The rule "'fiction' determines what rules can be deployed" - definition of murk?

Started by Callan S., August 01, 2010, 08:03:14 AM

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Callan S.

Not really much to say - I was commenting in another thread that if 'fiction' decides what rules can be used/deployed, then it doesn't matter how awesomely you design. If fiction says your rules don't get used, then those rules don't get used. Precisely because they come first. So fiction can, and perhaps if 'it' decides, always will throw all structure to the wind.

And it struck me perhaps this is what Ron's called murk, or what I've called molasses?

That there is no structure, unless this 'fiction' decides it's okay to use. And this 'fiction decides' is as bullshit as the planchette is moved by spirits on the ouja board.

Okay, before I lay too heavily into that, let me say this. I think, like watching a magic show and humouring the little feeling in oneself that maybe it's real magic, one can humour the idea that the 'fiction' decides something. Of course it doesn't - were back to the point where in the past people would say 'What do the characters want' and we'd tell them the characters don't exist to want anything. Here, the 'fiction' doesn't exist to decide anything. There's just people. Okay, BUT we can enjoy humouring the idea that the 'fiction' decides things, like we enjoy humouring the idea 'magic' makes that rabbit appear out of the hat.

But oh boy, are some of you serious about 'the fiction' actually deciding.

Anyway, how do you get anywhere when there is no structure? Exactly - well, to me that sounds like murk (which makes me think of swamp mud and walking through it) or mollases (again, wading through it).

Of course in the old days you could write a standard rant and that was a pass. So for a token actual play example - I've played in many games where the GM called on skill rolls because it 'sounded right'. Oh wait, that doesn't sound specific enough because pretty much everyone does that, right? Well it is specific, but I'll try some more.

Okay, I've played in games where the GM had some notion of a plot or something, where bad guy had done X, perhaps left remnants (read: clues) behind of that. But what did we engage - well, it'd go from 'okay, a guy is hiring you' to whatever we did, then a roll that 'makes sense' based on what we did, then we'd do something else and that'd get a roll that 'makes sense' to the GM, or the GM would start to get a slightly constipated look as the very skism between what structure he had in mind and what happened at the table divided not so much directly to our actions as players, but divided instead to how HE was determining what rules happened next. Ie, he was letting 'the fiction' determine what happened next, and the fiction pretty much let things disapear up their own arse because it HAS NO STRUCTURE (worth a damn). Letting the 'fiction' decide is a bit like narrativistically playing a nut job and letting the actual character decide what rule is used next/letting the psycho run the asylum.

Actually that's a bit of a generalisation, but hey, it basically puttered - waddled - waded through molasses to get anywhere, many, many a time. I'll dare to say - every time. I wont say it didn't get places at times in the session - sweet memories. But it was like a raft on the open sea.

So, fiction first? Take it out the back and shoot it in the head?

Well, as I said in another thread, there is no binary state on the matter that I'm aware of. Like a board game is allllll mechanics first. But then roleplayers try and make it alllll fiction first. And weve had threads about before and after traits (STILL hate the name, btw, even if I get the idea). You could quite possibly define some rules as coming before fiction, being rules first, and yet also define some rules of the same game as being fiction first - the 'fiction' decides if they can be applied. Clearly define which is which, and your dandy. It doesn't have to be all fiction fetish or all boardgame steel and oil.

And hopefully we leave the age of roleplay myth, and get past where the fiction gets to practically faux religion levels. Whoa, did I say that - I'll use the 'did I sound scary' get out from Spiones text to excuse myself...hehe.

But basically here's the big idea - if 'fiction' decides what rules will or wont be used, if any, it DOES NOT MATTER how well you design them (or for that matter, how badly you design them...perhaps). If the 'fiction' decides (for ALL rules) if they get used, you may well go whole sessions (plural!) without using them. What was the point of writing any rules in that case?

Gah, and now I know I'll get a counter point that they 'work' as suggestions. And I'd agree in that if you were on the titanic and paddled furiously on one side, you could affect the titanics a degree.

I'm almost outta booze, so I'm done :)


just about every game I know of has rules for making a perception test.  you don't normally use it when the character's walk down the street to see if they notice the cars or step in front of traffic.

in every game I've played the GM decided when to use tests and when not to.  They don't apply the mechanics to every action and every situation.


Callan, ranting while drunk isn't exactly the best way to post responsibly here, nor is flippantly flaunting board rules about discussing topics grounded from Actual Play and carelessly making up a scenario that fits your assertion or half-assedly posting AP just so you can post two cents about whatever crusade you're on this week.

And here's why all that is a problem: if you have ever played any RPG ever in the history of RPGs you realize that fiction does indeed decide things and comes first. "I'm in a room with monsters" is fiction, as compared to the fiction "I'm in an empty field." The fiction does indeed decide what rules can be used. You can't use combat rules in an empty field, just like you can't swim when not in the water. (I think if you had posted a moment of actual play, this would have been shockingly and immediately apparent.)

There is, in fact, a balance or a position you're willfully ignoring in order to rant about the evils of "fiction", which is exactly why I ignored your attempt to drag my thread off-topic with posts about it. Because if your character in my game is a mile away tied to a stake buck-naked, then the fiction says you can't contribute dice even though the rule says you can, and you can't for what should be obvious reasons, And "OMG! FICTION! BLARGH!" was a pointless response that did nothing to help or contribute to my design.

What it comes down to is that the problem you're describing isn't even with "fiction first", not if you have ever played and enjoyed any RPG ever. It's with something else entirely that you are choosing not to try and identify, instead you're focusing on a convenient-but-transparent scapegoat in the form of "fiction decides".
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards


1. Raven, you're out of line. I ask that you not participate in the thread at least until some substantial back-and-forth occurs, if it does. Your post makes it about a hundred times harder to deal with the various minor faults in Callan's.

2. Callan, please do not reply to Raven's post. It will be remotely possible to have a discussion based on your post, but you're going to have to deal with some moderator comments.

3. I'm trying to get ready for GenCon, and this is not helping. I'll get to the moderator comments later.

Best, Ron

Callan S.

Stepping over wreckage and moving on
Quote from: dugfromthearth on August 01, 2010, 04:01:12 PM
just about every game I know of has rules for making a perception test.  you don't normally use it when the character's walk down the street to see if they notice the cars or step in front of traffic.

in every game I've played the GM decided when to use tests and when not to.  They don't apply the mechanics to every action and every situation.
I'm not sure, but I think your making the arguement that not applying the mechanics to every action and situation makes sense, and thus there's no problem here.

But as you've said yourself, making sense doesn't mean making a game.
Quote from: dugfromearth1. determining what is likely or "realistic".  We often think something like "a corporation would have a security camera in an area like that".  But being fiction, the GM often has to have the enemies doing dumb things to make a game possible.

Does making sense == having fun, always? I remember a review of the riddle of steel on where the guy said he didn't think much of it at all. Turns out, in the comments section, he didn't use spirtitual attributes. They didn't make sense to him.

Now imagine if he didn't put his sense of fiction first and played them through and just for examples sake, lets say he and his group actually have alot of fun with the spiritual attribute rules (as many have).

Well in that case putting 'what makes sense'/fiction in charge of what rules can be deployed made the game considerably less fun. It's 'fiction decides' to blame here.

I'm trying to work up a set of evidence here, like if I were trying to prove some scientific point - I'm not trying to assert it by sheer personality or such. So I'd appreciate people looking at the evidence I've presented and trying to find holes in that evidence and destroy it, rather than just try to ignore it and argue the point directly. If my evidence collapses I agree my point does as well. Attack the evidence!

Frédéric (Demiurge)

Hi Callan !
I'm just wondering if this kind of system isn't working because exploration is driven by scenario prepared before the play.
This make the GM puts rythm, conflict and dramaturgy to the play (so the structure is planted before the game for the best part of it), letting rules state about what is doable or not, getting a part of credibility of the EIP.

Am I in the subject ?
My French indie games : Prosopopée, Démiurges, Psychodrame, Gloria et Bienvenue à Pouflard.
Limbic Systems

Ron Edwards

All right, now I'm stepping in as moderator.

1. Callan, please provide references to threads or other sources in which someone uses the term "fiction first." Readers can then use their own judgment to decide whether what you're criticizing, calling by that name, is actually what those people were talking about.

2. If they're not the same threads or sources, then provide references to anything which shows that "some people" as you call them are so devoted to the principle in question.

For purposes of full disclosure, I fully agree with your criticisms of what you are talking about. My favorite is more small-scale, when my character takes some damage and then, for my next action, the GM tells me that "You can't get to him, you're too far away where he slammed you." Even if the previous narrations had established that my character had been knocked away, and given that we're not playing with miniatures and hexes, where did that decree come from?

I suggest that this is two things, Murk and Railroading, with the former at the service of the latter. I further suggest that the GM is not playing "from the fiction," as you suggest, but rather "toward his current intended outcome." (Clip out my extended rant of hatred for this way of playing, including frantic jig.) I currently suspect that you are confounding "fiction first" as a term or idea with playing in this fashion, as opposed to what I think others have used the term for.

But until you point to sources as I call for above, then there's no way to assess that, because maybe this is what others have supported, and maybe it's not. I want to distinguish a valid and coherent topic of discussion from some bug up your ass about who said what, and who supported them, and how you don't like it. Or rather, to distinguish between your criticisms of certain ways to play vs. your desire to show up somebody you really want to scream "wrong wrong" at. I am currently unable to tell which this is. Providing those sources will solve the problem.

I hope that you can see I am not slapping you down. I am trying to make your thread possible.

Best, Ron

P.S. Everyone, please do not exploit my relative absence from the forums over the next week to play rats'-dance in this thread. Post fair & reasonable, and no passive-hostility either. If you fuck with me about this, the thread gets closed.

Callan S.

Hello Ron,

Quote1. Callan, please provide references to threads or other sources in which someone uses the term "fiction first."
This is my term. I'm trying to get what you want in saying this - getting context from here
QuoteI currently suspect that you are confounding "fiction first" as a term or idea with playing in this fashion, as opposed to what I think others have used the term for.
No, this is my term - other people would probably just say they 'are playing', as much as prior to the coining of the term 'lumpley principle' people would just say they 'are just playing'. I'm making up a term as a placeholder name for a behaviour that's essentially a game procedure. A behaviour they perhaps would not recognise they are doing (again, as much as say the LP). Am I given room here to suggest there are as yet unidentified behaviours, then invent a placeholder name for the suggestion/hypothesis?

I hope this covers what your getting at (I invented this term - I perhaps didn't make that clear enough, but I thought it was).

2. I could pull pretty much every thread on the front page of actual play and ask 'Why did that particular rule get called up/why didn't that rule get used?', but I'll keep it simpler for now and give a link to one of my own threads. I think you know if I pull other peoples threads, it can get personal. It's already done so once already. So I'm just giving my own account for now, but I do see this elsewhere. Whether anyone wants to see it in their play or just wants to see it in mine, whatever.

QuoteI suggest that this is two things, Murk and Railroading, with the former at the service of the latter. I further suggest that the GM is not playing "from the fiction," as you suggest, but rather "toward his current intended outcome." (Clip out my extended rant of hatred for this way of playing, including frantic jig.) I currently suspect that you are confounding "fiction first" as a term or idea with playing in this fashion, as opposed to what I think others have used the term for.
Again, I don't think anyone else has used the term.

But let's get some mutual ground on the term 'railroading' and what your refering to in using the word. When you dream at night - if you've ever had a 'been chased by monsters' dream or similar, for example, would you identify that as railroading yourself (as there is no monster - it's an invention of your own mind), even though at the time you were sleeping, it all made perfect sense?

If you wouldn't call it railroading yourself, then your not talking about what I'm talking about at all. That's an entirely different avenue.

I'll pitch it this way - dreaming (asleep at night stuff) is perfect 'fiction first' behaviour. The 'fiction' utterly dominates what 'happens' next. The fiction deciding is you deciding, of course, whether your aware of it or not. Or atleast 'you' as much as your willing to claim the parts that make the dream as part of yourself. They are in your skull, either way.

If it feels disturbing and incorrect to say this behaviour can manifest at the gaming table - okay, I'm talking about something disturbing and feels/is seemingly incorrect. I'm talking about this behaviour, when it's allowed to control what rules are deployed, making even the most brilliant rules designs moot. See my riddle of steel example above - spiritual attributes didn't make sense to the guy who wrote the review on, so he cut the spiritual attribute rules entirely from his actual play. Was he trying to railroad anyone? No. Was he letting his 'sense of what makes sense' determine what rules get deployed? Yes.

(I'm trying to find it - I'm finding similar, where they refer to everyone as average, with no mention of the big boost from SA, so it sounds like they skipped using them...oh wait, here s the exact one I refer to - though I'm not sure in which comment he said he didn't use SA)

It seems fairly clear cut to me. That doesn't mean it is clear cut or true by itself, of course - but if it gives some insight to my position - for as much as I can see it, I don't know why you guys can't and thus for seeing it clearly, I don't know how to describe it to anyone who apparently can't. (or maybe none of it's true, of course, to engage a bit of scientific doubt and skepticisms of even ones own claims)

And if you would describe dreaming as railroading yourself, that's really interesting and you are getting toward what I'm talking about.

QuoteOr rather, to distinguish between your criticisms of certain ways to play vs. your desire to show up somebody you really want to scream "wrong wrong" at. I am currently unable to tell which this is. Providing those sources will solve the problem.
Well no, you wont know. You've got your life to live on what evidence you have, as we all do, but you wont know. Sorry to make a point of this, but it really bugs me when people act like they somehow really know that persons intent better than the person themselves, I suspect because they don't like stomaching the idea they are sanctioning someone for something they were not doing (though obviously I don't know this either), so they tell themselves X evidence will really prove it.

If it helps, if this were a programming forum and someone was using an if statment along with a random number generator call that would bypass a huge chunk of their lovingly crafted code on a semi regular basis, I might try to be a 'clever bean' and say so. I've seen this, done this and had this done to me on programming forums, and it works - people actually say thanks and so have I. Nobody tries to tell others they have a personal problem for pointing out a possible error in the logic of the code. What I'm trying to do is atleast productive elsewhere. Or so I describe it.

Callan S.

Hi Frédéric, welcome to the forge!

Quote from: Frédéric (Demiurge) on August 03, 2010, 04:34:53 PM
Hi Callan !
I'm just wondering if this kind of system isn't working because exploration is driven by scenario prepared before the play.
Kind of - like a dam can only leak through holes in it if there's water behind the damn, kind of. Sorry, probably not a good description.

Imagine this - you write some really nicely designed rules.

But then you put an extra rule in front that you flip a coin at the start of the session. If it's tails, those nicely designed rules don't get used during that session, at all. This also means you might go several sessions without using them.

Okay, now take away the coin flip and replace it 'Use these rules only if they make sense in terms of the fiction'

Your going to get a similar outcome - sometimes the rules are cut from play, even for sessions at a time.

This can indeed tie into what your talking about, if I understand it - a GM prepares before the play. The rule is he doesn't use these cool rules unless it fictionally makes sense. What he has prepped doesn't fictionally make sense with the cool rules, so he cuts loose the rules, as per the accepted procedure.

What do you think?

Jim D.

The problem with this concept is that it's so completely subjective.  It feels like the "fiction first" quandary, as you phrase it, is rooted in the same nebulous decisionmaking as the "+2" debate from a couple of months ago.  Ron's got a point, I think, when he says that using "fiction" to railroad your players or make the action go the way you want is bullshit. 

That said, Callan, per the "+2" thread, you know how I feel on the concepts of "expectation" and "consistency", and for that matter, on whether the game as played even needs to conform to the rules on paper.  But I suspect, between your original post and Ron's reply, we've raised a good point regarding the inconsistency of how rules are interpreted.  In very nearly every tabletop experience I've had, the GM had a particular set of skills or rolls he relied very heavily on, while ignoring others to the point of irrelevance.

At a local university convention, a GM I played with essentially disallowed any attempt to do anything without having its parameters strictly defined.  Character knowledge didn't exist, essentially; you had to know what you were doing.  I played in another game that same con year, this time under the Dead Reign system (*shudder*).  My character had a high Electronics skill, and I attempted to disable an electronic keycard lock.  I was asked by the GM, "Well, how do you plan to do that?"  Hell if I knew, I thought; assuming he meant I couldn't apply the skill, I clammed up.  Another party member, with the same skill, explained the engineering details on exactly how he would manipulate the lock, and got the opportunity to check for it.  In this case, because I, as a person, didn't know how to break open a keycard lock, my character didn't either, and couldn't apply the knowledge he "should have" had.  The rules on applying a skill, in this case, gave way to the GM's exhaustive knowledge of engineering principles.

The examples I provided are perhaps tangential, but they stem from the same dilemma -- a GM that refuses to apply the rules where he "should".  The first GM didn't have rules in front of him to tell or even suggest when his rolls should apply, where the second GM had rules that laid out a strict procedure, but refused to follow them.  The "fiction" suggested I should have been able to attempt a roll, and the GM ignored it.

Now, there's always "Rule Zero" floating around; you know, the "ignore all rules" rule that appears, in some form or other, in every RPG rulebook in the known universe?  The other side of that coin is pretty much "What the GM says goes".  It's clear from our earlier discussions that you have different ideas from me about how rules work in RPGs, and we have very different reasons for roleplaying.  But let me try something here -- I'm going to present a devil's advocate point of view, and see if perhaps it can bring to light the "real problem".

Let's assume, for the purposes of what I'm about to type, that "fiction first" is correct -- that is, GMs should consider whether the SIS supports a particular interpretation and application of the rules before they are used.  For reference, let's flesh out Ron's example a bit.  An ogre packing a big, big club just whaled on our fighter, dealing a lot of damage.  Fighter stands up and goes to take a swing, and the GM says, "you can't get there, you've been knocked away."  Let's also assume that we're not playing a grid-based system, so the rules of movement and such aren't rigidly defined.  Is the GM's interpretation correct here?  If there's no rule saying the character is knocked away, but similarly, movement is vaguely defined enough that there's no rule saying he isn't, we're in a quandary.  Is it possible that we could step away from the idea of GM as sole aribter of the SIS?  Maybe the players (and I'm including the GM here) can determine whether the player got knocked away, and just go with whatever makes the most sense at the time -- whatever consensus can be reached.  Let the fiction win, whatever that is, but don't leave it up to just one person to determine.  I've played in games where the player steps in front of the GM and says "I probably wouldn't attack right now, as my head's spinning from the blow and I probably couldn't stumble to the ogre in time to strike, let alone strike effectively."  (As an aside, I love players like this -- they roleplay their character so heavily that they're willing to make suboptimal decisions in service to the story.)

All right, let's change things up a bit, and probably (finally) get to the meat of your particular question.  What if we're instead playing D&D 3.5, where there is a grid-based system, and the assumption is that characters are not moved around by attacks unless the text of the attack specifies that?  Well, to then tell the player that his character is sent reeling and can't get to the ogre to attack him his next turn is more tenuous.  The rules, of course, say that's not how it goes, and the player is where he stood the previous turn and is free to start swinging.  But is it fair, if the GM and his players agree that the fighter got knocked on his ass, to tell them that they're wrong?  I argue no in this instance.  But it's no more wrong to say that the fighter isn't moving.  Hence, the challenge.

So I just spent nearly 1000 words to come to the conclusion, "it depends".  Well, on what?  Those same two damn words I keep blathering on about, I argue -- "consistency" and "expectation".  What you, individually, expect from a situation during a game, and what I expect, are two different things.  So there's no way we're ever going to come to full agreement on this topic, just like we (amicably, I think) agreed to disagree on the "+2" point.  In a funny way, Callan, I agree and disagree with you simultaneously.  The sticking point is how we define "rules".  If we define the rules of the game as explicitly what's written on the paper or in the rulebook, then I disagree, since I believe there are applications wherein a decision that goes against them is more reasonable.  If we define the rules as the combination of what's written on the paper and whatever modifications the players agree thereto, whether explicitly or implicitly, then in that case I do agree.  What's important to me is that the GM doesn't pull some reasoning out of his ass and tell me, essentially, that I can't attack because he said so, and then never use that same justification again.  If I'm the only fighter that gets knocked spinning for a round, and everyone else has no problem during that same session, I'm going to be a little pissed.


Vincent Baker has written a bit about this:

In my imagination, a rule is like if you take a nail and scratch a line in dry dirt, and what people actually do is like where the water actually runs. Some water will run down the line you scratched, because you scratched it. Other water will run down the line you scratched but would have run there even if you hadn't. Other water will go wherever it goes. And (and here this picture breaks down, now I'm talking about bizarro-world water) some water will respond perversely to your line, bouncing off of it or testing its limits or sliding around it or flowing in the opposite direction out of plain orneriness.

So, yeah -- there's rules, and there's people, and some people will use some rules, and some people won't.

Is this inherently problematic?  I'm not so sure.

It's been years now since I've played a game in which we used the encumbrance rules, even though I've played lots of games with those rules.  I don't recall thinking to myself, Dang, if only we'd been using those encumbrance rules, our experience would have been better.

Can disregarding rules be used for evil?  Sure.  Just like everything else.

In light of all that, does rules design matter at all in a strong Fiction First group?  I would suggest it does -- some rules are going to come into the conflict with Fiction First more than others.  If a rule states that horses are really good at climbing ropes (which at least one popular ruleset does) then that will tend to introduce more dissonance than a rule stating that ungulates are really bad at climbing ropes.


Erik Weissengruber

Here is an actual play report of someone who is trying a "fiction first" approach on a hacked 4E game:

I am one of the players ("E").

I whiffed an attack roll and the GM narrated the result. He described how my staff was caught up in the facial pincers of the Ankheg, it really helped me imagine the situation. Then when my turn came, I picked up that bit of fictional detail to justify a +2 to my next attack.

I used the publicly articulated fiction to justify a bonus.  I don't remember anything in the rules about Ankheg jaws and exactly how wide they are.

Callan S.

Jim and Roger,

You seem to be raising the same idea as each other. Let me say your idea that 'it depends' or 'some people use rules and some people don't' - this is like you saying you have a pyromaniac at the gaming table who in real life sets fire to things. And your saying, hey roleplay is sometimes about the drapes catching on fire. Because sometimes the drapes do just catch on fire.

No, the drapes don't just catch on fire - you invited the pyro. Or you invited the person who is the 'water' that ignores the line. You are the origin of why the drapes catch on fire or why rules are ignored. It's not what roleplay is, it is just your own doing for inviting this guy.

I'll give an example I remember Ron gave (using him as he's probably taken more credibly than myself), where he had a potential player, as I recall, who kinda had a wishywashy character concept for the upcoming game and indeed was kind of trying to leave it up to Ron to make the character. Ron politely said not to turn up, IIRC.

What you guys and the Lumpley quote are effectively saying to me is instead that roleplay is sometimes about making your players character for them. Because you'd still invite this guy along, and the guys who only want to work from their expectations, and the guys who ignore rules, and the little dog with a black spot who was snuffling around outside.

And cool, whatever is cool for you. But that you do that doesn't mean roleplay is about that or that all designs and design discussions must revolve around all the people you'd invite. Your treating what you do out of habit as not something of your own doing, but 'how roleplay is'.

I don't know what to say in terms of inviting anyone, no matter what they do or wont do - I think it's another subject entirely, really?

On that side topic, probably worth reading this as well. And as a happy ending towards not inviting people if they aren't going to do the required tasks, IIRC, the guy rung Ron back a week latter with a character he'd really thought out and put alot effort into. Being uninvited drove him to put his nose to the grindstone a bit. Sound good?


Coincidence on the parralel use of the words 'fiction first', it seems.

On top of that odd coincidence - your specific example does not seem to be the fiction determining rules use ignoring the rules at all?? There is a rule in the texts, IIRC, for the GM assigning a +2 if in his reflection upon the spoken fiction so far, he thinks it should apply. Whether the GM gives you +2 or not, he is still following the rule in either case as that is exactly what it says to do. Or so I would think - are you trying to say you all didn't care about rules at all and only by chance what you did happen to match the rules? That's getting rather complicated - are you trying to say that?

Because otherwise your describing mechanics first play, as I'd call it, not fiction first. You mechanically failed to hit missed. The GM did spoken narration - maybe hinting through it to you, I dunno. Then following the mechanical procedure on turns, he follows the mechanics on +2 and whether it is mechanically assigned or not. The mechanic is that he listens to the spoken fiction, and he decides.

Sorry, this all appears to be following the rules utterly, rather than the procedure being consulting 'the fiction' to decide if a rule is used or ignored? Indeed to me it's system mattering - mechanics are followed utterly, and the imagination sits itself around those mechanics - so the mechanics are worthwhile in the way they will help you imagine something you otherwise would not have. You might never have imagined the staff tangled in the Ankheg pincers without the mechanics, thus the mechanics assisted your imagination to go to a new place - by simply following rules (rules that are quite followable as much as 1+1 is quite followable) and fitting ones imagination around them.

Sorry, I'm just talking up the possitives of mechanics first now.

I do have a hypothesis that alot of gamers...their imagination hates the idea of conforming and shaping itself around mechanics and instead exults instead in mechanical things being shaped around it. Usually so much so it eventually has the group perhaps rolling one die a session, if that, and calling it great roleplay. Having shaped mechanics so much around itself, it's destroyed them all. Having run out of mechanics to exult in the deformation of, it turns towards pe...nm, it's mainly a hypothesis right now.

Back to earth, you seem to be describing a mechanics first situation, as I would name it? Do I make sense in saying that? Do you have any examples of where your GM said 'Well, the rules say this would apply, but it just doesn't make sense because of (insert fiction here), so I'm tossing it for now"? Not that I like that play, but this thread is looking at it technically. Though it's great to have what I call mechanics first examples to contrast it with.

Jim D.

Callan, you make a valid (and profound) point regarding the presence of, for lack of a better term, undesirable players at the table, who attempt to shift the table dynamic, and by extension, the "rules" of the game.  Thinking about the example you mention in passing about disinviting a disruptive player, your point on that count is absolutely right -- if you have a player who tries to turn the game into something it isn't, and the group as a whole doesn't want that, there's no reason to placate the guy.  Finding someone else to play with in that instance is the right choice, I believe.

However, I want to make sure we're not confusing my application of the term "expectations" with another -- in short, what's more important, the desires of the individual or the desires of the group?  The disinvited player example makes clear that we both believe the group comes first.  I do not intend to suggest, however, that this also means a GM and roleplaying group should naively allow anyone's desires to change the game.  Fire does just happen, but it only happens when you let it.

Referencing the same convention from earlier, I also attempted GMing a Dogs in the Vineyard session.  All things considered, it went quite well -- I had three players who were spot on, loved roleplaying and really dug the conflict system.  Unfortunately, I was saddled with a fourth who had the attention span of a gnat, latched on to each and every distraction available, and disrupted the game repeatedly.  We were lucky to play one complete minute without having the flow broken.  Seeing this wasn't going anywhere, and not wanting to be a jerk and call the guy out, I dissolved the session and we played again in private, the three other players and me, and loved it.

I dare say the link you provides to Ron's post illustrates both of our points.  His 1-3 there do well to explain your idea that in the best case, the players should convene, utilize an established ruleset, and learn to play the game, even if it doesn't come naturally.  However, the following passage, I think, illustrates GM versus player (in the context of "player character") expectation:

QuoteI recommend thinking about something that you wrote: your goal to convert  the other players. That makes me less confident about the whole endeavor. It's not the same as the more positive situation of people gathering to do what they want even if some of them aren't sure about how to do it exactly. It doesn't lend itself well to the points listed above.

As far as I can tell, the GM in this case has a desire to shift a group's dynamic entirely in his favor by playing another system, when the group wants something else.  It's a more extreme version of the disruptive player situation above.  The party could try to convince him of the desires of his party, or failing that, simply find a new GM.

To bring this back to the main point:  I believe the goal in a roleplaying session is to play within a world and ruleset adjusted to meet the collective expectations of the group, players and GM both (not blindly folding everyone's desires into an incoherent mess).  If one player thinks differently, the group (as a whole, including the "offender") should evaluate it and make one of three adjustments:

  • Explain the ruleset and world they're operating with, and convince the loner of their opinions
  • Eject the offending player if he patently refuses to play the game the group has convened to play
  • Preferably, I think, adjust their expectations as a group so that a compromise is struck

Where the real difference lies in our points is whether the group should deviate from the written rules as they choose, or not.  And that choice does strike me, at least, as subjective.  If you want to play by the rules as written, and give the designers the benefit of the doubt in all cases, by all means do so.  If I sat down at your table and played, you'd expect me to go with that, and I would.  But for my groups, I remain open to suggestions on adjustments, as long as my opinion is given time.  In either case, the crucial element is consistency.  As long as everyone knows the rules in play and is on an equal footing, at least in terms of understanding, then I think we're both right.


Well, this emphasis on "use of rules" is new, I think, and I have not had that perception that this was what Callan was arguing against before, and I'm frankly surprised to see Callan accept the idea that a public statement (narration) turns fiction into sufficiently concrete material that rules can be activated or affected by it.

But now I also don't know what it is that Callan is objecting to.  I thought the ankheg face-barb example was precisely the sort of thing to which he was opposed.  So I'd like to second the call for a clear play example, whether real or made up, but an example of play and not an analogy to some other aspect of life.

At present it looks to me that "murk + railroading" serves as a description of what Callan is objecting to, but then "fiction first" is probably an unfortunate way of describing it as it includes the ankheg example as well.

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci