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Author Topic: Ruminations on the Impossible Dream Before Breakfast  (Read 11168 times)
Adam Dray
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« Reply #15 on: September 22, 2010, 09:34:52 AM »

I suppose we should get on the same page about these definitions. Let's use these going forward. If Illusionism is GM Force behind the Black Curtain at every step, and Participationism is GM Force out in the open at every step, then we don't have a term for "up front disclaimers about GM Force, then keeping it covert," which is the model I'm proposing is fairly functional.

Most interesting, in that thread Ron characterizes illusionism as the functional one and participationism as the dysfunctional one. That doesn't really jive with my own experience.

For example, I recently played in an excellent D&D 4E game run by my friend Daniel. There were ten players in two teams of five, pitted against one another. This is Dark Sun, and half of us were Veiled Alliance, the other half Templars. I was on the Veiled Alliance side, whose mission was to kill some Templar dude. The mission of the Templars, obviously, was protecting him. First encounter is staged in a combat arena--not as gladiators, but as people in the stands. My halfling ardent character had a daily power that would let me make a "suggestion," and I used it on the Templars dude to try to keep him from running away. When my roll whiffed, Daniel told me that I should take the daily power back, that he should have told us up front that the guy was going to escape this encounter--full stop. In fact, the guy had a teleport power that Daniel had forgotten to use.

Now, if he'd told us before the encounter started how this had to go down, I'd have felt happier about it. If he'd used some kind of covert Force to cover his mistake ("uh, he has a power that lets him teleport as an interrupt"), and I found out about it, I'd have been annoyed. I think Daniel did the right thing under the circumstances, though, telling us his mistake and letting us know that the rest of the adventure he'd planned was predicated on chasing this dude, so he could die or he'd need to end the game (and this was a one-shot thing at a game store). But given the goal of the encounter had been "get the Templar dude" and now I knew my character could not do that, I used my next round to flee the scene. I was effectively out of the encounter. Sure, a five-on-five PC-vs-PC battle could have been fun but a) lots of PCs die that way and b) "my guy" wouldn't stick around for that. So I hopped.

My point is that there was this moment of "oh shit" at the table when everyone realized that Daniel "had planned" to make sure the bad guy got away. I suspect other people were annoyed. I was. And it was quickly fixed by Daniel's honesty with us.

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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Daniel B
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Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #16 on: September 22, 2010, 09:07:29 PM »

@contracycle:

I've been ranting for some time that "story" means too many things and serves only to cloud discussions rather than illuminate them.   One salient question to ask in terms of this disuccion is "Why is story a good thing?"  It's taken as read that a "story" is what we want to come out of play, or that "story" should be the result of player actions, but what does that MEAN?

It means something specific when we talk about Story Now.  That is a clear and precise usage which can be used meaningfully and constructively.  Story now is essentially the characters as protagonists addressing premise.  The story which then emerges through the action of play is then NOT a sequence of events as such; it is specifically a moral or understanding derived from the answer to the premise which the players chose to give.

Yup, okay.

The unanswered questions are these: what is "story" FOR in Gamist or Simulationst play, if indeed it is for anything?  Why should we ever talk about story when discussing non-Narr games?  What kind of specific actions and behaviours would we call on to produce whatever kind of "story" this is?

;-)

Did I mention story in a Simulationist context? I never mentioned story, not even in the players-addressing-Premise sense you speak of. Given that I'm talking about neither Illusionism nor Players-addressing-Premise, we can just drop the confusing word "story" altogether and leave it with the Narrs.

So, what am I talking about?  I mentioned "bite" earlier but that's probably too vague. I'll try to lead you to it with a question.

Contracycle, you mentioned being willing to concede control of the "story" if you're primarily there for exploration instead, but -- even in the cases you're supposedly there for exploration, is exploration really what you're looking for?

I mentioned the N64's Banjo-Kazooie as my own personal example. Let's examine each of the facets of exploration in detail and see if they're extraordinary:
  • Character - Bland characters. Face it. Banjo and Kazooie had somewhat interesting moves, but were otherwise boring (and even a tad obnoxious)
  • Setting - Also bland. I (sincerely) kinda hoped to see Jinjos wandering around their village living their day-to-day Jinjo lives. No such luck. Blah.
  • Situation - A witch steals a young girl's youth to enhance her beauty? Please! Done to death!
  • System - The moves were decent. Something out of a Mario game. Nothing outrageously innovative though.
  • Color - Okay, here I'll admit the colour was interesting, the mixing of theme lands. This helped. However, by itself, the colour couldn't have supported the game.

So, where does B-K get its magic? It combines the elements in a relatively unique combination to allow the player to learn the moves and grow with the characters, feeling the same sense of achievement that the characters themselves might feel if they weren't fictional. The emotions you feel when Grunty finally gets knocked off the tower .. it's like a tonic!

Contracycle, surely if this is as common a human experience as I think it is, you'll have a personal example of your own. Have there been any experiences you've had where you felt like you'd "won" or achieved a "victory", but not in the gamist sense? I'll leave it up to you to determine what it means to "win" in a non-gamist sense.

(Incidentally, I cut out quoting the rest of your post because I pretty much agree, so there's really no point in repeating.)

DB
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contracycle
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« Reply #17 on: September 23, 2010, 07:03:59 AM »

Did I mention story in a Simulationist context? I never mentioned story, not even in the players-addressing-Premise sense you speak of. Given that I'm talking about neither Illusionism nor Players-addressing-Premise, we can just drop the confusing word "story" altogether and leave it with the Narrs.

Cool.  I was addressing myself to the thread as a whole.

Quote
Contracycle, you mentioned being willing to concede control of the "story" if you're primarily there for exploration instead, but -- even in the cases you're supposedly there for exploration, is exploration really what you're looking for?

I would say "yes", but also that it's not necessarily the only thing I'm there for.  I also enjoy a bit of challenge etc. thrown into the mix.

I recently got to see Firefly, at last.  There is one episode in which the action centres around the fact that the life support is off line because the engine is broken.  Fine and all, this is all very dramatic and tense, except: the artificial gravity is working.  The engine is DEAD, but the AG functions perfectly.  This makes no sense to me, and I notice it.  I know why it happens; it's because microgravity is hard to film, and thats really all there is to it.  It's a common failing; TV has ships damaged by enemy fire, or natural disasters, burning broken and venting atmosphere, but the AG is fine.  It's apparently indestructible, the most robust system on any ship, totally failsafe.  And having noticed this, it would make it very difficult for me to play in an RPG of such a property, because my first question is going to be "how does the AG work?"  And I'm going to use it, too: seeing as I know that nobody is set up for handling microgravity, you could virtually incapacitate a ship by turning it off (BSG has corridors full of loose crates).  You could reverse it's direction again and again and bounce the crew from floor to ceiling until they were out of action.  Which then begs the question, why is no one else in this setting looking at this question?  In BSG, on several occassion they specifically target the FTL drives to prevent escape, but nobody targets the AG to leave the crew floating helpless.

So that is the kid of thing I'm interested in, and which attracts my attention.  I'd happily trade a rather fixed plot for an AG that made sense, and which I can think about and interact with without throwing everything out of kilter.


Quote
Contracycle, surely if this is as common a human experience as I think it is, you'll have a personal example of your own. Have there been any experiences you've had where you felt like you'd "won" or achieved a "victory", but not in the gamist sense? I'll leave it up to you to determine what it means to "win" in a non-gamist sense.

Well, the example I';ve given most often - given that I have spent much more time as a GM than a player - is of a WoD vamp game in which I played the prince of a city.  WoD establishes that on entering a city, incoming vamps have to report to the prince and request permission to feed, which makes sense.  But as the prince, I found in play that I also needed to know who had left the city, becuase otherwise I had no idea what the total population actually was.  I ended up communicating with neighbouring potentates to see if some of the people on my Missing list had recently passed through their turf.  So in this sense, I discovered something that I had not known before, teased out a bit of implicit logic in the setting that was not overtly expressed.

Another example from WoD, this time from Mage.  Realising that we really did have godlike power at our fingertips, and that the more you controlled society the easier it was to exercise that power, I sort of magic[k]ed up an island of uncontacted "primitves" ala King Kong; and then I showed up, healing the sick and creating food, your full on biblical display of divine largesse.  Note that this was all on my own initiative, the GM had nothing to do with this except respoding to my questions and statements.  All of this was fine, but a problem became clear quite soon; none of it mattered.  What did I get out of being god-king?  The locals had nothing they could give me that I couldn't produce myself.  Food, treasures, a harem of maidens, none of this was significant to a real Mage.  And I didn't respect them, because they were just mundanes, they didn't matter - so what did I care for their praise and worship?  All in all, being god-king was a drag. And thus I discovered for myself an answer to the question of why even settings with wizards might not be totally dominated by them, might not be, erm, thaumocracies?

These are instances which I found particularly memorable, which felt like "succesful play" that fulfilled my aims.  I went and turned over rocks and found out what was under them.  This made me happy.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #18 on: September 23, 2010, 08:03:19 AM »

Hi everyone,

As I'd hoped, this thread has become an Actual Play thread through multiple people's input, so I'm planning on moving it. I decided to announce it here instead of PMing Daniel so everyone knows.

Carry on!

Best, Ron
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Daniel B
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Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #19 on: September 23, 2010, 10:52:23 PM »

@Ron   Thank you for the heads up. Indeed, the genuine "case studies" seem to be enlightening.


Quote
Contracycle, you mentioned being willing to concede control of the "story" if you're primarily there for exploration instead, but -- even in the cases you're supposedly there for exploration, is exploration really what you're looking for?

I would say "yes", but also that it's not necessarily the only thing I'm there for.  I also enjoy a bit of challenge etc. thrown into the mix.

I recently got to see Firefly, at last.  There is one episode in which the action centres around the fact that the life support is off line because the engine is broken.  Fine and all, this is all very dramatic and tense, except: the artificial gravity is working.  The engine is DEAD, but the AG functions perfectly.  This makes no sense to me, and I notice it.
<...>
So that is the kid of thing I'm interested in, and which attracts my attention.  I'd happily trade a rather fixed plot for an AG that made sense, and which I can think about and interact with without throwing everything out of kilter.

I sympathize. I hate the logical inconsistencies that rip you out of the headspace of the fiction. A much smaller (and some would say downright anal) example of my own is when Pierce Brosnan (famous actor, played James Bond) was playing the character of some white guy raised as a Native American. I couldn't get past his hands and fingernails! A real man who lives off the land by the sweat of his brow does not have nicely manicured, scratchless hands, like he just walked out of a ladies beauty salon!

Anyway, I digress. I would claim that maybe you need things such as logical consistency, but you're not there expressly for them. It's like claiming you went to watch Firefly mostly to see if they would treat Anti-gravity engines with the respect they deserved. This makes little sense. In fact, you went to see Firefly just because it's a damned good movie.

You mentioned also being there for the challenge, which is on track to what I'm getting at.


Quote
Contracycle, surely if this is as common a human experience as I think it is, you'll have a personal example of your own. Have there been any experiences you've had where you felt like you'd "won" or achieved a "victory", but not in the gamist sense? I'll leave it up to you to determine what it means to "win" in a non-gamist sense.

Well, the example I';ve given most often - given that I have spent much more time as a GM than a player - is of a WoD vamp game in which I played the prince of a city.  WoD establishes that on entering a city, incoming vamps have to report to the prince and request permission to feed, which makes sense.  But as the prince, I found in play that I also needed to know who had left the city, becuase otherwise I had no idea what the total population actually was.  I ended up communicating with neighbouring potentates to see if some of the people on my Missing list had recently passed through their turf.  So in this sense, I discovered something that I had not known before, teased out a bit of implicit logic in the setting that was not overtly expressed.

Warmer .. keep walking .. okay, warmer. There's the hint of challenge in there. The challenge: maintaining a census of the vampires to keep control of your empire. In order to achieve that goal, you used logic and faced that challenge yourself.

I'm going to make several claims here: I feel like you're having to twist to fit the existing definition of Simulationism. This is not an example of it (or at least, I'm highly skeptical). You certainly did a lot of exploring here (in terms of the political setting), but what caught your interest was not the exploration itself. You could have easily "teased out a bit of implicit logic" and discovered that all female vampires spend Sundays eating nothing but cheese, but you wouldn't have gotten the same sense of accomplishment. Instead, what caught your interest was the challenge of having to deal with something that emerged as logical consequence of the setup of the setting. I expect you were likely very pleased if you were successful in your efforts, but still satisfied in that "dang, but that was fun!" type way if your efforts to control your empire had failed.

Admittedly this echoes gamism, but I believe gamism is fundamentally different from what I'm talking about, in the way that tackling a bear is different from building your own log cabin while surviving in the wild. Both are a challenge, but you'd be hard pressed to call the latter a competition.



Another example from WoD, this time from Mage.  Realising that we really did have godlike power at our fingertips, and that the more you controlled society the easier it was to exercise that power, I sort of magic[k]ed up an island of uncontacted "primitves" ala King Kong; and then I showed up, healing the sick and creating food, your full on biblical display of divine largesse.  Note that this was all on my own initiative, the GM had nothing to do with this except respoding to my questions and statements.  All of this was fine, but a problem became clear quite soon; none of it mattered.  What did I get out of being god-king?  The locals had nothing they could give me that I couldn't produce myself.  Food, treasures, a harem of maidens, none of this was significant to a real Mage.  And I didn't respect them, because they were just mundanes, they didn't matter - so what did I care for their praise and worship?  All in all, being god-king was a drag. And thus I discovered for myself an answer to the question of why even settings with wizards might not be totally dominated by them, might not be, erm, thaumocracies?

These are instances which I found particularly memorable, which felt like "succesful play" that fulfilled my aims.  I went and turned over rocks and found out what was under them.  This made me happy.

Dang, colder.

In this example, you're describing genuine Simulationism and I don't disagree that it is a fun way to play. You "looked under a rock" and found it interesting that being a god-king was a drag. Referring to my previous example, I too would have been interested to see at least families living in their little houses in the Jinjo Village, maybe doing work like cutting trees or raising sheep. I would have even been impressed to discover the female Jinjos eating cheese on Sunday! You were lucky that you found something under your rock, whereas I did not.

In any case, as valid as your example of "true Simulationism" is, it is off the mark from what I'm describing.


DB
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Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
masqueradeball
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« Reply #20 on: September 24, 2010, 12:12:44 AM »

Daniel... Why was the Vampire example not Sim? Because he addressed challenges and felt satisfaction from success? A Prince consolidating power and managing his city is very in setting for Vampire (though I have problems with that example based on the way that I understand Cainites behaving, but I don't know what The Package was for the players in that game). Tactical decision making can be an element of Sim play, especially when tactical decision making is part of The Package.

Example: We were playing an OWoD Vampire game and we're the last surviving Camarilla vampires in a city that's just feel victim to a Sabbat crusade. We need to be able to get out of the city. The whole game revolves around addressing tactics to escape and use against the Sabbat.

If your playing a game set in the Star Trek universe and you come across some alien life form or technical problem with the ship, it seems very in agreement with the Star Trek (sorry, talking TNG here) to problem solve and plan in order to come up with the right tactic to address the problem. It also makes sense that the characters, and thus the players would feel a sense of accomplishment when they succeeded. Now, this could be Gam or even Nar, but if the main joy in playing out the engagement is that the outcome FEELS RIGHT, that it feels STAR TREK, than I think there a clear Sim agenda.

But what is it exactly that your looking for. No offense, but it seems that we aren't talking about the impossible dream anymore, but getting into a discussion on looking for a table top technique that will recreate the learn as you go approach that you enjoyed so much in BK? Is that correct.

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contracycle
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« Reply #21 on: September 24, 2010, 03:52:02 AM »

Anyway, I digress. I would claim that maybe you need things such as logical consistency, but you're not there expressly for them. It's like claiming you went to watch Firefly mostly to see if they would treat Anti-gravity engines with the respect they deserved. This makes little sense. In fact, you went to see Firefly just because it's a damned good movie.

Well, surely this is for me to judge?  Ater all I don't know that a movie is great until after I've seen it, so the best that could be said was that it was reputed to be good.  And the whole AG thins is simply a pet bugbear of mine, but the point remains that I do take note of it in a way that most other people seemingly do not.

Quote
I'm going to make several claims here: I feel like you're having to twist to fit the existing definition of Simulationism. This is not an example of it (or at least, I'm highly skeptical)...

But sim as a priority doesn't totally preclude the presence of challenge, so I don't see a necessary distinction.  Plus, I'm having trouble seeing how Q&A with the GM, which is all this consisted of, really constitutes challenge.  In addition, the point remains that having come to this view, it would certainly be incorporated at any future portrayal of vampire princes that I did in the future, and probably impacted those of the other players as well.  So sure, the reason I was pursuiing this line of inquiry was because I had in-game reason to, but its significance was much greater in the real world, among the players, than it was in the game among the characters.

Quote
In any case, as valid as your example of "true Simulationism" is, it is off the mark from what I'm describing.

Well that may well be the case, but then, I don't know what you're describing.  You asked for examples to work from and I provided some.  But I'm having trouble seeing why they don't meet your criteria of "allow the player to learn the moves and grow with the characters, feeling the same sense of achievement that the characters themselves might feel if they weren't fictional."  Admittedly the island expedition didn't constitute learning a move as such, and is perhaps an example of a negative achievement, but it certainly explored the boundaries of what a character like this could do, and offered insight into what he should do.  Not only was playing god-king inherently unsatisfying, but it also wasn't contributing to the conflict against the Technocracy.  So instead of being pushed into that conflict simply becuase "that's the plot" or "thats what we do", the character now had a personal perspective on whether it was possible to drop out of the war, and had decided it was not, and returned to the fray all the more motivated.

The point is that in each of these cases I  learned something larger about the setting than simply what goes where; I learned something about how it works, how it fits together.  That was constituted the "win" for me.  That may not be the same kind of win that you meant, but it is the kind I have to date found most memorable.  As above though, I don't really see the difference; the stuff I learned may not be "moves" in the sense they are in a computer game, but there were in the sense that I was exploring the possibilities inherent to the character, either through powers or privileges.  You'll have to be more explicit about what you mean for me to understand it.
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Daniel B
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« Reply #22 on: September 26, 2010, 09:28:04 PM »

@ CC

My response to you is mostly implicit in my answer to Nolan, so I'll just continue from there. However, I did want to say one thing: you mentioned Sim doesn't totally preclude the presence of challenges. True. So what? Narr doesn't totally preclude the presence of mano-a-mano bloodythirsty Gamist combat, either. By the same token, if there are Gamist activities going on, maybe these activities aren't supporting the main priority, but are the player's main agenda!



@Nolan

Daniel... Why was the Vampire example not Sim? Because he addressed challenges and felt satisfaction from success? A Prince consolidating power and managing his city is very in setting for Vampire (though I have problems with that example based on the way that I understand Cainites behaving, but I don't know what The Package was for the players in that game). Tactical decision making can be an element of Sim play, especially when tactical decision making is part of The Package.

Example: We were playing an OWoD Vampire game and we're the last surviving Camarilla vampires in a city that's just feel victim to a Sabbat crusade. We need to be able to get out of the city. The whole game revolves around addressing tactics to escape and use against the Sabbat.

If your playing a game set in the Star Trek universe and you come across some alien life form or technical problem with the ship, it seems very in agreement with the Star Trek (sorry, talking TNG here) to problem solve and plan in order to come up with the right tactic to address the problem. It also makes sense that the characters, and thus the players would feel a sense of accomplishment when they succeeded. Now, this could be Gam or even Nar, but if the main joy in playing out the engagement is that the outcome FEELS RIGHT, that it feels STAR TREK, than I think there a clear Sim agenda.

But what is it exactly that your looking for. No offense, but it seems that we aren't talking about the impossible dream anymore, but getting into a discussion on looking for a table top technique that will recreate the learn as you go approach that you enjoyed so much in BK? Is that correct.

Look at how you've set up your response. "if the main joy in playing out the engagement is that the outcome FEELS RIGHT, that it feels STAR TREK, than I think there a clear Sim agenda". In other words, you're saying that if it matches the definition of Sim, it is Sim. How can anyone debate that?

I'm trying to guide you into recognizing that although everything you've shown me can be classified as a Sim priority if the player desires it, it need not be a Sim priority (nor Nar nor Gam). Take the example of running an engineer character on a Starfleet ship. If your priority is Sim, then that's enough. There is opportunity for another Agenda here, though.

I know you're asking what other agenda could there possibly be. I'm seeing the value of actual play examples, so let's try that again: what is your primary motivation to pick up and play a game of Mario? It's not a Nar game and it can't really be called Gam. Some people use it as Sim to explore setting. Others explore system, by trying to find bugs, easter eggs, hacks (or even just learn the physics). Even others use it to explore colour.

None of these describe the primary purpose for which it was designed. Like most people, I play just to play. The settings and boss-fights and colour are all interesting, but if it lacked good gameplay, it would fail at its intended purpose. Looking for "good gameplay" is too vague, and not at all helpful. So what do we call this kind of gameplay? Ultimately what I'm trying to show is that there exists some currently-unrecognized Creative Agenda, right here. I also suspect players feel "hungrier" to fulfill this agenda while playing RPGs, because RPGs offer a lot more promise at fulfilling it. The two systems I've had experience with are D&D and Shadowrun. These fail to fulfill that agenda without serious system drift.

Yes, the Vampire City Census example is not Sim because he addressed challenges and felt satisfaction from success. Sim appetites are fed in the imagined external, and there is no criteria for success. You just know you had a good time turning over rocks. E.G. If you truly love and want to experience the Star Trek setting, playing within a decently accurate imagined recreation is enough.

For Contra, however, exploration of the setting took a backseat to that something else, a different agenda. Exploration of the bureaucratic setting took a backseat to the actual in-practice management of that bureaucracy. (Well, for him, I have to assume, but I can imagine myself doing the same in his position.) He stopped trying to discover more for the sake of discovery, and instead put his knowledge into practice, only learning more to support the main goal.

Incidentally, Contra mentioned that the challenges weren't particularly challenging. My counter to that; a poor example of a Creative Agenda being expressed is not a denial of the existence of that Creative Agenda.

Nolan, it's not just about recreating the learn-as-you-go approach in the tabletop format, although that would be a foundational aspect of it. It's about a collection of challenges, puzzles, or even gamist combats, all of which are stepping stones towards some ultimate goal. Players might think that the ultimate goal alone defines their Creative Agenda when in fact its the journey that matters.

I think that the "Impossible Thing Before Breakfast" is, in fact, an expression of peoples' appetites for the as-yet-unrecognized Agenda. If so, by separating this Agenda from Sim, we can finally determine its true qualities and feed appetites that have been left hungry since the days of wargaming.

(Okay I hate it when I begin to sound epic.)

DB
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #23 on: September 27, 2010, 12:26:18 AM »

Not sure how to phrase this, but if were talking Big Model, I think we should stay within it... its a closed system, there ARE 3 Creative Agendas, and thats that.

This is not at all to say that I think the Big Model is necessarily right or that what your talking about isn't just as important as the CA's.

Within the Big Model, what your talking about seems to be "Step On Up" lite or some version of "Right to Dream."

Outside of it... I'm not sure. I'm trying to find experiences in my own actual play that reflect what your talking about so that I can relate to the experience. Your use of video game references is helpful, but what about some of your play experience with D&D/Shadowrun?

Its funny and perhaps irrelevant but when trying to think of examples from my own RP-ing I keep having this instance come up from D&D where are PC's spent all this time sailing, so I decided to put all my skill points while leveling into ship related shit... for some reason that was a really rewarding experience for me, just because I had these points on my sheet that I could look at and go "oooh, thats all the stuff I learned while we were sailing." Contra's example of the vampire Prince reminded me of this too, because it seemed like what he did there was all about reinforcing the SIS. For him, figuring that little bit about vamp politics reinforced the SIS, for me looking at my char sheet and having that in character reminisce (which was very much just me internally thinking out how my character might feel) also reinforced the SIS, I got to put my imagination into action, as did Contra...

Also, please note that the shit I said about the Big Model may be totally bogus and is in no way meant to be a "Your doing it wrong" type of pronouncement. I really want to have this conversation with you, I think theres something important here to talk about, but I think tagging things as "Sim" or "not-Sim" will be misleading when the goal is defining/expressing this experience you're having. Lets figure out what the experience is and then figure where (if anywhere) it fits within the Big Model or any other theoretical system of RPG classification.
 
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #24 on: September 27, 2010, 10:32:44 AM »

I think The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast is borne of strong Illusionist techniques ingrained at a deep level and expressed by Sim-preferring game designers in their "how to role-play" sections of their rulebooks.

I suspect they don't actually mean that the players have complete control over their characters. I think they do often have fine-grained control over developing that character (via chargen and advancement rules). I suppose players might think they have complete control within the illusion of play, as long as the GM keeps the Force covert. Add a strong Sim agenda and oft-related techniques and this can work pretty well. But the player control is just an illusion (one that the Impossible Thing promised, mind you).

I suspect they don't actually mean that the GM has complete control over the story, either, but they say it anyway. But a lot of those books offer GMs advice that teaches them illusionism and subtle and not-so-subtle GM Force.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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contracycle
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« Reply #25 on: September 27, 2010, 01:52:07 PM »

I'm not necessarily averse to an argument for a fourth agenda; there is no inherent reason that there should be only 3.  But to make this case there would have to be a strong argument from observation and AP examples that illustrate the claim.  But to clarify this I'm not sure that disucssing my examples is going to be of much use to you.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on the Vamp example again.  I didn't achieve any success; none of the people on my missing list could be traced through neighbouring cities.  I got a null answer, which was perhaps uself in that it ruled out certain possibilities, but the point at hand was that it was NOT the immediate in-game results that counted, it was the deeper understanding of the political structure at work in the Camarillla; and which, as I already mentioned, applied not just to me but to everyone who was present, and which would potentially inform all subsequent handling of the same topic in other games.  And in fact, part of the point was also this: that WoD themselves had written the role of the prince from the perspective of the lesser orders, and had missed a salient element of the problems that actually face a prince.

So I can't really agree that this example is indicative of another agenda.  What, I think, muddies all this is that of all the GNS agendas, Sim is the least understood, or at the very least, that which has the least unambiguous language and terminology with which to discuss it.  Just as in this thread we've been through story, and freedom and control, and exploration, without coming to any sort of clear insight.  We can pretty confidently say how you go about setting up a game for Narr, and for Gam, but what precisely is good setup for sim?  You can determine when a game ends for Narr - when the story climaxes, and for Gam - when the challenge is overcome or failed.  What is the end condition for Sim?

Thus the problem of trying to split a new agenda out of Sim is that its hard enough as it is to get a clear grip on the Sim agenda in practice, let alone trying tease out a second agenda from which Sim is distinct.  If we can't frame sim-in-play tightly, how do we know where this potential new thing is different from it?  Even if, for example, it were taken as read that Illusionism is valid and viable, how do we resolve the inherent contradictions between the illusion of freedom and the practical application of concealed force?  The techniques by which this has been done, and we all agree that it has, still languish in the experiences and habits of individual GM's, without any broader principles or methodologies which can either be discussed or around which actual games can be built.  We're still in bolt-of-inspiration territory.

So from my perspective, if there is this Fun Thing which you identify as occurring in games would have been classified as Illusionist sim, it may well be the case that this observation is more usefully employed for firming up sim itself than to be proposed as something distinct from it.  Whichever way that pans out, it seems to me more important and productive to concentrate on identifying exactly what you mean than it is to propose ways in which it differs.
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Motipha
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« Reply #26 on: September 27, 2010, 03:09:38 PM »

Just putting in my own two cents regarding the Vampire City example.  Daniel, it seems like you're saying "Because there was a challenge which was faced and the player garnered satisfactoin from facing that challenge this is an example of Step on Up creative agenda."  To me that seems incorrect, because it seems to suggest what Contra did trumps why he did it.

I'm going to infer/assume a lot in the following.  My apologies for anything that is way off.

Think of it this way.  The GM was playing in a very Right to Dream way with Contra, answering questions in a way that reinforced the game.  They were on the same page of what fun play should be.  But what if the GM was playing Step on up, and treated this like a Step on Up conflict?  In that case, the way to play the interaction is to challenge the player.  "You want to find out that information?  Cool, you need to do these things, roll these social rolls, and if you can overcome the difficulty then you get the information you want."  To which I would assume Contra's response would have been "What?  That's ridiculous.  All I want is the answer to a simple question from people who have no reason to balk at answering.  Why is this happening?"

That to me is at the heart of Creative agenda.  The same action might be taken, the very same roll might be made, but the "why are you rolling" can be completely different and THAT defines creative agenda not only of the player, but as the group as a whole.  Just facing a conflict and overcoming adversity isn't necessarily Step on UP.  Perhaps I'm reading too much in to this.
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Roger
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« Reply #27 on: September 27, 2010, 03:20:38 PM »

Hi Daniel,

I believe what you're describing is, in fact, a particular flavour of Simulationism (or Right to Dream) although it's one we might not see all that often.

It's only fair that I make it clear what I'm talking about when I say "what you're describing"; specifically what I mean is:

  - Your experiences with Banjo Kazooie, specifically, "Pretty much the central core of the game is that you learn about and practice a specific set of skills available to your bear & bird. By beating each level, you prove to yourself that you have mastered that particular skill set."  And also "It combines the elements in a relatively unique combination to allow the player to learn the moves and grow with the characters, feeling the same sense of achievement that the characters themselves might feel if they weren't fictional. The emotions you feel when Grunty finally gets knocked off the tower .. it's like a tonic!"

  - Your general sense of agreement with Adam Dray's experience: "At the end of an evening of play, I want a personal story that is about me, not just about my character. After a night of playing D&D 4E, I want to talk about how my sorcerer pwned the dragon -- but that story is really about how I built a kick-ass character and played him effectively"

  - Your self-described primary purpose for play:  "Like most people, I play just to play. The settings and boss-fights and colour are all interesting, but if it lacked good gameplay, it would fail at its intended purpose. Looking for "good gameplay" is too vague, and not at all helpful. "


Since this has become such a definition-based discussion, I'm going to just paste from the canon article:

"Simulationism is expressed by enhancing one or more of the listed elements [Character, Setting, Situation, System, Color]; in other words, Simulationism heightens and focuses Exploration as the priority of play. The players may be greatly concerned with the internal logic and experiential consistency of that Exploration."


(Tangentially, the term Illusionism has also come up; I think the clearest definition comes from Chapter 5 of GNS and Other Matters of Role-playing Theory:

"[...] the GM dominates the characters' significant actions, and the players contribute only to characterization. This is called illusionism, in which the players are unaware of or complicit with the extent to which they are manipulated.  Illusionism is not necessarily dysfunctional, and if Character or Situation Exploration is the priority, then it can be a lot of fun."

Tangent over.)


To further expand on Simulationism:

"Different types of Simulationist play can address very different things, ranging from a focus on characters' most deep-psychology processes, to a focus on the kinetic impact and physiological effects of weapons, to a focus on economic trends and politics, and more."

And even more:

"Consider Character, Setting, and Situation - and now consider what happens to them, over time. In Simulationist play, *cause* is the key, the imagined cosmos in action."

(What I want to point out here is the three examples that the author chose to use.)

And, finally:

"A lot of people have trouble with the notion of "Exploring System.""


And now, with all groundwork layed, it is my opinion that you are describing the recognized Creative Agenda of Simulationism in the specific recognized (if only barely) flavour of System exploration.


I feel like that's quite a bit to lay on you all at once, so I think I'll stop here for now.  I'll do my best to clarify anything I may have mangled in all the cutting and pasting.



Cheers,
Roger
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Caldis
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Posts: 392


« Reply #28 on: September 27, 2010, 08:24:40 PM »


  - Your experiences with Banjo Kazooie, specifically, "Pretty much the central core of the game is that you learn about and practice a specific set of skills available to your bear & bird. By beating each level, you prove to yourself that you have mastered that particular skill set."  And also "It combines the elements in a relatively unique combination to allow the player to learn the moves and grow with the characters, feeling the same sense of achievement that the characters themselves might feel if they weren't fictional. The emotions you feel when Grunty finally gets knocked off the tower .. it's like a tonic!"


This is the problem with looking to another medium and trying to match it to GNS cause from my perspective that description is sounding very much step on up.  Having to prove you have the skill to complete a level, esepcially when it's player skill and not character skill, that's the definition of gamism.  Mario on N64 is much the same, it may not be hard but you do need to prove your skill in being able to defeat the levels to move forward in the game.  When it comes to a group at a table it will be entirely dependant on how the gm allows the game to progress and the willingness of the players to approach the game on the same level.

I think what you are looking for is a set of techniques that focus on being in character and feeling what the character feels with a slow build that leads to challenges.  You could do this with old school d&d however the challenges tended to be more immediate. 

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Adam Dray
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« Reply #29 on: September 28, 2010, 07:05:29 AM »

I still think that dragging GNS into discussions of porting the Banjo Kazooie experience to tabletop gaming is pretty perilous. It's pretty bizarre to talk about creative agenda regarding a solo computer RPG, where there's no one to share an agenda with (can you meaningfully share anything with the game designers? I think that's a pretty interesting question, actually).

And trying to pin down Roger's creative agenda preference is fraught with danger, too. As I said earlier and what Caldis says above, this is most likely about techniques.

Daniel, as a point of order, can you remind us what you're trying to get out of this thread? It's morphed and drifted and stuff, and I want to make sure we're engaging your points and not heading off onto our own theory tangents. I know I have that tendency.

Let me go back to your original post and try to address some things. Leading in to your talk about The Impossible Thing, you talk about how the allure of tabletop gaming is that "you can do absolutely anything!" I don't think that's true in any game. There are always constraints of some kind, imposed by the game design, by the other players (including GM), and by yourself. And the participants look to creative agenda (usually without thinking about it as such) to determine what constraints to apply. Just as the Right to Dream (Sim) can be described as "constructive denial," there's a similar process that happens within the context of Story Now (Nar) and Step On Up (Gam) where the participants constrain their choices to further the group's shared sense of correct play. But my point is, it's not true that you have "complete and utter control over your character" in any of these games.

It is certainly true that one has fewer artificial constraints in a tabletop game. Computer games are software, ruled by rigid computer programs that cannot think creatively like a human being. They have a far smaller knowledge domain from which to build reactions. Often, the inputs are extremely limited (a finite command set). Having human beings to react to your input opens the door very wide.

I think, when you played Banjo Kazooie, you enjoyed a set of experiences. Let's not call it illusionism or simulationism or anything like that. You enjoyed the game's reward system, which is a carefully tailored operant conditioning system (i.e. a Skinner box). Good games are good at making you salivate as you learn to ring the bell and get a treat. Though I have not played it, I assume that Banjo Kazooie couples this positive reinforcement (skill gains, etc.) with negative reinforcement (losing the game and having to start over if you fail badly enough). Additionally, it employs a strong "skill ladder" technique, which years of MUD and MMORPG development have shown to be a powerful psychological tool to get players to keep playing. You start out weak, master a skill as a character and as a player, and then you get a new skill to master. Repeat until your character is very strong, and then you fight the boss. This play experience was designed to be fun and addictive. It's no surprise you enjoyed it so much!

But none of that has the least bit to do with creative agenda or illusionism or The Impossible Thing. Not at all. So all of that talk is just muddying this discussion.

If the meat of your post is to talk about your idea you call "reverse illusionism," which some other people call "flags" and what I'd call "player-driven situation," then realize that this idea has been employed to great effect in games already. Some of those games are very much NOT simulationist games.

Look at Sorcerer, for example. A player authors a Kicker as part of character creation. The Kicker is a compelling situation the character finds himself in at the beginning of play, a situation which has no clearly "correct" resolution. Finding out what the player will do is what makes the Kicker interesting. Thus the player gets to author her story from the get-go, telling the GM "this is what I want play to be about" (and the GM is compelled to make play about that Kicker). When the player resolves her Kicker, she writes another, thus keeping the cycle of player-authored story turning.

Look at Burning Wheel. A player authors Beliefs and Instincts and chooses Traits. These not only tell the GM what the player cares about, but also form the heart of the character advancement system (for these earn special "artha" points that are necessary to earn extra dice on the very difficult skill checks that are required to advance a skill to the next level).

Am I taking your original post in the direction you wanted to go with it?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
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