Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies

Started by lumpley, October 11, 2011, 04:56:19 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

Ron Edwards

Hi Vincent,

The discussion may have proceeded past the point where my comments are relevant, but I'll dissect out the issues I had in mind when I posted.

Let's list the possible input into the preparation-into-play step of role-playing. I wish we had a name for this step - it's the moment when genuine committed imagined input is entering the dialogue, but before "the fiction" has started. It's rarely formalized in rulebooks, but as far as I can tell, it's the single most determinant moment of how well play will proceed. Exactly how it relates to character creation is terra incognita, at present.


A - The person who's "running things," often associated with the tasks of GMing and hence "the GM," as he or she relates to the instructions for play. Note, rarely the instructions for preparation; as I see it, instructions for preparation are rarely read and typically poorly read when they are. Nor is character creation widely understood as itself a significant portion of preparation.

B - Everyone else, receiving instruction from that person. This is not the same as their reading of the instructions, mainly because they hardly ever do, and even if they do, preferring to defer their understanding until the person above presents their version of it.

C - Simultaneously, everyone else (same people as above), internally interacting with actual instructions as received in any way. This is different from the above because they receive those instructions and internally interpret them distinctively relative to whatever expectations and desires they're bringing to the table at the moment. Those expectations and desires are deeply entwined with, perhaps even mainly determined by, experiences with similar games, with "similar" being any perceived identity regardless of actual content. This whole effect is exponentially more important whenever the words "D&D" are involved in any way, as they are here.

It should be clear that unless the group as a whole, not simply one person as director or leader, buys into shared Color as the fundamental starting ground state, that things can go extremely awry extremely silently.

Let's see what happened in your case and how what actually happened differs sharply from your own account of it in your first post.

1. You developed a strong Color orientation through the presentation and pictures of the text, "strong" meaning relevant toward the goals of play and a corresponding image of what starting characters would look like. Apparently this did not come from the rules, but from the descriptive prose and pictures.

2. You began interacting with the players as you described: (i) not summarizing your interpretation of the Color, but (ii) expecting them to arrive at it both through their own readings in some cases, through your name list, and through your presentation of a picture. Perhaps you expected the phrase "no dungeons" to play the role of (i), but I think it turned out to be a non-informative statement.

3. You all conducted character creation. Here, I have to bust out some very specific things, some of which strike me as doomed (in terms of generating a shared Color foundation).

i) You said "the rules" influenced the players to come up with something different from what you had in mind, but I don't think it was the rules except in a minor sense. I think what they had in mind, individually, comes from my C, above. The stated rules were consistent enough with what they had in mind to be folded directly into those expectations and desires. And what those expectations and desires were, as far as I can tell, never received any air time - especially not at the moment they should have, in a dedicated talking-space just prior to the first formal steps of character creation.

ii) You seem to have played zero role in contributing to character creation decisions. Perhaps this is an artifact of talking about Apocalypse World all the time, in which the need to do so is absent because the possible characters are locked down so tightly. For some reason, though, you're explicitly calling out the book as responsible for the fact that you treated your own role at this time as merely "catcher," i.e., they say it, so I guess that's what I'll GM. In other words, the words, "Eppy, that character is totally out of bounds given what I conceived and anticipated in playing with you," never left your lips. I can't see how the book can be responsible for that.

iii) Is it possible that certain OSR standards for being "Gygaxian," in terms of the exact steps of character creation, are indeed a problem, insofar as they serve as an irresistible template for people's C and therefore override any other means of generating a shared Color standard? This experience cannot answer that, as the group didn't do anything to work toward such a standard.

So that's probably enough for discussing at the moment, although I do have some more thoughts kicking around in my head about it.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Oh yeah, one more point that really struck me.

Putting aside the lies issue, and identifying what you're describing simply as a discrepancy between your personal imagery (relevant for play, not mere Color) and that of the other people, how in the world can anyone describe it as fruitful?

Flat fact: you sat down to "play this game" and you didn't get to do it. You had to play another game. The fact that you found the other game to be a viable alternative with virtues of its own is not relevant. I'm looking at the first two sentences of this paragraph - why or how can you consider this a fruitful phenomenon? To me, it's a mega-fail.

Best, Ron



That's a break point, yeah, but I'm on the other side of it. I don't think that the game I didn't get to play is the real or interesting game. I surely don't need a thread about it.

I don't have any objection to anything you said! You've described the creative abortion of that game perfectly well.

But the reason I say "fruitful" is because I'm looking back from the point of view of the real game I'm actually playing and enjoying! If there's any earthly reason to examine my expectations before play, or our creatively difficult* character creation session, it's from this point of view, not the other.

* "Extremely awry, extremely silently," yes.

So the story of the game I'm actually playing is, I went away discouraged, thwarted, but then I got one of those subtle-but-thorough changes in perspective, and it brought the shared color we did have into place as a (potential) foundation, while also showing me how to create really hot situations with little effort. This is exciting! This is what I'm here to talk about.

Here's a thing I can maybe say. That moment you wish had a name? At the very beginning of the first real session, I said some concrete color things about longboats coming out to meet the ship, and the furs they were carrying, and how they traded the fur for the passengers to take to the beach. Then I opened the live fiction with the characters stepping off the longboats into thigh-deep water and wading to shore - but I think that moment of setup was significant beyond simple framing. If nothing else, I stepped forward with my own confidence in our ability to create, share and commit.


David Berg

Are you sticking to your original contention of "the GM text gave me good reason to expect Weird Historical Horror" or not?

If so, perhaps an instruction, "GM, guide char-gen with what you've learned here, as the char-gen rules are mute on it," is what's missing?

I've been curious about this game for a while, with a mixture of hope that the GM text would provide vital tools and dread that it'd be irrelevant.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

C. Edwards

I've always felt that the unforgiving and hostile universe presented through the older versions of the D&D rules really highlight and lend gravity to any attempted acts of heroism as well as create a wonderful environment for moral drama. As in the real world, minimizing risk, maximizing profit,  and accruing power and influence seem to be the most logical goals. But we're not purely creatures of logic. So even the most hardened mercenary/logical player can find their passions inflamed by some situation in the game. I imagine that the focus on color/situations of weird horror in LotFP will really benefit that aspect of play to a much greater degree than an average dungeon crawl.

Unforgiving, hostile universe as the ultimate fruitful void.

High level play tends to alter that as PC's start to resemble mythical heroes more than human beings.

Rampant character mortality is definitely not for everyone though, and I would guess that the next person to drop out will be the player of the first character that dies.

Out of curiosity, Vincent, I get the impression that old school D&D wasn't a formative part of your rpg experiences?

Ron Edwards

Hi Vincent,

I'm not intellectually satisfied with your responses to one of the issues I've mentioned.

It is this: you cannot reasonably claim that because you shifted to "plan B," and that plan B was in fact enjoyable for you, that the circumstances of the plans A/B disconnect were somehow productive.

This is why I talked about dissecting out the issues. One issue is what the source of the disconnect was. You initially talked about this in terms of rules and text, but the discussion has at least opened that up a little bit. Here, I'm talking about another issue: the difference between (i) a creative disconnect which generates fruitful tension, resulting in a uniquely positive outcome (very Hegelian); vs. (ii) a creative disconnect which was simply intractable, forcing either breakdown or for one "side" wholly to abandon its current priorities.

Based on your account, (ii) is clearly what happened. It is not relevant whatsoever to describe how much fun the ultimate application/play was for you. That's wonderful, it's great, it's jolly, but it does not change the straightforward observation that (i) did not happen, and I am beginning to think you're dodging this realization, perhaps even to yourself.

Best, Ron


David: I'm sticking to my contention that my reading gritty, weird historical horror in the GMing text wasn't poor reading. It might have been naive - I'm willing to suppose that people with more D&D experience might already have known to bring Vance into their reading - but it was an honest, otherwise astute face-value read.

I probably could have figured out how to change character creation to get the much poorer game I'd pre-imagined, if I'd known and been willing to put in that design work. That would have been a shame.

I don't think a simple instruction would do, no, and in fact that instruction might already be in the text. Simple instructions aren't game design.

But most importantly, again: that would have been a shame. What I really got is much better than what I'd pre-imagined.

C: You're right! I played D&D for (effectively) the first time in 2008.



Ron: I don't know about Hegel, but I can't figure out why (ii) is clear to you. Tell me what (i) might have looked like here?

For my part, I don't see plan A as a whole plan. It didn't have any players in it, just me and my own daydreaming. I was imagining what Lamentations play would be like the way sometimes people imagine what Sorcerer play will be like, and then come the moment, they're like, HOLY FUCK. I was imagining all wrong about this game. I don't know if I want this after all. Unless ... unless ... yes! HOLY FUCK.

In my daydreams about the game, I was in charge of the moral boundaries of the PCs' actions. I was in charge of deciding what's grotesque in our game and what's beautiful. In reality, so it turns out, I'm just - holy fuck - not in charge of that. That's the difference between plan A and plan B. I could have ditched out over it, but instead I'm embracing it and going forward enthusiastically. Is that the same as abandoning plan A and my own vision for the game? I don't think it is. I think it's my vision coming into startling, challenging, fruitful contact with the reality of the game.



Hmm, well,in terms of the negation of the negation, I'd suggest something else.  If the players had come up with a different idea of what is qrotesque and what is beautiful, then although it would have been different from your presumptions, it would still have operated in the same frame.  But instead, the jettisoned the very idea of the beautiful vs. grotesque completely in favour of a knowing, detached cynicism.  So the contradiction between you and the players didn't result in a refinement or negotiation or evolution or sharing of ideas about what you had originally envisioned, but the need to completely ditch all that stuff and find something new.

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

C. Edwards

Quote from: lumpley on October 14, 2011, 04:17:20 PM
C: You're right! I played D&D for (effectively) the first time in 2008.

That's cool. It's always nice to see how someone not steeped in a certain type of game or style of play approaches it.

Quote from: lumpley on October 14, 2011, 07:43:11 PM
In my daydreams about the game, I was in charge of the moral boundaries of the PCs' actions. I was in charge of deciding what's grotesque in our game and what's beautiful. In reality, so it turns out, I'm just - holy fuck - not in charge of that.

I keep considering this because I'm not seeing how you ever could be in charge of those things. You can present your vision of the game world and that, combined with what the players may know about the system being used, will help shape how the PCs view that world and act within it. So I'm thinking that I'm not actually understanding what you mean.

C. Edwards

Quote from: contracycle on October 15, 2011, 12:50:48 AM
But instead, they jettisoned the very idea of the beautiful vs. grotesque completely in favour of a knowing, detached cynicism.  So the contradiction between you and the players didn't result in a refinement or negotiation or evolution or sharing of ideas about what you had originally envisioned, but the need to completely ditch all that stuff and find something new.

I'm not so sure about that. I mean sure, they seem to be starting off cautiously, detached and cynical even. But as play proceeds, emotional investment builds, and new situations and crisis present themselves it becomes "okay, what about NOW!". Maybe the detached cynicism is reinforced, maybe it isn't. It seems to me that the whole point is that the players get to decide what their characters find beautiful or precious enough try and save when faced with blood-drenched, life-stealing horror. Some days you scramble away in a desperate attempt to save your own skin, other days something possesses you and you can't stand to leave another innocent person behind to face the darkness alone.

David Berg

Quote from: lumpley on October 14, 2011, 04:17:20 PMI don't think a simple instruction would do, no, and in fact that instruction might already be in the text. Simple instructions aren't game design.
Gotcha.  I didn't know whether or not there might be something in the design that would work in tandem with such an instruction to produce what you were going for.  I'll be curious to hear your eventual takeaways on the synergy between LotFP's rules and GM text.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


Hey so "grotesque and beautiful" is really doing it for me:

I thought I would be in charge of what's grotesque and what's beautiful, and what it means, in the game.

I thought that the PCs would be neutral in grotesque/beautiful terms, vulnerable to both the grotesquerie and the beauty that it'd be my job to introduce.

But Eppy created a character who is provocative in grotesque/beautiful terms, thereby making himself an active participant in the grotesque/beautiful game I thought I'd be playing by myself.

The game's rules backed Eppy (by default, but nevertheless): they made his provocative character just as competent and self-possessed as all the others, without warning Eppy that by crossing out of grotesque/beautiful neutrality he was crossing into MY territory.

His character wasn't and isn't a problem herself, but she revealed that Eppy wants to play the grotesque/beautiful game with me.

Is THAT a problem? Well, I hadn't expected it. I was startled!

Everybody with me now? More or less?

My choice at that moment was to (a) explicitly cut Eppy out of participation in the grotesque/beautiful game, forcing him to reimagine his rules-affirmed non-problematic character, to protect the play dynamic I'd imagined for myself in my private head; or (b) accept Eppy as a participant, accept that hey, we're playing the grotesque/beautiful game together, I'm not playing it by myself, and figure out what that'd mean for the play dynamic, and especially for my own prep going forward.

In the moment, I chose (b), but without having any clear idea what it would mean. I wasn't confident that anything could reconcile my vision with the reality of the game. I had this immediate hint about Vance, but it took me a couple of days to figure out that oh, Vance is what reconciles them. If I prep like I were Vance, instead of prepping like it were Dogs in the Vineyard, I'll still be introducing a ton of grotesque and a (smaller) ton of beauty, just as I hoped, but everyone will get to play the game with me.

Which is exactly what happened!

What I find most provocative, though, is this: in retrospect, of course Lamentations of the frickin' Flame Princess would want a solid dose of Vance. Of course it would! The fact that I arrived at Vance mid-setup instead of setting out with Vance in mind suggests to me that Lamentations' game design is a deeper, stronger channel than I took it for.



Can you define what exactly you mean when you say Vance?


Maybe. I can try.

By "Vance" I mean selfish NPCs who put their own personal comfort and convenience at the center of the moral world, and a moral world that doesn't systematically contradict them. That, in fact, doesn't have a moral center at all, but allows all interactions to run their course without comment.

So for an example, imagine a vampire-hag who comes into the children's bunkhouse at the new moon. Imagine the PCs waiting there to confront her, and unshuttering their lanterns when they hear her feeding.

In a straight-up horror game, I have her look up at them, mouth dripping gore, eyes scorching, hissing, full of hunger and hate and revealing something more deeply rotten in the world than just herself. She's caught out in her evil, so maybe she attacks, or flees, or laughs, or puts their lights out with her power, or changes form, or something, right?

In a Vance-esque game, I have her look up at them, mouth dripping gore, eyes scorching, and she hisses "put out your lights! They disturb my doings and I find your scrutiny offensive."

Her relationship with the moral world is different, and thus, the way I think of her and handle her as GM is different. Does this make sense at all? I'm really not confident that I can explain it.