics were happening, is one of the main things. In a new thread though, since I think this one is basically finished now.