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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13299 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 63 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: flag framing?  (Read 5340 times)

Posts: 2

« on: December 18, 2010, 10:01:50 PM »

Hey everyone!

First port here ever, found my way here after having played some Apocalypse World. I'm interested in game design and I'm now trying to get a grip on the techniques you've been developing an discussing over here.

My first question is about the concept of flag framing. Where was it introduced, and by whom? Could you point me to a game which uses this or to a link with a discussion of it? I realize the concept might be some years old by now, but I'm still interested :-)

The background is I'm making a game in which I want the campaign frame to be based primarily on the PC's and their flags, and where the flags are also what drives the story. From what I hear, flag framing could be suitable for this. But I would really like some more info on it.

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 17707

« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2010, 07:34:02 AM »


Welcome to the Forge!

The unfortunate first thing is that clearly the internet played a typical game of Telephone before you got involved with these terms. There is no such term as "flag framing." I think I know what you mean, but I also think that since you arrived looking for a technical approach, I'll have to be a little bit strict. With any luck we can work our way around to terms which can help you.

1. Framing is a term used here regarding scenes. When there's a shift in location, time, and/or important circumstances, we call that scene framing. It's especially important in terms of how and whether everyone at the table understands the new situation and is oriented toward how it applies to what's already been played.

There are probably thousands of ways to frame scenes in terms of who says what, who agrees to what, and how much the fiction gets edited in the transition. It's also clear that role-playing, as an activity, cannot proceed without scene framing, so it's not like naming this act has created a new thing, it's more like identifying something that was always done, but which often ran into problems because people didn't know they were doing it or saw the ambiguity about how it's done as negative opportunities of various sorts. By naming it and looking at the diversity of how it's done, we can specify more explicit techniques in our game designs.

2. There isn't any other kind of framing, or at least not by that name. When a fight starts in the middle of a scene, we don't call that "combat framing." When a character joins a scene, we don't call that "character appearance framing." Using the term like that, to indicate any input about fictional events, would make it synonymous with "saying something" and make it trivial.

"Flags" are also not a technical Forge term. A its most general meaning, it's fine: anything on a character sheet that interests anyone. There are also means of character creation which openly produce explicit "touch me here" information for everyone, a kind of profile for what is nearest to and most dire for a character at this very moment. An influential example is one of the sides of the Sorcerer character sheet, which has been called a "story bullseye" for how items on it are organized to pull the more consequential stuff to the center.

The thread may help, I hope. It's a discussion of exactly how these things apply to my own game, Sorcerer. You can see from my posts there that (i) framing is quite organized in terms of who has the authority to say what, and (ii) the story-bullseye diagram is supposed to be used throughout play by the GM as a means to introduce characters, to play characters, and to engage with the character in general. It's not over-stating that playing Sorcerer is the way a story-bullseye diagram becomes transformed into an entirely new configuration.

The bad news is that a lot of uncritical yipyap about flags has created a kind of mountain based on poor logic. What I see most often is that people are talking about flags as a correcting factor for something that's already flawed. The flaw is, "Not knowing what the fuck to do with a character, whether yours or someone else's." Again, at first glance, it seems reasonable to say, "Look at the sheet!" ... but then the problem kicks in. As I see the term being applied most often, the GM (for instance) is supposed to be looking at the sheet and guessing whether some item on it is supposed to be important to the player. This creates a psychological game of "please me" between player and GM, which is not a good foundation for play.

My take is that if we want to apply the term "flag" to anything which is interesting or engaging on a given character sheet, that we should step back and understand that different games need different sorts. In most monster-fighting games, simply having a very high Strength score fits the bill - by definition, you can throw tougher opponents at the characters. Whereas in a game like The Shadow of Yesterday, the Keys the player has chosen for a character are a major factor in character improvement - so if someone takes the Key of Unrequited Love but also the Key of Bloodlust, that combination produces tension. So the GM should stay alert to situations in which that tension can be involved in play.

Also, as I implied above, my other take is that flags should not be some kind of tacit guessing game. Either it's already explicit that "this matters" because it's on the sheet and it ties into the reward mechanics of the game somehow (as all three of my examples do, if we consider D&D of any kind, Sorcerer, and The Shadow of Yesterday), or it's not. If it's not, then play will suffer.

So I think we're talking about something more profound than one little word on the sheet and one little GM deciding to bring it into play somehow. I think we're talking about the more general constuction of situations that characters are in, which is actually a very big topic.

Toward that end, I have an invitation for you: please hop over to the Actual Play forum and describe some session of play which you yourself experienced. Let us know what game you were playing, who was playing in general terms (college group, et cetera), what the immediate situation was for the characters, and what happened. You don't have to give a round-by-round breathless summary of every moment. Simply stay with what happened. Without that, I will not be able to help you understand the terms or the larger issue which you've raised.

Also, unless you have developed your game to a point where you can point us to an external document of some kind, then I have to close this thread. Let me know whether you have enough already done to meet the requirements of this forum.

Best, Ron

Posts: 280

« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2010, 09:20:37 AM »

Hi Rackham,

Welcome to the Forge!

As the person who created the term, "Flags", to clarify:

1.  Flags are explicit tools to help the group communicate what they want the conflicts/action/fictional events to focus around.

As Ron notes above, the "guessing game" method is NOT what I intended when I speak about Flags.  So, things like Burning Wheel's Beliefs?  Those are Flags.  High Strength?  Not a Flag. 

The internet has not been kind in keeping that difference in mind and in many places washed out all usefulness from the term in the first place.

People sometimes put high scores in certain aspects of their characters, not because they find that thing interesting, but because they find it boring- and they just want it to be something they don't have to worry about in play.  That's why looking at raw stats or skills isn't reliable or clear like a rule that says, "Write down your characters' Best Interest in this situation".

2.  I probably have used the term "flag framing" as some point, probably as a stand-in term for "use scene framing around Flags".  Games that have Flag mechanics usually also have procedures or directives on how to scene frame around such things.

If you would like to talk about this in regards to your Actual Play in another thread, or a game which you are currently developing here, I'll be happy to talk about it more.


Posts: 2

« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2010, 02:40:24 AM »

Thanks a million for great responses! And apologies for not reading the "read me first"-sticky thoroughly enough. Do go ahead and lock the thread, I'll start a new one when I have something more meaty to share and discuss.

Thanks for taking the time to clear up the confusion about "flag framing". When I came across the term it was not in regard to framing individual scenes, rather about doing the preparations for the entire campaign. What I'm looking for is a method for using flags (in your meaning of the word) to lay the groundwork for a campaign. I'll try to write something about it in the AP section of the forums.
Trevis Martin

Posts: 514

« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2010, 04:44:06 PM »

The term was the title of a post from Chris' old blog Deep in the Game  I have the text of that article in its entirety as well as the Conflict Web article that followed it, though I don't have a date for either one.  If that would be helpful to either you Rackham or you Chris (though I assume you have it in archive somewhere), I'd be glad to PM or email it to you.  You can PM me on it if you like.
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