[SS], [TSoY] and "safety net"

Started by Paolo D., February 24, 2011, 06:02:05 PM

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Paolo D.

Hi people! :-)

First of all, what do I mean with "safety net"?

I mean a mechanic or a procedure (or more than one of them) of a game, meant to help all the table in staying on the same page during play.
For example, I mean rules like DitV's veto, or like PTA's Fanmail.

So, here's my question:

after reading the Solar System (and playing it), it seems to me that it has no safety net at all. At best, there is the "Gift of Dice" variant rule, but it's... A variant rule, and not a part of the standard core of the game.
However, I found that in TSoY (I read it on this wiki) the Gift of Dice was a core rule.

So, I asked myself: why the SS doesn't have any safety net at all? Is there a particular reason?


Paul Czege


So, by "safety net" you mean a mechanic that enables a group to enforce the game's genre during play? As distinct from mechanics for creating or teaching genre? As distinct from mechanics that don't enforce, but instead reward for genre adherence?

Do Secrets and Keys, by virtue of being player chosen reward mechanics, perhaps define and reward (rather than enforce) a custom genre for each Solar System game?

"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton

Ron Edwards

Disclosure: Paolo and I have talked about this already. Paolo, I'm going to stop all this introductory dancing and get right to the point.

He's referring to mechanisms of appreciation, especially quantitative/dicey ones, which reinforce the shared attention to what's going on in the fiction.

The Solar System is distinctly less oriented toward those mechanisms than The Shadow of Yesterday. It also privileges GM judgment regarding player-input, giving it a managerial role at some points in the text.

The question is whether the Solar System represents a certain rehabilitation, that is, toward a more traditional construction of approval of players' statements and inclusion into the fiction.

Whether this is good or bad or indifferent, is not so much the point, but my reading of the text tends in that direction, as does Paolo's. These readings and conclusions were independent of one another, so we were each surprised to discover the other's view. Now we're interested in what others think.

Best, Ron

Eero Tuovinen

That's interesting. My first reaction is that while the Gift Dice are a mechanism of appreciation, they're also not an entirely functional one in practical play. (I made it an "optional" rule in the SS text and shunted it into a side-bar precisely because it's been a dead-letter rule in most of my own play, but I recognize its utility in some minority of possible campaigns.) This is, of course, mostly based on my own experiences in play. I suspect that the overriding reason for why the Gift Dice don't do much for the groups I play in is that TSoY is much more objective and organic about protagonism and audience sympathy than something like Primetime Adventures, which uses a very similar attention-enforcing mechanism in Fan Mail. When we play PTA it usually takes a session or two for new players to grog how to use Fan Mail, but after that it's a self-enforcing cycle largely because it's a priori assumed that the player characters are and will be the audience focus of the game, no matter what happens. With TSoY players might use Gift Dice when prompted, but almost without fail they'll end up ignoring and forgetting the whole idea soon, no matter how much Story Guide attention is lathered over them. Also, much of Gift Dice usage in TSoY ends up being more about "I need to help a party member" than "I appreciate your character as a fellow creator", which poisons the mechanism and encourages wrong thinking habits. My theory about the difference, as I mentioned, is that while PTA considers it a given that a player character will be the focus of admiration and audience interest, in TSoY you very much have to earn this stance from the rest of the group, and unless you do, the Gift Dice are a dead letter - and if you do achieve this, then the Gift Dice are fundamentally unnecessary.

It is not uncommon in my own TSoY/SS groups that 1-2 player characters end up real protagonists, 1-2 end up as comic reliefs, 1-2 become villains and the rest become sidekicks of some sort. There is also always a constant tension in the game between the ideals of independent protagonism, wherein each player character is worked up and appreciated as a hero in his own right, and party-based play, where player characters align themselves around a leading protagonist to maximize the amount of PC-to-PC interaction and character exposure in the campaign. The SS rules text is very non-committal about how the campaign builds up in this regard, as you might have noticed, just like the TSoY text is. In these conditions it's far from given that a given character will ever do anything that is truly deserving of Gift Dice.

The underlying reason for why TSoY is so much more hands-off about audience relationships to player characters is probably in the implicit way the game approaches protagonism: the character creation procedures and the way players introduce their characters to each other are less explicit than PTA or other constructionist drama game, and depend more on the process of play as a tool the group uses to align themselves: the nature of the campaign and the characters is discovered in play rather than set-up in planning the campaign. In this regard the game is very much a traditional design, which I wanted to preserve in writing up the SS rules text.

I find the topic of player input very interesting, and I was very aware of it when writing the SS rules text, as might be expected here at the Forge. I personally view most of the procedural instructions in the SS text as necessary clarifications and explications of how the game described in TSoY has to work (for me, at least), whether Clinton happened to phrase the given point out explicitly or not. Some of those procedures do emphasize the GM role much more strongly than Clinton's text does, which is a good observation from Ron. My own opinion on the matter is that the most spectacular differences are because Clinton wrote his text tendencially, trying to de-emphasize the GM for essentially political reasons, while I wrote mine from a more balanced viewpoint, trying to observe what actually happens in these types of games in play. There are some points in the text, such as the way it distinguishes between character goals and conflict stakes, that I find univerally applicable to a great range of games from Sorcerer onwards that have traditionally been phrased in a less useful manner by pretending that no editorial oversight occurs in between declaring a character's goal and transforming it into an element utilized by play procedure. The GM in Solar System is a very useful being whose powers are clearly defined yet wider than in many other games.

I should also note that it's somewhat easy to read the SS text misleadingly because it uses basically four different types of attribution for the different decisions and authorities it assigns at different points of the text to the different players: sometimes it says clearly that "the player of the character" or "the Story Guide" makes a choice, but then sometimes it says "the character" and sometimes it uses a passive voice, "the decision is made", to signify that it doesn't matter who makes the call as long as it's made according to the precepts laid down in the text. I'm perhaps a tad more careful about my turn of phrase in this regard than the average bear, so it bears consideration to read carefully and see who I attribute the decisions to; if one wanted to see a lot of GM authority in the text, it wouldn't take much to read all passive phrasings as referring to the GM instead of the group as whole. Not that this is a bad read, but the intent is that if your group is OK with less GM authority, then you'll read these parts more inclusively and less authoritatively.

But anyway, I agree with the both of you about the basic observation: SS represents itself more clearly as GM-led than TSoY does, and this shows up in various ways in the text, perhaps including the de-emphasizing of Gift Dice. The reason is ultimately that I'm convinced that this game works better when the player and GM responsibilities are delineated more clearly, as the players have a very limited range of tools for engaging in constructive participation from outside their own character's purview, while they have plentiful tools for working through their characters in defining and developing the campaign. One might well view the SS text as a rehabilitation and reinterpretation of the traditional sources Clinton used in writing the game, as Ron says - TSoY is by nature a hybrid design, and I wanted to emphasize this more than Clinton did when he wrote the original text in a very different atmosphere in 2004.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


I noticed the same problems as Eero about Gift Dice and protagonism:

With TSoY players might use Gift Dice when prompted, but almost without fail they'll end up ignoring and forgetting the whole idea soon, no matter how much Story Guide attention is lathered over them. Also, much of Gift Dice usage in TSoY ends up being more about "I need to help a party member" than "I appreciate your character as a fellow creator", which poisons the mechanism and encourages wrong thinking habits.

It is not uncommon in my own TSoY/SS groups that 1-2 player characters end up real protagonists, 1-2 end up as comic reliefs, 1-2 become villains and the rest become sidekicks of some sort.

There is also always a constant tension in the game between the ideals of independent protagonism, wherein each player character is worked up and appreciated as a hero in his own right, and party-based play

Paolo D.


Paul: Secret and Keys could be good applications of it; however, (mostly)* they concern what a player wants to deliver through his character only, and (mostly, again) they don't give to the players any direct mean to judge, enforce or reward the fictional contributes of other players, including the Story Guide.

Let's see if I can make some examples of it while I answer to Eero... ;-)

Eero, thanks a lot for your very complete reply, it's very clear and transparent. :-)

Particularly, like P. Jeffries, I share your statement about the Gift Dice issue. I noticed that too in a SS campaign of mine based on the traditional "fantasy party" paradigm. Yet, I (probably) never experienced that issue in other SS campaigns more "weave-play" based, so here's my question to you:
sorry if this could seem unpolite, but... Do you usually play with teenagers?

I'm asking this because I noticed that you often cite experiences with teenagers playing the SS, like in "vampires in Near" web preview (here: http://www.arkenstonepublishing.net/wp-content/uploads/WoN_preview.pdf), or in the extended conflict team rule thread (here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=31163.0).

If you usually play with this kind of players (and I think that would be totally ok, I got nothing against teenagers, I often play with 14-18 guys too), than I could see why you think that a strong separation between player and SG powers would be better: teenagers could have problems with the "audience stance" needed to use Gift Dice responsably and, in general, to go over the party paradigm to judge honestly the contribute of other player.
And, of course, they could be very messy (I know this for direct experience), and so the play experience could benefit from a GM figure strong on the social and procedural level.

(however: the three paragraphs above here are based on a strong "guessing" premise from mine, so ignore that part if I'm wrong on your "playing-with-teenagers" habit)

Nevertheless, sometimes I had some issues playing the SS with other mature players. They are issues of different views of the "aestethic" applications of some mechanics, generally based on lack of comunication among the players. I mean things like extablishing the right Abilities (and their order) for a support chain, or finding the right name for an Effect (or, after some scenes, the application of this Effect dice). Sometimes, we get stuck on these stuff and the issue goes straight on the social level, like in all the "Mother-may-I"-based games we were used to play some years ago (like D&D, Mutant&Mastermind or Vampire).

They are issues that I never experience when playing other games (like PTA or DitV) with these same people, so I started think that maybe the SS could lack of something that they have (or that, maybe, the SS was intended to work without it, but for some reason we was unable to make it work).
I think that these issue could (again, could) have been easily resolved if we had a rule like DitV veto, or "the eyebrow rule" as we call it here in Italy.
I mean the rule stated in this thread: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=27690.msg261513#msg261513.
This is one of the "safety net" that I stated in my first post here, and could help all the table in staying on the same page and in resolving quickly any discussion about aesthetic issues in mechanics application.

I hope I made myself clear enough, sorry if I didn't (I have some issues with english writing, and for me it's a strong effort to write long posts like this one... If something in this post is not clear, please ask me and I'll do my best to explain it better). :-)


* because, yes, there are exceptions to my statement, like secrets meant to give the players a small portion of the SG's powers, like the Secret of Contacts (that gives the player the power to introduce new npcs and stuffs), but they are a minority.

John H

I'm going to chime in here as this is something I've been thinking about throughout the current campaign I'm running. 

We are using the Gift of Dice optional rule because I really liked how it sounds on paper.  However, it has also been my experience that it turns into "I need to help this other PC so we 'win' the conflict" rather than "wow, that's a great idea and I want to reward your creative, out-of-the box application of whatever."  As a Story Guide, I reward gift dice for impressive or interesting ideas, but I don't think I'll use Gift of Dice in the next TSoY campaign.

Paolo D asks about "playing with teenagers" and although I'm not in Eero's game, I can describe the makeup of my own group...  We're 7 men and women in our late 20s.  Most of us have 10+ years of RP experience (D&D, White Wolf, GURPS, Capes, etc.).  One of the players has only played an RPG twice before.  For one player, this is her first RPG.  I mention this as setup for the next paragraph...

For all of the players in the game, regardless of how often I emphasize that the Gift Dice are supposed to be used from a "sympathetic audience member" perspective and not from a "win the game" perspective, they use Gift Dice when there is something that would be considered a "major plot point" as a way to tip the balance rather than as a "role playing / creativity encourager." 

I think it takes a certain type of personality or understanding-of-RPGs or respect-for-fiction to be able to use Gift Dice appropriately.  It's not so much about maturity or level of gaming experience, it's about having a personality that will enable you to play a game in order to create an interesting fiction.  Most of my players seem to play to "win" and I don't think that Gift Dice accomplish their goals in this sort of environment.


Eero Tuovinen

It's partially a personality issue John, but I think that the dominant factor in why the Gift Dice don't often work is simply that when and if the game has any tensions or vagueness at all about whether player characters are supposed to stick together or not, then it's very much easier and less risky for the player to contribute "constructively" in the game by playing it safe and backing up another player. I see this all the time in SS when I use the Gift Dice: sometimes it's the uncertainty of youth, sometimes its ingrained gaming expectations, sometimes its simply that the game's current themes are going over the head of the player who still wants to make a contribution. The reason why this sort of thing is less of an issue for PTA (I like this comparison because the Fan Mail really is very similar to Gift Dice) is that PTA works a lot in emphasizing the game's safe, constructivist nature and the absolute primacy of player character's as independent dramatic actors for the players, who consequently have a much easier time judging the characters as genuinely separate. Of course there are players out there thick enough to use Fan Mail for in-party support - we've all read the AP reports - but compared to what you get with SS it's really rare and exceptional.

(Another very real issue when comparing Fan Mail to Gift Dice is of course the crucial mechanical difference: FM is given out when another player contributes constructively, but Gift Dice are given out when a character engages in an important Ability check; basically, while it wouldn't be a problematic change to implement, the Gift Dice rules as written do not allow you to give out the Gift Dice when a player contributes, but only when a character engages in a conflict and actually needs those dice. This is effectively another structural reason for why it's much easier to view Gift Dice as a resource of success for a conflict rather than as a tool of signalling acceptance, as Fan Mail is. When you give Fan Mail you're not focused on what the character is doing and whether you want him to succeed, but rather only on whether the player's contribution right this moment was positive.)

However, regardless of what I find to commonly be the case with Gift Dice, it's totally a social and creative issue that is campaign and group-specific. Take a highly sophisticated group that can actually cohesively decide to use the Gift Dice "correctly", and there's no real problem in it. It's likely that such a group will also emphasize the more individual end of the campaign stuctural continuum, preferring to enshrine character independence over the logistic benefits of keeping the party together. That is, they're likely to end up playing very PTA-like characters who have their own independent concerns and who might not even be in any sort of everyday contact with the other player characters in the campaign. When the characters are routinely separate and their issues are not directly involved with the other PCs either as contrary or supportive, then it's no big feat to actually use Gift Dice successfully as a complement to the audience tasks I expect of players whose own characters are not currently involved.

Thinking about this, I should note that my current SS campaign is very, very strongly in the independent end of the continuum. The player characters are members of the same Orlanthi clan and household in Glorantha, but they last met each other in the first session, and have basically been going through their own parallel stories for close to a dozen sessions now. The interactive content between character stories comes from schoolbook-perfect crosses and weaves, and the players stay engaged because they take their audience responsibilities seriously, and thus do not hesitate to flap their gums about the sticky situations the other PCs encounter. I find it very interesting that I haven't considered re-introducing Gift Dice even here, as this campaign truly would be the perfect environment for them! Clearly, while I don't have any particular antipathy towards the rule, I am happy to forget about it in practical play.

(Reading the above I should clarify that I do not think that having tension in the campaign about whether it's going to be a party game or weave-game is a problem. To the contrary, anybody who's played Zombie Cinema knows that I very much have a soft spot for in-game construction in this regard: just start playing and allow the characters to find their own logic, they'll let you know whether this is going to be one big buddy story or multiple separate yet entangled stories. Even with our Glorantha campaign the pull between player characters towards aligning their fictional positions remains, and it's a fruitful tendency for the game as we wait with excitement for what's going to happen when the childhood friends finally meet after one initiated to Orlanth and another joined the Provincial Church of Seven Mothers.)

Paolo, about teenagers: I have, indeed, played the majority of my roleplaying sessions through the last five years with teenagers. My dearest gaming friends who I meet several times per year tend to be the same age as I am (thirtyish, that is), but the players who make up my weekly campaign groups are usually drafted from the local high school scene. Of course, people have this tendency of growing up, so the people I started playing with five years back - or rather, the ones where we really enjoy playing together - are now college age. For example, our current Glorantha-SS campaign is populated by a couple of 20-ish guys and one 30-ish in addition to myself. I have been considering drafting more high school kids now that many of the youngsters have been growing up and moving away from Upper Savo, but some have stayed at local colleges and I've met some local adult gamers as well recently, so I haven't been in any great hurry. Might also be that I'll downgrade and start playing regularly with my 10-year old nephew and his friends soon, who knows; I haven't got anything in particular against gaming with people of different ages, you just have to accept them as they come.

I have to say, though, that although it makes sense that my choices in SS reflect my own play environment, I'm not too convinced that player age is the only valid reason for the sort of GM role I suggest in the SS text. Even with adults it's extremely common and completely natural for there to be all sorts of communication difficulties and creative differences. A strong GM with strictly limited creative responsibility but wide social responsibility over the table-talk in a chairman-like way is a great tool for actually crafting a functional gaming group out of disparate individuals who don't all necessarily conform to the theoretical ideals the particular game espouses. I for one would not be averse to reading the SS text as a sort of reality check on the common assumption that it's sufficient to provide the ideal machine in a game text instead of concerning oneself with the practical compromises the GM needs to make to actually get a game to "go" with the people he plays with. It doesn't need saying that I do not believe in dictated top-down creativity, but neither do I have any great respect for the sort of planning failures I witness now and then when the social leaders of the activity abrogate their responsibilities with the expectation that everybody involved will just magically work together now that the GM stopped micromanaging play. (Referring to how some people approach "story games" with pretty hippy free-love-and-narrative-rights attitudes and then are surprised when the game doesn't find its footing.)

The above phrasing might seem strident, but that's because I think you hit a very interesting point with your own examples, Paolo: when you write about the petty bickering at the table about how a single Ability check might be constructed case-by-case, or naming an Effect, that's exactly the sort of thing that I was very concerned about in terms of proper methodology when writing the SS text. If people are finding that the procedures I outline (and that work for me) are resulting in procedural breakdown and short-circuiting into pure GM authority, then I want to know about that and learn about why and how it happens. It would be pure speculation for me to say about your group, Paolo, but when I've seen the sort of things you describe, the fault has often been simply in an insufficient amount of buck-stops-here authority at the table; some procedurally necessary choices in these games are simply more important to make quickly with reasonably little bias than that they be made according to consensus satisfaction, and in these situations a GM who believes in utter abrogation of responsibility can be a problem simply because he fails to stop the discussion which then doesn't stop at all because nobody else has that responsibility, either.

Because I'm very interested in these procedural matters, here's my take of what I tried to express in the text regarding Ability check construction: when an appropriate fictional situation occurs for an Ability check, the possibility is acknowledged by the group. (Doesn't matter whether this is for conflict or for some other purpose.) Then the player suggests how his character is approaching the situation, and he probably names an appropriate Ability or several that he'd like to use in the situation. The Story Guide evaluates the suggestion - note that he has some sense of the overall Ability landscape of the campaign, so he might have an idea of which Abilities are appropriate, but he doesn't have the player's character sheet immediately under his nose, so he really needs the player to reflect on the character's angle on the whole situation. Anyway, the SG makes his call and possibly a counter-suggestion: maybe this Ability would be more proper because that other one doesn't really concern this situation, or perhaps these two Abilities here could be used together, or whatever. The player evaluates the SG's suggestion and makes his final argument if necessary, after which the SG makes the final call on the basis of two principles: he wants to respect the crunch landscape, which is the way the group is mapping mechanics to fiction, and he wants to be easy-riding and not get stuck on bickering about the small fry. When applying the above procedure in practice I usually don't find that players try to exploit the system by abusively offering up Ability comboes that don't make any sense whatsoever, and what differences of opinion we do have are often so minor that I have no problem at all giving way and making compromises. I think that this is largely a matter of cohesive creative agenda: the players do not cause trouble because they're not there at the moment to cheat on the conflict resolution by negotiating a favourable Ability choice for their character no matter the integrity of the fiction; rather, they appreciate their role as a co-creator, and thus use their power to responsibly seek the best solutions to individual situations. As an example of how this negotiation works for me most of the time, in our current Glorantha campaign, our crunch landscape is a bit intricate (or vague, perhaps) about sneaky ambushes: one might use Melee, Skirmish or Cunning in those situations as the Ability of choice. (Compare this to the discussion about the turning point of the conflict in the SS rules, this is the sort of rubber-meets-the-road practical application issue I wrote about in that part of the text.) When we play these sorts of situations in this particular campaign it always seems that a player suggests Melee or Skirmish to me (it's a strong Ability for most of their characters, and if the fictional action situation is actually going towards a clash of arms, it's not unreasonable) and then I have to remind them about the existence of the Cunning Ability, and then we end up rolling Cunning in support of Skirmish, as a sort of compromise. It all works quickly and effortlessly for us.

(Also note, while I'm picking nits, an useful rule-ish idea: when using Abilities in support of others and there is no clear in-fiction logic to which Ability should be used first and which should be used last, you use the Abilities from highest first to lowest last. I think this is in the SS text, too, now that I think about it.)

And because I really do have a strong sense of how these procedures are supposed to go and why, I'll bore you with a description of how Effects are supposed to be written down: as the text says, once the player has decided to take an Effect and paid for it, he gets to write it down on his character sheet however he wants. This "however he wants" freedom of phrasing is obviously intended as a limited creative freedom in emphasizing what was actually important in the fictional situation that was resolved by the Ability check: writing down "I'm good in impaling people" is very different from "I carry a hidden wooden stake" is very different from "I'm a paranoid fuckhead" is very different from "The ol' count has a stake lodged into his ribcage now" in terms of fictional positioning and color even as any of those might well come about as the result of the exact same Ability check. By letting the player write down the Effect however he wants I get one less headache for myself as Story Guide, and the player gets to make sure that what just happened becomes part of his character sheet in a way that makes sense to him. It's also notable that we relatively rarely read back the phrasing of an Effect word for word when the Effect is later utilized; often the player just calls out "this Effect I made when X happened" or something like that, and as long as we can all appreciate the dramatic cause-and-effect of using the Effect here it doesn't really matter to me how the Effect was phrased, exactly. (In general the point of the Effect rules is to increase referential relationships between the past and present of the fiction, not to present a challenge in arguing with other players: it's just not possible to break the Effect rules from a balance-viewpoint, so any usage that feels respectful of the fiction is always automatically right.) Also note that even as players get to write the Effect down "as they want", that's not the same thing as getting to write any old shit down arbitrarily: the fact that a responsibility is given to a particular player does not abrogate the player from conducting himself responsibly any more than the fact that the Story Guide has responsibilities means that he's allowed to execute them wrong. (Yes, that logic is completely insane, but for some reason we encounter it regularly in roleplaying: some players for some reason take the fact that a given game handles them a task with responsibility as a prerogative to abuse power.) If a player wants to write down something that bears no legitimate connection to the events at hand, the group can correct him just the same way they correct any mistakes. In my groups the player usually reads out what he writes and others gently suggest a better phrasing if they happen to think of one; often it's the Story Guide simply because one of his ascribed tasks is to push through the procedures. I've never encountered any anti-social play in this regard, but I imagine that we'd call bullshit on it just the same we would on any other situation where a player disregards his responsibilities towards the group and the fiction.

One reason for why I discuss the above specific procedural points in such detail is that I wanted to address Paolo's point about group veto in DitV: aside from the fact that this group veto obviously exists in all games (Lumpley Principle, it's called) and should be used to cut through break-ups in creative communication, I'd like to emphasize that the SS text at least tries to communicate the notion that joint creative cohesion of the group is definitely to be upheld by two inter-related forces: on the one hand there is the genuine creative communication within the group that happens moment to moment and legitimizes anything done in the game, and on the other there is the Story Guide, a specific player who has been set aside largely so there is one specific person whose task it is to view the proceedings from the outside and verbalize the group's collective standards. (You can read about this in the SG chapter of the text, as well as chapter three, which deals with the general tasks of the different players in the game.) I  can't help but be reminded of what Ron once said about Sorcerer's bonus dice mechanism: in Sorcerer you get bonus dice for your rolls when the GM says that you do, but the GM makes this call on the basis of the group's factual creative affirmation of the fact that your move was worthy of bonus dice. This is a bit tricky, but it's important: the type of GM power wielded when the Sorcerer GM assigns bonus dice or when the SS Story Guide chooses stakes, for example, is not a creative power in its own right, but merely a responsibility to perceive the group's standards and act upon them.

In summation: I find comparative experiences between PTA and SS very interesting due to how the two games reside in very opposite ends of some spectrums of design, and I'm also interested in problems people have in playing SS - tell me more about those. This notion of safety-nets that help defuse creative conflicts and their lack in the Solar System procedures is also intensely interesting, as I do recognize a certain truth in that: SS definitely posits that the group needs to come to creative coherence without mechanical aids (which is true in DitV and PTA, too, note), and insofar as such coherence is achieved, the task of nurturing, affirming and developing it in play falls largely on the Story Guide while the players take on the infinitely more difficult task of advocating for their characters in the fictional setting. A very interesting observation, that.

Also, Paolo: I understand you very well, no problems in that regard. I just hope you understand me, I fear that my writing is often rather dense.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Paolo D.

Wow, THAT'S really an answer! Thanks a lot Eero.

Don't worry for the density of your writing, I understand you very well too (I got no problems in reading in english, just writing is a little difficult to me) and I really appreciate a complete, articulated good post.

Ok, that's a lot to think about... I'll take some time to "digest" it and to prepare a good post from mine too.


Ron Edwards

Eero, do you want to see a real critique of the Solar System here? I'm asking whether as moderator of this forum, you want to respond as a fellow thinker about play and design, or if you're going to have a certain defensive membrane up to deflect talk which you perceive as negative marketing.

There are certain statements which if possibly unwelcome, are nevertheless true. There are certain statements which are both true and critical, but are not indictments. I can provide several of these, which I think can help people avoid tripping up their play of the Solar System, but not if I have to encounter a wall of apparently reflective, but actually defensive text.

Best, Ron

Eero Tuovinen

Go for the critique, Ron, in a new thread or right here as you would. I confess that I'm pretty happy about the SS text myself (or was when I read it last), but even negative critique is a rare treat for smaller rpg endeavours, so I'd be a fool to turn it down. Merely having you consider TSoY/SS as a game makes for exciting reading from my viewpoint. Marketing is not an issue, it'd be entirely immature idea to pretend that I've somehow written the first flawless game ever.

Also, you guys have to let me know if I come off as drowning conversation with blathering. It's pretty much the way I roll in written word, but again - critique, or it's not going to get fixed ever.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Paolo D.

Hi guys,

know I might be ready with some more thoughts to post, and maybe with a couple of questions on Eero's last "big post" too.

However: Ron, Eero, tell me if you prefer to see posted Ron's critiques before, I don't want to put too much discussion material at the same time.

Eero Tuovinen

If I had to guess, Ron's take probably deserves its own thread altogether. Besides, we have a good thing going here, Paolo, so go ahead if you have something to add.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Paolo D.

Ok, so let's go. (Ron, I think that you should open another thread for your critiques, they could deserve a "place" on their own)

One reason for why I discuss the above specific procedural points in such detail is that I wanted to address Paolo's point about group veto in DitV: aside from the fact that this group veto obviously exists in all games (Lumpley Principle, it's called) and should be used to cut through break-ups in creative communication, I'd like to emphasize that the SS text at least tries to communicate the notion that joint creative cohesion of the group is definitely to be upheld by two inter-related forces: on the one hand there is the genuine creative communication within the group that happens moment to moment and legitimizes anything done in the game, and on the other there is the Story Guide, a specific player who has been set aside largely so there is one specific person whose task it is to view the proceedings from the outside and verbalize the group's collective standards.

That's something that doesn't convince me in this part of your post.
You are saying that the Story Guide is here to verbalize the group collective standards, to "represent" the aesthetic of the group. And that's ok, I totally agree with that.
But, you (and the SS manual too, I think) don't say how (how = with which criterion).

For example, in DitV (page 77-78 of the english edition):

"As GM, you should always follow your group's lead. A big part of your job in the first couple of sessions is to figure out, mostly by observation, your group's standards for legit Raise and Sees, invoking traits, valid stakes, using ceremony, the supernatural, and so on."

Note: since here, it's very much like what you describe as the task of the Story Guide in the SS: to represent the group collective standards.

But, DitV's game text goes on:

"However, the thing to observe in play isn't what the group's doing, but instead who's dissatisfied with what the group's doing. The player who frowns and uses withdrawing body language in response to someone else's Raise, or who's like ""that's weak" when someone reaches the dice - that's the player whose lead to follow. Everyone's Raises etc. should come to meet the most critical player's standards. As GM, it's your special responsability to pay attention, figure out what those standards are, and to press the group to live up to them."

...and that was the criterion to follow. For the GM, to represent the group's standard, in practice, means to pay attention for the most critical players standards and to press the group for it (and this leads, in practice, to the "veto rule" of DitV).

This is not just the "lumpley Principle", this is a specific procedure of the game that explains to the GM what to do, in practice, to follow the group's standard.

Other games have other procedures about this: in Universalis, there is a bid of tokens (if I remember right); in Bloody Red Sands, there's the Challenge (it's something similar to the veto in DitV, but two players are needed instead of just one). In Shock:, if at least player is excited about something (over whose introduced it), that thing is ok, and if nobody is particularly excited about this AND almost a player is not ok with it, the player whose introduced that thing has to change it.
(I know that these games don't have a traditional GM figure, but I just wanted to make some examples of what I mean as "The way to follow the group's standard, in practice").

So, my question (to myself, but to Eero too) is: in the Solar System, what should the Story Guide do "to represent the group's standard", in practice?

Eero Tuovinen

That is a totally fair observation, and I agree: the SS text doesn't go into much detail on many specific nuances of Story Guiding. This is largely because I wanted to keep the scope of the text limited, tutorial-like, instead of allowing parts of it like the Story Guiding chapter to expand into independent treatises on their own. Thus there are many places where I say what should be done, but do not explify on how I accomplish these things in detail. Even the Story Guiding chapter is more of a crash course on the duties involved than anything approaching lucid - it does the job for an experienced GM who merely needs to know which of his toolsets to engage for this particular game, and I think it does a reasonable job as an introduction upon which to build from other sources and practice for those who are unfamiliar with this GMing style, but there are definitely things that are left unsaid for simple lack of space.

As for the substantial question, my personal take on how the aesthetics of the group are best represented by the Story Guide is predicated on the idea of interpersonal creative communication being a recognizable social phenomenon. That is, you as a player can look at your co-players and both signal appreciation and recognize such signals while playing, and this in turn directly allows you to keep abreast of how your own and other players' creative input is being appreciated by the other participants. Given this premise (which is really not at all a given in my experience of roleplaying, but which is regardless a necessity for functionally coherent play), we can say that the main way for the Story Guide to enforce the group's collective standards is by ensuring that this appreciation of each other's creative input happens: when a player doesn't seem to be getting it, clarify; when a player is contributing something the others are not getting, ask for clarifications or clarify yourself; when you achieve creative chemistry with somebody, run with it and ensure that the entire group reaps the bounty. Judge all contributions in terms of whether they prove that the contributing player "gets" what you're doing, and approve strongly of any valid input that proves that you're not just talking to the walls when contributing yourself. The specific tool to be used as a Story Guide in enforcing and encouraging this build-up of collective standards is mostly the SG's chairmanning role: you basically decide who gets to talk at the table and what we're talking about moment to moment, so you have great, largely unmechanized power to exercise in this regard.

I don't consider the above to pertain very strongly to the unique conditions of playing Solar System, note - it's entirely fair to say that the above is how I play DitV or PTA or Mountain Witch or Dust Devils, too. Achieving creative coherence is such a basic task that it is probably better to build personal skills for it more than game-specific methods. This is also the spirit in which I read Vincent's take on the topic in DitV: while he writes in the context of DitV, this GMing tip is only one of several that are really more about generally applicable skills than the specific conditions imposed by DitV. Definitely good stuff to include in a game text even if I myself opted to limit myself in SS mostly to game-specific material.
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