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Author Topic: [GURPS Traveller] What type of play is this?  (Read 9807 times)
David C
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« on: January 29, 2010, 12:34:38 PM »

I was invited by a friend to play some GURPS Traveller. I wasn't particularly interested (ughhh, GURPS...) but I always like meeting new people. 

The game was mostly dominated by the day to day tasks of running a space ship. (Which was plagued by the arbitrary and excessive skill list in gurps). There was this spreadsheet of ship functions and a rating of 1-10 for each.  The players went through fixing parts of the ship.  Not only were there rolls involved, but they had to find the appropriate parts and stuff. (They talked through fixing something then made a roll like some kind of glue. If the roll didn't succeed, than the glue didn't stick)

We then explored some ancient alien ship which was a similar process. Players would talk through pushing random buttons and cataloging what they did. Generally, no skill rolls were made during this part.

Talking to some of the players, I understand they play GURPs because "all those other systems are so unrealistic."  (Is it just me, or do some people just not have a very good grasp on "reality?" Because to me, every game has its ridiculousness in play. Like in GURPs, combat never lasts over 10 seconds)

So I'm wondering, does this qualify as Sim play? Or is it Gamist play?

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Ar Kayon
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« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2010, 02:26:14 PM »

Looks like simulationist play to me, albeit far beyond that which anyone should ever venture.  Gluing parts together?  Yawn.  I'll take a mindless dungeon raid any day.

I've taken a few cursory looks at GURPS, and it appears to me like overbloated, inefficient rules. 

On a side note, it appears that many sims offer gamist mechanics.  In my opinion, this is actually a good thing, unless if the rules really stretch your suspension of disbelief (MMORPG style), or if the rules are just too damn bloated.  However, many sim players seem to have a high threshold for the latter. 
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2010, 05:45:08 PM »

I'd like to get to this topic in some detail, but there are issues with both the questions being asked, and some of the reply, that will take a bit of work on my part to parse. Other replies are welcome, but folks - remember these points please.

1. Reward cycles vary greatly in terms of time scale. If you expect one to "revolve" within a session or two, or at least to be able to see it moving, and if you're playing with a group which expects the same thing only in terms of months or years of play, then to you, nothing is happening but to them it is.

2. Play might not have any actual Creative Agenda firing. Zilchplay is real. If you encounter Zilchplay, you can't ask "What type of play is it," and expect an answer. There isn't an answer in that case.

3. "Realism" is a buzzword with multiple meanings, or sometimes, a mask over "I dunno." When someone uses the term, it's code for something else they think you automatically understand, so there's no point in trying to match it to any literal meaning of "real." Nor is it any sort of giveaway in terms of CA.

Again: you played one session. Don't expect anyone actually to be able to classify this in CA terms. We might get lucky and after a few directed questions, the answer might appear after all. But as a long-time player of GURPS myself, don't bet on it.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2010, 07:28:02 PM »

Hi David,

Why are you asking? Or more accurately, how are you asking? Are you asking like they are a specimen on a petri dish being examined, or are you asking to see if it's something you might find you can enjoy if you can understand the fun a bit better?
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David C
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lost in the woods...


« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2010, 02:12:24 AM »

I guess I didn't clarify this, but I've actually played 4 sessions.  There's been several different ruins that we've explored.  They're all essentially the same thing, except with different themes.  (They all look like jacks or caltrops, but one was all organic, one was crystalline, one was nanobots)

Ar Kayon, I don't think SJ has ever seen a mechanic he hasn't liked, because GURPS has EVERY mechanic. It's like some twisted Menagerie of every idea that has ever been posted to First Thoughts (but none of the cool narr ones). There's literally 4 skills you can take for Deciphering (code). Those skills don't even cover creating Cyphers, you'd need a separate one for that.

Ron Edwards
1. I remember watching some television show back in the 90s.  The main girl was dating a D&D player and she tried playing it.  She was bored to tears. He said to her, "You have to gain a level before truly appreciating the game" and she said "How long does that take?" He replied, "6 months."

2. I don't remember reading about "Zilchplay."  What article(s) discuss it?

3. They definitely meant it in the, "I think this is how the real world works." I agree that there is no way to really understand what they think that means.


I'm asking because I don't think I've ever encountered Sim play before. I've experienced Gamism (obviously).  I've played Spirit of the Century and read several other Narr games. I don't really understand what Sim play is.  If this is Sim play, I want to understand what the appeal is for them and how I can participate in making the game more fun.

Currently, I'm only playing because my friend really wants me to.  It's a good place to get some work done and the place we game has wifi, so it's really no sweat off my back.  (Although, if I wasn't working, I'd find the whole thing dreadfully boring.)



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contracycle
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« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2010, 02:39:50 AM »

Well, I would agree that it looks like some sort of Sim to me, and certainly accords with bits and pieces of my play history.  Enough that I can respond to Ar Kayon that I would rather do this than a mindless crawl, anyway.

The main thing I would ask is, did the players seem as if they engaged with and enjoyed the process?  Because that can be an elem,ent of the reward cycle firing right there.  It they are really intrigued with the alien exploration bit, and feel a sense of, umm, ownership of their ship becuase of the attention they pay to it, then that may indeed be a big part of the point of play for them.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2010, 08:22:57 PM »

If this is Sim play, I want to understand what the appeal is for them and how I can participate in making the game more fun.
Even if they don't want you to make the game more fun?

It might not be particularly fun, but it is what they've decided on (or atleast the rut they've fallen into and decided to stay in).

Perhaps just ask if they want to read through other RPG's you have, indie or otherwise. And if they say no...well, leave it there. Maybe I'm a softie, but I think you have to wait for them to reach out to something different, and if they never do, well, they never do. These groups are often culturally static and perhaps stagnant - but that doesn't give anyone a license to break them out of that.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2010, 08:43:09 PM »

I think you're over-reading Gareth, Callan. He didn't say enlighten them and change their gaming by breaking into a new paradigm. He merely said, "more fun," which is perfectly reasonable: added value because he's at the table, as opposed to nothing added because he's at the table.

I say that despite my full agreement with your basic point, which does apply quite a bit of the time. Not in this one though, I think.

I'll be onto this thread tomorrow.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2010, 05:56:14 PM »

I'll do a little quoting from my essay Simulationism: The Right to Dream. Please remember that this was written six years ago, and also, especially, that the section I'm quoting from is deliberately historically taxonomic. That means that I'm not talking about what Simulationist play is by definition, nor how it must be, but merely about how it's been expressed in the hobby to date. The categories I talked about were Purist for System, High Concept (strongly divided by the Epic vs. Episodic), So-called rules lite or sometimes called "story centered," and Setting-creation or "universe play."

One of my biggest points in that essay is that folks who really favored one of these, and in some cases had entered into intense identity politics, reserved a considerable amount of subcultural disdain for the others. I mention this because it was very hard to discuss here in the forums - I'd said many times that a given Creative Agenda may be expressed via a wide variety of Techniques-based methods,* but a lot of the time people were very upset about being lumped "with" others they'd spent years self-identifying against. I mention this because even if it turns out that Simulationist play is the best way to describe what your friends are enjoying, then that does not mean that you personally have seen, grasped, experienced, and are now able to judge the Simulationist agenda as a whole.

OK, now to quote from the essay, specifically (1) the bit about Purist for System play and (2) some of the bit about High Concept play.

Quote
These games' five-element structure is consistent: System + Color thereof, Setting, then Character + Situation. I'm trying to think of one which switches the role of character before setting, which might include some some superhero games. It might seem odd that Color is placed so high in priority, but consider the engineering-text model for the game text of GURPS - this is, actually, Color for System.

...

In these games, the System is all about Fortune and all about Currency.

Regarding Fortune, probabilities are the key to achieving the basic Simulationist internal-cause priority. Consider both comparative probabilities among characters at a given moment as well as probabilities in transition within a character over time - in action (actually resolving tasks), these are what drive the game. For these games, a unified probability mechanic to handle any game-modelled instance is the ideal, usually resulting in a single tables-based concept such as the Universal Table in DC Heroes.

Purist-for-System designs tend to model the same things: differences among scales, situational modifiers, kinetics of all kinds, and so forth. The usual issues surrounding incorporated vs. unincorporated effects, opposed vs. target number mechanics, the interaction of switches and dials, and probability-curvature shape are therefore the main things to distinguish these systems from one another. Compared to other designs, high search and handling times, as well as many points-of-contact, are acceptable features. (Please see the Glossary for the definition of points-of-contact).

Here's some text from the introduction to SOL: the Omniversal Role-playing System (1994, Heraldic Games; the author is Keith W. Sears):

Quote
I wanted to make an RPG that went beyond those described as "Universal", "Generic", or "Multi-genre." Many of the games with these tags fall short of what they're supposed to be...playable in any genre of fiction.

It seems that whenever a very unusual situation pops up, many of these "universal" games must revise the rules they already have in order to cover it. An example would be the climactic battle between a very tiny man and a normal-sized spider in the movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man. You can't simulate that in most RPGs without a major reworking of the rules just to handle that one situation. SOL was created to encompass roleplaying on any scale--from gods to viruses.
...
[in terms of my overall point for this essay, I couldn't help but include his sign-off phrase - RE] Keep Dreaming!

Regarding Currency, in these games, the imagined universe is made of "points." Therefore character creation and often resolution are often characterized by layering: paying points to get values for named scores, which themselves are mathematically derived to produce effective values. Interestingly, in-game money and possessions are often considered merely another facet of the universe that can be expressed in these points. This relationship between points and reality seems very well entrenched in Purist for System design, which is understandable, as it provides concrete insights to the internal-cause heart of the game that a player can latch onto prior to play.

In terms of character/player roles, characters in these games are solidly defined in terms only of my third and fourth categories: in-game character occupation, and the specific abilities that are associated with or in addition to that. (See the glossary for a discussion of these terms.)

In this sort of design, there's no possible excuse for any imperfections, including scale-derived breakdowns of the fundamental point/probability relationships. The system must be cleanly and at the service of the element(s) being emphasized, in strictly in-game-world terms. A good one is elegant, consistent, applicable to anything that happens in play, and clear about its outcomes. It also has to have points of contact at any scale for any conceivable thing. It cannot contain patch-rules to correct for inconsistencies; consistency is the essence of quality.

As I see it, Purist for System design is a tall, tall order. It's arguably the hardest design spec in all of role-playing.

Quote
In cinema, "High Concept" refers to any film idea that can be pitched in a very limited amount of time; the usual method uses references to other films. Sometimes, although not necessarily, it's presented as a combination: "Jaws meets Good Will Hunting," or that sort of thing. I'm adopting it to role-playing without much modification, although emphasizing that the source references can come from any medium and also that the two-title combo isn't always employed.

The key word is "genre," which in this case refers to a certain combination of the five elements as well as an unstated Theme. How do they get to this goal? All rely heavily on inspiration or kewlness as the big motivator, to get the content processed via art, prose style, and more. "Story," in this context, refers to the sequence of events that provide a payoff in terms of recognizing and enjoying the genre during play.

This sort of game design will be familiar to almost anyone, represented by [... very long list].

Also, most incoherent game designs are partly or even primarily High Concept Simulationist as well, with AD&D2 and Vampire (first edition) as the best-known examples.

At first glance, these games might look like additions to or specifications of the Purist for System design, mainly through plugging in a fixed Setting. However, I think that impression isn't accurate, and that the five elements are very differently related. The formula starts with one of Character, Situation, or Setting, with lots of Color, then the other two (Character, Situation, or Setting, whichever weren't in first place), with System being last in priority.

I also recommend examining Theme carefully. In this game, it's present and accounted for already, before play. The process of prep-play-enjoy works by putting "what you want" in, then having "what you want" come out, with the hope that the System's application doesn't change anything along the way.
...
...
"Story" emerges from the GM's efforts ..., with players being either cooperative (passively or actively), or obstreperous, in which case various "don't let them take over" methods are encouraged. Players are enjoined to immerse, by which they mean "keep your metagame agenda out of it," at the aesthetic level. It's best understood as Illusionism by full consent, which is what keeps it from being railroading, in that instead of making a story as an author does, the player is enjoying being in the story. In system and character generation terms, that's pretty much what's empowered to happen. I'll give this entire topic a full comparison and analysis in the Narrativism essay.

A final point: writing a High Concept Simulationist game is actually much easier than writing a Purist for System one, as complex Setting-prep or Situation-prep have a lot in common with writing a story and knowing "how it's supposed to go" but not finishing it. However, playing this kind of game is actually harder in some ways - everyone must be pumped about the in-game content, but without reference to a corresponding metagame. ...

Back in 1985, the conceit of GURPS was that anyone would be able to enjoy whatever kind of role-playing they'd ever want with this game. I know this because I was there, as a customer and as a grateful and enthusiastic member of the target market. I think at this late date, and without resentment, we can put that aside as an overblown and unrealizable concept. But I think I can articulate a more specific set of goals which GURPS as a rules-set seeks, and here I'm working from hundreds if not thousands of contact-hours with the game and fellow adherents between 1985-1992. They would be:

By ensuring that whatever is announced has consequential outcomes which no one could ever dispute in terms of internal causal logic, the events of fiction set in any imaginable genre can be established toward the enjoyment of that genre.

In other words, via Purist for System design, we can provide a chassis which permits utterly seamless High Concept play. This is different from plain old High Concept play which permits any amount of arbitrary setups and outcomes as long as they are genre-faithful. In a way, it's basically a Purist for System aesthetic wondering what the fuck all these High Concept players' problem was, when all you had to do was make sure everyone knew that a ray gun expended thus-and-such amount of this particular battery and did this-and-that damage at this particular range.

All that is a long and fancy way to explain my thoughts on GURPS in terms of aesthetic goals and anticipated enjoyment of play. Whether this group is actually doing that, I do not know, although your description certainly sounds consistent with it.

David, let me know if any of this is interesting to you.

Best, Ron

* Not in that vocabulary; that came later.
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David Berg
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« Reply #9 on: February 01, 2010, 01:42:34 PM »

I think I can articulate a more specific set of goals which GURPS as a rules-set seeks . . .
By ensuring that whatever is announced has consequential outcomes which no one could ever dispute in terms of internal causal logic, the events of fiction set in any imaginable genre can be established toward the enjoyment of that genre.

David, what you describe reminds me a lot of a high school GURPS experience.  Some of my friends were drawn to exactly what Ron describes above, and became loyal fans of the system.  Unfortunately, convinced that said system would naturally equal fun, they didn't get around to developing a good process for creating engaging situations until after a lot of boring play.

In CA terms, I'd say that we all showed up looking to do something that wound up being Sim when we eventually pulled it off.  Before we pulled it off?  Maybe zilchplay, maybe "weak, uninspried Sim".
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David Berg
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« Reply #10 on: February 01, 2010, 02:10:43 PM »

2. I don't remember reading about "Zilchplay."  What article(s) discuss it?

Basically, it's when you do pull off Exploration (produce a Shared Imagined Space), but don't pull off a group Creative Agenda.  This doesn't mean misery.  Hanging out with friends may be fun regardless.  Even the actual play itself may be fun, e.g. if each player has some play procedure that he simply loves doing (cataloguing weird ship features?).  But you don't get the stronger level of mutual appreciation of each other's contributions to the fiction that you can get with a firing CA.

Zilchplay is defined all the way at the end of the Glossary.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: February 01, 2010, 05:36:44 PM »

Oops, I forgot to answer the Zilchplay question. David Berg is correct, but I should specify that the Shared Imagined Space is not consistently shared in such cases. Without a genuine "why we play" in action, there isn't much incentive to do it with any fervor; in fact, the only reason people play this way is that they think the little glimmers or hints of CA they individually perceive are as good as it gets. Such play is characterized by a certain amount of "checking out" when your character is not immediately involved, and even sometimes when they are. For a really long thread about it, see HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence. Unfortunately, some diagrams I linked to back then are now inactive. Has anyone preserved Chris Chinn's diagrams, or maybe can Wayback them for this thread?

I do not have any particular reason to think it applies to the group you're describing, especially not after four sessions. It's possible, but that's all I'm saying.

Walt Freitag's original Zilchplay post was here: Zilchplay [split from "Understanding: the "it".

I ask that no one else post until David C replies. We've thrown a huge mess of porridgy commentary and links at him. Once he does, the gate's open, no need to wait for me at that point.

Best, Ron
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David C
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Posts: 262

lost in the woods...


« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2010, 02:36:58 AM »

Ron, I definitely see a lot of what was mentioned.  One guy is playing a "UNSC guy from Halo." Some people were angry at me for not recording how many B cells I was using. Money is definitely viewed as a secondary point pool.

The players seemed to have fun at times, but there was so much "solo/duo action" going on that we might as well have been playing different games. If it was a game about fixing space ships and we were all mechanics, that might be interesting.  But 1-2 players would fix the ship, than 1-2 players would haggle with some merchants, than 1-2 players would do this and that. It was rare that we were acting as a group and/or interacting with each other.

There is something else going on that I haven't mentioned.  Players seem to try and kill each other frequently. Sometimes it is "justified" (my character kills anyone who kills an innocent).  Other times, it is just a way of manipulating the game. I suggested we play Paranoia, haha.

Quote
Without a genuine "why we play" in action, there isn't much incentive to do it with any fervor;

At one point, I actually sent the GM an email asking him, "What's the point of the game?" I found some of his comments really telling.

Quote
Its unfortunate because you really came in after the pcs went through all the prep story and you are 4 sessions in to an unfolding campaign that hasn't started yet (Due to pcs dogging) so you have really no context in which to put what is occuring

He also mentioned that I came in after 15 sessions. After 100 hours of playing, the campaign hadn't started yet?

Quote
The game is a bit more sandbox

The entire time I was playing, all I could thing was "Choo-choo!"

Quote
all i can say is play for several session in a row

Call me impatient, but I feel like I should see evidence of a good game the first session I show up (or at least the second session, in case people were having an off day).

The group has an open invitation for someone else to run a game (GM burnout). But at the moment, I'm pretty confident that I won't deliver the play they'd like. Sim is definitely my least favored CA.
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contracycle
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« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2010, 05:03:14 AM »

I think players trying to kill each other is a big ol' red-flashing-light alarm right there.  Reading that back into your initial description gives me a slightly different take; I could imagine a game dealing with this kind of ship-maintenance detail being fun, but I probably wouldn't find this actual game actually fun.  The GM burnout thing reinforces my perception.

Therefore I'm more sympathetic to the idea that this is some kind of zilchplay, and I don't think you should take it as typical of sim.  It's probably using, or trying to use, some sim principles of action, but if so it's working poorly.

But that also means you should be less certain that they will react badly to the kind of play that you like.  I think the combination of PvP conflict and GM burnout suggest they're not really that happy doing what they are doing, even if they say and think they are.  They might in fact be much more receptive to a different style of play if you actually go and give it to them.
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David Berg
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« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2010, 10:34:13 AM »

I'm gonna say what Gareth just said, but with less sophistication and more fervor:

Sim is definitely my least favored CA.

Whether it is or isn't, please don't base that on this piece of shit game!  I've loved many Sim games but would rather do jumping jacks for 4 hours than sit through what you've described here!  (There's a reason for the "don't lump me in with those guys!" phenomenon Ron mentioned!)
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