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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Ben Lehman on July 15, 2004, 01:54:05 AM



Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Ben Lehman on July 15, 2004, 01:54:05 AM
Wait, what Matters again?
Or
The Extent of Sys
Or
"If you have a D&D game without orc-killing, is it Drift?"
Or
"No complete RPG will ever be made."

Jargon Alert: If you are not familiar with these terms as they are used in Forge discourse, go and look them up before reading this:
1) The lumpley Principle (I call it lP sometimes), which I wield like a fucking club all over this post.
2) Shared Imagined Space (which is my favoritest term ever)
3) Exploration
4) Exploration, components of (Situation, Setting, Color, blah, blah)
5) Credibility
6) Drift

Curse Alert: For some reason, I am particularly vulgar in this essay.

System does Matter.

What?

What matters?

Good question.

What the hell is this "System" anyway?

Well, for a lot of people, this is like art and porn -- they know it when they see it.  This is not a satisfactory definition to me and, I venture, should not be a satisfactory definition for anyone who gives a damn about discussing the theory of RPGs which is probably everyone reading this post since the god-damn forum is called "RPG Theory."  I mean fuck, people.  If you're not interested in RPG theory I can't exactly hold your fucking hand through this thing, can I?  Just go read your pansy "Actual Play" or suck it up, stay here with the theory wonks, and quitcherbitchin.

That intro was actually a little misleading -- I'm going to take my definition from the lumpley Principle (the only piece of role-playing theory so low-budget it can only afford one capital letter), so I already have a definition in hand.  But what I'm going to do is take a look at that and go "holy fuck, that's a hell of a lot bigger than I thought.  Like, fuck, man!  I gotta design all that shit?"  Or something.  Basically, what I am saying here is "the System" covers a huge range of stuff, only a small subset of which is ever talked about or even acknowledged by game texts.

So, okay.  Let's look at the l.P.
"The System is the means by which players negotiate the contents of their shared imagined space."

Right.

So what is it?  What's in there?  To find this, I'm going to "run the statement backwards" and say that "The means by which the players negotiate the contents of the shared imagined space is the System."  I realize that this is a different statement.  Call it the "lumpley Principle adjunct" or the "Little Timmy Principle" or, perhaps, the "'kiss my ass, you 'systemless rpg' players' principle."

Well, let's start with the obvious thing:  Mechanics.

What are mechanics?  Mechanics are things which say "If your roll of 17d7 is greater than or equal to the target number correlated from charts 2.5 to 6.4.1 inclusive, your character succeeds."  Or, "The character with the higher Warfare will, all things being equal, win any strategic or tactical situation."  Or, "when Virgo is ascendant, the leftmost player takes on the role of High Priestess, which means that she speaks for the Mother in all things, particularly to combat with axes, maces, and tangerines."  Essentially, mechanics are anything which resolves situations in the RPG through deliberate, particular means, often mathematical.  There's a hell of a lot of analysis of mechanics out there.  To some people, actually a lot of people, mechanics is all there is to system.  System and mechanics are the same thing.  This people are poorly informed assholes, fuckwits, and malcontents, not worthy to lick the dirt out of my toenails.  Or perhaps we just have different definitions of system.  Either/or.  

Are mechanics a part of system?  Well, duh.  Are they the whole shebang?  Not even fucking close.

How about setting?  A lot of gamers (including me) have this whole hang-up about setting/system differences.  A lot of people say that an RPG text is comprised of setting and system.  "So they're totally different, right?" asks Little Timmy.

Well, Little Timmy ("Don't call my little I am twenty-three") let's look at the lumpley Principle.  Hrm...  Can setting effect the contents of the shared imagined space?  Fuck yes!  Setting is the background of the shared imagined space.  In fact, I would say that, given the definition of system from the lP, setting is often a greater component of system than mechanics.  I mean, which has more weight on the actual play of the game "We are using the D&D mechanics" or "We are playing in the Forgotten Realms?"  Yeah.  Hard question, ain't it?

So Setting goes in the box.  Wait, does this mean that all setting-less game texts are fundamentally incomplete with regards to system.  Yes.  Fucking right.  Precisely so, Little Timmy.  Now take your medicine and get out of my face.

Okay, how about situation?  Marco talked about this a little bit with me recently, which is what set me off on this whole thing but, essentially, does the basic situation of the game effect the shared imagined space?  Or, as he (roughly), put it, "is it still D&D if you aren't killing orcs?"  I used to be a big opponent of the idea that sitch could be a part of system or, rather, I would talk about playing D&D *without drift* (by which I meant Mechanical Drift).

I was a fucking bonehead.  *I'm* not even fit to lick to dirt out of my own toenails.  Look, can situation be used, by a player, to make a statement about the shared imagined space?  Yes.  Of course.  If it can't, well, I don't know what it is.  It's like the situation has nothing to do with what's going on in the game?  Whatever.  It doesn't happen.

Okay, let's stop it with this piece-by-piece shit and just eat the whole pie like the fucking fat pigs we are:  What isn't System?  What, in the entire act of role-playing, is not a part of System, as it is defined by my god and saviour, Vincent "lumpley" Baker (whose principle I'm sure you are sick of hearing of, at this point)?

Out of game relationships (players sleeping with each other, or some such) -- System
Who ordered pizza?  -- most likely system.  I mean, you don't want to kill the guy who ordered the pizza in the first scene.  That's just low.
The emotional state of all the players?  -- System, definitely.  More important to System than mechanics, more'n likely.
That "Lucky twenty-sider" and the rituals that surround it? -- System, I think.  This is probably the furthest borderline case I can find.

I cannot imagine a single aspect of the act of role-playing that is not, in some regard, a part of System.  I can't even conceive of the possibility of their being such an element.  Please offer suggestions, if you can.

So, okay, what does that mean to designers?

Well, it is pretty fucking obvious that no game text can, will, or should present a totally complete system -- that is a game without players.  However, a lot of chunks of system (The GM-player relationship, say, or the little social rules that game groups carry with them) are carried from game to game totally unthinkingly, and that, I think, needs to change.  Essentially, for design, this means "look, by offering a 'role-playing system' you are, in fact, offering an incomplete item which will be interfaced with by the role-playing group to create a whole system, which will in turn be used to manipulate the particulars of their shared imagined space."

So, the question that I have is: What does it mean to include a certain system in a game text, in terms of effect on Actual Play?  What does it mean to leave it out?

yrs--
--Ben

P.S.  The first one who gets the "23 years old" reference gets a prize.  PM me or stick in a P.S.  And, yes, Google is cheating.

P.P.S.  Tip o' the hat to Mike Mearls for the "no complete RPG" bit.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: contracycle on July 15, 2004, 02:51:03 AM
Erm, yes and no.

Its true to say that I cannot create a complete system in the sense you appear to describe.  The actual physical game that actually happens is largely beyond my control.

But this is a restriction that applies to many things and is IMO implicit in the creation of any device for use by anyone other than the designer.  IMO this is Not An Issue; it was resolved by the identifiication that textual rules are only contributory elements to the social contract, which is the real mechanism governing the human interactions.

But being contributary elements, they do serve to inform the negotiation of that social contract and do bring the designer into the conversation at the table, as it were.  That is the purpose of system.  By analogy, I cannot perhaps construct a system that produces faultless justice; but I can propose a system of trial by jury if I think that this prior discussion of local social contract would be useful to the pursuit of justice.

System matters in that respect.  System is an overt implementation of social contract.

Now I have previously proposed that in essence, among players suitably familiar with the form and process of RPG, no real 'RPG product' purchase is necessary at all.  They could just pick up a book, and refer to that book as if it were the RPG world.  With any of a number of generic or favoured system, they could have some sort of game.

So in that sense one might indeed say system is not very necessary at all.  But we do think system is necessary - and I believe we think this becuase it frames our interactions with the SIS.  We resolve conflicts, and thus determine what enters the SIS, for example.  And that is why IMO particular system matters even when system in abstract falls away into the nebulous social contract.  Any actual implementation of a particular system gives instructions to players: you do this after that after the other for such a goal.  Actual human behaviour - sure pretty unimportant, but still actual - is being governed to an extent by the designer and the design, exactly as it might be in a beauracracy or engineering system.


Title: Re: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Paganini on July 15, 2004, 04:00:35 AM
I just want to point out one of those aspects of the lP that seems obvious, but that will be news to a lot of traditional-style RPG designers. Yeah, "mechanics" and "system" are not synonyms here. Mechanics may be a big part of system, but they're not the *entirity* of system.

Turn that around, though, and think about this: not all rules / mechanics are part of the system. A lot of times, especially in home-brew games, you'll see mechanics tacked on that, maybe, the designer liked in some other game, but didn't really understand the point of - with the net effect that the mechanic actually does nothing at all in terms of System. It's just kind of *there,* fogging up the works, but when you really look at it, it doesn't go anywhere.

But, to answer your question, what you're doing when you write a system is informing the players about your vision of play. What you leave out, they will be forced to make up on their own. If their personalities are incompatible with making up that particular stuff, then they will want to play a game.

A lot of people don't want to play freeform... but they will play "The Window," which is functionally equivalent to Freeform, AFAIAC.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Marco on July 15, 2004, 05:33:29 AM
Ben,

If setting, situation, and mechanics are the same thing in terms of system (and I'm not arguing they aren't--it's a fine way to look at it) then making up a new town is the same thing as adding critical hits to the damage system. You can argue that one's more effort than the other but the harder one is probably the town if it's detailed.

That would make drift as related to the utility of a game in terms of coherence very shaky since in practice one must make characters and situationa and setting in order to play (traditionally) anyway.

-Marco


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Kesher on July 15, 2004, 08:21:27 AM
Quote
Out of game relationships (players sleeping with each other, or some such) -- System
Who ordered pizza?  -- most likely system.  I mean, you don't want to kill the guy who ordered the pizza in the first scene.  That's just low.
The emotional state of all the players?  -- System, definitely.  More important to System than mechanics, more'n likely.
That "Lucky twenty-sider" and the rituals that surround it? -- System, I think.  This is probably the furthest borderline case I can find.


It seems to me that Vincent approaches some of this in the Theory section of the lumpley games website (Burning Down the Firewall):

http://www.septemberquestion.org/lumpley/hardcore.html

I actually got really excited when I read this, because it seemed so (blindsidingly) commonsensical.  And Ben, I don't see the "lucky 20-sider" as borderline in this consideration at all.  

I think that explicitly addressing what goes on, realistically, dynamically when people are in-the-act-of-gaming, as part of the overall system is a powerful design question.  How does the game require players to behave while playing?  What happens to the game if they don't behave that way, & should it then be considered drift?

I never had any interest in playing Wraith (though a friend of mine was always bugging me to do so) because I didn't care to adopt the mindset or around-the-table-behaviors the "system" (in Ben's larger sense) seemed to demand.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: John Kim on July 15, 2004, 09:27:56 AM
Quote from: Marco
  If setting, situation, and mechanics are the same thing in terms of system (and I'm not arguing they aren't--it's a fine way to look at it) then making up a new town is the same thing as adding critical hits to the damage system. You can argue that one's more effort than the other but the harder one is probably the town if it's detailed.

That would make drift as related to the utility of a game in terms of coherence very shaky since in practice one must make characters and situationa and setting in order to play (traditionally) anyway.  

Yeah.  I remember having touched on this before, but I can't remember the threads.  There are tons of games which specify setting.  I would say using Lord of the Rings or Skyrealms of Jorune for a different setting is a far more major change to system than, say, ignoring alignment rules.  There are a few games which specify character, like Timelord (1991) or Run Out the Guns (1998).  There are also a few which specify situation -- i.e. scenario-based games like the Sandman series (1985) or Pokemon Jr (1999).  

So here's the big question.  So creating new characters in Timelord is a change to the system, just as much so as changing the resolution mechanics.  But we commonly think that, say, creating a setting for The Pool is not a change to system.  But that seems to make them unequal.  A problem with "incoherence" as a design criteria is that the less that you specify with a game, the less likely that parts will clash.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: lumpley on July 15, 2004, 09:47:16 AM
Ben, can I introduce something?  I think it may be helpful.

There are three things your System has to coordinate.  ("System" in the full implications of the lumpy piddle sense: the on-the-fly fully-negotiated mercurial real-people's-moods-and-habits process that you're using to negotiate what happens.)

It has to coordinate:
A) the wholly imaginary things and events in the "game world";
B) real-world abstractions and representations of those things and events: maps, numbers, dice, "hit points," etc.
C) the interactions of the actual human beings.

For instance, a rule like "whoever rolls higher on the attack roll inflicts damage on the defender" operates only on B and C: it expects the human beings to interact to manipulate some "attack roll" and "hit points" at the representation level.  Add to the rule "... and describe the change in the fighters' circumstances" and you bring in A: now it expects the human beings to make changes to the imaginary stuff, not just the abstractions.  Or add to the rule "... but first give the fighters bonuses to their attack rolls depending on their circumstances" brings A in too, in a slightly different way.  The former: changes to A (the fictional circumstances) depend on what happens with B (the representations).  The latter: what happens with B changes depending on details of A.  Both together: A informs B, B informs A.  In all cases: ...according to the direct and active attention of C, the players.

You can imagine rules where A's informing of B is left to the subjective interpretation of C ("... but first the GM gives the fighters whatever bonuses seem called for").  You can imagine rules where A's informing of B is cut and dried ("... and any fighter whose lover is watching the fight gets +3 to the attack roll").  You can imagine rules where, instead, B informs B ("... and the fighter with the higher number written next to 'Fighting' gets +3 to the attack roll").

You can imagine rules that coordinate only A and C ("only Bob is allowed to introduce NPCs," "give Bob's character something to do so he doesn't go play video games") or act only at C ("go along with Bob, he's had a rough day") as well.  Lots of play happens like this.  Freeform play is easy to understand in this light.

So: now we ought to be able to talk about the real differences between 1) creating a town, 2) the town itself, 3) getting your group's assent to the town, 4) creating a critical hits table, 5) the critical hits table itself, and 6) getting your group's assent to the table, plus 7) proposing a change to the in-game Sitch (like "I hit him"), 8) the change itself, and 9) getting your group's assent to it.

We ought to be able to look critically at a particular set of rules' coordination of the three levels.  Are there holes?  Contradictions?  Unsupported assertions?  Wrong guesses?  Backfires? According to the rules, who gets to say what about what? and what are the group's interests when they do so?

And then we ought to be able to look critically at the rules in actual play.  Are they easy to follow?  (Did we even follow them?)  Are they fun, satisfying, challenging, surprising?  How do they flex under pressure from various social dynamics?  How do they divert or transform various social dynamics?  As it actually happened, who got to say what about what? and did it serve the group's interests when they did so? and was it what the game text promised?

(Marco, John, there's a difference between Drift and by-the-rules customization.  Establishing a definition of Humanity in Sorcerer, for instance, or creating characters for most games, or choosing a Setting for the Pool, is customization, not Drift.  The vast majority of making towns, establishing situations, not killing orcs, that kind of stuff, similarly.  What's Drift and what's customization will vary tremendously from ruleset to ruleset.  It seems so basic to me that I wonder why it's even a question.)

-Vincent


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Bankuei on July 15, 2004, 11:55:33 AM
Hi Ben,

I with you all the way except "System defines out of game situations"...  Try, Social Contract defines everything, including System.  System is everything specific to the game, and Social Contract is everything with everybody, including the game.

The lumpley Principle defines System by going above it.

thoughts?

Chris


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: efindel on July 15, 2004, 12:53:13 PM
I have to disagree with Setting coming under System here.  The lP states that "System is the means by which players negotiate the contents of their shared imagined space."

Setting is part of the contents -- but Setting in and of itself is not a means.  It is among the objects being manipulated.  Statements about the shared imaginative space are also not System -- they are not negotiating anything, they are simply stating a point of view about what's there.

So, going by this... the situation is a part of the shared imaginative space -- but it is not System.  The methods by which situation is decided, and the methods by which it affects other things -- those are System, but the situation itself is not.

The fact that, say, a town exists in the setting is not System -- but the general social contract rule of "we do not contradict established fact about the setting" -- that is System.  (Note, though, that it is by no means required -- e.g., in a game which takes place in dreams, contradicting established fact may be explicitly allowed.  It's nothing unusual to have a dream which starts in one place, but that suddenly turns into a completely different place halfway through, or to start with one person there with you, then have that turn into someone else, or disappear.)

Finally, to bring in an analogy (bad idea, I know...), System is a set of functions.  The inputs to those functions are not necessarily System, and the outputs are not necessarily System (though they may form objects for other System functions to work on)... System is the things that are done with those inputs to produce those outputs.  Something like the players' current emtional state, to me, is an input -- it is not System in and of itself, but it is something which may affect what the System does.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: John Harper on July 15, 2004, 01:16:26 PM
I gotta agree with efindel. Ben's first conclusion just doesn't work for me. I mean this bit:
Quote
I cannot imagine a single aspect of the act of role-playing that is not, in some regard, a part of System.

This makes "system" mean "everything" and reduces the value of the term to zero as far as I can tell.

Setting and Sitation are not part of System. There are two parts to the lumpley principle: The System is the means by which players negotiate the contents of their shared imagined space. Emphasis mine. The two parts are System and SIS. One is acting on the other. Setting and Situation are part of the SIS. The means by which the SIS is established... that's system.

Attempting to converge these two into one big uber-definition of "system" seems to reduce the LP to this: "The System is the means by which players negotiate the contents of their System." Wha? System-as-process makes sense to me. System-as-entire-act-of-roleplaying does not.

My lucky 20-sider is not process. The gaming table is not process. My emotional state is not process. All of those things can affect the process, to be sure, but they are not the process itself. Let's not confuse the hammer and the boards for the act of nailing the boards together.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: John Kim on July 15, 2004, 04:27:23 PM
Quote from: John Harper
  This makes "system" mean "everything" and reduces the value of the term to zero as far as I can tell.

Setting and Sitation are not part of System. There are two parts to the lumpley principle: The System is the means by which players negotiate the contents of their shared imagined space. Emphasis mine. The two parts are System and SIS. One is acting on the other. Setting and Situation are part of the SIS. The means by which the SIS is established... that's system.  

In practice, though, this is a very fuzzy line to draw.  Most written RPG rules generally include things in the Shared Imaginary Space.  i.e. A rule might be "Fire Giants are immune to fire".  This is a written game rule, and it can be used to arbitrate disputes, but it is also a part of the Shared Imaginary Space.  As another example, try to separate out the Amber DRPG magic rules from magic in the Amber setting.  

So let's take an action.  i.e. A player says "I cast a fire bolt at the giant."  OK, so now the GM refers to the description in the rulebook.  He sees the sentence which says they are immune.  The GM says "It has no effect."  Let's suppose the player is a little irritable that day and says "What the heck?  It should damage him."  The GM then cites the rulebook, the player agrees, and they move on.  

Now, on the one hand, you can say that the system is not in the rules at all.  It is the process.  i.e. The system is "The GM and player talk and agree on what happens" -- while "Fire Giants are immune to fire" is just part of the Setting.  But this means that all or nearly all of system just reduces down to the participants agreeing.  

Quote from: lumpley
  (Marco, John, there's a difference between Drift and by-the-rules customization.  Establishing a definition of Humanity in Sorcerer, for instance, or creating characters for most games, or choosing a Setting for the Pool, is customization, not Drift.  The vast majority of making towns, establishing situations, not killing orcs, that kind of stuff, similarly.  What's Drift and what's customization will vary tremendously from ruleset to ruleset.  It seems so basic to me that I wonder why it's even a question.)  

Right, that's what I was trying to say (although apparently not well).  The exact same thing (i.e. designing a setting, for example), which is "Drift" for one system, is "customization" for another system.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: John Harper on July 15, 2004, 04:45:09 PM
Hmmm. I see where you're coming from, John. Based on the way I understand the term "System", this is what I make of your example.

"Fire Giants are immune to fire" is a quality that Fire Giants have. Therefore, it's part of the Setting, which in turn is part of the SIS that the group is negotiating from moment to moment.

The player says "I cast a fire bolt at the giant." Now System steps in. How do we determine what happens in the SIS now? According to your example, the system in place seems to be "The GM should look at the qualities of the target and see if it is immune to the attack. If so, the attack has no effect." In the example, the GM exercises this bit of system, and adjusts the SIS accordingly: "The bolt has no effect."

System is the process by which the GM made the judgement about immunities and their effects in play. If the player complains, simply pointing at the entry in the rulebook isn't quite sufficient. The book says Fire Giants are immune to fire. So what? The book isn't playing the game. The GM has to engage System in order to get this element of Setting into the SIS.

Now, this example is less than ideal, becase the bit of System that gets used is something that is almost always unspoken in play and is almost never mentioned in the rules. D&D3E is the only game I can think of off-hand that bothers to actually have a written rule explaining what an immunity is and how it impacts play. For most groups this would just be "common sense."

Nevertheless, choosing to apply a bit of Setting to a particular moment of play and how to apply it and why and who gets to say what... that's System. The Fire Giant's quality is used by the System but it is not the System itself.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Marco on July 15, 2004, 04:59:24 PM
Quote from: lumpley
(Marco, John, there's a difference between Drift and by-the-rules customization.  Establishing a definition of Humanity in Sorcerer, for instance, or creating characters for most games, or choosing a Setting for the Pool, is customization, not Drift.  The vast majority of making towns, establishing situations, not killing orcs, that kind of stuff, similarly.  What's Drift and what's customization will vary tremendously from ruleset to ruleset.  It seems so basic to me that I wonder why it's even a question.)

-Vincent


I wouldn't consider choosing humanity Drift. That is pretty basic. But if I construct a town so there's none of element 'X' in the game and element 'X' is something that's mentioned in the rules is that Drift? Is it Drift if I play TRoS without a lot of attention given to Flaws?

Where does one draw the line?

Recently Ron says:
Quote

Easy #1. Maybe your group did Drift some. Is that so hard to imagine? If you and your group are very good at CA-Y, then you can get there by maximizing what the game can offer along those lines, no matter how meager, even if you still apply the other (bulk) of the text.

That seems like he's saying some types of "by-the-book play" are in fact drift if the book doesn't specifically say what to emphasize or lessen.

-Marco


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: efindel on July 15, 2004, 06:06:43 PM
Quote from: John Kim

So let's take an action. i.e. A player says "I cast a fire bolt at the giant." OK, so now the GM refers to the description in the rulebook. He sees the sentence which says they are immune. The GM says "It has no effect." Let's suppose the player is a little irritable that day and says "What the heck? It should damage him." The GM then cites the rulebook, the player agrees, and they move on.
 
 Now, on the one hand, you can say that the system is not in the rules at all. It is the process. i.e. The system is "The GM and player talk and agree on what happens" -- while "Fire Giants are immune to fire" is just part of the Setting. But this means that all or nearly all of system just reduces down to the participants agreeing.


A note here -- D&D 3 uses the phrase "immune to" many times... but doesn't really define what that means.  It's generally interpreted as meaning "is not affected by".

However... that's not the only possible interpretation, and other games have Systems which give other interpretations.  For example, the old Advanced Marvel Superheroes RPG stated that "immune to X" meant that the character/being/whatever had "class 1000" resistance to that thing... and thus, for example, something that was "immune to fire" could still be burnt -- it just took the heat of a sun's heart or something similar to do it.

Mutants & Masterminds also formally defines "immune to",with its "Immunity" feat -- there, it's defined to mean that the thing in question cannot be harmed by the condition in question and automatically makes saving throws or ability checks against it... but actual attacks based on the thing in question still can hurt the thing, but can only cause Stun damage, not Lethal.

Lastly, one complaint often leveled against the Hero System is that there is no simple, clean way to model "X is immune to fire" (or cold, or electricity...) in it.  Any "immunity to fire" would have to be defined in System terms as something like some large number of points of Energy Defense with a Limitation of "only versus fire" (or Damage Reduction only versus fire coupled with ED only versus fire, or there are other alternative builds).  The exact System effect of "immune to fire" would depend on how you built it.

Thus, in each of these four games, the Setting fact "fire giants are immune to fire" would mean different things -- because of the three different Systems.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: M. J. Young on July 15, 2004, 07:35:57 PM
Dang, Ben. To quote an excellent movie, "Now you walk into a bar, and sailors come running out."

This idea seems to have popped up everywhere today. I'll call your attention to my reply to Sean's thread Setting as Part of System, and say see that for why I think that's correct, and perhaps more helpfully in what sense that is correct.
Quote from: John Kim
So here's the big question.  So creating new characters in Timelord is a change to the system, just as much so as changing the resolution mechanics.  But we commonly think that, say, creating a setting for The Pool is not a change to system.  But that seems to make them unequal.  A problem with "incoherence" as a design criteria is that the less that you specify with a game, the less likely that parts will clash.

Sort of. That is, that is correct as far as it goes, but it misses the other side. At some point you create the potential for incoherence by failing to provide sufficient information to inform play.

Incoherent design means design that fosters incoherent play. In complex design, this most commonly happens because rules prove to be contradictory in what they encourage, and players develop their groups' systems based on which rules fit their expectations for the game. If players in the same group have different expectations based on emphasizing and deemphasizing different rules in the text, incoherence results from the conflicts in those expectations.

It is less common but just as plausible for incoherence to result from a failure to provide sufficient information to inform play. If after reading the rules I don't actually know what it is you expect of a game, and the rules as writ are insufficient to cause that to occur if I follow them, then I'm going to start "filling in the gaps" with what "I think" the designer intended. This, too, can create incoherence, if in the absence of sufficient directive we have different ideas of what the designer intended, and in structuring what we think was intended we create conflicting systems from the same minimalist rules.

Rules heavy systems, detailed and expansive packages, don't necessarily lead to incoherence, as long as that which is provided works together correctly. Rules light systems and systems without setting don't necessarily lead to incoherence as long as there is sufficient guidance to point to the way the game is played. I hope Multiverser is an example of success in the former category; I think Universalis is a success in the latter.

--M. J. Young


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: M. J. Young on July 15, 2004, 07:39:36 PM
Quote from: efindel
Thus, in each of these four games, the Setting fact "fire giants are immune to fire" would mean different things -- because of the three different Systems.

I meant to include this in the other post, and overlooked it. I'd offer Multiverser as another approach. Under its rules, an immunity is a skill, and has to be rolled like any other skill. If it is successful, the target takes no damage from a successful attack. If it is failed, the damage is normal, although there might also be resistances (another skill to roll, generally reduce damage rather than eliminate it) or other defenses.

This is done this way so that the bias of the world can impact whether the immunity still works, and how effectively.

--M. J. Young


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Ben Lehman on July 15, 2004, 09:55:59 PM
Quote from: Marco
If setting, situation, and mechanics are the same thing in terms of system (and I'm not arguing they aren't--it's a fine way to look at it) then making up a new town is the same thing as adding critical hits to the damage system. You can argue that one's more effort than the other but the harder one is probably the town if it's detailed.

That would make drift as related to the utility of a game in terms of coherence very shaky since in practice one must make characters and situationa and setting in order to play (traditionally) anyway.


BL>  Well, some games have Situation totally built into the text.  And not just wierd hippy games.  You could argue that the Sitch of D&D is more important to the game than the mechanics (I don't know if this is true but, you know, its close.)  The Sitch of an Amber Throne War is way more important to the game than the mechanics.  Character and setting can likewise be built in.  John Wick made a living for a long time selling Setting and Color as "system."

Also, I'm not saying that sitch and setting and mechanics and meta-game social constructs are all the same thing.  No no no no.  They can all be used for the same purpose -- manipulating the shared imagined space -- but they aren't the same tools.  It's like: you need wood and nails and roof tiles and union laborers to build a house, but they aren't all the same thing.  They're just all "house-building tools."  Which is what I mean by "system" here.

Just to recap:  I am not saying that all these things are the same thing.  I am saying that they are all a part of a big thing called "system."

Further, I would propose that, given the incompleteness thereom that I demonstrated above, no game text ever offers a complete system and thus (whoa, this blows my mind) every game is somewhat drifted.

Whoa.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Ben Lehman on July 15, 2004, 10:15:43 PM
Quote from: Paganini

Turn that around, though, and think about this: not all rules / mechanics are part of the system. A lot of times, especially in home-brew games, you'll see mechanics tacked on that, maybe, the designer liked in some other game, but didn't really understand the point of - with the net effect that the mechanic actually does nothing at all in terms of System. It's just kind of *there,* fogging up the works, but when you really look at it, it doesn't go anywhere.


BL>  Whoa.  That's interesting.  Can you give me a concrete example here?

Quote from: lumpley


There are three things your System has to coordinate. ("System" in the full implications of the lumpy piddle sense: the on-the-fly fully-negotiated mercurial real-people's-moods-and-habits process that you're using to negotiate what happens.)

It has to coordinate:
A) the wholly imaginary things and events in the "game world";
B) real-world abstractions and representations of those things and events: maps, numbers, dice, "hit points," etc.
C) the interactions of the actual human beings.


BL>  I agree with this, but have nothing meaningful to add to it.  Rock.

Quote from: Bankuei

I with you all the way except "System defines out of game situations"... Try, Social Contract defines everything, including System. System is everything specific to the game, and Social Contract is everything with everybody, including the game.


BL>  Did I say "system defines out of game situations?"  I don't think I did.  I didn't mean to say it.  What I mean to say was "out of game situation is a subset of system, which is to say that the out of game situation contributes to the contents and character of the SIS."

Cool?

Quote from: efindel


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
I have to disagree with Setting coming under System here. The lP states that "System is the means by which players negotiate the contents of their shared imagined space."

Setting is part of the contents -- but Setting in and of itself is not a means. It is among the objects being manipulated. Statements about the shared imaginative space are also not System -- they are not negotiating anything, they are simply stating a point of view about what's there.

So, going by this... the situation is a part of the shared imaginative space -- but it is not System. The methods by which situation is decided, and the methods by which it affects other things -- those are System, but the situation itself is not.

The fact that, say, a town exists in the setting is not System -- but the general social contract rule of "we do not contradict established fact about the setting" -- that is System.


BL>  Okay, but I really think that this is a distinction without a difference.  Check this out:

"I grab him by the head and throw him out the window."
"Dude, you can't do that.  Oroogs have no heads."
"Oh, oops."

In this case, I think its pretty clear that a piece of setting information (the headless monster type) is informing the negotiation of the SIS.  I mean, you could say that there is this rule that "we don't violate setting traits," but I think it amounts to the same thing, in practice, and that every game has that rule, more or less.  (I disagree with you about the dream thing -- that just means that "dream logic" is a setting trait.)

Quote from: John Harper

My lucky 20-sider is not process. The gaming table is not process. My emotional state is not process. All of those things can affect the process, to be sure, but they are not the process itself. Let's not confuse the hammer and the boards for the act of nailing the boards together.


BL>  Yes, but "system" is not a verb (at least not in any reasonable context.)  System is not a process.  It is a means.  Big difference.

Let me just take your "not a process" to its final extent: "My skill of +10 Hide is not a process.  The ability to cast spells is not a process."  Point is this: none of these things are process.  The process is negotiation.  System is a set of constructs that are constructs that are used in process.

In general, I am totally confused by you and John Kim here.  You're point is that, say "Fire Giants are immune to fire" is not system?  What is it, then?  How about "Fire Giants soak the first 25 points of fire damage in a round?"  Is that system?

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: John Kim on July 15, 2004, 11:44:06 PM
Quote from: Ben Lehman
  In general, I am totally confused by you and John Kim here.  You're point is that, say "Fire Giants are immune to fire" is not system?  What is it, then?  How about "Fire Giants soak the first 25 points of fire damage in a round?"  Is that system?  

Speaking for myself, I am in complete agreement with everything that you just wrote.  My Fire Giant example was intended to convey the same point as your headless Oroog example.  i.e. fire immunity is a part of system, just as Oroogs having no heads is part of system.  This is a defined part of the game that will influence the outcome of events and thus determine what happens in the Shared Imaginary Space (SIS).


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: contracycle on July 16, 2004, 01:29:13 AM
Quote from: John Harper

System is the process by which the GM made the judgement about immunities and their effects in play. If the player complains, simply pointing at the entry in the rulebook isn't quite sufficient. The book says Fire Giants are immune to fire. So what? The book isn't playing the game. The GM has to engage System in order to get this element of Setting into the SIS.


Yes.  But that system may be no more than the statements that a) this RPG has a GM and b) the GM gets to read the Restricted sections and c) the GM is empowered to rule from these sections.  In most games, players have explicitly or implicitly agreed to these terms in order to sit down to play in the first place.  The system apportions credibility to the GM to make this intervention.

Setting and the SIS are not identical entities.  A change to the SIS that originates from Setting.  But:

Ben wrote:
Quote
In general, I am totally confused by you and John Kim here. You're point is that, say "Fire Giants are immune to fire" is not system? What is it, then? How about "Fire Giants soak the first 25 points of fire damage in a round?" Is that system?


The concern I imagine is that there is manifestly nothing to prevent a given resolution mechanism to another setting.  In another setting, the rule may be innapripriate or nonsensical; how then can this 'rule' be said to be a component of system?

It seems to me this view depends on the semantic conflation of all of system in the abstract.  System is a subset of social contract; so is setting.  Setting and the actual resolution mechanisms are both negotiated by players prior to play (usually), i.e. they usually agree to play a certain way in a certain place; they are both elements of abstract system.  This is not the same as saying that setting is the same as MECHANISM.

Now to the scenario in which a new location is added to the setting; is this the same as an alteration to mechanism?  IMO, no.  But it can be said to be an alteration to system IMO in the following way:  What if the new place we introduce is for example Ravenloft?  Introducing setting elements can indeed completely change the game being played; can actually be change the game to one to which the players did not consent.  That at least is a risk posed by the unilateral introduction of setting elements.  Similarly, I could introduce a rule to the mechanisms that completely undermined the coherence or intent of those mechanisms.

Setting and mechanism can conflict; they should support one another.  That is one way in which system, in the mechanistic sense, can and does matter.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Ben Lehman on July 16, 2004, 01:40:31 AM
Okay, everyone, but contracycle specifically.  Let's make some distinctions for the remainder of this thread between:

1) Total System (anything that can be used to define, create, manipulate, change or address the SIS.)

2) Textual System (all systematic elements, including setting, sitch, etc, introduced by a game text.)

3) Mechanical System (the mechanical rules of the game, a subset of 1, and possibly merely a subset of 2.)

contracycle, I can't tell which of the above three you are talking about in your last post.  I could make a guess, but let's clarify before we go off on a:
"Apples are red!"
"No, Oranges are orange!"
argument, because that just goes nowhere.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: MR. Analytical on July 16, 2004, 01:55:11 AM
Over and above the excellent points made about what LS actually says do we not think that this is just definitional drift of the kind that gets the Forge a bad name?

Setting and System are 2 clear and distinct entities as understood by all gamers.  What Ben is proposing is that they're actually part of one larger category namely system.  As Marco pointed out that creating a town is now the same kind of activity as writinga new critical hit system.

To me that's counter-intuitive.  The meanings of terms are fixed by use not by theoretical convenience and when one says "system" one doesn't mean setting.  

If anything if the LS DID entail this about system then it striked me that Ben's discovered not a fact about system but a reductio of the LS giving grounds for rejecting or modifying it.

but yeah... the argument strikes me as:

system influences SIS
setting influences SIS
therefore, setting and system are the same thing.

Social contract also influences SIS, should we say that "system" now includes social contract?

To my mind analysis is dependent upon small categories clearly defined.  This ain't it :-)

If you DID want to move in this direction then there might be something to say for creating a larger umbrella term that includes setting and system and all the things that influence SIS (including social contract) but I think this just muddies the water for no theoretical payoff.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Ben Lehman on July 16, 2004, 02:13:07 AM
Quote from: MR. Analytical
Over and above the excellent points made about what LS actually says do we not think that this is just definitional drift of the kind that gets the Forge a bad name?

Setting and System are 2 clear and distinct entities as understood by all gamers.  What Ben is proposing is that they're actually part of one larger category namely system.  As Marco pointed out that creating a town is now the same kind of activity as writinga new critical hit system.

To me that's counter-intuitive.  The meanings of terms are fixed by use not by theoretical convenience and when one says "system" one doesn't mean setting.  


BL>  That's fine.  Let it be counter-intuitive to you.  Right now I'm tossing out ideas, trying to do analysis and arrive at some sort of meaning.  Lets dicker over terms later, shall we?

Quote

If anything if the LS DID entail this about system then it striked me that Ben's discovered not a fact about system but a reductio of the LS giving grounds for rejecting or modifying it.

but yeah... the argument strikes me as:

system influences SIS
setting influences SIS
therefore, setting and system are the same thing.


BL>  Apropos of my most recent post post, this makes very little sense to me, and I'm going to operate on the assumption that, by "system," you mean "mechanics."

In that case, you have my argument entirely wrong.  Entirely and completely.  Go back and actually read the post, taking the "system = mechanics" assumption and tossing it out the window, using instead my "system is a means by which the shared imagined space if changed" definition.  Clear now?  Notice that nowhere do I say that Mechanics and Setting are coequivalent, rather that they are both parts of the larger entity called System.

Mechanics and setting are two of many (perhaps five or six?) tools which can be used to influence the shared imagined space.  Since "tools which can be used to influence the shared imagined space" is the local definition of "system" (hey, see that Jargon Alert?  Yeah...) it seemed to me more convenient.

Quote

Social contract also influences SIS, should we say that "system" now includes social contract?


BL>  Totally.  Not only that, I *do* say that in the first post.

Quote

To my mind analysis is dependent upon small categories clearly defined.  This ain't it :-)


BL>  Depends on the type of analysis now, doesn't it?  Mathematics and hard sciences (my background) are pretty dependent on larger classifications.  Honestly, so is literature.  And most social crit.  And really, well, everything.  I wouldn't light into you for this, but its a big misunderstanding about academic analysis that a lot of armchair theoreticians have, and it bugs the fuck out of me.


yrs--
--Ben


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: contracycle on July 16, 2004, 02:37:08 AM
Mr. Analytical, I did have qualms that by specifying the term mechanism I was duplicating exactly what the term system had started out describing.
That may or may not be a clarification that needs to be preserved; I'm not sure that it should.

Ben:
I'm suggesting that the conflation of 3 and 1 is semantic.  Marco is correct to say that introducing setting elements CAN be equivalent to number 3; but it is not correct to conclude that they MUST be.

That is, I can't really claim to be plying MERP if I change the setting to the Forgotten Realms, but I can claim to be using the MERP resolution mechanism. My actual game is now a different beast that merely uses the MERP mechanisms.  But this could be fatal if some element of MERP rules depended on assumptions implicit in Middle Earth.  The degree of change I would have to impose would approximate a homebrew system.

And yet all of this completely different to simply ariving at some small town that had not explicitly existed before.  We seem to be more interested in deducing the function from the category instead of the category from the function.

Some elements of setting are organic to the game in the broad, the specific SIS which will be constructed at the table.  Fire giants in a Norse mythology RPG may be very different to fire giants in a D&D-esque game and fulfill very different functions.  The former may be an expression of the settings metaphysical truths, the latter is a monster to slay.  You can't switch these setting elements without making a big change to the game.

IMO this feature is most often seen in magic systems; hence my dictum that you must decide on the metaphysics of your setting before you construct your magical mechanism. The failure to do so is what renders magic analogous to technology in most RPG's.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Ben Lehman on July 16, 2004, 03:14:43 AM
Quote from: contracycle

Ben:
I'm suggesting that the conflation of 3 and 1 is semantic.  Marco is correct to say that introducing setting elements CAN be equivalent to number 3; but it is not correct to conclude that they MUST be.


BL>  Okay, can I please ask that bitching about terms be delayed until we have hashed out whether we have actual, real disagreements of substance?  I am happy to use a term other than system for what I am describing but, frankly, I don't think its apropos to the actual god-damn point.

Can we please use my terms for the duration of this thread and stop talking about this now?

Quote

That is, I can't really claim to be plying MERP if I change the setting to the Forgotten Realms, but I can claim to be using the MERP resolution mechanism. My actual game is now a different beast that merely uses the MERP mechanisms.  But this could be fatal if some element of MERP rules depended on assumptions implicit in Middle Earth.  The degree of change I would have to impose would approximate a homebrew system.

And yet all of this completely different to simply ariving at some small town that had not explicitly existed before.  We seem to be more interested in deducing the function from the category instead of the category from the function.


BL>  Okay, I totally fail to see how the existence of a small town is effectively different from "fire giants are immune to fire."  Say you introduce this small town (okay, now a part of the setting) and then the GM later says "okay, you travel through the woods for four days without seeing civilization..." and you can totally say "dude, there was, like, a small town there last time!"  And the GM has to deal with that fact one way or another.

Okay, so we just negotiated the contents of the shared imagined space using a small town.  Sweet!

Let me put it more broadly:  Every element (town, character, etc) of the setting can be used for an assertation of its own existence, at least and, in that regard, can be considered a part of system (as defined for the purposes of this thread, thanks very much).

BTW: Do you have objections to things other than setting (like, say, who paid for pizza) being a part of the system, by the way?  Or is it just the setting that bugs ya?

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: contracycle on July 16, 2004, 03:25:28 AM
Quote from: Ben Lehman

Can we please use my terms for the duration of this thread and stop talking about this now?


If you like.  Although I did nearly include the claim that this problem was purely one of insufficiently rigorous use of jargon IMO and I'm not sure much will be gained from it in that context.  But soldiering on:

Quote

Okay, I totally fail to see how the existence of a small town is effectively different from "fire giants are immune to fire."  Say you introduce this small town (okay, now a part of the setting) and then the GM later says "okay, you travel through the woods for four days without seeing civilization..." and you can totally say "dude, there was, like, a small town there last time!"  And the GM has to deal with that fact one way or another.


Yes fair enough.  The GM has to deal with it in some way.  This is not NECESSARILY going to have any impact on the agreements people entered into in order to play is the only point I'm making.

Quote

Okay, so we just negotiated the contents of the shared imagined space using a small town.  Sweet!


No we didn't.  We negotiated the SIS using language and suasion; the town was the subject of conflict.

Quote

BTW: Do you have objections to things other than setting (like, say, who paid for pizza) being a part of the system, by the way?  Or is it just the setting that bugs ya?


As I tried to point out, incorporating setting into system does not bug me at all; in fact I'm a proponent of the idea.  Who paid for pizza can  certainly be a part of the social contract, and thus a part of system in the broad.  All I'm trying to point out is that the significance of setting elements differs, and hence the significance of changing them differs.  It CAN be that a change to setting makes in effect for a different game, but not every change to setting carries this potential.

Edit: Hamlet can be Hamlet whether the personal weapons in the specific productions are rapiers or phasers, but Hamlet can't be Hamlet without the general situation and setting.  Shakespearean playes are often set out of period, and these changes make little to no difference to the execution of the narrative.  But some care has to be applied; in a recent production of Henry V, set in a modern period, Henry gives a dramatic speech that should have been delivered to a large crowd in a big voice, but was actually delivered to small group huddled behind cover.  This completely spoiled the pacing and tone of the speech, IMO.

The point again is: there are  changes and ther are changes.  Not all setting elements are created equal.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: efindel on July 16, 2004, 04:25:52 AM
Quote from: Ben Lehman
Okay, but I really think that this is a distinction without a difference. Check this out:
 
 "I grab him by the head and throw him out the window."
 "Dude, you can't do that. Oroogs have no heads."
 "Oh, oops."
 
 In this case, I think its pretty clear that a piece of setting information (the headless monster type) is informing the negotiation of the SIS. I mean, you could say that there is this rule that "we don't violate setting traits," but I think it amounts to the same thing, in practice, and that every game has that rule, more or less. (I disagree with you about the dream thing -- that just means that "dream logic" is a setting trait.)


But consider this:

Quote
"Yeah, but if you look at the third paragraph of the Oroog description, it says that a throw 'by the head' should be considered to be grabbing its trunk and throwing from there, since that's where its sensory organs and brain are."

"Okay... so you're throwing it by the trunk.  Why didn't you just say that?"

"Because throwing something by the head gives a 15% chance that its sensory organs are damaged..."


"Oroogs don't have heads" is a Setting fact.  How that affects what can be done is System.  To give a classic (if somewhat dysfunctional) example:

Quote
A: "Okay... now that we've got the guard to take his helmet off, and I'm behind him, I'm going to hit him in the back of the head with my mace and knock him out!"

GM:  "You can't do that."

A:  "What?  Why not!?"

GM:  "There's no rule for it."

A:  "You're kidding me!"

B:  "Nope, he's right.  This game doesn't have any called shot rules."

A:  "Well... is there at least a chance that I'll hit him in the head, where he's not armored?"

GM:  "Nope.  There's no hit location rules either."


So here's an instance where a Setting fact is agreed on -- that the guard has no helmet on now -- but the System being used doesn't allow that to make any actual difference.  We could make up further examples, where, say, removing the helmet lowered the guard's armor class by one point, or there's no called shot rules, but if you roll the head as the hit location, then armor has no effect, or where there are called shot rules...

To me, this is all part of why System Does Matter.  Some systems can only reflect certain settings very poorly.  Others handle certain situations very poorly.  Choosing the right system for any setting and/or situation you have in mind is important.

However, this does not mean that System is the only thing that matters!  Yes, Setting and Situation have an effect on play.  It seems to me that part of what I'm hearing here is "Setting and Situation affect play, so they matter... and since System matters, that means they must be part of System!"  As if people are hearing an unspoken "... and therefore nothing else does," tacked onto "System Does Matter."

To pick up something another poster mentioned -- if everything is to included under System, then why bother having a separate term at all?

And as a final thought from me... a formal definition of a common term ought to match the general usage of the term as much as possible.  System as embodying only the means, and not the things those means act upon, seems to me to match up much better to common usage than a definition where System includes Setting and Situation.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Rob Carriere on July 16, 2004, 05:18:22 AM
Quote from: contracycle
The point again is: there are  changes and ther are changes.  Not all setting elements are created equal.
This is absolutely true. But it is just as true that not all mechanical elements are created equal. If I inspect your character sheet and go `Dude, you completely forgot  about your shield, you're AC 50, not 49!' that's not very likely to have much impact on a game of orc-bashing. So I'm not sure why significance tests should be applied only to setting stuff.

On a completely different tack, I agree with everybody who has pointed out that it is a category error to call Setting a process. But, that Setting did have to enter the SIS first ("I want to play Dark Sun." "Cool") and that is definitely process.

SR
--


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: lumpley on July 16, 2004, 05:29:20 AM
The problems with the fire giant, the Oroog, the called shot, what-have-you, they all go away if you break 'em down into my A (the imagined stuff), B (real-world representations and tokens) and C (the interacting human beings).

Seriously.  When you try it, be sure not to leave out C.

-Vincent


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: MR. Analytical on July 16, 2004, 05:44:42 AM
Quote from: Ben Lehman
BL>  Apropos of my most recent post post, this makes very little sense to me, and I'm going to operate on the assumption that, by "system," you mean "mechanics."

[snip]


Since "tools which can be used to influence the shared imagined space" is the local definition of "system" (hey, see that Jargon Alert?  Yeah...) it seemed to me more convenient.

[snip]

 Depends on the type of analysis now, doesn't it?  Mathematics and hard sciences (my background) are pretty dependent on larger classifications.  Honestly, so is literature.  And most social crit.  And really, well, everything.  I wouldn't light into you for this, but its a big misunderstanding about academic analysis that a lot of armchair theoreticians have, and it bugs the fuck out of me.



First bit : No... that's not what I meant by "system".  I think there's a point to be made here of confusing what system does and what system is but that's for anothyer thread... I was basing myself upon the glossary definition of ther term "system".


Second Bit: "The means by which imaginary events are established during play, including character creation, resolution of imaginary events, reward procedures, and more. It may be considered to introduce fictional time into the Shared Imagined Space. " is quite different to your definition.  And this, I suspect is the bone of contention that many forgites here have with your argument.  You're operating under an interpretation of this definition but it's not necessarily the correct one... it's even a slightly strange one.    To me it seems that you're confusing the content of SIS the means by which that content is agreed upon.  

As others have pointed out this is the diference between a fact about a setting "Orcs are weak in daylight" and how that is mediated and established for group consumption "orcs get a -4 to all to hit rolls when they're in daylight".  

Maybe my argument makes more sense to you now.


Third Bit : *rolls eyes* Thanks for the condescension (starts singing "Are you GMS in disguise?") So a scientist wouldn't want to look at matter and ask what it's composed of and what properties the component parts of matter are?  You're confusing classification with the generation of covering laws.   If science really was about getting larger and larger categories as you seem to think you wouldn't have any laws of physics beyond "stuff does stuff when stuff happens".  I'm being facetious here but I'm really pretty sure that you're confused.

As I said, if you wanted to invent some new unbrella term for all the stuff that influences SIS in whatever way then sure... then you could generate generalisations about all the entities in that category but you're not doing that... you're looking to expand one category of entity in order to make it include some other category of entity which was previously thought to be causally related to it but a distinct type.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 16, 2004, 06:35:16 AM
Hey,

Be nicer, people. Jonathan, Ben really is trying to reach you (and be reached) halfway. Don't slap his hands just because it didn't work the first time.

On the point at issue, I dunno if this will really help, but I think of the SIS as including imaginary time, which is to say, the enactment of imaginary events. System is whatever brings time-passage/events into the SIS.

Therefore saying "There's a castle on the hill" isn't System if it's merely establishing that imaginary fact among the real people - everyone looking at a map, say, in which there may or may not be a castle illustrated on that hill.

But it is System if the person speaking is referring to characters seeing or learning that there is a castle on that hill. Now we're talking about in-game events and the passage of time.

Does that help at all? Otherwise, I don't have much to say beyond Ben's, John's, and Vincent's excellent remarks. The headless-oorog example seems like a keeper.

Best,
Ron


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Ben Lehman on July 16, 2004, 06:54:51 AM
Hello.

I for one, would like to apologize for being a bit too hasty with replies on this thread, especially today, which has been frustrating for reasons that have nothing to do with the Forge or RPG theory at all (at least, I hope they don't.)  In particular, Jonathan, that "armchair theorist" bit was really out of line, and I apologize for it.

I'm going to take a little while and chew on all this stuff -- particularly lumpley, contracycle, and mr analytical's posts -- then come back to this thread and see what has developed in my absence.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: MR. Analytical on July 16, 2004, 08:06:05 AM
Quote from: Ben Lehman
In particular, Jonathan, that "armchair theorist" bit was really out of line, and I apologize for it.


That's cool man... don't worry about it.  I apologise for being bitey.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Marco on July 16, 2004, 08:49:06 AM
Ben,

I think I'm sorta with you here: everything that's done with a game during play may legitimately meet someone's defintion of drift (and I mean someone who's being reasonably fair and critical). Gamma Word, IIRC, did actually state that it, itself, was incomplete and would be made complete by the GM's scenario.

While that's only one way to look at it (another is that the system and setting details are a complete tool that is then applied to a use) I think it's a reasonably fine POV from a theorist standpoint.

Quote from: contracycle

Ben:
I'm suggesting that the conflation of 3 and 1 is semantic.  Marco is correct to say that introducing setting elements CAN be equivalent to number 3; but it is not correct to conclude that they MUST be.


I wasn't quite as prescriptive as your making me out to be with the "must be"--but really--who makes the decision as to whether it is or not? Is it something two players might legitimately disagree on?

I once created a world and was told by a player that he wanted a cleric and didn't like any of the gods I'd made. The idea that they might not be suitable hadn't even occurred to me but it was a major impact for him.

If you can't easily say when 1 is the same as 3 then I think you logically have to adopt the position that any time you're doing one you may also be doing the other.

-Marco


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: M. J. Young on July 16, 2004, 05:55:48 PM
In case anyone missed my post on the bottom of page one, I'm going to reiterate that over in Sean's Setting as Part of System thread I argued that this was correct. In brief, all five elements are fully integrated into each other. Consider this:
  • System is that which enables change within the shared imaginary space.
  • Setting is the entire description of the shared imaginary space.
  • Character is the people who occupy and act within the shared imaginary space.
  • Situation is the conflicts and events within the shared imaginary space confronting the characters.
  • Color is the feeling, ambiance, nuance of the shared imaginary space.[/list:u]It should immediately be apparent that the fifth listed here, color, is part of the other four; it cannot exist apart from the other four. Looked at the other way, system, setting, character, and situation are the content of color.

    But that's also true of situation. Situation is when character and setting interact through system, as nuanced by color. Character is also defined by setting, situation, system, and color. Since system is that which creates change, it is inherently part of setting--witness the recent thread in which Ralph derived the setting of game from its mechanics, because the system defines how the setting works.

    When we speak of one of these five things, we are indeed recognizing a discrete element of exploration; but it is more akin to examining a single facet of a gem than a single gem on a ring. It is what it is because of its relationships to the other four facets.
    Quote from: Jonathan 'Mr. Analytical' McCalmont
    Setting and System are 2 clear and distinct entities as understood by all gamers. What Ben is proposing is that they're actually part of one larger category namely system.

    Ah, but are they really understood by all gamers? I know this is going to sound snobbish, but I think there are a lot of things that "all gamers know" that aren't exactly true. For example, how many gamers realize that what the rules of the game are enabling is a distribution of credibility between the participants? Most gamers think they're playing "according to the rules". What credibility distribution means is that they're actually playing according to that understanding of the rules held by whoever has the credibility to declare what the rules mean, whether that's an individual or a corporate ability. Few if any role playing games are so structured as a Monopoly game in which it's always dictated in the rules what can and cannot be done, and how to handle it. Rather, they provide rules for who decides this, and then stand as an authority to which to refer when in doubt.

    So although I agree that system and setting are distinct (and yet intertwined), I'm not sure that all gamers really could tell you where the lines are. In fact, I think there are examples in this very thread in which we can't tell where the lines are, because the two are so connected. To borrow a theology argument, we've been arguing for centuries whether humans have spirit, soul, and body, or whether rather a soul is the combination of a spirit in a body, and what parts of a person are which (are my emotions part of my spirit, my soul, or my body?), because a person is so created that these things (however many there are) exist as one. My hand is clearly part of my body, but what of my fear? When you look at the obvious cases, we know what's what; but when you get near the edges, they blur.
    Quote from: Ben Lehman
    Further, I would propose that, given the incompleteness thereom that I demonstrated above, no game text ever offers a complete system and thus (whoa, this blows my mind) every game is somewhat drifted.

    The incompleteness theorem runs into a problem of definition. I'd say that Universalis is a complete game that is never "drifted", because the point of the game is to create the shared imaginary space. If the "incompleteness" theorem were correct, it would mean that every game is drifted because when you play it you create characters and situations and resolve them; thus the only game that was "complete" by that definition would be one in which all possible play had already been played and recorded and was never repeated or altered--patently absurd, because such an entity would not be a game at all.

    Similarly, Multiverser provides a structure within which there is a rule of one sort or another for everything you can imagine doing. It may require that the referee interpret player character actions in matching them to system treatments, and that can result in two games handling the same action differently, but that's written into the game as an acceptable part of play.

    --M. J. Young


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: efindel on July 17, 2004, 05:34:22 AM
I'd like to comment on a few bits here....

Quote from: M. J. Young
  • Setting is the entire description of the shared imaginary space.[/list:u]
I don't agree with this.  The shared imaginary space can include metagame constructs which are not part of the Setting.  For example, suppose that another player and I have decided that if our characters meet, they will immediately take a dislike to each other.  This is not a part of the Setting -- it hasn't happened yet, and indeed, might never happen!  However, because we have agreed on it, it is part of our shared imaginary space.  All sorts of potentialities can be part of the SIS, but not part of the Setting.

Second, metagame elements such as Plot Points can be part of the SIS, but yet not be part of the Setting... at least, as I understand SIS.

Thus, since the SIS seems to me to include things that are not part of the Setting, Setting is not a complete description of the SIS.

Quote from: M. J. Young
Since system is that which creates change, it is inherently part of setting--witness the recent thread in which Ralph derived the setting of game from its mechanics, because the system defines how the setting works.


Part of Setting, certainly... but System is not the whole of Setting.  To me, it's the difference between a database and the methods used to manipulate it -- knowing the inputs and outputs of those methods will tell you some things about the database, but not everything.  Knowing the contents of the database, you can guess what some of the methods will be, but not necessarily all of them.

To put it another way... to me, the existence of orcs in D&D is not part of D&D's System.  Now, from D&D's System, we could easily guess that monsters have to exist, since they're referred to many times.  We could guess that monsters will vary in power level, and some sort of fairly low-power monster could be useful.  We could even guess that some higher-power monsters might want to use lower-powered monsters as cannon fodder, and that it would be convenient for some monsters to be humanoid in shape.

None of that tells us that orcs specifically exist in D&D -- we can guess that something like orcs will probably exist, but we won't know the exact particulars.  Deriving the existence of umpteen different kinds of "goblinoids", and what specifically each one is like, would be impossible.  Certainly we could say that such a thing is possible, but nothing in the System implies that they must exist -- one could go the Warcraft route and have "orcs all the way up and down", instead of several different "species" of humanoid opponents.  Or you could have several different unrelated species of humanoid opponents, rather than the "goblinoids".

Going to the reverse side of things, from a description of, say, Greyhawk, we could derive quite a few things about the System... but some things would be impossible to derive.  Nothing in the Greyhawk setting would tell us about D&D3's "Rule Zero", for example.  A mechanical description (i.e., giving all the game stats, but not the rules about them) would allow us to make a lot more guesses... but some things would still be unclear.  A non-mechanical description of the setting would obscure even more -- deriving the exact skill list and feat list, and the mechanics of advancing skills and gaining feats, for example, would likely be impossible from a non-mechanical description of the setting.

Setting and System are certainly intertwined... but to say that one includes the other seems to me to be going too far.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Frank T on July 28, 2004, 12:56:44 AM
Mainly, this discussion seems to be about what Ben called "textual system" earlier on. That makes perfect sense to me. However, I can't see a point in fussing with anything beyond that. I liked the "set of tools" metaphor. Aren't these tools what can be set up by the designer, what can be playtested and judged in an abstract manner, what can be established in different groups in the same way? Like setting and genre, or advise on creating setting and genre. Like situations or advise on creating situations. Like advise on how to describe things, on how to portray a character. To refer to these things as part of the system makes sense to me, since they are means of establishing and re-establishing the SIS that are deliberately used.

But the lucky 20-sider? Who's had a harsh day? Who's had a fight with whom? Who ordered pizza? These aspects sound like classical social contract issues to me. We are not at the point that system is the social contract, are we? My 2 cents.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Frank T on July 28, 2004, 04:19:30 AM
Reading my post over, it sounds like "it's social contract, it can't be system." That's not what I meant. What I meant is that if system is a means to establish something in the SIS, then this requires the intent to use it with the goal of establishing something in the SIS.

Okay, bribing your GM with pizza could be used with exactly that intent. Yet the real means by which the desired statement is established in the SIS is not the pizza bribe. It is the authority of the GM, which in itself is not affected by the pizza bribe. So I don't go: "If I bribe the GM with pizza, my character will find the antidote." I go: "If I bribe the GM with pizza, he will decide to use his authority and make my character find the antidote." In my view, this is an important difference.

If the LP is about system distributing credibility and authority, does it also state something about the motives of the players? Is the reason why authority is used part of the system? If so, then literally anything that randomly affects the process of play would be system. I can't see the sense in that.

Sorry if I misinterpret anything, I'm new to this stuff.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: contracycle on July 28, 2004, 05:25:45 AM
Quote from: Frank T

Okay, bribing your GM with pizza could be used with exactly that intent. Yet the real means by which the desired statement is established in the SIS is not the pizza bribe. It is the authority of the GM, which in itself is not affected by the pizza bribe. So I don't go: "If I bribe the GM with pizza, my character will find the antidote." I go: "If I bribe the GM with pizza, he will decide to use his authority and make my character find the antidote." In my view, this is an important difference.


OK.  What if I posit you have ommitted a final step?  After you go "If I bribe the GM with pizza, he will decide to use his authority and make my character find the antidote" is there not the unspoken addendum that "... and there's nothing Bob and Sue can do about it because they, like me, have agreed to obey the GM's decisions."?


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Frank T on July 28, 2004, 05:46:38 AM
Well, I don't want to get carried away with that example. I can pick another one that's more obvious: The GM is mad at Sue cause she's flirting with Bob the whole evening and not paying attention. Therefore he gets her character ambushed. The obvious system part is "the GM establishes the situation" (quite a classic). Now, is Sue's flirting with Bob also part of the system? It was not intended to affect the SIS, but it certainly did.

If I got Ben right, he would say, "Yeah, sure as hell buddy, that's system, too." Even given the definition from the LP, I don't think that makes a lot of sense. I'd say system represents what is supposed to affect the SIS, not what actually affects it. Doesn't the word "system" sound like something pre-designed rather than something random?


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Tim C Koppang on July 28, 2004, 06:01:29 AM
Quote from: Frank T
Doesn't the word "system" sound like something pre-designed rather than something random?

What you're really getting at is intent.  Does system include only intentional forays into the SIS?  Consider however, that even if Sue didn't intend her flirting to affect the SIS, the GM surely intended to allow the flirting to affect the SIS once it annoyed him.  As soon as a participant decides to bring something into the negotiation, then you have System in action.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: contracycle on July 28, 2004, 06:12:21 AM
Quote from: Frank T
Well, I don't want to get carried away with that example. I can pick another one that's more obvious: The GM is mad at Sue cause she's flirting with Bob the whole evening and not paying attention. Therefore he gets her character ambushed. The obvious system part is "the GM establishes the situation" (quite a classic). Now, is Sue's flirting with Bob also part of the system? It was not intended to affect the SIS, but it certainly did.


The point I was trying to make is that the example procedes on the assumption that the GM does in fact have the power to impose that ruling, even if the means by which the GM was persuaded to do so were "unfair" or similar.  In the second scenario you give, the GM is imposing a sort of punitive sanction.  This scenario assumes too that the GM is empowered to do so.

But it is not a given that a GM role is even necessary.  So when the group sat down and agreed to appoint a GM and to defer to the GM's authority, they went through a process of agreeing this.  So when the pizza bribe is offered, it is offered in the knowledge that all the players have conceded to the GM this authority - and THEREFORE the GM will be able to live up to their end of the bargain.

So, the GM's authority is still illusory.  Yes, the GM's authority brought the antidote into being - but that action on the part of the GM is dependant on the tacit consent of the other players.   The other players could revoke that consent at any time and walk out.  The GM's authority exists only so far as the other players agree that it should exist.  If the players accept the GM's sanction against Sue, then it is still the case that that ambush was introduced by the GM, supported by the social contract, in a systematically sound way.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Frank T on July 28, 2004, 06:20:41 AM
Yeah well, if that's the way to look at it, then please somebody explain to me the difference between system and social contract.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: TooManyGoddamnOrcs on July 28, 2004, 06:27:54 AM
OK, I suppose I'll take a shot and use the words of countless posters before me:

System:
Player: "I rolled an 8, therefore you take 2d6 HP damage"
Social Contract:
GM (Thought Balloon: Barry still owes me twenty bucks): "I'm gonna rule that the gun jams because BARRY hasn't PAID to have his gun serviced during the past few sessions and IGNORING DEBTS HAS CONSEQUENCES."

You can play entirely through social contract "calvinballing," narrating through skill rolls "does the door have a poison trap, what about a magical trigger, can I see the trigger...?"

You cannot play entirely through system and have it be a tabletop roleplaying game.  Roleplaying Video Games that are not Multiplayer can be seen as an attempt to give system without social contract.

Am I missing anything?


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Paganini on July 28, 2004, 07:14:34 AM
There is no difference between social contract and system, except that system is not the entirity of social contract. System is a (sometimes codified, sometimes not) subset of Social Contract.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Frank T on July 28, 2004, 07:40:39 AM
Yes, that has been pointed out. But what remains of the social contract if you remove everything that's also system? Nothing, it would seem to me after reading this thread.


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: lumpley on July 28, 2004, 07:44:50 AM
System is the application of the Social Contract to the made-up events of the game.  "I'm pissed at Bob so I'm going to spill his drink" is not System.  "I'm pissed at Bob so I'm going to screw over his character" is.

-Vincent


Title: Wait, What Matters Again?
Post by: Paganini on July 28, 2004, 06:21:58 PM
Exactly what Vince said. Remember, Social Contract isn't just something that you have when you play RPGs that goes away the rest of the time. Any time you do anything involving other people, there's a Social Contract at work. When I teach my students and interact with their parents, there's a social contract at work. It's a different social contract from the way I interact with my Tai Chi instructor, and still different from the way I interact with my family.