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Author Topic: fiction-based rule use (one fun option)  (Read 5161 times)
David Berg
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Posts: 997


« on: September 13, 2010, 01:52:01 PM »

Here's an approach that I enjoy:

1) Everyone discusses and agrees on the state of the fiction, covering relevant details.  Who's where, etc.  Authority here comes from, (a) first, what the group has previously communicated, (b1) second, the GM's internal picture of the setting, (b2) also second, each player's internal picture of his character.

2) Everyone discusses intents.  This player character is trying to jump the cliff, that NPC is trying to flee, etc.  We modify intents if needed -- that cliff looks like a nearly-impossible jump, that NPC is too close to the blade machine to maneuver, etc.  Eventually we settle on intents and announce action.

3) Having announced what everyone is trying to do, we look at the state of the fiction (as established by the Authorities in #1 above) and determine "What would happen?"  In fictional circumstances with no hidden information, this has been covered already.  But often, the GM knows something about the setting that the characters couldn't factor into their decisions (the badguy covered the cliff in grease!), so now that gets factored in too.  "What would happen?" is now translated by the group into a range of possibilities and likelihoods.

4) We resolve "What does happen."  The precision of this resolution depends on who cares, which in turn depends on the stakes.  For some attempts, everyone in the group is content to look at the most likely outcome and declare it so.  "The effort to climb the fairly easy tree succeeds."  For other attempts, the possibility of the unlikely must be modeled!  "Climbing the easy tree will save the day!  Roll!  Pray you don't get double 1s!"

5) Communicating the full extent of "What happened" means we're doing Step 1 again.  Repeat forever.

These are the large-scale rules for how to play.  The answer to "When do you use these rules?" is "Always."  There are other rules, such as how we resolve "what does happen" in a few specific high-stakes circumstances (in lethal combat, roll for damage and location and shock because we care about all these things in the fiction; in climbing, roll 2d4 + a big skill modifier to represent the narrow probability range; etc.).  The rule for whether or not to utilize these particular resolution rules is "if any player (including GM) cares enough about the stakes".

I'm sure this isn't revolutionary, but I thought spelling it out this way might answer some debate about "fiction first".  In this case, that phrase could be used to mean, "we agree on the relevant details of the fiction first, and then resolve changes".

This may sound like a high-effort way to avoid Murk.  In practice, though, once the players get familiar with who cares about what, most of the fiction-establishing discussion is concise and enjoyable.  If you have a social contract that says (a) everyone's invested in supporting informed choices, (b) no one's bullshitting for personal advantage, and (c) some visual detail to the fiction is fun, then you're golden.

I think this is relevant to a lot of the ideas discussed in Callan's recent thread (even if it winds up not addressing Callan's own points).    Since that thread's closed, I just wanted to post this in AP to see if any of the discussers found it useful or interesting.  Sadly, all my actual AP examples of late are from my game Delve which is still in Playtest (and thus belongs in another forum).
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Chris_Chinn
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Posts: 280


« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2010, 02:16:06 PM »

Hi David,

That's a pretty good summation of the way a lot of groups deal with Murk in their rules text. 

The tough part is that without a clear statement like that, people often have to hack together something based on really vague, non-procedures, "Be Tough" "Be Fair", "Be Challenging", "Be Realistic", "Be Cinematic" all poured together at the same time.

The other tough part is this:

Quote
The precision of this resolution depends on who cares, which in turn depends on the stakes

Which can change drastically depending on the creative agenda, and the game being played, and the specific game/campaign the group is playing.

For example, I'm playing Primetime Adventures with an alternate prequel story going on with some friends- there's places where we make something a challenge that fits with "It would be tough for the Jedi to stop the ship from crashing on the planet", to places where, "You have no problem defeating the guards and sneaking in... no Conflict."   The unifying principle for our game, is "Would it be interesting, and would it take more than the briefest of shots on screen?"  (which is, naturally informed by how Star Wars has it's genre tropes, but that's basically PTA's design feature in letting people set those things).

If we weren't on the same page about it, or trying to model some form of "Reality", I imagine step 4 would be a much crunchier affair for us.

Chris
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2010, 03:10:47 PM »

*Hey David, I really think you nailed down a good description of how many groups play, but I have three comments:

1) When talking about "who cares" does this mean that if I am playing the game and another character is performing an action I have the right to ask that the rules be used with more precision to resolve his action, even if it doesn't effect me directly. I don't think it would be a problem if I could, I just haven't ever played or heard of anyone playing this way.

2) Subsystem, like combat, seem to demand that you care instead of giving you the option of caring or not. It seems like there would have to be various combat systems based on levels of interest to fully facilitate this style of play. Once again, not a problem in theory, just something I've almost never seen done in practice (with the exception of Burning Wheel).

3) I don't know if this in response to Callan's thread, but I don't think this fits what he was talking about with Fiction First. In this case, a fairly defined system is used to determine how the rules and the fiction feed into one another, it isn't the fictional content determining whether or not a rule is used as intended or ignored based of the players/a players aesthetic judgement, but I guess I should let Callan speak for himself.
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Roger
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« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2010, 07:45:23 AM »

I'm going to quote the ineffable Vincent Baker:

Quote
The only worthwhile use for rules I know of is to sustain in-game conflict of interest, in the face of the overwhelming unity of interest of the players.

I may be getting ahead of myself, though.  In your opinion, does your approach contain any rules to sustain in-game conflict of interest?



Cheers,
Roger
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2010, 08:17:53 AM »

Hey David, the thing is, you get one group you don't even talk about it in advance and they'll be connecting in a heartbeat, just effortly understanding what this statement or that means now. And then you get another group and you state all which you wrote above clearly in advance and they nod along to it and then you start playing and nothing works out, because what they understood and what you meant were not the same at all. Some of this boils down to social skills and common sense, but a lot of it is just, you know, that ol' Creative Agenda.

- Frank
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2010, 10:42:00 AM »

Hi David,

I think it's really great to have hashed out a procedural text like this that anyone can look at and think about. I think if this text had been in some RPG about 35 years ago, roleplaying today would be in alot better shape than it is today. Let me stress you haven't written advice (there has been plenty of advice through the last 35 years), you've written a procedure - explicit instructions for what everyone does to be doing the same thing, together, as a group.

Now I don't think it's done, in terms of designing it, as it still leaves questions on 'during each moment of play what are we all doing, together as a group?' like the ones Chris raised. Wherever questions are left, the group can splinter on those very questions. Indeed that's half of what murk is, as I've seen accounts of it. But even if it's not done in terms of not closing all procedural question marks, by writing it out you have still closed a hell of alot of question marks so far! That's alot accomplished!

Now the other half of murk, from looking at accounts, is that gamers think spoken fiction somehow covers procedural question marks. I was talking about this on RPG.net recently, where someone was adamant that if they have said the following spoken fiction "The orb of zot has been smashed into shards!" everyone at the table just knows it's over for using the orb of zot. I said to him, no they don't. There have been a million capaigns based on something like 'Gather the 7 pieces of the magic McGuffin and reforge them to fight great evil!'. The spoken fiction does not tell the group that as a real life gaming group, you can't use option Z anymore. He said you could...and then if they don't get it, just tell them (which is clunky but workable, so I let it go at that point).

So that's what I estimate the other half of murk is - people thinking that spoken fiction is suitable for telling the whole group what procedure they should all be doing in real life. It is not. Indeed, it just raises more and more questions in itself. Spoken fictions a generator of questions. Which can be good, but in terms of a group all doing the same thing at the same time, it's awful and set for different people to start doing things that have nothing to do with each other, at the one table.

On fiction first, as I've been saying it
Quote
In this case, that phrase could be used to mean, "we agree on the relevant details of the fiction first, and then resolve changes".
This isn't fiction first in itself. I'll pick out the key element in your written procedure.
Quote
For some attempts, everyone in the group is content to look at the most likely outcome and declare it so.  "The effort to climb the fairly easy tree succeeds."  For other attempts, the possibility of the unlikely must be modeled!  "Climbing the easy tree will save the day!  Roll!  Pray you don't get double 1s!"
Here is where your procedure says someone decides (there are some question marks here, but moving on) whether the tree climbing rule is employed or not. Presumably based on their reaction to spoken fiction. This is, procedurally, where fiction comes first. Right here, in procedure, 'fiction' is empowered to decide if a rule is used or not.

An important thing to notice is how much more important your five step procedure is. Do you ever depart from the five rule steps? NEVER! Do you depart from the tree climbing rules? Perhaps ALOT! Your five steps are the UBER rules of the game! The real rules! Other rules that are like the tree climbing ones might never get used, but the big five will definately get used! The tree climbing rules, while they might have an impact, as much as they might just not get used, might not matter in the slightest! Yet what do I see game designers focusing their hardest on? The tree climbing rules! While leaving their own version of the big five generally unwritten and 'everybody just knows how to do that/what to do'. Which is why I said at the start it's really great you've hashed out this procedure!

There's probably something I've missed in your great post that I ment to add onto - my brain will no doubt remember it latter! So far this threads really moved on from my rough draft, scribbled on a napkin thread. But we all start with drafts...


Hi Nolan,
Quote
3) I don't know if this in response to Callan's thread, but I don't think this fits what he was talking about with Fiction First. In this case, a fairly defined system is used to determine how the rules and the fiction feed into one another, it isn't the fictional content determining whether or not a rule is used as intended or ignored based of the players/a players aesthetic judgement, but I guess I should let Callan speak for himself.
This is complicated and I thought someone might start getting a notion of it. It is fiction first - as in, see above where I point out the point where 'fiction' is granted control over whether the tree climbing rule is used or not. But see the different thing here is that fiction does not have control over whether all rules are used or not! Only some (the tree climbing rules, in this case)! As I said above, the ones it doesn't control I call UBER rules, as they are the rules that will definately occur. There is fiction first in it, but in a relative sense. Fiction is first relative to the tree climbing rules. But the big five is first relative to fiction first. 1. Big five 2. Fiction decides 3. Tree climbing rules. The former is the boss of the latter.

So it's still fiction first, as it comes before some rules. But in this case it does not come before ALL rules (for a change, thank goodness!). Make sense? Or seems contradictory?


Hi Frank,

I disagree. Every time someone doesn't know how to proceed with play procedurally, it doesn't indicate an agenda problem. As a simple example if I don't know what sized die to use and can't find it anywhere in a text, it doesn't mean I don't share the same agenda with others at the table. Nor does it mean that social skills and common sense should determine what die size I use - the text has just failed to provide this information. It's procedure has a hole in it. And yes indeed, if people want to continue playing anyway, play pours out of the hole and contacts onto SC, who might then go and make up a patch for that hole on what die to use. I suspect you don't see this as an error in the game being patched up, but instead how play is supposed to work by your measure, with this going through to SC on a regular basis. I'm pretty sure I've grasped your position on this. You take the questions still left in David's procedure, the ones I note still exist, and you take that as evidence you don't organise play by something like this - and so you say it's a common sense and social skills and an agenda thing. I disagree. The questions in procedure can be answered.
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2010, 12:44:06 PM »

Chris,

people often have to hack together something based on really vague, non-procedures, "Be Tough" "Be Fair", "Be Challenging", "Be Realistic", "Be Cinematic" all poured together at the same time.

It always boggles my mind when folks sit down to play together without getting on the same page about this.  Until I have an answer on which trumps which, "Be Realistic" or "Be Cinematic", I really feel like I don't know how to play the game.  It's like Callan said: "roll a die; we won't tell you what kind."

Not that I want every new game to have a long meta-chat.  Sometimes the point is obvious from the game's subtitle or concept: The Agency: A Cinematic Action Game is pretty clear on its priorities, and then the rule where you get extra points if you describe something cool-looking confirms those priorities.

In playing PtA, I was amazed at how often, "Would that make a good moment in a TV show?" was invaluable as a measure of what should get played.

So, yeah, agreed 100% -- functional play based on "who cares" is predicated on a shared notion of what's worth caring about in this game for this group.


Frank,
I hear your words of caution.  Did this address your concerns?

Ps,
-David
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2010, 12:57:22 PM »

1) When talking about "who cares" does this mean that if I am playing the game and another character is performing an action I have the right to ask that the rules be used with more precision to resolve his action, even if it doesn't effect me directly. I don't think it would be a problem if I could, I just haven't ever played or heard of anyone playing this way.

Delve game at Dreamation 2010.  Rebecca's character went to bandage Frank's character.  Both Rebecca and Frank were already thinking ahead to what to do with the monster they'd just killed.  I (as the introducer of the game) was about to say, "roll a die to treat the wound."  But Matt, caught up in the fun of the visceral combat, said, "No, let's do this in detail!"  So we went through Rebecca's character's diagnosis, and a few of the concerns about treating the wound, and it was quite fun.  (I can't remember how many actual rolls were made; Delve's healing system isn't fully finished.)

2) Subsystem, like combat, seem to demand that you care instead of giving you the option of caring or not. It seems like there would have to be various combat systems based on levels of interest to fully facilitate this style of play. Once again, not a problem in theory, just something I've almost never seen done in practice (with the exception of Burning Wheel).

Sure, BW's a good example.  But even without separate systems, there's always ways to add or subtract from one system -- subtracting the average armor value rom a hit rather than rolling armor soak, for instance.

You're right: if the only way to figure out what happens in a combat is to use a combat system with a hard-coded scale of resolution, then yeah, you're being forced to care.  However, I view that as an assertion in the game's design -- "If you're playing this game, you care about combat.  If you don't care about combat, play something else." 
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David Berg
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« Reply #8 on: September 14, 2010, 01:11:28 PM »

Roger,

I disagree with Vincent, and think that rules for establishing and communicating an "overwhelming unity of interest" among the players are vital.  I dunno, maybe he uses a different term for that.

As for whether my approach sustains in-game conflict, well, the group's level of caring determines that.  If they care a lot, the conflict will receive more detailed coverage, as well as formal resolution that tends to take longer.

Ps,
-David
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David Berg
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« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2010, 01:34:18 PM »

Callan,

Great example with the smashed orb!  I agree that narration doesn't cover the procedural issue.  Hopefully, a larger agreement about whether we're playing realistically, or cinematically, etc., might cover it.  I guess it depends on how such general principles are turned into actionable uber-rules, rules of thumb, or specific systems.

I also agree that tree-climb-modeling games with no higher level procedural guidance leave me unimpressed.  It was "Say yes or roll the dice" that got me to try Dogs, not the give/see/raise rules.

Ps,
-David
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Marshall Burns
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American Wizard


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« Reply #10 on: September 20, 2010, 09:14:33 AM »

Somewhere, there's a draft of the Rustbelt that, in the resolution rules, does the sort of thing that David's talking about. I mean, it set up resolution in general as a sort of flowchart that was persistently being run through over and over through the course of play. Every contribution to the fiction was cast as interaction with the resolution system, even if it didn't require dice rolls (the rules were and are pretty explicit about when you should and shouldn't roll dice).

I took that text out because a.) it was kinda dry, and b.) I thought it was kinda, y'know, obvious, unless the person reading the book has never done any roleplaying in their life (I didn't bother trying to write to that particular audience because, well, how'd they end up with this book anyway if they've never been introduced to roleplaying?).  This text was largely due to a certain type of thinking that I learned from programming, which requires very strictly logical steps without any intuitive leaps. I later came to the conclusion that, while explanation and explication were a good thing in an RPG text, it wasn't necessary to write out everything as though I was talking to a computer. Because people's brains aren't computers, and they can calculate in ways that computers can't.

I don't really have a point; it's just a thing.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: September 20, 2010, 07:35:14 PM »

The ironic thing being 'everybody else thinks the same as me and makes intuitive leaps in the same direction as me' is probably the only thinking or intuitive leap that people share in common. Otherwise their minds head in the same direction about as much as a herd of cats all head in the same direction. This includes people in the same gaming group (well, perhaps except for some who can practically finish each others sentences like they are married)

When I've written rules, I've noticed how the slightest nuance can often change the game entirely, just about. Leave things unexplained, and first and foremost for early gamers they argue over the 'right' way to play the game, when their intuitive leaps go in entirely different directions. Latter on they just folds their arms or turn to socialising (usually the player rather than GM), and put up with it. Then second thing is, given even small changes almost change the game entirely, a game text that leaves multiple points for 'intuitive leaps', the resulting game will have nothing much to do with the author at all, and also wont have much to do with the end group, as even though they are inventing a game, they have a whole bunch of left over text rules they grasp tenaciously at, thus getting in the way of them actually outright inventing a new game of their own.

Given the nuances of currency interaction differentiate one game from another, pretty much any game which goes "Hae! Roll when you wanna, Kae!", leave their major currency completely to the group, pretty much all behave in the same way with that same group (indeed the advice 'don't like it, play with someone else' is treated as some sort of wisdom). New games give the group the opportunity to do the same thing they've always done, but call it new, reskin the fiction and have new artwork on the cover to look at.

Basically there's three conditions that maintain its practice. 1: It's alot harder to write explicitly/technical writing rather than airy prose, 2: 99% of RPG's are written with 'intuitive leaps' and there's a large, keen audience who'll buy them regardless (and regardless of play results) and 3: There's no one to design with in terms of explicit design. Design talk is currently all intuitive leap talk.

So basically with a bunch of negative things in the way of change, nothing changes and the process gets lauded as. Lauded as much as, say, using leeches was lauded as high medicine once in medical circles.

There are alternatives to pretty much doing it as it's always been done, since Gygax. There's a great deal more work involved in them and alot less community to give warm human feedback about it. But there are alternatives. As another thing to consider or mull over.
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David Berg
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« Reply #12 on: September 21, 2010, 09:16:42 AM »

Callan,

I too have encountered the phenomenon you're describing.  Players clashing over what's "correct" to do with a given game, groups playing every game the same way but with different color, etc.  However, I've yet to observe the flipside.  Neither Delve nor other procedurally specific games I've played has been able to answer every "What should we do now?" player question without requiring any player interpretation. 

Scene framing, for example, needs to take inputs from the specifics of prior play, so it's hard to write instructions to cover those bases.  An endless list of "If you've introduced X, achieved Y, and are wondering about Z, then your next scene should include the following:" is unfeasible, so I resort to more general rules of thumb.  But those are plenty fallible.

Although I'm in agreement with you philosophically (wouldn't it be nice if there were more RPGs that gave you all the guidance you needed to play that specific game?), I think it's also worth looking at the polar opposite approach.  That approach is to say, "gamers are going to make intuitive leaps, there's no use in trying to obviate that; what we really need to do is get all the gamers in a group on the same page about what play is supposed to feel like, so their intuitions will be compatible".  The fact that most places that sell RPGs have at least a quarter of their shelves covered in World of Darkness books speaks to the feasibility of this approach, no matter how high the whiff factor.  The fact that those games sell partly from art and fiction is not entirely a bad thing when it comes to actually playing them.  (I can back this up with Vampire AP if needed.)

I'm not trying to say "let's not bother with clear, comprehensive instructions", I'm just mentioning that there are other ways to get some degree of success.  Which may become relevant depending on whether "perfect instruction" is actually achievable or merely approachable.

I'm also wondering if you have any thoughts on scene framing instructions!

Ps,
-David

P.S. Marshall, I'm guessing you fall somewhere in between "all-encompassing instructions" and "screw instructions; perfect aesthetic!" but I'd be interested in hearing your own take on that.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #13 on: September 21, 2010, 05:04:14 PM »

David,

You've address your post to me, rather than something for anyone to possibly consider. But as far as I can tell, you've simply said 'I think it's also worth looking at...', I don't see a discussion point or arguement there, it's more like an advert. Which is fine, as my post pretty much was in a way as well. I'm just making it clear because I think I've been caught out before where people post, I've taken it to be a discussion when it's not, then I get moderated on it all in the end, for simply charitably reading it as a discussion. I've read what you've said and I think I touched on those points in my general consideration post myself, already.

Quote
I'm also wondering if you have any thoughts on scene framing instructions!
This sounds like a discussion! Okay.

Now, in asking the question, how much of the creative act are you deciding to manage, as game designer? Keep in mind a guy who makes guitars is managing a portion of the creative act of the guitarist. And keep in mind the guitar making guy doesn't throw up his hands in the air and say 'I don't want to limit your creativity in any way - make your own guitar or whatever you want!'. All musical instruments limit in as much as they enable. It's like a law of creative physics - every enablement has an equal and opposite disablement.

So how much do you want to control the creative act via your creation? It's basically up to you to draw your own line in the sand for your particular project. Note: Even chess doesn't entirely control the creative act of trying to win. Snakes and ladders could be said to basically control play (and the player only controls whether they play or not)

Also, and this may be projection on my part, is that your question is more like 'How do I tell them to scene frame really good, so my game is really good!'. This is the other side of that line in the sand - you can have an excellent guitar craftsman, then someone who is shit at guitar using it and declares that the guitar "Sucks!". The more creative room the game design allows the participant, the more the participants own ineptitude can dominate the final play experience. Equally: The more someones aptitude can dominate the final play experience - leading to the 'My GM herbie can run anything! System doesn't matter!' meme, because they confuse aptitude at an actual game and aptitude at inventing a game despite the game text before them on the table. But if your concerned unless you do some mysterious X your game will suck, then it's the ineptitude that comes to mind first.

Once you've drawn a line, then you can differentiate what you want to control utterly via rules constructions, and, defined by those very same rules constructions, what options the rules grant to players and their intuitive leaps or moments of judgement or whatever you want to call it. (Note: I am saying the rules give you option A, B, C, etc to select from. Not some capacity to ignore rules as the method of supposedly enabling player choice)

It might be hard to envision where that line is - but simply the commitment to eventually setting it is enough to procede further on designing scene framing and the rest of your game.

Quote
Neither Delve nor other procedurally specific games I've played has been able to answer every "What should we do now?" player question without requiring any player interpretation.
It depends on whether you mean the rules gave you an option of A, B or C and you used interpretation to pick from A, B or C. OR whether you mean the rules gave you no fucking clue what options you had to pick from next and you were blindly stabbing at what ,procedurally, to do next.

The weird thing is with traditional RPG's is how heavily, pedantically and even boringingly A, B and C are defined in character generation. But then they fuck that right off the moment char gen ends.
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2010, 08:10:38 PM »

Callan,

Yeah, I concur, there was some advert in there.   I guess I was fine with discussion or no discussion of the "look how White Wolf's approach turned out!" point.

I like your summary of drawing the line in the sand.  It's quite a quandary for me!  As a player, I want the creative freedom to make play as awesome as I know I can make it.  As a designer, I'm terrified of leaving so much freedom that players can make or break the game regardless of whether they dig the game's intent.  The less freedom, the more I can know they'll like or dislike my game, rather than just some experience they made for themselves.  But I also want to make the kinds of games I enjoy playing, which have lots of freedom.

As for scene-framing rules leaving you to pick or flail, I've seen a lot of rules that ask you to:
  • a) watch for certain conditions: "If Fred hasn't been in a scene in a while," "If Larry's scene has come to a natural conclusion," "If the group is getting bored," etc.
  • b) when the conditions are met, take action: "Work toward revealing the monster," "Escalate what's at stake," "Reveal a new piece of information," etc.
The experience produced has varied a lot!  Sometimes, "What next?" was so obvious that we followed those rules without even remembering them.  Other times, we looked at them, and said, "Ah, yes, okay, now I know what to do next."  And other times: "Great, thanks a lot.  Fred's been out for 2 scenes, Larry's conflict seems most fun to drag out, one dude in the group is bored, all the monster traces and unveiled secrets I can think of aren't going to give the players an idea for what to do next, despite the fact that the stakes are high."

It's hard to cover all these potentialities without strangling freedom pretty severely!  When I played Burning Empires, I felt like my goals and options were nicely clear, but every character decision I made felt like a retcon.  I got used to this eventually, and overall quite enjoyed the game, but it still isn't my preferred way to play.

My first post details an attempt that I'm fairly happy with, but there's certainly room for improvement.  I'm happy to hear about others' attempts and results as well.

Ps,
-David
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