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Author Topic: [Liquid] Well, I just rolled the dice for show  (Read 9495 times)
Frank Tarcikowski
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« on: February 11, 2009, 02:35:04 AM »

Every once in a while I think back to this game I played in in 2004. At the time, everybody was talking about “cinematic” role-playing, where, at last, you got to actually be cool and kick ass. We were playing Liquid, a free German RPG that was mostly classic (though not bad) and proclaimed “cinematic” as the way to play. The setting was Wild West, Steampunk, Victorian age gentlemen, voodoo and zombies. Some people would call it pulp (I wouldn’t). Anyway, it was clear that it would be all about coolness.

So we played and we were posing and shouting and laughing and giving our best descriptions and in-character lines and sometimes rolling dice. Later, the GM admitted that he rarely bothered to figure out the correct result according to the rules, rather just deciding at wim.

These days I’m known to say that “style over substance” sucks, that coolness posing without risk may be entertaining for a short while but that in the long run it’s rather empty and meaningless. I can play a game of WuShu for one or two hours and enjoy myself but after that I’ll be fed up for months. The GM in the Liquid game back then, Sven, went on to become a big fan of WuShu and the game’s biggest promoter in Germany. He even translated it to German and put up a website.

But back then, we weren’t playing WuShu. We were playing a game with pretty standard task resolution and combat rules that had initiative and attack rolls and defence stats and damage. And when we rolled the dice, as players, it was fun. Sometimes the GM told us the target number and sometimes we even missed, or sometimes he didn’t tell. Sometimes they were in accordance with the rules and sometimes they weren’t. According to doctrine, I should have felt betrayed when he revealed later that he had been making most of it up. But really I didn’t. I remember that I thought he shouldn’t have admitted it. But I didn’t care much.

The game was much talked about for its over the top action and other stuff we made up. I was playing this very British lord who had his butler by the name of James (what else), and somehow James evolved to become the Uber-Butler with everybody contributing the most hilarious ways in which James would be omnipresent and omnipotent. When we were camping in the Great Plains, he would have a perfect English breakfast ready for me and even the London Times of today. When we were hacking our way through hordes of zombies he would be there with an umbrella to keep my tweed coat from getting stained with gore.

My favorite moment was a scene where some Steampunk monster tank was approaching us and I talking to another player, Markus, who played a vodka-addict Finnish weird scientist. In the most polite fashion, I inquired whether he might have some chemical substance at hand that might serve to destroy that monstrosity. Markus portrayed this drunk and a little fuzzy guy rummaging through his bag and producing things, holding them against the light and then shaking his head, stuffing them back, while the GM described the monster tank in great detail and how it drew nearer and nearer, firing grenades that struck ever closer to us. At the same time all the other players were shouting at Markus to hurry up, while I informed them that a gentleman will not be hurried.

When finally I mounted my horse with a bottle of nitroglycerine, nobody was surprised that it was “just in time”. Also, everybody looked at me expectantly and to I said, in a Roger Moore voice, “For Queen and Country”, and off I went. I think Sven even gave me a target number but in Liquid you also have a couple of “save the day” points and I burned one of them just to be sure, and blew up the tank. It was very delightful.

Now, this game was five years ago and in the meantime I’ve played games like WuShu or Primetime Adventures which, in theory, support this kind of thing much better than a “classic” game system based on task resolution and combat rules with only a few quirks to help you “be cool”. And yet for me personally, I have to say that the Liquid game was actually more fun. I have some thoughts as to why, but I would like to hear yours first.

- Frank
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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2009, 06:02:22 PM »

Magician shows are better when you don't know the rules of the illusion?

Here's a hard question - which is better - that 'awesome' game, or being able to see through the veils?
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2009, 12:51:25 AM »

Hi Callan,

It wasn’t really a classic magician show with the GM as the stage magician and the players as audience. We were all on that stage.

But seeing through the veil… I think that’s an important point, though I’m not sure it’s the best way to describe it. What’s true is that in the Liquid game, System at work is not nearly as easily assessed as in the other games I quoted.

Looking at WuShu, I think it’s just a bit too blunt, too sheepish. And looking at PtA, I personally have found it to usually devolve into rolling the dice early and then just doing a monologue, as opposed to this chaotic everybody shouting thing we had in the Liquid game. (I know that’s not mandatory but it’s the way it worked out in the PtA games I played in.)

It’s hard to really recollect how I felt about that Liquid game five years ago but I think it felt more valid, more connected, more substantial. 

- Frank
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2009, 04:29:17 PM »

Well, if your not sure of the System used in the liquid play, perhaps how do you know PTA and wushu are supposed to do the same thing?

Are you looking for evidence that discarding the ruleset is more fun? Using PTA and wushu as evidence?
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oliof
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Harald Wagener - Zurich, Switzerland


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« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2009, 05:25:53 AM »

Callan,

I don't think the GM did use illusionism in the sense you're implying. My impression from Franks AP is that the group played mostly based on a thorough understanding of the „Genre“ (to borrow a word from literature), with the system as one way to influence the particulars of the evening. And playing always gains if the players have thorough understanding of the Genre involved. One of the traps with games like PtA is that without a sound genre foundation, play can deteriorate into something like what Frank described.

Frank, how would you compare the Liquid game to the boyband-roadmovie PtA session you ran at Nordcon? It seemed everyone had a blast at that (as far as I can assess from having been at the table next to yours). Was it really less substantial?
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2009, 08:39:08 AM »

Hey, it was stupid of me to throw that „I’ve made up my mind but I won’t tell“ out there. It seemed clever when I wrote it. ;-) I’ll just say what I think.

Harald, Jesus, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll is an excellent example as it was a successful PtA game for me in ways that other PtA games weren’t because the group was paying more attention to details and making less extensive use of stakes and narration rights than in other games I’ve played in.

My experience with WuShu and sometimes PtA has been that narration rights, especially when combined with a “style over substance” mindset, lead to a mode of play where people, for lack of a better word, neglect the Shared Imagined Space. They don’t care for details, they don’t care for consistency (whether based on genre conventions or “realism”), they don’t pay attention to what their fellow players establish.

I’m sure many people play PtA without neglecting the SIS. I hope some people play WuShu without neglecting the SIS. But I suggest that one merit often overlooked about good old-fashioned role-playing, where resolution mechanics strongly build upon already established SIS elements, is that it makes people invest in the SIS. It doesn’t help in making the SIS interesting or meaningful—at that, PtA is much better. But it makes the SIS substantial.

Now, why did I not feel betrayed when I learned that the GM had not even applied the rules most of the time? Were not the rules what made the SIS substantial? Well, no. It was our attention to it, our investment in it, that made it substantial.

So I’m not saying PtA sucks. But I’m saying that one should invest in the SIS, and specifically, in Situation, moment-by-moment. Who’s there, what’s going on, what does it look like, sound like, feel like? In my experience, if you have a game system that works perfectly well without investing much in the SIS, people may tend to rush the story and their imagination of the actual in-game situation gets rather blurry. Such games still sound great in a write-up but to me, they’re leaving a bad taste, like reading a good book way too fast.

- Frank
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2009, 08:46:22 PM »

Hey Frank,

Great question.

With the vast majority of games that apportion narration rights, play is about everyone gamely deferring to the mechanics and politely and supportively accepting contributions to the SIS. You know how the rest of the family claps and politely enthuses "good answer" on Family Feud, even when the answer is clearly pathetic? I think what you had in your Liquid game experience was social collaboration where quality mattered. Group dynamics and the expression of real, human authority determined what contributions made it into the SIS.

Your Liquid game wasn't made memorable by the way the resolution mechanics incrementally built the SIS; it was made memorable because the gateway to the SIS was dynamic, social assessment of creative contributions. Mechanics for the sanitary apportioning of narration rights can't compete with that.

Paul
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2009, 12:19:10 AM »

Hi Harald,

If your ability to perceive the system your in is reduced, then there are blind spots where you don't know what's actually going on. That lends itself very easily to illusionism, even by accident.


Frank,
Quote
In my experience, if you have a game system that works perfectly well without investing much in the SIS
How do you mean 'works well'? Do you mean the next procedural step or the next options you can take are clearly presented in the text, regardless of how invested you are in the SIS?

As opposed to, perhaps, not knowing what procedure to do next or what options are available unless you really have invested in the SIS?
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oliof
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Harald Wagener - Zurich, Switzerland


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« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2009, 07:50:44 AM »

Callan, I don't understand what you mean with blind spots. I guess you refer to the GM not using the system all the time but 'just rolling with it' when you talk about blind spots. That this is one part that makes up illusionism does not mean you have illusionism whenever you hit it.

My understanding of "a game system that works perfectly well without investing much in the SIS" is a set of rules that gives you spotlight irrespective of your involvement with the SIS.

Frank, players that don't invest in the SIS fall into the "lame" category as much with "good old-fashioned role-playing" as with games like PtA. I fail to see a difference in that regard. Care to explain?
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lumpley
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« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2009, 08:40:32 AM »

In my experience, if you have a game system that works perfectly well without investing much in the SIS, people may tend to rush the story and their imagination of the actual in-game situation gets rather blurry.

In my experience too. Emily and I were having just exactly this conversation earlier in the week.

Callan: it's not a matter of not knowing what the next procedural step is, unless you've invested. Instead, it's that no procedural step makes any sense to DO, unless you've invested.

Raising and seeing in Dogs in the Vineyard is a small example. If I put forward a 6 and a 7 and say "I raise," you can't possibly decide what dice to put forward in response, until you first know what my character is doing. "So ... what so you do?" you'd say. We have to invest in the fiction in order for play to continue.

In a game where you CAN decide which dice to put forward in response without knowing what my character does - in a game where the concrete, specific details of what my character does DON'T have serious, consequential effects on the mechanics - you'll be putting your dice forward without caring where my character's standing, what's in his hands, whether he's sweating or cool, whether he's coming with an uppercut or a body blow or a knife or an axe handle.

Expand that idea outward and outward from this one little moment within resolution, and you've got what Frank's talking about (I'm pretty sure. Frank?). If the game's mechanics overall work perfectly well when nobody cares about concrete, specific fictional details, you overall get play without concrete, specific fictional details.

-Vincent
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Peter Nordstrand
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« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2009, 12:31:40 PM »

Yes, this is the empty spaces I've been yapping about in the While We Were Fighting threads: The importance of procedures for the creation of fictional content through empty spaces in the design where players get to put in imaginary events and other details relating to the shared imagined space.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: February 14, 2009, 07:46:30 PM »

Ah, now this is what I'm trying to check about "works perfectly well without investing much in the SIS"

For example, it's possible for me to stick my hand in a blender. But I wouldn't say sticking my hand in a blender works perfectly well.
 
Vincent, I think you've gotten the wrong handle on me. I disagree I can't possibly decide what dice to put forward. "Fancies his step sister, 1D8". There, done - I decided(I'm the one to tell you when I've decided something, right?). That's within the procedure, isn't it? I'm not breaking the rules and you'd be breaking the rules to stop me. However, I also agree with you. Doing that is like sticking my hand in a blender - it's possible, it 'works', but I wouldn't say it works perfectly well (well to be frank, it's not as unpleasant as sticking my hand in a blender, of course. I could put those dice forward without any pain or disfigurement. But basically it still just doesn't really work to do so - it's uncomfortable and awkward. More like sandpaper undies!)


Peter, by "works perfectly well" do you mean that it's simply possible to follow the games procedures without investing much in the SIS?

By 'empty spaces in the design' I'm making an educated guess what you want is where a group without an investment in an SIS does not know what to roll or follow next, in terms of rules. Perhaps it could be phrased that the rules no longer guide them at that point about what further rules to follow. The only thing that could guide them as what rules to use next is an invested in SIS? Without that invested in SIS, play cannot proceed? Am I way off?
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oliof
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Harald Wagener - Zurich, Switzerland


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« Reply #12 on: February 15, 2009, 01:59:05 AM »

IMHO we are discussing two separate things her: a) What it is when the rules move from mandatory to optional and b) what to do when the mechanics are played instead of the game.

Callan: "Fancies his step sister, 1d8" does not yet form the SIS. When you put that d8 forward, your step sister may or may not be part of that particular raise (you might have rolled and put a d4 forward for the action where you earned the d8), and just reading out the traits is better than just putting dice forward, but it does not tell me why the step sister is important here, or why fancying her is important here and now, especially if everybody else is also mechanically using up their traits. This is a case of b), and I've seen it, and I don't fancy it.

But let's return to PtA, which Frank said some people play wrong. My protagonist has screen presence 3, and I have a scene where we play a bit, and then someone says, "let's have a conflict, time for the next scene", we draw the cards, I win or lose, I narrate or the producer does … The rules themselves, if used very bare, don't force you to invest into the story. You already have your 3 Screen Presence, the system tells you how stuff moves forward, but … the game system as engine isn't well oiled and the game creaks and most likely fails to entertain the group. Those people claim PtA didn't work for them.

And they're right.

As a corollary, I made a very similar experience with PtA as he did with Liquid. We played a couple of very tense episodes in a very short time frame, because the majority of players had a very good understanding of how the story could or should move forward. The GM had a hard time coming up with conflicts because we generated the tension by our own, and after a couple of scenes the GM stopped mumbling "we, uuuh, would need a conflict here", and we'd roll the dice and go get cues about how to continue, and to find out when the unevitable would strike (like when the Don would find out one of his Torpedos was a traitor).

Aaah,

I'm rambling. The PtA rule set can also move into the background of the players' focus if the SIS is vivid and informative by itself, which works best if you have a high level of mutual investment. And if you're on that "good old-fashioned role-playing" vibe, you have the rules right where they belong, in a support role to help move the game along, and not in the fore and center where they may become a burden. This of course is a case of a), and my anecdote about the PtA game is used to illustrate that it doesn't always mean we're moving towards illusionism.
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gsoylent
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« Reply #13 on: February 15, 2009, 03:57:29 AM »


My experience with WuShu and sometimes PtA has been that narration rights, especially when combined with a “style over substance” mindset, lead to a mode of play where people, for lack of a better word, neglect the Shared Imagined Space. They don’t care for details, they don’t care for consistency (whether based on genre conventions or “realism”), they don’t pay attention to what their fellow players establish.

I’m sure many people play PtA without neglecting the SIS. I hope some people play WuShu without neglecting the SIS. But I suggest that one merit often overlooked about good old-fashioned role-playing, where resolution mechanics strongly build upon already established SIS elements, is that it makes people invest in the SIS. It doesn’t help in making the SIS interesting or meaningful—at that, PtA is much better. But it makes the SIS substantial.

Now, why did I not feel betrayed when I learned that the GM had not even applied the rules most of the time? Were not the rules what made the SIS substantial? Well, no. It was our attention to it, our investment in it, that made it substantial.

So I’m not saying PtA sucks. But I’m saying that one should invest in the SIS, and specifically, in Situation, moment-by-moment. Who’s there, what’s going on, what does it look like, sound like, feel like? In my experience, if you have a game system that works perfectly well without investing much in the SIS, people may tend to rush the story and their imagination of the actual in-game situation gets rather blurry. Such games still sound great in a write-up but to me, they’re leaving a bad taste, like reading a good book way too fast.

I could not agree more. I found that to be a problem with octaNe and Mythic too. I was very excited by the idea of narration rights style mechanics when I first read about it. With simple but firm mechanics on one hand to provide rigour and a degree of challenge and on the other the flexibility and creative freedom to allow players to resolve issues on theory own terms it seemed like the perfect roleplaying system. What cold be better than that?

In practice I noticed the same exact effect, the games felt rushed and there was little investment in the current scenes.

In a traditional game players interact with the current scene as the primary means to get details from the GM's notes into SIS which can be leveraged later to solve or at least advance the plot. That, and the sheer escapist joy of it of course.

My, admittedly limited, experience narration rights style games is that it does tend to undermine the whole interact with the scene to learn stuff. The scene can become just an excuse to see who get's to narrate the next bit and you are even more reliant on players interacting in the scene for the sheer joy of it, which is great but of course if you already have a set of players who are all jazzed up and into their characters anyway, you can have a good game with any system.
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lumpley
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« Reply #14 on: February 17, 2009, 12:22:26 PM »

I don't know how important the technical details of my Dogs in the Vineyard example are, but it's obvious I didn't make them clear enough. Let me try again:

Callan, you have a bunch of dice, already rolled, in front of you. I say "I raise. 13," and I push forward a 6 and a 7. You have to push forward dice of your own to match my 13, but how many dice you use matters: if you match it with 3 or more of your dice, you take the blow, and you take fallout; if you match it with 2, you block or dodge. (The rules for your rolling additional dice into your standing dice are outside my example.)

Until I say "I hit you in the head with my shovel," or "I dive out the window," or "I say 'she doesn't love you, you know,'" or "I put my arm around your shoulder," you don't know what I'm raising, so you have no way to decide whether to take the blow or block / dodge. Both narratively, and mechanically: taking the blow means accumulating fallout dice, and the size of the fallout dice you accumulate depends on the precise details of my raise. "I hit you in the head with my shovel" gives you d8 fallout, while "I dive out the window" gives you d4 fallout. Until I make clear the specific fictional content of my raise, the game's mechanics can't go forward.

Like I say, I'm not sure how much it matters, but it is an example of game rules where, for the mechanics to proceed, you need to invest in the stuff of the fiction.

-Vincent
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