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Archive => GNS Model Discussion => Topic started by: Stuart Parker on November 28, 2004, 06:54:08 AM



Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: Stuart Parker on November 28, 2004, 06:54:08 AM
Rather than starting a new thread about the same thing you guys were discussing 6 weeks ago, I thought I would raise a similar issue here:

I have never managed to do this very effectively myself but I have worked with an individual who, when he designs a system, makes sure that the game rules and mechanics signify numerologically. Various mechanical features of the game such as the point buy system for character creation, number of primary attributes/skills, type/shape of die used, etc. signify in more than one way. In these games, there are two points of connection between the game system and the story that is generated through its use.

For my tastes as a player, I find this particular twist on gaming very very enjoyable especially if I am playing a character who does not think in a conventionally modern way. If I, as a player, am given the opportunity to read the natural phenomena of a constructed world allegorically, it makes me more alert for opportunities to make my character do so.


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: GaryTP on November 28, 2004, 07:57:57 AM
Hi,

Great thread.

For what it's worth. I spent two years working on symbolic communication over a wireless network for Hallmark Cards. It involved a set of symbols that would be a shorthand for long text messaging. I can talk about it because it appeared in public on Sprint phones for two months, but was cancelled due to budget-cutting and lack of US text messaging density (as opposed to Europe or Asia.) Where I'm going with this is:

We found that large amounts of information can be passed on with just a few symbols. Fire symbol may mean hot. Heart means love. Fire next to Heart next to a Wink smiley means something more suggestive. We'd developed a few hundred symbols that worked alone, but acted as ingredients when strung together in different sequences or amounts. (Several flame symbols before a heart symbol can mean INTENSE desire...or that I just got burned really bad by my girlfriend, if followed by a frowny-face.)

Makes me think a whole rpg character could be built this way, but not without stumbling blocks. The hard part is, people are word-focused. So making them translate each time adds another thing they have to do to enjoy the game. We do translation all the time, like pips on dice do the same thing as numbers. But this is only one symbol that needs to be translated. And its repetitive/constant use promotes its ease of use.

People who already knew each other well and shared a similiar background or "context" could easily communicate with each others with symbols, since they automatically knew the "implied" meaning of the symbol. We had one couple carry out a string of long communcation with only symbols. It was amazing, but not surprising as this is how languages develop. Gamegroups all have their shared jokes and experiences. So you'd be dealing with that.

To do this in a game, the symbols must have iconic meaning. But even so the symbol can be interpreted in many different ways. For example, the skull and bones symbol that was pointed out earlier that means "poison", could also mean "danger" or "don't go here" or "there be pirates!" depending on the person viewing the symbol.

Developing a game around this would be an interesting. Hope some of this adds to the discussion.


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 28, 2004, 07:16:15 PM
Hello,

The above was split from Mechanics as symbol sets (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=13058). Carry on!

Best,
Ron


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: contracycle on November 29, 2004, 12:35:23 AM
Quote

Makes me think a whole rpg character could be built this way, but not without stumbling blocks. The hard part is, people are word-focused. So making them translate each time adds another thing they have to do to enjoy the game. We do translation all the time, like pips on dice do the same thing as numbers. But this is only one symbol that needs to be translated. And its repetitive/constant use promotes its ease of use.


I think thats plausible.  Have you seen the attempts in Glorantha (Hero/Rune/Wars/Quest) to represent fundamental cosmological forces on the charcter sheet through runes?  These are mostly aquired by religious practice of one form or another, but the idea of interpretations and flexible meaning is quite significant.  Further, the runes themselves have relationships of form, in that the meaning of a rune may be reverse-engineered by considering its descxent-path from parent runes and similarity to other runes.  While the symbol set is not uppermost in the games mind as something to be manipulated, nor plays a fundamental definitional role for characters, it is a very ingteresting example.


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: clehrich on November 29, 2004, 01:41:22 PM
I think Nephilim does this also, in the sense that your character can largely be reduced to a set of factors representing the five elements. My recollection is that the system is unnecessarily crunchy, adding a vast overlay of other stuff to this relatively elegant simplicity, but it might be worth a look.  

I've long thought I should write an early modern magic game in which everything is represented through astrological forces, but it's never really come to anything.

My Shadows in the Fog does actually try to put something of this structure into action by making every mechanic referable to Tarot cards. In fact, the part of the game that continues to bother me as inelegant and clunky is that part which uses things other than Tarot.  The problem is that, unlike the symbol systems mentioned for phone messaging, there is no one-to-one relationship between a card and its meaning; in fact, a great deal of the theoretical underpinning of the game is dependent on the inadequacy of such a structure.

All of which moves, if you ask me, toward a potentially serious obstacle in the development of game systems of a particular kind:
Quote from: Stuart
For my tastes as a player, I find this particular twist on gaming very very enjoyable especially if I am playing a character who does not think in a conventionally modern way. If I, as a player, am given the opportunity to read the natural phenomena of a constructed world allegorically, it makes me more alert for opportunities to make my character do so.
The difficulty here is very complicated, but I think it's very important.

Most rules systems have tended toward a kind of transparency of reference. I'm not talking about the Sim issue as such; Gamist systems are perhaps the extremes of transparency in this sense: the point is that a symbol (rule, attribute, score, etc.) can be interpreted unambiguously.  This is sometimes called "rigor" around here.  For example:
    Strength = 16[/list:u]There is no question here of ambiguity, at least in principle.  There is some sort of systematic structure which allows deployment of Strength and which can be resolved clearly in numerical terms.

Amber proposed a seemingly different system, but it is equally unambiguous:
    Strength = more than anyone else[/list:u]This is unambiguous; all that has shifted is the structure by which we interpret the meaning of the statement.

    Now of course we have another kind of system, of which
Theatrix is a famous example:
    Semi-pro weightlifter[/list:u]This is not an entry from a list of legitimate Strength stats or something, but must be interpreted on its own merits by reference to the game-world.  But in practice, this statement must be
disambiguated, to use a term from certain kinds of computer programming.  We need to know, at any given moment, what the character can and cannot lift.  Here this is decided by reference to a "common-sense" cultural reality: how much can a semi-pro weightlifter lift? a lot, but not a building, although maybe he can lift the back end of a smallish car right off the ground.

My point thus far is that in every such case, we have a symbol (Strength) and a system in place for disambiguation which, if the thing is designed properly, is capable of rendering any particular event down to a binary: is this possible or not?  And once we have that, we simply use whatever system is in place to move from the binary potential to the actual: did it happen or not?

Therefore in principle all such systems could be rendered down to a series of pure binary relations that are utterly unambiguous.  Practically speaking, of course, the Theatrix-style approach can't be formulated this way because it gets into some sort of shared exterior reality (the real world, etc.).

But what has not happened in any of these cases is this: we have not seen a system here that refers its symbol-sets to the game-world itself. This would in a sense form a recursive loop, where in order to disambiguate a symbol we would have to refer to the world of results which has yet to be determined on the basis of the symbol in the first place.  Clearly this is impractical, though perhaps a theoretically interesting idea.

Except, of course, that this is exactly how such symbol systems work in the real world. Ambiguity of this sort is absolutely normal. This was the Structuralist revolution prompted by the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, the great Swiss linguist, and followed up by such people as Roman Jakobson and Claude Levi-Strauss (you knew I'd get to him, didn't you?).

Basically what you actually have in the real world is a symbol which has no meaning except as accepted by its users.  They formulate and re-formulate that meaning on the basis of what it already is claimed to refer to, which is illogical but normal in language. The way this is done is by referring each symbol to a much larger set of other symbols (langue), equally without definite meaning, until the process has gone far enough that we convince ourselves that it all makes perfect sense.

Now taking this back to mechanics in RPGs, suppose we had this:
    Strength = The Moon[/list:u]And suppose that The Moon is characterized in some way in rather vague terms, as in the Tarot card of the same name. Suppose further that the game rules do not define The Moon beyond those vague terms. Suppose even further that The Moon is actually a symbol available
to the characters, i.e. within the game-world, and not only available but amenable to change and alteration by character actions.  Thus what the characters do to alter the meanings of The Moon will actually affect the meaning of Strength as a player-available quality.  Furthermore, this works in reverse: each use of Strength alters the nature of The Moon within the game-world.

This is more or less what I'm trying to do in Shadows in the Fog, but as yet I don't have it completely worked out.

This problem of mechanics as symbolic systems is an essential theoretical issue, but I think that beyond this it has a lot of potential for designing games in which characters do not think the way the players do, because it forces the players to think like the characters at the mechanical level.


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on November 29, 2004, 03:13:59 PM
Hello!

I'll just jump in for a brief comment on Nephilim, where your character is essentially a being of pure magical elements, disposed in a pentacle. Depending on how your pentacle looks, your character will be more of the "physical" or "social" type, for example.
Each magical element is linked to a planet, and has various philisophical meanings. All the magical disciplines one can learn are based on those elements (fire, earth, water, air, moon, dark moon (a corruption of the moon element, a thing which your pentacle shouldn't have too much of), orichalque (which litterally disintegrates your pentacle) and finally sun (the only element humans possess, and which is necessary to transcend a Nephilim's existence)).
Thus the game articulates around a very well structured cosmology with philosphical implications, which one finds at a smaller scale for his own Nephilim and also on his character sheet (strength is based on fire, f.ex.).

I've got the latest edition in french, but the company went bankrupt. What's more, it started becoming more of a superhero game than an esoteric-philosphical quest kinda game (and some say it at long last became playble...).
If anyone wants more information, please contact me by PM.


A friend is trying to devise a gaming mechanic for scandinavian mythology games, solely based on the runes and their signification (http://www.somethingwiccathiswaycomes.net/runes.html).

A character would be defined by runes instead of numerical values, and actions be resolved by drawing a certain amount of runes (possibly modified in accordance to the character's inherent runes).
The aim here is more to see who makes the action evolve into what directions, rather than who "wins".
He also thinks of having a rune defining each scene, so as to make players aware of the general mood and let them play off that in addition to other events. (Skalds could probably influence this rune.)
It's still very sketchy, and one of the major problems is that it's very hard to resolve acute conflicts like combat. Then again, this is for a very story-oriented game, so it's probably acceptable.
Another problem, maybe more profound, is that by pulling runes and interpreting them, one looses a certain degree of liberty in one's actions. On the other hand, it could help players leave the beaten track of routine, and destiny is a very important aspect of scandinavian mythology anyways.

Hope this helps ;)


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: clehrich on November 29, 2004, 05:26:58 PM
Quote from: Artanis
Another problem, maybe more profound, is that by pulling runes and interpreting them, one looses a certain degree of liberty in one's actions. On the other hand, it could help players leave the beaten track of routine, and destiny is a very important aspect of scandinavian mythology anyways.
I don't understand.  Wouldn't the relatively loose interpretation of runes cause an increase in liberty?  That was the theory for me with Tarot cards in Shadows in the Fog; can you explain the problem with this rune game?


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on November 30, 2004, 05:24:06 PM
Consider a case where a young lad tries to rob a great warrior's purse. The warrior notices the thief. How is the situation going to evolve?
The warrior get's to draw one rune, the boy as well.
We get "compassion" for the warrior, and "boldness" for the young one.
(Runes usually have a right and reversed reading, depending on how you draw them, of more or less opposite meaning, which implies that you can't do something completely in opposition with the drawn rune).

Getting back to my example, we could have a scene where the boy bravely stands up to the viking, impressing the warrior to such an extent that he takes him as a novice.
What we certainly couldn't allow is the warrior demanding the boy's hand being cut off, since this would be contrary to the drawing of the runes.
If the player tries to divert the rune onto something else in the scene (forgiving the barkeeper for spilling beer over his table, f.ex.), then what's the point in drawing the runes in the first place?

There's a narrowing of possibilities in that you have to define the scope of the drawing of runes (then again one does the same thing when throwing a damage dice...) and especially in that you have to conform to some extent to the meaning of the rule. The runes being pulled randomly out of a bag, a player is sacrifying freedom of choice.


I do agree that it can generate very original scenes and spurs the players'  creativity, but that's more because one has to cope with contraints rather than having a large freedom of action.

But this could precisely be what one want's for his game.

How do you see that this could be an increase in liberty?


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: Stuart Parker on December 01, 2004, 05:50:32 AM
While interesting, the possible ways of rules signifying that people have been discussing here are not at all what I had in mind. Or at least not what I have experienced.

I am not arguing in favour of individual attribute quantification taking place in the form of ambiguous symbols. The systems that I like are ones in which whatever signification comes from the rules/character attributes numerologically.

Let's suppose a GM was designing a story/world/game system (for me these are often identical) based on Sufism. One of the ways this could be cued is through a luck, merit or divine favour system that operated like Idries Shah's formulation of baraka. But another way would be to structure the character's primary attributes based on the latifa system. In the GM named these mechanics, baraka or latifa, if the GM did not name these things are such but simply ran the system on that basis, the latifa pattern that the attributes resembled could function as a signification system that communicated unmediated with the players.

Essentially, rule systems can signify in two different ways. They can signify arithmetically or algebraically or they can signify numerologically. But only algebraic or arithmetic signification can be applied to variable scores; if one tried to do numerological signification with variable scores, chaos would ensue (sometimes 6 would be better than 7, sometimes it would be worse). Thus, numerological signification would have to be embedded in mathematically fixed relationships between numerical or other quantitative attributes.

Much of what you guys are talking about is the idea of robbing symbols of their mythic resonances and putting them to work as though their meanings were entirely subjective. I want to do quite the reverse. I really don't like Tarot-based games that try to beat whatever specific meaning these symbols have left out of them. Not that there's anything wrong with them -- they're just really not to my taste.

Much of the theory on this site is about how to make system facilitate a particular style of play. While this interests me, another interest of mine is how one makes system reveal a world. In my worlds, the physics and metaphysics are one in the same. One can take an Aquinan approach to the physics (as codified in the rules) and examines the implications of the causal relationships it sets up or take an Augustinian approach and examines the allegorical implications of the phenomena it produces, either way, this is system signifying.

While everyone uses the Aquinan model with rules (otherwise the rules would not mean anything), they tend to take it only one step. The universe most people inhabit is a moral universe but the implicit moral and philosophical structures of a world are rarely, in gaming, embedded in the rule system. Hero Wars is a nice example of a system starting to look at a more complete Aquinas-style system of signification.

What I am talking about here, though, is an Augustinian system of signification -- where the mathematical relationships between the abstracted character attributes, irrespective of the rules of the physics they are part of, themselves signify. In my view, in order for such a system to work, it has to be affixed to numerical values; otherwise it will produce the effect that is being discussed in the rest of this thread: the problem of deriving stable signification from a symbol system whose meaning is constantly being negotiated.


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: clehrich on December 01, 2004, 05:59:07 AM
Quote from: Artanis
How do you see that this could be an increase in liberty?

What we certainly couldn't allow is the warrior demanding the boy's hand being cut off, since this would be contrary to the drawing of the runes.
If the player tries to divert the rune onto something else in the scene (forgiving the barkeeper for spilling beer over his table, f.ex.), then what's the point in drawing the runes in the first place?
Actually, I would think that the "forgive the barkeep" approach is perfectly valid.

You've drawn two runes: "compassion" and "boldness"

Now to my mind, the warrior isn't necessarily constrained by compassion, nor the boy by boldness; it's the players who have to deal with the constraints.  So there's considerable range there.

The next point is that these runes are imposed, in that they are randomly drawn, and they have relatively fixed meanings.  But suppose (1) you had a choice, i.e. you have a rune-bag of known runes or something, and can pick whichever one you like; and (2) they have much less explicit meanings (for example, suppose they were names of gods or animals or something).

So the warrior is looking at the situation and the player has a choice, in his bag, among the runes Bear, Elk, and Fir-Tree.  These have been used a certain amount in the game, and have some vague meanings from that perspective, but in order to apply them the player must come up with some analogy between the in-game situation and the rune's history of use.

Suppose he notes that the last few times Bear was used, the Bear was a big, powerful force that was defensive but not aggressive, so for example it was used in combat to create good defense.  Okay, so he now plays "Bear" and says that what this means is that the warrior knows how big and tough he is and therefore doesn't feel the need to attack the boy.  He wants to defend himself -- i.e. his stolen stuff -- but he doesn't want to make the situation violent.

The thing is, he could have interpreted the same rune quite differently, drawing on the well-known trope of a mother bear defending her cubs, in which case you don't want to be anywhere near the mother bear.

Over time, the Bear rune comes to have more and more definite meanings, but they are generated by the group's play, not asserted from the outset.

Essentially what you're doing is treating Bear not as a meaning but as a relation.  You note a lot of situations in which Bear was active, and note that they usually involve a potentially dangerous situation that was defused by the Bear's massive potential force, which provokes other people to say, "Um, I think I won't attack, actually."  So the relation has become:
    Bear : non-Bear :: Power :: Non-Aggression[/list:u]You can then apply this to any situation.  In this case, you have:
    Bear : Non-Bear :: Warrior : ???[/list:u]and you assert that the ??? applies to the boy.  You don't know that it will pan out, because that depends on the other player, but having asserted the relation, the power of the rune is that it tends to make situations work a certain kind of way.

    To me, that's much more liberating than "Roll dice for reaction" or whatever.

    Do you see?  I don't know if that's what you have in mind -- it sounds like not -- but that's what I meant about symbol-systems and structuralism.


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: clehrich on December 01, 2004, 06:08:56 AM
Quote from: Stuart Parker
Much of what you guys are talking about is the idea of robbing symbols of their mythic resonances and putting them to work as though their meanings were entirely subjective. I want to do quite the reverse. I really don't like Tarot-based games that try to beat whatever specific meaning these symbols have left out of them. Not that there's anything wrong with them -- they're just really not to my taste.
Actually, what I'm talking about is putting back the mythic resonance.  As you put it, I want the symbols to reveal a world.  Instead of having people think in terms of numbers and stats and such, I want people to think in terms of Bear or Moon or baraka.  I don't want those things to be expressible in any way except by reference to other things like them: Bear is like Elk but different in these ways; Moon is like Sun but different in these ways; baraka is like latifa but different in these ways.

So the only way to use them is to say, "Well, this is Bear, and I say that here it means X because it's sort of like that time that Bear meant Y and X is like Y, you see?"  What you can't do is translate them into numerical systems that are determinate.

The result is that you end up thinking with symbols, not just using them.  To my mind, that's exactly what myth really is: a way of thinking with symbols and manipulating them to express meaning in the world.  And let's bear in mind (as it were) that Bear is also bear, as in the animal, so insofar as the meaning is determinate it's because at base, you can't make a bear into a rabbit, because a bear isn't a rabbit.  So you can't use Bear to mean "I eat a lot of carrots and run away a lot."  You constrain the meaning by reference to bears, actual bears as you encounter them.

The same goes for baraka.  You can't make it mean absolutely anything, only a wide range of things that are congruent with the game-world version of Sufism.  This means that baraka becomes something you think with, a concept and a structure that you encounter in the game-world and impose elsewhere in the game-world.  What it doesn't become is a mechanical system, what you call an Aquinan system.

Are we talking at cross-purposes here?


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: Jere on December 01, 2004, 06:26:31 AM
Quote from: clehrich
Actually, what I'm talking about is putting back the mythic resonance.  As you put it, I want the symbols to reveal a world.


I think we've captured a large degree of this in Age of Paranoia, where we've been using a variant of Shadows in the Fog for espionage gaming. What we've seen develop over the last eight months of playing is a rich lexicon of meaning where many of the cards have taken a specific meaning. The Knight of Swords, for example, has a thread running through it dominated by one strong, but duplkicitious individual and other uses of the card even when they don't refer back to that individual explicitely still are tainted by his association with that card.

Jere


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: GaryTP on December 01, 2004, 12:21:42 PM
So that the learning curve on a game with symbols is not so high, the following might work (add to if you want).

Repetition of symbols adds to learning.
Limiting the number of symbols used.
Using familiar icons that logically work for the player's context.

i.e. Magic the Gathering has done this in a wonderful way. Anyone who has played the game has no problem defining what the following symbols represent:

Green Tree - life, growth, brute force
Red Flame - fire, chaos, war, dangerous
White Sun - healing, protection, purity, good, law
Blue Droplet - intelligence, trickery, manipulation, theft
Black Skull - death, poison, evil, disease, power at a price
Clear - neutral, artifact

Repetition of play and common associations make this work.
Now, with only 5 symbols, you can combine any two ingredients and still be able to pass the meaning along to the players.

The problem comes when there are too many symbols, and too many meanings. If one were to develop a card deck or ruin set to do this, and limited the symbols, upped the repetition of symbol appearance, a strong (symbol-use) RPG for might be developed.


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 01, 2004, 01:26:56 PM
Hello,

Here's an application of the ideas. I have always liked using dice with symbol sets on them, although I think the idea remains undeveloped.

Dragon Dice was a very enjoyable wargame for me, in its beginning incarnation, and Throwing Stones struck me as a fascinating way to role-play. Both games utilized the similar principles of differing icons, number of icons per side of dice, and number of sides per die, as well as color, such that a character, in the latter game, was literally a handful of specific dice. The recent game Bones is a lot like Throwing Stones but not hampered by the "collectibility" consideration, and I for one think it's really on track.

Best,
Ron


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on December 01, 2004, 04:00:42 PM
Quote from: clehrich
Actually, I would think that the "forgive the barkeep" approach is perfectly valid.

So what's the point in drawing runes if you can divert it's effect whenever it doesn't suit you, and then go on doing what you wanted to do in the first place?

Quote
Now to my mind, the warrior isn't necessarily constrained by compassion, nor the boy by boldness; it's the players who have to deal with the constraints.  So there's considerable range there.

Hum yes, we'd need to define if this mechanic works on the player or character level.
In my specific example, it's probably going to affect the character, since its "sheet" is more an assemblage of runes than anything else.

The big difference with dice mechanics to solve actions is that in the case of runes, it sets out a specter of possible decisions, whereas in dice mechanics, you first decide what you're going to do, then roll to check what happens (but doesn't determine what directions you should take).

Quote
So the warrior is looking at the situation and the player has a choice, in his bag, among the runes Bear, Elk, and Fir-Tree.  These have been used a certain amount in the game, and have some vague meanings from that perspective, but in order to apply them the player must come up with some analogy between the in-game situation and the rune's history of use.

Very interesting, but it is a limiting factor to liberty (since you have to respect some of the runes history). That doesn't mean it is a bad thing though.

Quote
[example snipped out]
To me, that's much more liberating than "Roll dice for reaction" or whatever.

Yes, I do believe that in a lot of cases, the constraint actually has a benefic effect on what is really going to happen. Without this little additional impulse, player's could get lazy and resort to long-time proven schemes.

So I see our original disension more as a mixing up of theory vs practice. In theory, you've got more freedom when there are no limiting factors. But in game, an unsuspected rune can break routine and thus bring something new. I don't see this as an increase in freedom, but as a vector for imaginative innovation (!).

How does that sound?

BTW, nice example and developement of it, exactly what I'd expect from such a system (once I'll have passed over that sacrifying of freedom of action ;) )


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: clehrich on December 01, 2004, 08:53:04 PM
Quote from: Artanis
So I see our original disension more as a mixing up of theory vs practice. In theory, you've got more freedom when there are no limiting factors. But in game, an unsuspected rune can break routine and thus bring something new. I don't see this as an increase in freedom, but as a vector for imaginative innovation (!).
I'll buy that.

I do think that most die systems incorporate strong constraint rather subtly, though.  This is akin to Mike's Rant about rules and their relation to play emphasis.  In effect, the rules you put in place already give a strong sense of what you can do in the game.  So while it appears to be free choice up until the die roll, you are encouraged to make choices that fit well into die mechanics, and furthermore ones that suit your character's current situation.

To my mind, then, having rules that essentially say, "Throw a rune and decide what it means" affords greater liberty.  Now, there is no sense in which this is absolute liberty, but such a thing is not possible anyway outside of pure thought and conceptualization within a single mind, and probably not even then.

As an example:
Quote
Quote from: I
Actually, I would think that the "forgive the barkeep" approach is perfectly valid.
So what's the point in drawing runes if you can divert it's effect whenever it doesn't suit you, and then go on doing what you wanted to do in the first place?
Because your application of the rune is (1) validated by the other players on the basis of prior use -- you can't use the Bear rune to create a Rabbit situation, and (2) relevant to all future uses of the rune -- if you use the Bear defensively again, you preconstrain all future uses of the Bear to tend ever more in that direction.

Now one thing that's wrong with the example as I posed it is that what we might call "creative deflection" is lost.  For example, let's suppose the same situation (the warrior and the boy-thief), but all I've got is the Rabbit rune.  As a rule, that rune has been used to entail cowardice of some sort: people run away, hide, play dead and then bolt, etc.  But I don't want my warrior to do that, and for some mechanical reason I have to use the Rabbit.  So now I have to draw on a kind of constellation of meanings surrounding the Rabbit and its past uses in order to get what I want.  This may appear to screw up the system, because it's in a sense dishonest -- or appears so -- but in actuality it will provoke depth and complexity all by itself.

Here's a brief example from the theory notes at the back of Shadows in the Fog (see weblink below for the complete text):
Quote
Let’s consider a famous [Tarot] card, The Tower, often taken to mean disaster.  The imagery is of two people falling from a high tower which has been struck by lightning.

Now if we think of the card as simply a meaning, it’s difficult to see how it can be used in any but a limited number of circumstances.  For example, in a combat situation, it could be taken as disaster for one of the combatants.  But if we think of it as a relation, there are lots of possibilities opened up to the cunning player.

Suppose the card has been used for the following:
  • A thug came to grief in a gunfight with a middle-class professional
  • A spell to summon power from the Thames went catastrophically wrong, and the spell-caster was flung from the docks and drowned.
  • An attempt to climb the tower of Big Ben went wrong; the climber fell to his death.[/list:u]Okay, so clearly all these fit the description, Disaster.  But there are other possibilities if we think of it as a relation.  In every case, two adjacent spheres have commingled disastrously: the lower-class thug with the middle-class professional, the caster on the docks with the Thames beneath, the climber in the air with the land beneath.  So we could in fact read this card as meaning a bringing-together of separate spheres.  If the spheres are close together, this is disastrous, as we’ve seen.  But suppose the spheres are far apart, and bringing them together is a good thing?

    Sir David Fulsham (a Lord, as we know), confronts a thug (lower-class).  The spheres here are far apart.  Rather than interpret the Tower as disaster for the thug, Sarah could interpret it as bringing the two spheres into conjunction, making the thug feel higher-class than usual and read Sir David as a guy like him.  This could cause the thug not to attack Sir David, but in fact to unbend and deal with him in a more constructive manner.

    Now of course, it takes a cunning player to make this sensible, and Sarah’s going to have to do some fast footwork to get the idea across.  To do this, she’s going to have to draw on all that history of the card’s usage: this is what Interpretation is really about.

    If this seems like a strange example, incidentally, Lévi-Strauss has a neat case of it occurring among the Hidatsa, a North American tribe.  For them, pollution (in the sense of impurity) has exactly this property, i.e. it brings together spheres normally separate.  When a man goes hunting, for example, he is absolutely prohibited from touching his wife or his sister if she is menstruating, because the pollution of the blood will commingle spheres that should be kept separate: his arrows will not fly (air/earth), he himself will be hurt (predator/prey), etc.  But if he goes eagle-hunting, which among the Hidatsa involves climbing down into a hole, tempting the eagle to descend to the ground, and then grabbing the eagle’s ankles, the hunter has a problem that the spheres are too far apart: underground and air are distant.  He needs the eagle to descend, to come to the ground, because underground and ground are close.  So the eagle-hunter is encouraged to touch a menstruating woman, even have intercourse with his wife if she is menstruating, because this will draw the eagle to the ground.  Thus it’s not that pollution is a bad thing, it’s that it brings together spheres usually kept apart.  If for some reason you want to do this, pollution is a useful tool.

    Here you see the mythic bricoleur at work.  He’s got an object in his shed [the collection of weird stuff like Bears and Rabbits] that has had lots of parallel uses: pollution has brought together lots of spheres best kept apart.  Now he needs to accomplish something that involves such bringing-together of spheres.  Not deflected by the seemingly negative valence of pollution, he recognizes that it will serve his purpose admirably, and puts it to work in his ritual machine.
Sorry about the long quote, but I hope that helps clarify a bit what I'm talking about.  One of these days I'm going to post an elaborate but I hope clear essay about bricolage and its application in RPGs; this is a fore-taste.


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: Stuart Parker on December 02, 2004, 07:37:53 AM
Quote
Are we talking at cross-purposes here?


Yes. And I apologize there. I seem to recall Piers having to make excuses for my communication style when we met in person.

I think what simply happened in this case was that I unreasonably imposed many of my prejudices on games that use Tarot-type resolution systems on your particular system. It sounds to me that your game, unlike most card games, demands a level of fidelity an existing shared system of meaning.

Because of the way my games unfold, I generally cannot demand this level of fidelity in advance because the process of play, in games I run reveals the world in a much more literal sense. Thus, the world structure and therefore the mythological and philosophical systems on which it is based are not shared knowledge at the beginning of play.

Because all of the games in which I use numerological signification are about discovering the "true" nature of reality, your way of keeping symbols in context simply wouldn't work at the initial and intermediate stages in my campaigns.

[QUOTEThe same goes for baraka.  You can't make it mean absolutely anything, only a wide range of things that are congruent with the game-world version of Sufism.  This means that baraka becomes something you think with, a concept and a structure that you encounter in the game-world and impose elsewhere in the game-world.  What it doesn't become is a mechanical system, what you call an Aquinan system.[/QUOTE]

Indeed. But in the Sufi-Faerie game the I was running before I moved to Toronto, the plot of the game revolved around discovering that this was the nature of reality. Thus, at the beginning, the players were simply confronted with the modern world with what appeared to be odd game mechanics, presented entirely outside of their religious and cultural context.

The baraka the characters/players accumulated was only identified as such about 10 episodes into the game.

So, I now realize we are talking about similar relationship to symbols but are applying this understanding in quite different ways.


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: clehrich on December 02, 2004, 09:11:58 AM
Quote from: Stuart Parker
Yes. And I apologize there. I seem to recall Piers having to make excuses for my communication style when we met in person.
Oh.  Hi, Stuart.  Didn't put the name to the face.
Quote
Because of the way my games unfold, I generally cannot demand this level of fidelity in advance because the process of play, in games I run reveals the world in a much more literal sense. Thus, the world structure and therefore the mythological and philosophical systems on which it is based are not shared knowledge at the beginning of play.
Actually, sort of the reverse, but with the same effect.  It's not that there is fidelity to an established system, but that in fact there is almost no system at all in advance, thus fidelity is to the structural underpinnings of how people end up making use of the symbols.  Where I think the real difference lies is here:
Quote
Because all of the games in which I use numerological signification are about discovering the "true" nature of reality, your way of keeping symbols in context simply wouldn't work at the initial and intermediate stages in my campaigns.
The point in Shadows in the Fog is that there is no "true" nature of reality, not in design and not in the game-world.  There are no answers, only sequences of yet further questions.  There can be no absolute resolutions.  Thus whatever fidelity to the symbol-sets can happen, and is required, is in fact fidelity to the symbolic structures as the players make them -- and at the same time, as the characters make them.  Your approach demands that ultimately there be a baseline, a reality, to be discovered.  Thus to set up a complete symbol system and demand player fidelity to it from the start would require that they already know what they're supposed to figure out.  In my case, they have to be rigorous and careful about their use of the symbols because without them there is no stability at all -- and in fact, every creative use of the symbols demonstrates that the stability is all constructed and thus both stable and unstable, if that makes any sense.

I think we're on the same page now.  Cool!


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: Stuart Parker on December 02, 2004, 09:20:48 AM
Quote
I think we're on the same page now.  Cool!


Yes we are. And I see how your game interacts with symbol systems quite differently; your relationship to meaning allows for the creation of a portable game system whereas in my case, story, world and system are sufficiently entangled that there can be no system portability.

Another more obvious consequence (accounting for my infrequent visits here) is that I do not share the values of most regular Forge participants in prioritizing decentralized egalitarian control of story over other objectives.


Title: Mechanics as symbol sets II (split)
Post by: clehrich on December 03, 2004, 02:52:12 AM
Quote from: Stuart Parker
Another more obvious consequence (accounting for my infrequent visits here) is that I do not share the values of most regular Forge participants in prioritizing decentralized egalitarian control of story over other objectives.
A bit of a sidetrack, but just before there's a sharp response to this, you're not quite correct about this point.  Far more Forge-ites are interested in centralized GM control of one sort or another than you might think.  Distributed-GM or GM-ful gaming is certainly a hot topic here, but it is not necessarily prioritized over other objectives.

Anyway, back to the thread.