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Author Topic: Ruminations on the Impossible Dream Before Breakfast  (Read 21981 times)
Roger
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« Reply #30 on: September 28, 2010, 07:33:54 AM »

Very briefly, there are a number of ways in which Exploring System can look like Gamism -- it's a close parallel to the ways in which Exploring Character and/or Situation can look like Narrativism.

I could go on and on about this, but I agree this is a good point to take a deep breath and listen to where Daniel would like the thread to go.
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Daniel B
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Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #31 on: September 28, 2010, 10:50:00 PM »

Sorry for taking so long to answer. I've not only been busy, but have been mulling over responses.

I want to take a moment, too: thanks to everyone who has responded!!


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.
<..>
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."
<..>
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


Wow .. very perceptive, Roger. Have I been walking right by it, completely oblivious, all this time?

Despite the fact I know better, I usually associate "System" with just the rules-as-written instead of the whole set including house rules and other structures defining how play is carried out. As such, it never occurred to me that Sim[System] would ever be anything deeper than, for example, rote memorization of joystick-button patterns of a fighting-game character, or the discovering of those patterns through button-mashing. (The RPG equivalent of this would be, of course, hacking away with your weapons until you find the optimal HP-draining method.)

However, Roger, your summary has made me reevaluation that conclusion. I've begun to think that Sim[System] instead involves becoming intimately familiar with the interactions inherent in System (as opposed to just knowing them on a surface level). This makes even more sense if you decide that the Character and Setting are really subsets of the System, so that exploring their interactions is entertaining in its own right.

I'm going to have to ponder this some more but it's midnight so I'm going to bed for now.

Roger, if you have more to say on this subject, I'm all ears. Or anyone else for that matter. I'd love to keep discussing this.

DB
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Arthur: "It's times like these that make me wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was little."
Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Roger
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« Reply #32 on: September 29, 2010, 11:42:20 AM »

Glad that resonated with you, Daniel.  As others have correctly pointed out, I took a risky stab in the dark in guessing at what you were describing.  But I got lucky, and here we are.

This is going to drift away from Actual Play for a bit, and potentially away from your own experiences, but I hope we can bring it back to the real world at some point.  I'm specifically not trying at all to cram you into some idealized player mold; some of the following may apply to you, some of it may not, and that's fine.


I think I'll start with describing how our idealized player, the Purist for System, who is a Simulationist devoted exclusively to the Exploration of System, interacts with players with other Creative Agendas.

* With Gamists:  They tend to get along well.  They both have an interest in gaining a mastery over the System.  The most significant conflict arises from Calvinball, which is anathema to our Purist for System.

It can be easy to confuse the two players, as they can both engage in "rules-lawyering".  The easiest way to distinguish them is that a Purist for System will rules-lawyer against his own character, while a Calvinballer never will.  This unshaken faith in the integrity of the System, regardless of the havoc it may wreak on anything else, is very characteristic of the System Explorer.

Breaking the Game behaviour can also be seen in both camps.  It's in the nature of the System Explorer to seek out the weird corner cases and weak points of the System, but only for the intrinsic value of doing so.  Once discovered, actual exploitation of the Broken pieces is of little value to the Purist for System.

As in the Calvinball case, the System Explorer can sometimes be found Breaking the Game in the opposite direction -- making a character absurdly underpowered and ineffective, simply to Explore that territory of the System.

Outside of role-playing, I see this as the sort of relationship between an academic theologian and a fire-and-brimstone preacher.


* With Narrativists:  There tends to be an orthogonality of interest here, with either side finding little to agree on or fight about.  Many game systems which are devoted to supporting Narrativism simply do not have enough System in them to be worth Exploring, which further limits the interaction between the two groups.

They both deal with emergent themes, but in such radically different ways that they're hardly the same topic.  From the Narrativism: Story Now article:  "The key to Narrativist Premises is that they are moral or ethical questions that engage the players' interest."  For comparison, from the Simulationism article:  "The way these elements tie together, as well as how they're Colored, are intended to produce "genre" in the general sense of the term, especially since the meaning or point is supposed to emerge without extra attention."

The themes that emerge from System Exploration are emphatically not moral nor ethical -- they are the physical properties of the System, and are no more moral or ethical than gravity or aerodynamics.  "Can love overcome fear?"  The Purist for System sees that question as merely an issue of which modifiers come to bear on the dice roll, and an answer of "67% of the time, yes" is perfectly acceptable.  The Narrativist doesn't even know where to start in arguing with that.

The one place they occasionally threaten to overlap is in Ouija-Board play, but Purists for System tend to have as little tolerance for that as Narrativists.


* With other sorts of Simulationists:  You might be forgiven for thinking, at this point, that Purists for System are pretty easy-going players who more-or-less get along with everyone.

  Here's where everything ends in tears.

The main other camp of Simulationists, besides our own Purists for System, is High Concept.  From the Simulationism article:

"The [High Concept] formula starts with one of Character, Situation, or Setting, with lots of Color, then the other two (Character, Situation, or Setting, whichever weren't in first place), with System being last in priority. [..] The process of prep-play-enjoy works by putting "what you want" in, then having "what you want" come out, with the hope that the System's application doesn't change anything along the way."

Purists for System cannot abide with System having the lowest priority, and especially cannot tolerate the insistence that the application of System won't change anything.

In theory there is an ideal collection of parts, which perhaps we could call Shangri-La, in allusion to the idealized El Dorado Sim-Narr game, in which System can be perfectly applied without mangling Character or Situation or Setting or anything else.  In practice, it never works out like that.

The High Concept guys are mad at the Purist guys:  "Look, all we want to do is play in Middle Earth.  You know, elves, dwarves, Gandalf.  Why can't you just play along with that without trying to break everything?"

The Purist guys are mad at the High Concept guys:  "I love Middle Earth as much as anyone else!  But we have to play by the rules.  The orcs have no agricultural basis -- no one needs to go to war with them.  We can just all lock our doors and wait for them all to starve to death.  We don't have to worry about spies because we'll just have our paladin use Detect Evil on the whole village every day.  Why can't we just follow the rules?"

The Gamists and Narrativists, who otherwise don't have a problem with the System Explorer per se, don't get to play at all with this huge argument in the way, so they get all pissed off at whoever is in the minority.

So the Purist for System, who has a certain predisposition towards GMing anyway, decides he's just going to build his entire universe from the ground up, based on the bedrock of System.  Very occasionally they succeed in this epic endeavour, but failure or burnout prior to failure is much more common.  As has been said before, Purist for System is a very hard design specification.

If he does manage to get it implemented, the last thing he wants is a lot of loose cannon player characters running around inside his delicate clockwork universe, so we tend to wind up inside the Impossible Thing for Breakfast.


The Hard Question:  For the Purist for System, it's this:  You've got the System to Explore, so what do you need other people for?  Why not just sit in your room alone, turning all the cranks of the System and enjoying its clockwork motion, without anyone else getting in your way?


That's (again) a fair amount to lay on Daniel and everyone else, and as much as I want to talk about this, I don't want to threadjack to do so.



Cheers,
Roger
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Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #33 on: September 30, 2010, 12:50:27 AM »

This is going to drift away from Actual Play for a bit, and potentially away from your own experiences, but I hope we can bring it back to the real world at some point.  I'm specifically not trying at all to cram you into some idealized player mold; some of the following may apply to you, some of it may not, and that's fine.

Actually, I'm appreciating your input. It's time to admit that I'm looking to build a game for me, and players like me, despite my long-held insistence that it be for everyone. As such, I'll try to help by discussing actual play examples of my own, rather than avoiding most just because they're not general enough.


I think I'll start with describing how our idealized player, the Purist for System, who is a Simulationist devoted exclusively to the Exploration of System, interacts with players with other Creative Agendas.

* With Gamists:  They tend to get along well.  They both have an interest in gaining a mastery over the System.  The most significant conflict arises from Calvinball, which is anathema to our Purist for System.

Okay yup, this definitely strikes a chord with me. I have these ex-friends (well, one really, and the guy he brought along) who regularly participated in this sort of play. Most of the time they would insist that they "won", and I couldn't help wondering when competition began and why it did so. (They're not ex-friends because of differing CAs. One of them hit on a buddy's close girlfriend, which fractured our play-group.)

* With Narrativists:  There tends to be an orthogonality of interest here, with either side finding little to agree on or fight about.  Many game systems which are devoted to supporting Narrativism simply do not have enough System in them to be worth Exploring, which further limits the interaction between the two groups.

I don't believe I've ever played with Narrativists. I think I understand what the motivation behind Narr play feels like, from what I've read, and I can see how it would be a very gut-wrenching way to play. However, it requires a bit too much of a personal stake for my tastes.


Purists for System cannot abide with System having the lowest priority, and especially cannot tolerate the insistence that the application of System won't change anything.

In theory there is an ideal collection of parts, which perhaps we could call Shangri-La, in allusion to the idealized El Dorado Sim-Narr game, in which System can be perfectly applied without mangling Character or Situation or Setting or anything else.  In practice, it never works out like that.

The High Concept guys are mad at the Purist guys:  "Look, all we want to do is play in Middle Earth.  You know, elves, dwarves, Gandalf.  Why can't you just play along with that without trying to break everything?"

The Purist guys are mad at the High Concept guys:  "I love Middle Earth as much as anyone else!  But we have to play by the rules.  The orcs have no agricultural basis -- no one needs to go to war with them.  We can just all lock our doors and wait for them all to starve to death.  We don't have to worry about spies because we'll just have our paladin use Detect Evil on the whole village every day.  Why can't we just follow the rules?"

This is where I get a little confused. I think I'm a Purist. I prefer not just using rules, but having everyone follow the rules as much as possible in order to keep things fair and to stop them from spinning off into chaos. However, I don't want to just abdicate all authority over to System. As the GM, I want to be primarily responsible for my game most of the time, because simply following System blindly leaves no room for creative flair. With regards to System, I guess you could say I want a 2nd-in-command, not a slave? Let him be responsible for the day-to-day management of meaningless stuff, but where it counts, I want him to take directions and say "Sir, yes sir!" clearly and loudly.

In fact, I'd go so far to say that I'd like to direct the High Concept question towards the System itself. "Hey System, look, all we want to do is play in Middle Earth. You know, elves, dwarves, Gandalf. Why can't you just morph and play along with that, without trying to break everything?" When the System meshes with Concept, I'm in love. When the System actively blocks Concept, that just pisses me off. When System is neutral in respect to those parts of the Concept that are unimportant to me as a GM, I similarly am neutral. E.G. one Middle Earth System that says Elves get a +1 with bows, while a different Middle Earth System says that Elves get a free Weapon-Proficiency (Bows) skill. They're different, but in a blind taste-test against the fiction, I'm satisfied either way.

Furthermore, we talk about High Concept here and refer to Middle Earth, a well-known piece of fiction share amongst a large number of people. I'm more interested in the fiction that springs from my own imagination and those of my players. I run into exactly the same issues as I'd listed above, using our group's self-generated imaginative content. This never used to be a problem. Since the content is self-generated, we can adapt our Concepts to fit the System, and life goes on peacefully. However, two friends and I came up with a new Task/Conflict-Resolution device that hinted it could work as the core of a System that truly would be my 2nd-in-command.

Thus we come to..

So the Purist for System, who has a certain predisposition towards GMing anyway, decides he's just going to build his entire universe from the ground up, based on the bedrock of System.  Very occasionally they succeed in this epic endeavour, but failure or burnout prior to failure is much more common.  As has been said before, Purist for System is a very hard design specification.

If he does manage to get it implemented, the last thing he wants is a lot of loose cannon player characters running around inside his delicate clockwork universe, so we tend to wind up inside the Impossible Thing for Breakfast.


The Hard Question:  For the Purist for System, it's this:  You've got the System to Explore, so what do you need other people for?  Why not just sit in your room alone, turning all the cranks of the System and enjoying its clockwork motion, without anyone else getting in your way?

Spooky: in my gaming group, I seem to have fallen into the role of "default" GM, but since coming up with that device (aka the Combat Wheel, though it is more like a resolution swiss-army knife), I've lost my creative spark with respect to other games. We'd made the decision to build a new game system based on the Combat Wheel. I'm the only one still working on it because I've become absolutely enraptured with the power of the Combat Wheel.

Answer to the Hard Question: The machine is dead and lacks the battery power of creative, organic input from multiple people interacting with it. I've also been a programmer, which is an extremely similar System building activity, but in that case, the computer itself provides the feedback. Building an RPG system with no players is like trying to imagine how the program will work only by looking at the source code. Even if you perfectly capture in your mind how it will actually work, doing this is unfulfilling. Furthermore, I want player "input choices" to be limitless or at least unbounded, which is simply impossible with a computer.

I need System to be built in such a way that it is both substantial enough that the players and GM aren't constantly having to create it at the gaming table, but is flexible enough that it can accomodate Setting, Situation, etc., being broken in as few cases as possible. Hmm .. if I am chasing El Dorado (i.e. an unrealizable ideal), it's good to know that that's what I'm doing.



DB
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Arthur: "It's times like these that make me wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was little."
Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Caldis
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Posts: 392


« Reply #34 on: September 30, 2010, 06:37:42 AM »

In fact, I'd go so far to say that I'd like to direct the High Concept question towards the System itself. "Hey System, look, all we want to do is play in Middle Earth. You know, elves, dwarves, Gandalf. Why can't you just morph and play along with that, without trying to break everything?" When the System meshes with Concept, I'm in love. When the System actively blocks Concept, that just pisses me off. When System is neutral in respect to those parts of the Concept that are unimportant to me as a GM, I similarly am neutral. E.G. one Middle Earth System that says Elves get a +1 with bows, while a different Middle Earth System says that Elves get a free Weapon-Proficiency (Bows) skill. They're different, but in a blind taste-test against the fiction, I'm satisfied either way.

I think this is pretty common and it's what unifies high-concept and purist for system.  System is rarely a thing entirely created for it's own end, usually it is a thing designed to emulate or simulate something in particular.  What it is trying to simulate is the concept, the value against which results are judged as appropriate or not.  An example would be a physic engine type set of rules used in a fantasy gaming world where the characters are meant to be a certain flavor of heroic.  In such a game a gritty combat system where they might die any time they drew their swords would be inappropiate, characters are expected to get into combat on a regular basis but they arent expected to be constantly dieing.   The players (inlcuding the GM) may want the feel of gritty combat but not the experience of characters dieing so the system is designed with a few safety valves like magical healing being readily available or the system can be set up to incapacitate rather than kill or the gm manipulates the odds of the situations so it is unlikely the characters are ever in a battle against equal opposition (the trick is to make them seem capable even if they are not) or likely a combination of all of these.




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Roger
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« Reply #35 on: September 30, 2010, 02:27:29 PM »

Right; one of the big questions with Simulationism in general is "So what the heck is the GM supposed to do?  Just keep track of all the bookkeeping, or is there more?"

The two approaches to getting System and everything else to play nice together are:  1) Start with System, and build everything else on top of it, in accordance with its demands;  and 2)  Start with Everything Else, and keep reverse-engineering it out until you have a consistent System.

In practice there's often a cyclic feedback loop, where a problem arises, and either the System is changed to stop fighting with the Setting, or the Setting is changed to stop fighting with the System.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it all flies apart.

You might find it useful to look at some "naked System" games, like FATE 2.0, GURPS, Universalis, and even PrimeTime Adventures, to see where others have gone from "I have this neat piece of System I want to use."

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Daniel B
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Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #36 on: September 30, 2010, 10:30:55 PM »

So the final question I'm facing is: what do I want my System to emulate? This is where all the actual play examples become even more important. The relevant ones that Roger summarized were my Banjo-Kazooie case, and Adam's wanting "to talk about how <his> sorcerer pwned the dragon".

Another example I can think of that hadn't occurred to me before: a buddy of mine was running a Monk in one of my campaigns. I felt his Monk wasn't getting enough "exercise", what with two other tanks already being in the party. As such, I built a sort of nemesis for him, an evil Dark Elf Monk. At the time he thought it was just a random NPC, so he raved to me about how exciting it was; little did he know it was intentional. My point is that he was able to walk away from the game talking about how his Monk pwned the nemesis. My players walk away really excited about the game only occasionally, and that was definitely one of the times.

Ultimately, then, I think what I'm ideally looking for is a System built specifically to cater not to any particular Setting or Colour, but to player psychology. I want the System to be able to consistently and reliably develop that player-to-character relationship through hardships in the adventure. Now, the very hard part: actually figuring out what that means and how to really do it. :-.

(I *really* to start buying more games to get experience. Oy)

DB
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Arthur: "It's times like these that make me wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was little."
Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Caldis
Member

Posts: 392


« Reply #37 on: October 01, 2010, 07:48:53 AM »


There arent very many games that work to that player psychology aspect that you mention but there's been a lot of player advice over the years.  There are newer games that try and get the player to indicate more clearly what it is they want from the game but that clarity is working counter to that deceptiveness that fooled your buddy into believing that the NPC nemesis was just a random character.   Gurps (or other similar games) will give you a mechanical system that sounds like part of what you want, you can easily go through the process of building up characters until they get skilled enough to advance to greater challenges.  What it doesnt do is read the players to find out what is going to give them that spike of interest that make these events stand out to the player and if you dont get that it can get pretty dry and mechanical. 

Traditionally finding that spark of interest from the players has been almost entirely a GM skill and one that hasnt got a lot of attention.  Gurps has disadvantages that can signify player interest but it's hard to know how to use them or what exactly interests the player about that disadvantage (or if they just took it for the points).   Gurps lite is available as a free download if you want to check it out for that mechanical system of play,  you could also check out the Shadow of yesterday (also available free) for a game that brings that spark of interest from the players to the fore.   
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #38 on: October 01, 2010, 08:50:30 AM »

Perhaps it's a good time to let this thread stand, and spawn daughter threads? The issues are trenchant enough that I think specific, play-based subtopics would be very valuable, especially if they can be critiqued and intellectually digested separately.

Daniel, it's your call; let me know.

Best, Ron
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Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #39 on: October 02, 2010, 10:04:18 AM »

Yes .. I don't think I can continue contributing much more without some additional field research.

It's occurring to me how very much a science this is. Sure we can all imagine what we think things are like based on previous experience, but moving from idea to theory requires experimental evidence.
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Arthur: "It's times like these that make me wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was little."
Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #40 on: October 02, 2010, 10:55:57 AM »

As a final note, I just wanted to say again to everyone who participated: WOW this has been a refreshing thread for me. Thank you.
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Arthur: "It's times like these that make me wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was little."
Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
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