Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse

Started by Alfryd, March 24, 2011, 09:04:32 PM

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Quote from: Alfryd on March 29, 2011, 10:38:12 PM

Quote from: Caldis on March 29, 2011, 09:40:47 PMI think another problem is you've set out that you think certain elements are essential sim elements but you havent really been outlined what those are.

I thought I outlined this in the OP, but my understanding is largely as follows:
*  You have certain starting 'seed' assumptions that, ideally, resemble those of particular source materials.
*  Beyond that, events ideally unfold based on in-world causality and ONLY in-world causality.  Internal Cause Is King.  (This is subject to the understanding that player input as expressed through character decisions, along with certain random outcomes, are valid forms of in-world causality.)
*  The events that unfold should, in turn, ideally exhibit properties that resemble the source materials.  (However, 'unpredictability' may well be one of those properties.)

But this basic idea that's present in so many Sim-oriented RPGs- namely the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast- has absolutely nothing to do with allowing in-world causality to reign supreme.  Nothing.  Not a damn thing.  Zip.  Nadda.  Nil.  Zilch.  It doesn't make inherent sense in terms of politics, it doesn't make inherent sense in terms of psychology, and it doesn't make inherent sense in terms of physics- particularly not when you take reality as your 'source material'. 

The bolded bit is interesting -- when I made my bronze age fantasy heartbreaker, I had some personality stats which consisted of 6 or so sliders which represented opposite ends of a behavioural spectrum.   At one end of each spectrum was complete freedom of player choice and at the other end was complete constraint.  i.e.  <brave/cowardly>,   <immoral, moral>,   etc...    If you were perfectly brave and perfectly immoral, the player was 'allowed'  huge amounts of freedom in deciding character actions, whereas a craven, goody-two-shoes character would be constrained by those personality traits in relevant situations.

How these were used was pure sim.  During character creation, you set your sliders, and you got some points for spending elsewhere if you moved your sliders to the constrained end of a scale.  and having done that, thats how you were supposed to play your character.  There was even a rule that said if the player chose to play out of character as defined by the sliders, then the GM could call them on it.  so yeah, there was a player decision during character creation -- how much freedom of decision do I want for my character in certain situations...  and then during play, you were expected to stick to that.

Now during my current game design, I also have some 'personality stats' called Motivations which the primary purpose of is to drive character goals and complicate things for them.  And the rule in regard to how they effect player decisions is :  You decide under what circumstances the characters motivations might kick in, or when the character might break with those motivations.

So there is significant change in my outlook between those two games.  Is the first one sim and the second one supportive of nar?  probably...  but thats tangential to the issue behind the change in outlook.  The point remains, youll be much better off worrying about concrete aspects of play which you enjoy or dont enjoy and what you can do about that.  The GNS stuff is handy in that it if you find an aspect of your current play that you dont like, it might point you in a direction of a solution.


I guess my personal opinion on the subject is that a character shouldn't violate a particular Motive gratuitously.  That is, if you've established particular goals, urges and ethics for your character, then the character shouldn't break them without a reason.

But there could be lots of reasons for breaking with a particular goal, urge, or ethic- some of which might be posed by the GM in a deliberate effort to foster drama, and some of which might emerge 'organically' on the basis of in-world cause-and-consequence (including the actions of other PCs, or the character's own personal epiphanies.)  "It's dangerous" could be one.  "My friend disagrees" is another.  Or- and this is perfectly possible- one of the character's basic motives could conflict with another.  In fact, I would contend that all moments of drama- i.e, the kind that drive good stories- involve a conflict between the character's motives which makes their behaviour difficult to predict.

It's just that not all the character's motives can be explicitly enumerated or formalised on paper.  Some of them could be ephemeral, some of them might develop or wither over time in response to accumulated experience, and some might barely need mentioning- the urge to preserve self, friends and kin, for example.  The only way to really grapple with the full nuances of the situation is to get a human brain in on the action, directly.  Factual mission-statements, dice-rolls and stats can help, but they cannot possibly capture the whole story.  You cannot exclude choice from the equation and expect to reproduce human behaviour.

So within that framework, I think there is still an expectation the player be able to put him or herself in the character's shoes, and think as they would for a bit.  I just don't think you should simplify the problem to the point of falsification.


Anyway- since I'm largely babbling to myself at this point- I'd just like to say that if I've offended anyone who may have been involved in the games I cited, or if I phrased things indelicately, then I'd just like to apologise for that and hope it doesn't sour them on the idea of trying relatively plot-less games in the future.  I appreciate that getting this right is not trivial, that some RPG systems are better adapted for it than others, and that even under ideal circumstances, it ain't neccesarily for everyone.

To close- since I've basically been crapping all over the idea, and I do enjoy playing Devil's Advocate from time to time- I'll just make a few idle speculations as to why Sim games might, historically, have been conflated with fixed plotlines, for reasons that are, in and of themselves, sympathetic and understandable.

The first is that there is a focus on predictions matching up with observations.  Insofar as Sim-inclined players/GMs get a kick out of following the logic of internal cause-and-consequence, there is a certain pleasure to be gained from a sense of underlying predictability to events.  Hence, the association between Sim rulesets, and (A) Fixed-personality-profiles that allow the characters to be bounced off pre-scripted crises like billiard balls until they go down the right pot, or (B) Pastiche imitation of existing source-materials.  The Impossible Thing, after all, is not obvious on first viewing, and because drama applies to large-scale outcome and deep motivations, a focus on reductionist explanations means it's entirely possible to miss the forest for the trees.

Secondly, the strict focus on in-world causality and maintaining an illusion of tactile 'reality' means that baring the system mechanics too nakedly can disrupt the sense of 'immersion' that Sim players value- it can be an uncomfortable reminder of the underlying, artificial, real-world, stats-and-dice-driven scaffolding to the experience.  Hence, some players prefer that the GM keep all the dirty, oily, cantankerous details of the nuts and gears of the engine hidden behind the sleek, chrome-plated exterior of narrated outcomes and a well-placed GM screen.  (This might also account for the use of code-phrases like "easy", "difficult", "challenging", etc. in place of explicit target-numbers in things like FUDGE and Cyberpunk, IIRC.)  Hence, this huge investment of absolute trust in the GM to keep things humming along quietly in the background that often hides substantial operational defects.

Thirdly, in the same sense that rules-bloat in Sim design is often a kind of encysting inflammatory response to Gamist Calvinball-tactics (i.e, rules-lawyers,) it's possible that the rigid insistence on fixed responses to stimuli is a similarly ineffective 'precaution' against Hard Core Gamist incursions, but in the realm of psychology rather than physics, and in the opposite direction- simplifying things past the point of all reason.  In other words, the only way to get some Gamists out of naked Pawn stance is to make adherence to character motives mandatory.

So, I guess I'd just leave it there for now.  Thanks to everyone for the feedback.