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Title: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on July 31, 2006, 12:13:40 PM
(Please note: I'm hoping to use this thread as the opening point of a discussion, rather than as a straight report).

---

Of late, I've taken a lot of time away from the GM chair (with the exception of running a few playtests) in order to just play in games.

Currently, my lady is running a game, using one of my one-day efforts at game engines called The Exchange (http://members.shaw.ca/LeviK/Exchange.pdf) (that's a direct link to a PDF; you don't need to read it to understand this).  The setting is a frozen land filled with undead, vaguely Scandanavian myth in color.

The base situation is very, very simple quest-stuff; we're all members of a tribe dedicated to true death, enemies of the undead, and our tribe has been slaughtered and our sacred stuff has been stolen by powerful undead.  We need to quest to get it back together, find the scattered survivors of the tribe, defeat our enemies, unravel the mystery of how this all went down.  It's all pretty well handled, but nothing supremely one-of-a-kind.

Here's the neat thing; the thing that makes this game rock for me.  As players, we've been playing together long enough, in various groups and games, that we pick up on each other's metagame cues pretty well, in terms of "I'd like to use dice for this", "I just want to narrate", "This is me grabbing some spotlight", and other such stuff.  For us as players, this is one of the big ways that we work to grab at cool moments before they pass us by.  And the GM started showed us all why she wanted such a minimal game engine just a few sessions in, as we were dropping cues like that.

So, when one of the players, who has a defining love of dice and odd strategies, starts describing what he wants to attempt as his Child-Ritualist, while looking at his sheet and puzzling away, we know he wants some crunch.  And the GM immediately "changes stance" (using the term very loosely) and tosses out a basic idea on ways that we could handle this with dice, using the game engine as a base.  And the rest of the group, if they have any refinements or ideas to throw around towards that, tosses different things on.  He likes a bit of a tactical challenge, so we pitch in and get him one.

Alternatively, we have another player that doesn't care one bit about the dice and tactics - she's there to be social and to grab a few really good character scenes where she can really shine.  So, when she wants to get at something that the GM can't just agree to, but where the stakes aren't really important, the GM shifts the other way.  Instead of trying to build the stakes up to something that's interesting and fun if dice are used, the GM will downplay the stakes; her first impulse is to suggest one or two different ways that this player can get it as "a freebie".  And that's what the player wants, most of the time (not every time, mind; she'll push for a roll once in a while.

The actual methods by which we do things are just as different for each player; I'm a spotlight junkie, for example.  The other players have learned ways to 'play support' for me on the occasions when I'm basking.  The game engine has warped and folded in our hands, and we couldn't care less.

Slowly, in this fashion, we're learning to not only allow each other our various kinds of fun, but actively work to and enjoy providing such stuff for one another.

And it's good.

----

Now, here's where I'd like to go into theory-stuff just a little.  Part of the reason we got to this style of play is that we tried a few games (most notably, DitV) that shook up the way we played and introduced us to new ideas, and we've been talking about theory stuff from these boards in post-play sessions, as well.  This has been extremely helpful, on the whole.

But we ran into problems with the idea of creative agendas.  Not only does our playstyle not map well onto the three agendas, but considering it in terms of those agendas is actually detrimental to our style of play in this game; when attempting to reference this to GNS, we consistently feels as if it's telling us that we're doing it wrong.

I'm not sure I've expressed my aggravation here very well.  It feels as if the theoretical approach should, somehow, have more to offer us on this specific area than it does.

So...  for starters, is there something I'm missing, here?


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 31, 2006, 12:39:40 PM
Hey everyone,

This thread will be just for me and Levi for a while, OK? I'll let you know when it opens up for general contribution.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 31, 2006, 02:17:09 PM
Hi Levi,

Thanks for posting this! I know you want to dig into the ideas, so here goes.

First, let's review the Big Model again. It says:

Social Contract encloses Exploration (or SIS, if you prefer). Exploration/SIS can be dissected into five components, but for now, let's call it one thing because they're all interconnected. This one thing encloses a set of Techniques (what the people do during play), and Techniques include a whole constellation of Ephemera.

What you described are Techniques and some Ephemera.

How does Creative Agenda fit in with all this? It can be thought of as a unifying "arrow" or "skewer" that holds the multiple-layered thing together for a given group. It means that the payoff for play is made more likely and made more socially-powerful by all the layers at once.

One of the most overlooked paragraphs in all of my articles is this one, from GNS and other matters of role-playing theory.

Quote
For a given instance of play, the three modes are exclusive in application. When someone tells me that their role-playing is "all three," what I see from them is this: features of (say) two of the goals appear in concert with, or in service to, the main one, but two or more fully-prioritized goals are not present at the same time. So in the course of Narrativist or Simulationist play, moments or aspects of competition that contribute to the main goal are not Gamism. In the course of Gamist or Simulationist play, moments of thematic commentary that contribute to the main goal are not Narrativism. In the course of Narrativist or Gamist play, moments of attention to plausibility that contribute to the main goal are not Simulationism. The primary and not to be compromised goal is what it is for a given instance of play.

What you're describing are moments like what I'm talking about in there - and not mentioning agenda once. You guys shift around some techniques of minor emphasis in player-specific ways. Cool. It's a little more flexible and personally-tuned than what's seen in most groups, which is interesting, but again, we're not talking about agenda in anything you've presented.

So what would be agenda-talk, for your group? Well, for a group to play as flexibly as you guys in terms of Techniques implies, to me, a strong agenda. So strong, in fact, that I think it's invisible to you.

The alternative, that you guys are playing so incoherently as to be switching from agenda to agenda as you go person by person, is unlikely, because that would mean the other people just check out and scratch their navels or look at DVDs on their laptops when they're not playing. And your description implies otherwise, that you use the flexible techniques as a means of strengthening group-based reinforcement, not dividing it. So I'll tentatively stick with my suggestion that there is a single, strong CA at work in your group.

Here's an analogy that Vincent reminded me I used last week. From his message to me, paraphrasing what I said ...

Quote
Let's say you have three guys, all of whom love pigs. One loves to eat them, one loves to race them against one another for prizes in the annual Pigathon, one loves to name them and pet them and scratch their chins. They don't know each other, but then they find one another in a chatroom or something and establish that they all "love pig." They get together on a Friday evening to all love pigs together, and the first one says to the other two, "hey, so here's my favorite recipe, what's yours?"

That's a group with an incoherent creative agenda.

Whereas what you're describing, Levi, is a group whose members all love to eat pig, and it just so happens that they utilize many recipes in a highly individualized way, yet all appreciating one another's enjoyment of different types of recipe. Which in no way contradicts the idea that they all get together in order to enjoy eating pig.

One other thing ... what is all this about "playing wrong?" The only kind of "playing wrong" I talk about involves fucked-up behaviors in which people abuse one another but won't/can't extricate themselves from the situation, like in bad relationships or bad work-situations. Since you have described what seems to be the very opposite - fun play, even loving play if you don't mind me getting sloppy/sentimental on you - then it is obviously playing very right. To interpret my essays as saying otherwise is quite odd.

Best, Ron

Vincent, thanks for reminding me about the pigs.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on July 31, 2006, 04:08:07 PM
So what would be agenda-talk, for your group?

See, that's where I run into the place where I met the aggravation.  As the game first started to roll, I was tempted to say that our agenda is social.  But that would be a cheap cop-out, because all gaming is social.

Now, putting this in my own words, an agenda is a way - an imperative, after a fashion - that informs the group as they play, allowing them to remain unified; they're all looking for the same kind of fun (the fun the agenda describes), and this lets them adapt their actions towards that one end.  Groups with a strong agenda that isn't supported by the system-as-written can develop a system-in-play that serves the kind of fun they're after, or find a system custom-build to that end, and there are strong benefits to that.  Now, that may not fit the idea of a Creative Agenda perfectly, but that's the gist of how we tend to think of such stuff.

Now, from that perspective, each of us started the game with differing goals - ones that don't seem to add up to an agenda.  They don't seem to add up to anything.

Laura, our GM, started the game with the goals of creating versimilitude in her game setting, to make space for immersive-type play, and evoke the "feel" of certain bits of mythology.  John, playing the ritualist, came in with his standard set of goals - to build a character that functioned in a way the designer probably didn't anticipate as both a dramatic and tactical challenge.  Holly, playing the Skriver (uh, magical scribe) is our more social player, and came primarily to interact with the other players - both as herself and in new and interesting situations as her character.  Kim had a character concept that she really wanted to try on and explore, an undead-hunting necromancer and fanatical old woman.  I came to relax and play the big dumb thunk, partly to see how my game engine worked in play and tinker with it between games, partly to collaborate on creating setting in-play.  The game engine seems, to me, to be very nearly free of any agenda as well.

But the whole process of collaboratively throwing stuff back and forth (something we started doing when setting stakes in Dogs, and kept expanding) - almost solely on the level of moment-to-moment techniques and ephemera - has slowly started to create a unified style of play.  An aggregate.

Trying to fit this into terms of the glossary here, it's seems that we've gained most of the benefits of a coherent style without having an agenda - even without having much at all at the level of Exploration.  And that's where the model and essays are aggravating, because that doesn't mesh.  Trying to make it mesh, in fact, seems like it would be a problem.

Can you see what I mean?


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 31, 2006, 04:27:37 PM
Hi Levi,

I think you're really good at talking about what people enjoy socially during play. I also think you're doing a good job of talking about the techniques of play, and how they change or when which ones are used.

But you're "blind" to talking about agenda in the GNS sense. Nothing you've described operates on the scale or parameters that characterize it. To stick with my analogy, it is so wholly "we're here to eat pig" that you don't even see that as a feature. That is OK. In fact, it probably is testimony to the excellent and non-problematic nature of the agenda in your game (whatever it might be). Most people understand Creative Agendas through negative experience, through seeing them stifled or through grappling after them unsuccessfully.

I have a series of questions I like to ask to help people tease out the CA in a given play-experience, and it's not a canned set, it depends on the person and what they've told me about their actual play so far. However, at this time, I'm not sure that's what you want to do here. I'm not fully satisfied that you want to know, and perhaps you're more comfortable saying, "Nope, no GNS for me, we don't match it, I don't like it."

For now, all I'll do is explain why I'm saying these things. You wrote,

Quote
Laura, our GM, started the game with the goals of creating versimilitude in her game setting, to make space for immersive-type play, and evoke the "feel" of certain bits of mythology.  John, playing the ritualist, came in with his standard set of goals - to build a character that functioned in a way the designer probably didn't anticipate as both a dramatic and tactical challenge.  Holly, playing the Skriver (uh, magical scribe) is our more social player, and came primarily to interact with the other players - both as herself and in new and interesting situations as her character.  Kim had a character concept that she really wanted to try on and explore, an undead-hunting necromancer and fanatical old woman.  I came to relax and play the big dumb thunk, partly to see how my game engine worked in play and tinker with it between games, partly to collaborate on creating setting in-play.

None of which is Creative Agenda, not individually, and not together. These are the emphases within the five components each of you brought into play initially, and that's great.

What you described for Laura = Color
What you described for John = Character and System
What you described for Holly = Character
What you described for Kim = Character

Non-problematic, all cemented together with what appears to be friendship and good will. Excellent ... but still wholly at the level of the SIS and its relationship to Social Contract. What you described in your first post was deeper, in the next layer - the Techniques and how they related up to the SIS, with an emphasis on System and also with a few Ephemera scattered in.

Do you want to review the relationship of the five components, as depicted in my little equation?

[[[Character + Setting] = Situation] + System]*Color

If so, we can do that, and I can then show you how that, as a unit, relates up to the Social Contract, and down (deeper) into Techniques, for your group. It might take a few questions though.

I'm getting a really good idea of the Big Model of your play-experience, and the potential Creative Agendas of the experience are becoming clear to me as well. If you want to talk about the CA side of things, though, then I'm going to need a little bit more.

Can you describe to me a series of fictional events in your play-experience, with this group? Which characters did what, and what happened, and how it happened that way? I think you've already described enough of the real-people interaction for me to factor that in, although if you want to mention a specific real-life aspect of the play-experience as you go, then cool.

I'm especially interested in some events which really strike you as a real payoff - if you were describing this to someone like a close friend or family member, you'd finish it off by saying, "And this is why we play."

Final point: I would prefer a slow pace to this discussion. So far, this is plenty of posts for one day, and it might be better for the next post to arrive tomorrow.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on July 31, 2006, 06:12:58 PM
However, at this time, I'm not sure that's what you want to do here. I'm not fully satisfied that you want to know, and perhaps you're more comfortable saying, "Nope, no GNS for me, we don't match it, I don't like it."

Basically, I've analysed this gameplay with my own toolkit, so to speak, and learned what I can - a few things I think are valuable to me.  I've tried to analyse it with the one from here, and it aggravates me, because I get no results of value.

So, yeah, I'd like to let you take a shot at it.  I figure if we take an honest shot at doing so, either one or both of us can't help but  learn something about something.

I'll come back to your questions either late tonight or tomorrow, though, to keep the pace calm.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 01, 2006, 12:27:02 AM
Hmm.

Here's a cluster of small payoff events that happened in pretty fair order...  I'm not entirely sure I'm giving you quite what you're looking for here, so feel free to dig further in.  The 'payoffs' are marked (*person), for whoever really the most out of that moment.  These are all little moments of cool that ended up giving us a satisfying chunk of session; the big moments, generally, are along the same kinds of lines, just with more lead-up, more focus, that kind of thing.

(Character names: I'm playing Andjagger, John is Son, Kim is the Crone, and Holly is Tavel.)

We're up on a crest, having acquired a foretelling of where our enemies will be in three days, and having beaten them there.  We're trying to discuss how to prepare for the arrival of our enemies down at the bottom of the pass.  Son has fallen behind, and is circling around behind out enemies.  Tavel, being a craftswoman among other things, suggests a rock trap - Andjagger volunteers to do the heavy lifting, but only if Tavel and the Crone will inscribe the stones with some kind of runes that will harm the undead we're going up against. (*Me - we tested some new combined cooperation and preparation rules here, a bit)

The enemy begins to arrive below us, and we set ourselves to meet them.  To our slight suprise, they have advance scouts - wraiths, in this case, who attack us with magic, attempting to corrupt us with death energies.  We struggle against them, and the Crone manages to drive them off by applying her own magic, warding them away from the area, and forbidding them to return for a time.

The Crone knows she's been marked out by the enemy, so she shows herself, and takes stock.  The enemy is a big band of zombies, led by a shrouded master with burning eyes, and they've got a sledge with them that is roofed and banded over with marks and sigils - it's a prison of some kind.  She locks eyes with the master, and engages him will-to-will; zombies, she can drive off by the bucket, if this thing can be driven away.  They struggle, and she's winning, but at great cost. (*Kim - this is awesome stuff for her character)

At the same time, Andjagger and Tavel trigger the rockfall, and chase it down the slope, driving straight through the zombies to the back of the wagon.  Andjagger can't smash the lock off the sledge, to his great suprise, but gets some fun in the spotlight driving back the zombies and breaking them up enough that destroying them shouldn't be all that hard, and Tavel does the picks the lock.

The door falls open, and our Tribal Totem is revealed - howling in pain, wounded, and clearly in the midst of becoming corrupted.  The zombies draw away from the sledge in terror.

Tavel stands agape; Andjagger simply ask the Totem what it would have of him.

The Totem intones "kill the witches", and gestures to the Crone and to another spot (where, unbeknownst to us, an enemy magician is slinking into position to assault the Crone, followed closely by Son, who is slinking towards the magician, in a Congo-line of assassinatory intent).

Andjagger charges the Crone, but has, to his great shock, taken enough of the 'death damage' that she can affect him with her necromancy.  She halts him and binds him to her will almost perfunctorily. (*Both myself and Kim).

Son backstabs the hidden magician, killing him almost instantly, after plenty of careful preparation (*John - this is the upshot of some fiddly, interesting mechanical play with some pretty high stakes, where he got the chance to do so knowing that failure would likely send him sprawling)

Tavel, terrified, stumbles back from the totem, as it turns on the remaining foes and slaughters the greater number of them.  She attempts to confront it and converse with it, horrified by the command, and it comes very close to killing her, quietly telling her that it must send her into Death to set it free, with her responding in shock and betrayal.  This is a short bit of pretty intense character-play. (*Holly - for her, the intensity of this short scene was a lot of fun).

Tavel manages to escape it's grasp, and leads it on a chase through the scattered few foes, which distract it in it's fury.  The Crone pitches Andjagger, currently her slave, into the fray to rescue Tavel - which he does simply by interposing himself between her and the Totem.  The Totem seems loathe to kill him, and as Son joins the Crone on the crest, and they work together to obscure our getaway, the escape is made, though we know that we won't have forever before our Totem sniffs us out.

During this short retreat, we attempt to determine why our Totem wants some of us dead - the apparent answer being that it wants us to enter the spirit world to either help it break free of some corrupting influence, or to free it of whatever has prevented it's total corruption.  Tavel is upset, the magicians are attempting to determine what the hell is going on by puzzling on it and making a check here and there; they banter a bit about getting into the spirit world without dying, and ways that they might do this; they're all dangerous, but might be worth it.  Andjagger offers to simply fall on his sword and discover the truth - to him, as a fanatical spiritualist, the Totem is the life of the tribe, and well worth his death - but the Crone won't allow this. (*Pretty much equal payoff alll round, here - we're all playing to our characters in this scene, hard, and trying to come up with a course of action under a time limit - it's good stuff).


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 01, 2006, 08:00:00 AM
Hi Levi,

Great play write-up! I urge whoever's following this thread to click on Levi's link to the Exchange PDF. Despite his claim to the contrary, you're going to see major significance regarding system and Big-Model stuff.

But I'm not ready to chat about that yet. Levi, I'm afraid this is turning into a bit of a question-marathon, but there is a reason for it. I'll ask the questions first and then maybe their contents will help illustrate the reason.

So! During this session, did you, Levi, like what the others did? Did they like what you did? I'm pretty certain they did.

Compare, for example, what Jasper writes in his description of play before his group tried Dogs in the Vineyard:

Quote
I have the impression that Lukas likes to do a lot of what he calls "real role -playing", i.e. getting in character, acting, and acting out behaviors and believes different from those of his real personality. He prefers rules "no to interfere" with that, though he seems to be o.k. with rules bringing about or framing situations for him to act upon, such as stress checks in UA or some of the BtI mechanics.

Niklas likes strategizing, delving into his resources and playing close situations - fights, car chases, interrogations and such. He loves clear goals and strong, blunt opposition and obstacles. Socially, he sort of bears with Lukas´acting, because, well, we´re all friends, Lukas does a great job, it´s fun to watch him, and sometimes, if in a good mood, he plays along and even seems to enjoy it, but my impression is that he likes getting his dice out and maybe coming up with a cool one -liner ("Prepare to die", "Ve haf means to make you talk...") a lot better.

I would like to see more thematic play happen. It did happen, now and then, in our UA game, but I´d really, really like some mechanics to foster that and, what´s even more important, I´d like everyone to appreciate and enjoy those moments. I want conscious thematic play to happen.

Now, I guess it´s pretty clear that our game eventually had to break, right? Any two of us got along just fine, more or less: Niklas let Lukas have some of that acting, and Lukas was happy to roll some mean ol´dice, once he got "his guy" to a point where that would make sense. Neither of them could fathom what the heck I was all about with that "thematic" stuff and what in heaven was wrong for me with the way the game ran. I could get into an acting contest with Lukas (while Niklas was rolling another cigarette) or throw dice with Niklas (while having to keep some acting up for Lukas - which is difficult, you know), and of course feeling that I was catering to their needs but got very little out of the game in terms of my thematic preferences.

I tried to adress these problems, we tried some changes to the game (stronger scene framing, some player empowerment, some meta - game currency, a more explicit social contract, heck, just some talking about what everybody wants out of our gaming). Dind´t work too well. I got the feeling that the other two tried to be nice and help me out, but, come on, why did they have to talk about gaming such an awful lot all of a sudden? 'Why not, you know, just ...game? The problem being, of course, that "just gaming" was a lot of work for ME. After a while, we kind of agreed to disagree and switched to board games. Fine.

(from [DitV] First try and observations about different gaming goals (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20695.0))

Now that's incoherent play, what I was talking about loving pigs in entirely different fashions. "Why can't we just love pigs?" Well, because it means one person has to run around like the dickens keeping people individually happy while the others check out of the play-experience. And that's the good outcome. Or "good." Because if it had really been a good outcome, they wouldn't have switched to board games.

So I'm going to go out on a limb here and speculate that your group does not fit this profile. I could be wrong about that, but so far, that's what your posts have indicated.

Can I get a confirm on that? If I'm wrong - and you must be truly reflective and honest about your answer - then the next questions don't count.

Looking back on the actual human interactions among you-all during play, how was this enoyment and appreciation of one another's play literally expressed? Think big. Think over the whole session, not just ten-second or two-minute snippets here and there.

Now for the harder question ... starting from the beginning of the session to the end, looking at the interactions in question, did their existence play a role in decisions as play progressed?

To answer that, you really have to step back and not consider "how I felt" or "what did I want" in a teeny-tiny, second-by-second context. You have be like a Martian anthropologist looking at the session as a whole, looking at these humans. Do you see anything that indicates how the fun you had as a group at point A fed into what a given person decided next at point B?

This isn't strange, by the way. It's exactly what you see when people do anything fun together as a group. It's easy-peasy, not arcane, and not weird. It is, however, a topic that has been enswathed in a highly specific kind of denial in role-playing culture. In that culture, "fun" is supposed to be mystical and ineffable - thinking about it is "what man was not meant to know." That's a hard habit to break.

Step back a little and think about the session as a whole. I would like to know, was the entirety of what you described a climactic event relative to previous sessions, or a build-up toward something hefty in the next, or least later ones? I get the idea that the main bad guy was new to the group, but that you already knew a lot about the tribal totem and had dealt with it before in some way. Or is this mistaken? Was this the first time the totem had been brought into play? If so, was it the first time it was even mentioned?

All right, the answers to those questions will really help me show you your group's Creative Agenda.

I hope you can also see the basic issue at hand in your understanding of the whole point. You are exhibiting the classic bafflement of what might be called the "atomic fallacy" of talking about Creative Agenda.

That's the notion that Gamist play (for example) can be divined or identified regarding one guy, at one time, for ten seconds, getting juiced because he picked the right maneuver and rolled the right number and really clocked the bad guy at the right time. And it's wrong as wrong can be. The problem is one of scale.

This is too atomic in a number of ways:

- Time: it's too short.
- Fictional events: you've described actions and short-term outcomes, not scenes and events.
- People: you've broken the group into islands interacting with the GM, but not their interactions with one another as a dynamic, ongoing phenomenon.
- Data: you've talked about what individuals were feeling, not what they were doing in a social, creative sense.

To talk about that one guy (in your case, John strategizing his way toward a crucial cool-ass bad-ass combat move) at this level as "Gamist" is like calling a particular set of muscle tissue with its characteristic cell types a "dog." Sure, that set of muscle may be in a dog. But it just as well may be in a moose, a shark, or a starfish. Muscle tissue has properties and a vast importance, yes ... but, in and of itself, it is not a dog - nor does its existence serve as evidence that it's in a dog.

So the real task at hand, for this discussion, is to realize that we are talking about a scale of analysis, and events-during-play, that are not at the same scale as anything you've been describing. You've talked about the room the animal is in (social contract), and the muscle tissue (the techniques, like the strategizing or the in-character speaking or whatever). I'm trying to get you to step back and look at the animal, which is as yet unidentified, with the questions in this post.

Once we're there, then we'll have to talk about reward systems and cycles in order finally to talk about CA (what the animal is doing). Those are damned concrete, real things which pack a powerful argumentative punch in the points I'm looking forward to making for you. But we can't do that until you make this crucial transition out of the atomism first.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 01, 2006, 01:28:03 PM
So! During this session, did you, Levi, like what the others did? Did they like what you did? I'm pretty certain they did.

Yes.  But let me get specific, so as not to come off as dishonest about just how great things are.

For any given little payoff moment, there's generally five people at the table.  Generally, one is getting the best bit of any moment. Two or three are actually in there with them, helping that moment work and enjoying it.  And there's often one, maybe two people playing audience at any given moment, listening and relaxing.  At best, they're completely cool with what's going on - they just don't have anything to add.  At worst, they're not really into that moment, but they're trying to keep along with the fiction, looking for ways to play off the results.

Looking back on the actual human interactions among you-all during play, how was this enoyment and appreciation of one another's play literally expressed?

Lots of ways.

First, very small scale, there's The Nod - that moment when other people look over and give that 'thumbs up!' look.

Scaling up, there's the actual system stuff - as we go along doing neat new things with rules, the cooler they are, the more likely they are to stay in the system - both in terms of "the way we roll dice" and "the ways characters commonly deal with different bits of fictional stuff".  If we try something cool, and it doesn't work, it goes into the system as "let's not do that again until we rethink it".

And in the same fashion, the more a given thing engages us in the fiction - and the more opportunity we see to build up on it, the more it gets moved on by the people who dig it.  Andjagger's choice to be loyal to the Totem over Son has ultimately led to him becoming an undead thing kept alive only by the Totem's will, as events progressed, with all the different characters having their own takes on that and interacting with that stuff in different ways, because it's cool.

The more engaging something - anything - is, and the more people it engages, the more it becomes part of the guts of what we do - part of the accepted "way things work and issues that they work around".  This isn't a new thing to me; I've just never seen it happen completely in open sight, with everyone conscious of it, before.

Now, to me, that seems to answer your other question as well, but I have this nagging suspicion that it's not quite the thing you're fishing around for.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 02, 2006, 05:50:25 AM
Hi Levi,

PART ONE

There are a couple of questions that are going unanswered, which makes it hard for me to move the discussion forward. I'll point to one in a minute, but there's a larger part of the conversation that isn't working for me either, and needs fixing.

It is: when I say something like "Does that make sense" or "I think you're looking at it this way, here's another way," then the conversation cannot function unless you give me confirmation or acknowledgment of some kind.

Does my point about the atomic fallacy make sense? You said above that you were, in fact, interested in learning about what I mean by Creative Agenda. This is a key point in learning about it, given what you'd said earlier. So, can I have confirmation or acknowledgment about that? Conversely, if it doesn't make sense to you, then can you let me know what doesn't?
There's no point to continuing unless you provide that kind of interaction. Help me out a little on this.

PART TWO

The Nod, the "system-selection," and the development of fictional elements due to mutual interest are all testimony to the linkage between Social Contract, SIS (all five parts), and Techniques, with Ephemera expressing bits and pieces of each. A fantastic Big Model in action summary. This lets me know your group has a reward system which everyone understands.

But first, I'm hoping you can see what I mean by Creative Agenda now. I'm suggesting is that a group would not reliably get that linkage without a shared aesthetic standard for what is most fun and satisfying. Any one person's enjoyment of that standard serves as others' enjoyment; person A might set up person B for a great rush of it, and person B might follow up on person C's, and whatever.

That would be Creative Agenda - the shared standard by which they do these things. I'm not trying to fish in any kind of tricky way. I'm asking these questions as clearly as I can and pointing down the road ahead at what I'm driving at. It's not mysterious, it's just a matter of looking at the right place. I'm claiming that when we do articulate your group's CA, you'll say, "Oh that old thing! Of course we do it that way! As if that were any kind of issue!"

So, do you see the scale and type of variable we're talking about? Do you see that the diversity you outlined in your first post is simply not a point of contention about that?

Minor point 1: If you guys are using person-customized techniques or modes of expression along the way, that's OK. I'm thinking that you have read my essays to say "one way to roll! one way to speak! one way to do it! only one! do that, all of you, exactly alike!" as the meaning of "system." I've said no such thing. Systems can be plural regarding their techniques. To me, that's a nose-wrinkling "of course they can" with multiple examples to point to.

Minor point 2: I used "reliably" in that paragraph above with some care. You have not fully confirmed that this is a reliable phenomenon in your group, but I think it probably is ... to help me with that, let's review a question I asked in the previous post.

Quote
think about the session as a whole. I would like to know, was the entirety of what you described a climactic event relative to previous sessions, or a build-up toward something hefty in the next, or least later ones? I get the idea that the main bad guy was new to the group, but that you already knew a lot about the tribal totem and had dealt with it before in some way. Or is this mistaken? Was this the first time the totem had been brought into play? If so, was it the first time it was even mentioned?

That will help me get to the most important topic which we need for this conversation: reward systems and cycles.

PART THREE

Here's another minor point. You wrote,

Quote
Generally, one is getting the best bit of any moment. Two or three are actually in there with them, helping that moment work and enjoying it. And there's often one, maybe two people playing audience at any given moment, listening and relaxing. At best, they're completely cool with what's going on - they just don't have anything to add. At worst, they're not really into that moment, but they're trying to keep along with the fiction, looking for ways to play off the results.

No big deal. This doesn't violate any expectations of mine or disallow any of my points. Again, it's completely typical of most group leisure activities. The only kind of checking-out that makes me suspicious is probably familiar to you from other games, or ones you've heard of - the guy who switches on his laptop and gets absorbed in his blog, the guy who wanders over to the DVD rack, the guy who starts a loud conversation with someone else at the table about some other topic while others are trying to play. What you're describing is the expected and necessary ebb and flow of social interaction and attention, with the less-active people contributing to the overall engagement because they're not being overly-present, and also taking needed mental relaxation along the way.

Again, I'd like confirmation of points I make, in terms of whether they were communicated. Let me know if this one makes sense to you.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 02, 2006, 09:48:11 AM
Numbered parts today.  I'm a fan of those...

PART ONE

The statement about the atomic fallacy makes sense, and I understand what you're saying there.  I'm not sure I entirely agree or disagree with it; I'm just trying to find a way to frame the experience from the perspective you're asking for.

PART TWO

Okay, aiming for the scale that you are, I see why the variance described at start isn't terribly helpful finding what you're asking for, though, to me, it's all of a piece.  Trying to frame this from the perspective of a shared aesthetic standard...

"Anything that creates new situations in the fiction which speak to both the characters and the setting, creating further opportunities to explore both, is awesome (so long as it isn't overdone).  The actual exploration of those things is good - the meat and potatoes of the game.  Things that do neither are neutral or dull."

Closer to the perspective you're looking for?

Minor point 1: If you guys are using person-customized techniques or modes of expression along the way, that's OK. I'm thinking that you have read my essays to say "one way to roll! one way to speak! one way to do it! only one! do that, all of you, exactly alike!" as the meaning of "system." I've said no such thing. Systems can be plural regarding their techniques. To me, that's a nose-wrinkling "of course they can" with multiple examples to point to.

Hmm.  I've written a fair bit of theory-jabber myself, and I've always been appalled how many people read things into what I say that I never meant to put there - and by some of the stuff they read in.  So, I'm going to just let this pass as "We read something you likely didn't mean to say.", and ask that we leave it at that, because nit-picking your wording and my perception in your essays strikes me as the opposite of productive in this conversation.

Minor point 2: I used "reliably" in that paragraph above with some care. You have not fully confirmed that this is a reliable phenomenon in your group, but I think it probably is ...

It is.

To get to your questions...

What I described (the fictional events) was a minor climactic event on the way to a larger one.  Our totem was one of the main objects of our quest - one we didn't expect to find there, but it was something we were looking for, and was a strong part of the background fiction for the game.  The enemy leader was something we'd seen hazily in a vision, but never actually confronted.

PART THREE

Sounds about right. 

I've seen games that had everyone more firmly engaged for longer stretches, but they, plainly, were short and exhausting.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 02, 2006, 06:00:39 PM
Hi Levi,

Well, we're just about ready to start the real topic now.

Quote
Trying to frame this from the perspective of a shared aesthetic standard...

"Anything that creates new situations in the fiction which speak to both the characters and the setting, creating further opportunities to explore both, is awesome (so long as it isn't overdone). The actual exploration of those things is good - the meat and potatoes of the game. Things that do neither are neutral or dull."

Closer to the perspective you're looking for?

Exactly right, in terms of the scale and parameters. But as you've stated it, this lacks content. The content is certainly there; its existence is implied by the "speak to the characters" and the "as long as it isn't overdone."

Our job at present is, having identified what we're looking for and where it might be found (how to look for it), to discover what it actually is: the content or identity of your group's focus, attention, goal, shared aesthetic standard, creative agenda.

Side note: I said "implied" and should clarify why. The way you've said that, you have only implied that the content is there, and said nothing at all about what it is. Both phrases are too vague for that purpose.

Regarding "speak to the characters," I will say this: the characters don't exist. The only imaginable interpretation of such a phrase is "speak to the participants," which is to say, the real people. I recognize, yes, that the characters are involved as fictional constructs, as media for the relevance to the players. When I'm playing simple Jed the homesteader, what "speaks to me" may not be the same as what "speaks to me" when playing Abbanzar the Avatar. But whatever and whenever, we are talking about the material speaking to me, and that's how I'm going to read your phrasing.

Regarding "so long as it isn't overdone," that is going to be a major topic later in the discussion. Don't let me forget about it.
No need to debate this business about the vagueness! It's actually perfectly appropriate at this point and sets up the next step as described above.

Quote
What I described (the fictional events) was a minor climactic event on the way to a larger one. Our totem was one of the main objects of our quest - one we didn't expect to find there, but it was something we were looking for, and was a strong part of the background fiction for the game. The enemy leader was something we'd seen hazily in a vision, but never actually confronted.

Yeah, I definitely gathered from your previous write-up was that the group of players reacted strongly to discovering the tribal totem. OK! So they're on this quest. Tell me, how was this quest established? What was up with the Frost Folk tribe that needed questing to solve? Now, I'm not asking for the metaphysics and what the Caribou Shamaness said in the sweat-hut, I'm talking about what was presented, in play, that got the players strongly invested in going off on the quest?

Were kids starving? Prey animals becoming rare? Savage beasts harrying the solitary hunters? Women becoming barren? What was up? 'Cause I'm pretty sure there was something. I am not being facetious about its content, either. I'm saying, what was the strong content of the early scenarios of this series of adventures (of which the cited session was what, three-quarters along the way, maybe two-thirds?)?

Will the answer tell us about the Creative Agenda? Noooooo, it won't. I've got a really strong notion of what it is, now, and I don't want to be coy about it. I also, however, want to articulate and demonstrate it as well as possible. So the more imaginative/fictional context we have, especially in terms of how it related to you guys actually, in play, the better my notion can be articulated and supported to you.

So we're almost there! Thanks for your patience so far.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 02, 2006, 07:47:50 PM
Our job at present is, having identified what we're looking for and where it might be found (how to look for it), to discover what it actually is: the content or identity of your group's focus, attention, goal, shared aesthetic standard, creative agenda.

Sounds good, but I'm not sure how to go from here to there.  What I gave was a loose description of one way of framing what I'd call our aesthetic standard - and I'll happily grant you that it was damnably vague, even lacking in identity.

Regarding "speak to the characters," I will say this: the characters don't exist. The only imaginable interpretation of such a phrase is "speak to the participants," which is to say, the real people. I recognize, yes, that the characters are involved as fictional constructs, as media for the relevance to the players. When I'm playing simple Jed the homesteader, what "speaks to me" may not be the same as what "speaks to me" when playing Abbanzar the Avatar. But whatever and whenever, we are talking about the material speaking to me, and that's how I'm going to read your phrasing.

In large part.  But I'll expand, to be clear.  If I say something "speaks to the character", then I may mean any or all of:

-Something that the player wants to explore and address, and sees a way that to do so through the media of their character.

-Something that the player, again screened through that media, finds compelling in and of itself.

-Something that the player believes is, while not necessarily compelling or worth exploring in itself, nevertheless something that grounds the character or opens up chances for the player to get the whole media into a state that will bring up compelling or explorable stuff.

-Something the player believes is relevant to other player's characters, and would like to see brought into the game where it can be dealt with.

-Something that fits so smoothly with the fiction of the character, or the systemry attached to that character, that it feels as if it belongs.

Tell me, how was this quest established? What was up with the Frost Folk tribe that needed questing to solve? Now, I'm not asking for the metaphysics and what the Caribou Shamaness said in the sweat-hut, I'm talking about what was presented, in play, that got the players strongly invested in going off on the quest?

Fictionally, we kicked off the fast way - the home village tribe was slaughtered by unknown foes and our treasures stolen.  This happened just as winter began to fall, and our characters were among the many tribesfolk returning home when it occured; we were the aspiring heroes of the tribe, not yet risen to leadership positions (or, in the case of the Crone, actively in rejection of leadership roles).

That was all pre-start; we started on our way into the village for winter, seeing a smudge of smoke on the horizon.

The earlier cited chunk of play is from about three-quarters of the way down the line, yes.

...

Now, the main content of the first couple of sessions was really three parts...

We buried the dead, with heavy rituals, and scoured the rubble for both grave goods and for the ancestral treasures of the tribe.  We went so far as to describe raising a mound over them, trying to build the overall feel of the setting, the characters, and the dynamics of the game - the whole idea that our characters had previously been secondary member of a supremely skilled tribe, and were now the best thing the tribe had going for it, and the character reactions to that (their own personal issues, so to speak). This was strong content in the sense of establishing characters and their stuff.

We looked for ways to track and number our enemies, and determine what had occured, with magic and various kinds of skills and so on, trying to determine the ways we could follow them.  This was strong content in the sense that it helped us as players get a grasp of the game engine, and start adapting our play to and through it, as well as letting us start finding ways to express character stuff through the medium of that engine.  In effect, it let us turn the engine into part of our actual system of play, to use terms more familiar to these parts.

And, finally, we spoke with representatives of other tribes that we had summoned or who had heard of the attack, attempting to gain information from them, and gifting them with the food supplies that our dead tribesmen would not need to eat over winter.  In effect, we gave them a magnificent bribe not to seize our lands over the winter.  This segment largely helped us create and reinforce a sufficient level of setting detail that we could fully buy into the game, and present things in a way that felt right.

Now, I'm simplifying a fair bit here, but that's generally what we were doing over the first session-and-a-half or so; that was the stuff that established the game.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 03, 2006, 06:44:02 AM
Hi Levi,

Regarding your points about characters: yes, yes, yes – full agreement. Perfect. We fully agree about what characters are, how they’re important, and what may be happening with them. If anyone ever asks me “what do you mean by ‘character’” regarding my Big Model talk, I’ll point to your list. That’s exactly what I mean.

Now, on to the task at hand. I wrote,

Quote
Our job at present is, having identified what we're looking for and where it might be found (how to look for it), to discover what it actually is: the content or identity of your group's focus, attention, goal, shared aesthetic standard, creative agenda.

And you replied,

Quote
Sounds good, but I'm not sure how to go from here to there.  …

Excellent! We are now on our way to doing just that. From now on, let’s talk people, characters, content, interactions, and all manner of stuff about actual play. This is the fun part.

I’ll start by combining your character details from an earlier post with a couple of key phrases that jumped out at me in the last one.

Quote
John, playing the ritualist, came in with his standard set of goals - to build a character that functioned in a way the designer probably didn't anticipate as both a dramatic and tactical challenge.  Holly, playing the Skriver (uh, magical scribe) is our more social player, and came primarily to interact with the other players - both as herself and in new and interesting situations as her character.  Kim had a character concept that she really wanted to try on and explore, an undead-hunting necromancer and fanatical old woman.  I came to relax and play the big dumb thunk,

Quote
…  we were the aspiring heroes of the tribe, not yet risen to leadership positions (or, in the case of the Crone, actively in rejection of leadership roles).

Quote
… the overall feel of the setting, the characters, and the dynamics of the game - the whole idea that our characters had previously been secondary member of a supremely skilled tribe, and were now the best thing the tribe had going for it, and the character reactions to that (their own personal issues, so to speak). This was strong content in the sense of establishing characters and their stuff.

Right. I’m reading between the lines at a few points in the character descriptions paragraph, but given your account of play as well, I think it’s fair to say that none of your characters are necessarily the pick-of-the-litter as far as “save the tribe” is concerned.

Son, the ritualist, is arrogant and independent to a fault. The Crone avoids responsibility but is driven by fanatical passions. Andjagger isn’t too bright (or more accurately, he and the others think he isn’t). Tavel provides the perfect centralizing influence as the only one who’d really like to be the best/brightest of the tribe, but lacks confidence and grit.

Your other two points in the latest post (using system-stuff to identify enemies and figure out what was going on) (establishing and coloring setting-stuff via the interaction with the other tribes) are also golden, because they lock that character-issue stuff totally into place regarding the five components of the SIS.

Perhaps “lock into place” is a poorly chosen phrase, though … what I mean is more like “kick start” or “blossom.” I especially like “blossom” because it means so many other things are coming clear or being included, and it also implies not knowing how it’ll all turn out in the end. The point is that everyone at the table now knew that none of that work spent in making up characters was wasted – the rest of the SIS is firing on all cylinders as well.

You wrote,

Quote
… that was the stuff that established the game.

And “how truly you speak.” Exactly. This is the stuff of the game, not in the sense of literal fictional content (“we are the frost folk”), but in terms of thematic content. You are talking about the potential tensions among the fictional elements, the things that make them unstable, interesting, dynamic, and crying out for resolution.

… and most importantly, resolution that says something. Oh, not in any kind of dry, abstracted academic way, but in the way humans experience such “sayings” when a really good story hammers home its climactic moments, and I (for instance) say to myself, “I was not cheated out of my $9.50 for these past two hours.” People rarely articulate the content of these thematic payoffs, but their existence or failure is the single most important variable regarding whether a movie was excellent or fucking sucked.

Is it any wonder that in this awesome session, chosen by you and not me regarding its signature importance in this game, is characterized not by the presence of a Big Bad guy, but by strife and confusion among the heroes?

That’s no wonder at all. That’s exactly the sort of conflict-situation that your character concepts and the setting were demanding, in which the issues of leadership, worthiness, and responsibility were thrown into absolutely central focus. Add to it the masterstroke of throwing into question the overall validity of the goal itself, and it’s a thing of beauty.

I refer, in that last point, to the Totem. The Totem is the spirit of the tribe, its worth in the metaphysical and mythical power of the setting. If it is corrupted, if it is not reliable as a source of wisdom, then who are the characters, after all? Must they make a Totem anew, or heal this one, according to the dictates of their own, individual views?

All of a sudden there’s a lot more to saving the tribe than just killing a bunch of stupid zombies and their faux-Nazgual warleader. This isn’t  a tactical exercise at the “whole dog” scale, not at all. Nor is it some kind of “gee, just immerse” procedure. You guys are fully engaged in the production of a theme that, until you grapple with this bit of play, in this session, could not be stated because it did not yet exist.

Not only, can the tribe be saved?, but also and centrally, can we save the tribe, when we are neither fully-yet leaders or even in one case, when we do not desire leadership? And when we are quirky bastards, too, with quirks that make our potential leadership problematic? And when we, with our faults, turn out to have to be spiritual leaders (heal/replace the Totem), not just a ‘tac squad?

Does that make sense? I am not claiming that any of you actually articulated any of this during play itself, whether aloud or internally. Such things do not have to be articulated in order to be central to our aesthetic interests, as human. I'm asking if it makes sense now, with you looking back over play as the Martian anthropologist.

Here’s a supportive point. Take my points above, and add to them your group’s absolutely classical setting, which echoes very strongly in my ears of The Prydain Chronicles and the Celtic myths concerning the Fhoi Myore (by whatever spelling). Tribes are pretty much good, healthy things. Undead and massacres and fucked-up totems are, straightforwardly, tragic and (non-sarcastically) evil.

This is excellent data! If the shared goals of play concern “unstable thematic elements crying out for resolution,” then problematic, potentially conflicted characters do very well in initially fixed-familiar, straightforward settings. The setting can later provide more complexity (like your Totem being corrupted), but the starting point does best to be very clear and simple, as you did.

One common pitfall in such gaming is to have maximally-conflicted characters in maximally-conflicted, morally-gray settings, which usually results in a total mess.  You guys, instead, quite rightly have identified where you want your conflicts (character mind-sets) and made sure to do that in the right kind of setting (solid, clear morality). This serves, to me, as another indicator that “creation of theme out of a nest of hassles” is a high priority for your group.

(Side note: the opposite works well for this purpose, too – very straightforward starting characters in a messy, no-sides-right setting.)

(Other side note: these points do not apply at all to play with utterly different goals, in which maximal-mess and minimal-mess are both useful ways to do it)

Now I’d like to talk about the last session or two of this particular saga.

What happened to the totem? Did any or all of the group enter the spirit world through the path of death? Did that help rescue it? How about any inter-character relationships, like Andjagger to the Crone? Did Son show any qualities of leadership, as opposed to showboating? Did Tavel emerge from her confusion to arrive at a powerful statement of ‘what we need to do’? In fact, did the characters establish any hierarchy or sets of individualized responsibility among them?

Because what I’m anticipating, in your account, is the presence of a certain degree of answer to the more abstract questions, italicized a few paragraphs above, inherent in the answers to these more concrete/SIS questions, italicized just above.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 03, 2006, 11:11:07 AM
Not only, can the tribe be saved?, but also and centrally, can we save the tribe, when we are neither fully-yet leaders or even in one case, when we do not desire leadership? And when we are quirky bastards, too, with quirks that make our potential leadership problematic? And when we, with our faults, turn out to have to be spiritual leaders (heal/replace the Totem), not just a ‘tac squad?

Does that make sense? I am not claiming that any of you actually articulated any of this during play itself, whether aloud or internally. Such things do not have to be articulated in order to be central to our aesthetic interests, as human. I'm asking if it makes sense now, with you looking back over play as the Martian anthropologist.

I'd alter the thematic questions you've put forward a little, and your reading of implied stuff is good, though not perfect.  And, certainly, it does make sense.

But I'm a little resistant to viewing it as central to the way we play.  Now, I'll clarify why that is, because I'd prefer to have you make your case as thoroughly as possible, rather just hearing blank objections.

It doesn't feel so much like an "Aha!" as a "My, that's seductively attractive.  Our game could become that very easily; we're close enough to it that downplaying the other stuff and focusing on that would be simple."  But the other stuff, which we could downplay to bring that stuff clearer, and to be certain of answering those thematic questions, is of value to the group - and may be of greater value to people other than myself, since I can't see perfectly into their heads.

(And this, I suspect, may be where you want me to remind you of "so long as it isn't overdone").

Now I’d like to talk about the last session or two of this particular saga.

What happened to the totem? Did any or all of the group enter the spirit world through the path of death? Did that help rescue it? How about any inter-character relationships, like Andjagger to the Crone? Did Son show any qualities of leadership, as opposed to showboating? Did Tavel emerge from her confusion to arrive at a powerful statement of ‘what we need to do’? In fact, did the characters establish any hierarchy or sets of individualized responsibility among them?

Because what I’m anticipating, in your account, is the presence of a certain degree of answer to the more abstract questions, italicized a few paragraphs above, inherent in the answers to these more concrete/SIS questions, italicized just above.

Well, some of it is in there...

We all entered the spirit world, as it happened.  It became clear that it was necessary to do so, one way or another, to heal the Totem.  But it was also clear that we had limited time, as things were getting worse for the Totem.  Andjagger spoke to his familiar spirit (a semi-vampiric thing he captured and had bound into his sword), and it agreed that the joy of drinking away his life would be worth the difficulty of attempting to give some of it back to him when his work in the spirit world was done; he them killed himself, knowing the blade was likely to fail.

At the same time, the Crone, Tavel, and Son searched the area for any of the drugs normally used for vision quests; it wasn't until after the death of Andjagger that they finally found some, but not all, of the recipe.  After only a token discussion, they knew that they might well return from the spirit world to bodies that were completely crippled, or even possessed, because of their shoddy preparations, but went anyway.

We managed, with some ritual trickery, to largely clear our totem of the bonds that were corrupting him - all save one, which we had to trace back (with ghostly speed) to another spirit.  It was our former cheiftain, Son's father, fully corrupt, and apparently complicit.

From the flow of events, we (as players) were all prepared to hear the "Darth Vader" offer being made to Son.  Instead, he ordered us to break the bond between our totem and leave his father's sould to rot; the tribe mattered more, and the drugs would not last them forever.  After a few failed attempts, and some kerfuffle (in which Tavel was smashed back into her body, somewhat damaged) we managed to do so.

We returned to our totem, and noted that it had begun to become a complete spirit again, though too still pained to talk more than a few words at a time.  Crone and Son, seeing this, murmurred how they would need to renew and cleanse our bonds to the Totem soon, with some pretty hefty ritual.  Andjagger discovered that his familiar had failed, and could not revive him; he simply nodded goodbye to the others, made it clear he wanted no goodbyes, and they returned to their bodies.

Andjagger waited over the Totem, to guard it as it healed, in the Spirit World, before going on to his rest.

After only a few moments, the Totem looked at him, and rumbled something that sounded like "I have need of you among the living.  For a time.  You will come to death when we are done.", and slammed Andjagger back into his body, now undead.

He awoke beside his sickened, vomiting cohorts, and they conversed, attempting to get a handle on the new shape of their world; things, relationships, needed to be oriented anew, changed, dealt with.  And we got a start on this.  But we didn't finish.

...And the last game of the series is either tonight, or a week from tonight, depending on scheduling.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 03, 2006, 02:16:22 PM
Hi Levi,

My statement of centrality is taken specifically from your own description. I dislike hurling your own words into your face, but phrases like "that was the stuff that established the game," and your confirmation that you were talking about the strong content of play, do support my point without reaching or projecting.

Quote
It doesn't feel so much like an "Aha!" as a "My, that's seductively attractive.  Our game could
Quote
become
that very easily; we're close enough to it that downplaying the other stuff and focusing on that would be simple."  But the other stuff, which we could downplay to bring that stuff clearer, and to be certain of answering those thematic questions, is of value to the group

Other stuff? What, specifically?

But wait, before answering that, we should check something. Your statement carries a very weird implication. You're suggesting, I think, that the issues that I outlined above, to be a Creative Agenda, need to be so prevalent, so urgent, so explicit as to occupy every second of the group members' in-play attention. There is no such requirement. A Creative Agenda is observable as a unifying thread of enjoyment of attention running through play, not some kind of overriding obsession whose drum-beat drowns out all details.

I'm talking about what can be observed from what's already there, not what "could be there" if only you did nothing else.

So, that stated, and if you'd confirm it, then I'd like to know what you mean by "other stuff."

Beware, as well, your feelings. Memories of feelings are treacherous things. Remember, I'm not talking about checking-in to consult your feelings, but rather your stated description of what was socially enjoyed and acknowledged during play itself. You described the Nod, for example. Stick with those observations, not with whether my proposition "feels right."

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 03, 2006, 02:29:40 PM
Other stuff? What, specifically?

The integrity of the setting, as well as the ability to continue to create it, and and the fun of the system mechanics in and of themselves (in terms of 'playing with a toy' kind-of play) were also part of the "stuff".

But wait, before answering that, we should check something. Your statement carries a very weird implication. You're suggesting, I think, that the issues that I outlined above, to be a Creative Agenda, need to be so prevalent, so urgent, so explicit as to occupy every second of the group members' in-play attention. There is no such requirement. A Creative Agenda is observable as a unifying thread of enjoyment of attention running through play, not some kind of overriding obsession whose drum-beat drowns out all details.

Hmm.  Not quite what I *thought* I was suggesting.

I was thinking more along the lines of "something so prevalent that fun that doesn't tie into it is more often discarded - that is, tends not to become part of the stuff that recieves future attention and focus from the group.

If you mean "is that thread present and linked in", then yes.   But it's not the only thing that ties it together.  It's the question of centrality that's bugging me.  Which may be a false lead to what you're trying to show me, here.

Beware, as well, your feelings. Memories of feelings are treacherous things.

Your point is well taken, there.

(Though I must admit that I heard it in my head, on first reading, in the voice of Yoda).


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 03, 2006, 03:14:02 PM
Levi, it's actually pretty important that we don't fire back replies within instants of reading the posts in this discussion.

If you would, come on back in a while and reply, whether only to clarify what you said, or to react differently this time, or whatever.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 04, 2006, 05:15:16 AM
If you would, come on back in a while and reply, whether only to clarify what you said, or to react differently this time, or whatever.

(Side note: No game last night; scheduling near start-of-month is a pain for us.  Next week.)

I'm not really sure there's much to clarify there, but I'll give it a shot.  The reason for the fast response was that my last post was me attempting to clarify something, really - I'm still trying to sort out the scope of Creative Agendas as you see them; in terms of how much mental share (acknowledged or not) they recieve from players.

In terms of the group aesthetic (whether I'm talking about an agenda or not), yes, the thematic questions you've described (with minor, piffling alterations) make sense and are present.  I, personally won't feel entirely satisfied with the game if they aren't resolved - Laura, who is running the game, has also mentioned that seeing such stuff resolved would make the game more satifying for her as well, but isn't overly concerned with the theory of it.

But in the same terms - of larger categories of stuff that unify our play and provide shared enjoyment in that way, there's a lot of time and shared interest in simply building and playing with the setting and mechanics of the game.  The use of the word "play" there is very deliberate; when we deal with these things, it's more fun than satisfying.  It is, though, an essential part of the overall aesthetic of the group as I see it.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 04, 2006, 07:56:10 AM
Hi Levi,

PART ONE: ANSWERING THE DIRECT QUESTION

Quote
]I'm still trying to sort out the scope of Creative Agendas as you see them; in terms of how much mental share (acknowledged or not) they recieve from players.

It depends on what you mean by mental share. To use music as an analogy, there are two ways to look at it, both correct.

1. Every player is focused on playing this song, at all times.

2. Every player is focused on the immediate task at any given time: supportive, facilitative, high-performance, just waiting, acknowledging a fellow performer, whatever.

In terms of current and recalled experience, the person remembers #2. That is, after all, what he or she really did. Feelings, memories, impressions, passions, and so on are all embedded as part of the experience of #2.

But in terms of agenda, what the players came there that day to do, and what is manifestly apparent in the thread running through or the foundation underlying all the stuff in #2, is #1. Without it, the activities of #2 are confused, contradictory, mushy, weird, and ultimately not socially possible.

Did the players have mental share in playing that song? Sure they did. But if you ask whether a given player was totally invested in the whole-song-performance in a fully articulated, thinking-about-it way right when he played particular notes in a particular solo, he’d say “no.” He was playing the fuckin’ solo, with those notes, just “feeling it,” that’s what he was doing. Same goes for a guy who was counting out the measures during his rest - did he stress over whether he was "playing the song"? Nope - he was counting, "thirty-two two three four, thirty-three two three four, thirty-four two three four." That was his mental share at that moment.

But without the shared agenda of playing that great song being invested in by everyone in the group, there would have been no point to playing that solo or counting out that rest, at that time, for that person, and in that way.

PART TWO: AVOID THIS RED HERRING, PLEASE

I am uninterested in personal motivations. That soloist might be a raving egotist who only tolerates the other band members insofar as they give him a chance to solo, or he might be an aspiring and humble youngster, grateful for the chance, or whatever.

Relative to the point I am making, and about Creative Agenda in general, the psychologies of the participants are not part of the analysis. Whatever they might be and whatever they might be impelling the people to do (already, I roll my eyes at the necessary abuse of language in trying to talk about psychology as a causal phenomenon), what I’m interested in is the observable, dynamic, multi-variable interactions which share a common ground and which demand an identifiable outcome.

PART THREE: CHECKING IN TO THE DIALOGUE

What I’d like to examine, as simply as possible, is the point I raised earlier: in this case, the following quote A is not invalidated, challenged, or contradicted by the following quote B.

Quote A:

Quote
In terms of the group aesthetic (whether I'm talking about an agenda or not), yes, the thematic questions you've described (with minor, piffling alterations) make sense and are present.

Quote B:

Quote
But in the same terms - of larger categories of stuff that unify our play and provide shared enjoyment in that way, there's a lot of time and shared interest in simply building and playing with the setting and mechanics of the game ...

Quote B is not a counter-argument against Quote A. It supports Quote A and my current argument in full.

I hope we don’t go on with this issue too long, although I recognize that you need to work through it.

It’s as if I pointed out to a group of bicycle racers that their activity was predicated on competing to win. After some painful dialogue in which they insisted “no! we’re riding bikes!” or “no! we’re being on TV!” and similar, and after I point out numerous details and interactions, they finally grudgingly admit that their shared, common, group-reinforced goal to compete to win does exist, as the central unifying issue of this activity.

But then one says, “wait a minute, I really like the way our bikes work too. So sleek, so well-engineered, and for each of us, so customized to our individual needs.”

And another one says, “you know, picking the right road to race on is a really big deal. We spend a lot of time on that, checking it out and sprucing it up if necessary.”

Then they look at me and say, “Ha! What about that? See, it’s not just about winning!”

That’s what you’re doing with all this talk of setting and system. I used all that jargon in that one post for a reason – not just to listen to the sound of words I happen to like, but because it means something I’d like you to understand. Character, Setting, Situation, System, and Color are your materials, your medium. I’m talking about what you, this group, is doing with the medium. Telling me you care about the medium means absolutely nothing as a counter-argument; in fact, in your group’s case, the more you care about it, the more the goal is reinforced.

I dunno, man. This discussion could go south very quickly if this point doesn’t get through. I would point out exactly what you said in your description of what’s important. You would find some facilitative feature of the experience which is (because it’s facilitative) important to the goal, and hold it up as an alternative to the goal. I point out how it’s facilitative toward the goal.

Then you would point out some element of the role-playing medium itself, absolutely necessary for it to occur in any enjoyable fashion, and hold that up as something that your group does successfully. I would identify it as such (like the road in the racing example) and state that it is a requirement for a goal of any kind, not itself a specific goal.

I’m pretty sure that’s not what we came here to do, though, so let me know if this post has helped make that more clear.

Best, Ron
edited because I mixed up my 1's and 2's and A's and B's in the original


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 04, 2006, 01:51:52 PM
Character, Setting, Situation, System, and Color are your materials, your medium. I’m talking about what you, this group, is doing with the medium.

*Blink, Blink*

Excuse me as I shuffle my perspective over a couple of places to where you've been trying to get it...

...

...Okay, I'm with you now.  Consider the entirety of your last post completely confirmed; though I've got to say that this *isn't* the perspective I thought we were looking for.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 04, 2006, 03:44:37 PM
Excellent! I know it might seem like a pain in the ass, because I keep claiming we're about to talk about reward systems, but it might be helpful for you to read over the thread from the beginning, and see what you think about some of the posts this time. Any notions, thoughts, or questions?

I had also planned for us to look again at the later sessions' content, or rather, the whole thrust of where things went with the characters and the tribes, but then realized you guys weren't finished yet. I have to say, I'm a little bummed that you'll only play one more session given the events you described. It seems to me as if the really solid conflicts have only just begun.

Aaaand, finally, I also want to take a good hard look at The Exchange too.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 04, 2006, 07:13:46 PM
Excellent! I know it might seem like a pain in the ass, because I keep claiming we're about to talk about reward systems, but it might be helpful for you to read over the thread from the beginning, and see what you think about some of the posts this time. Any notions, thoughts, or questions?

Primarily that from this specific viewpoint, it's plain that the group is creating emergent story.  I say "emergent" because there's no guarantee that any specific piece of story will conclude in any specific way.  Moreover, it's presently unclear which of those possibilities will be resolved at all.

Now, that doesn't invalidate a damn thing - it's just that this is there, as a natural thing within the group.  Almost all games follow the basic storyline structure (they have a beginning, rising action, and denoument), but we've loaded the action with potential themes, and in play, things which serve or tie to a potential theme are often those that we, as players, use.

I continue to find it very interesting that, to us, the material we use and the methods we have adopted recieve the degree and kind of attention that they have from us, even from this point of view.  Despite that, it's patently not the thing you were trying to show me.

I had also planned for us to look again at the later sessions' content, or rather, the whole thrust of where things went with the characters and the tribes, but then realized you guys weren't finished yet. I have to say, I'm a little bummed that you'll only play one more session given the events you described. It seems to me as if the really solid conflicts have only just begun.

The next play session is meant to close the arc of "what's happening around us".  At that point, we're expecting to review the game to date, and determine if we'd like to close out there, or if we'd like to continue, and if we'd like to change any characters, move forward in time, change over to anther GM...

...Basically, next game will be the end of the first "season", and we'll then decide if we want another one.

Aaaand, finally, I also want to take a good hard look at The Exchange too.

Love to. 

Though I will note that the engine has been significantly expanded in play - if the changes were codified, it'd add a good two pages more.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 05, 2006, 08:19:38 AM
Hi Levi,

PART ONE: OVER THE FIRST HUMP

I hope it is not too traumatic to look in the mirror and say, "We are playing with a Narrativist Creative Agenda." 'Cause that's what it is, lock stock and barrel, without any complications or confusions.

In my essay Narrativism: Story Now (http://) essay, I have a section outlining how often people, in learning about it, must "say it yourself" in order to articulate what this CA is like or about. With this statement,

Quote
Primarily that from this specific viewpoint, it's plain that the group is creating emergent story. I say "emergent" because there's no guarantee that any specific piece of story will conclude in any specific way. Moreover, it's presently unclear which of those possibilities will be resolved at all.

Now, that doesn't invalidate a damn thing - it's just that this is there, as a natural thing within the group. Almost all games follow the basic storyline structure (they have a beginning, rising action, and denoument), but we've loaded the action with potential themes, and in play, things which serve or tie to a potential theme are often those that we, as players, use.

... you have "said it yourself." And I say, high-five, exactly. As far as I'm concerned, this statement is a perfect paraphrase of that essay. Do you see why it's called Story Now? Because the difference between potential and realized theme occurs during play itself - as the point of what play is for.

If you have any questions about what incoherent play or dysfunctional play are, or how Creative Agenda relates to them, feel free to ask, although nothing of that sort applies to this group for the sessions you described.

You also might consider altering your example setting in The Exchange to focus on the thematically-rich conflicts it offers, rather than just the

PART TWO: SYSTEM DOES MATTER

You wrote,

Quote
I continue to find it very interesting that, to us, the material we use and the methods we have adopted recieve the degree and kind of attention that they have from us, even from this point of view. Despite that, it's patently not the thing you were trying to show me.

Well, hold on, tiger. I do want to address that, but it couldn't be done until the whole Creative Agenda bugaboo got clarified. Didn't you know that I always said, CA (or GNS, whatever) is easy, and the real questions I want to discuss concern system? No one could have been more surprised than me to have the GNS thing turn into a tentacled monster that upset people at its very mention - I thought it'd be a big no-brainer and we could move on to talking about how role-playing, you know, functions.

So let's do that here. I'd really like to see the Exchange updated as you described - c'mon, two pages, it can't be hard - and then we'd have the before/after versions as our shared platform for the discussion.

If you're interested in comparisons with other games, I can talk about shared features with Trollbabe, HeroQuest, Sorcerer, and The Pool.

One suggestion regarding the manuscript that I'm seeing now: re-organize as follows ... I think the whole document will be extremely punchy and inspiring if you take the "Characters by Campaign" section on page 2, make it the first section in the "Campaign Summaries" chapter, and then bump that whole chapter into first place, i.e., starting on the current page 2, before Character Creation.

Now! What about system do I want to talk about?

First thing: rewards

In the version I'm looking at, reward mechanics are very, very similar to those in Sorcerer. The point is not necessarily to make the character better at things, although this can happen to a small extent if you really want, but rather to re-position the character relative to existing or potential conflicts.

Sigh ... jargon alert. OK, a character in a role-playing game is always composed of three things: Effectiveness, Resource, and Positioning. The facts that a given number can do double-duty for more than one of these, or that in a given group some of these may be understood or simplified down to the bedrock, are not important. Without these in action, a character cannot exist as a part of the SIS. This applies for all role-playing, regardless of Creative Agenda, regardless of so-called crunchiness, regardless of anything else, yes, even for free-formers (who are not any such thing).

I also like to talk about Currency, which is to say, the means and rate by which "stuff" in these three categories gets traded off and switched around. Reward systems almost always concern Currency.

As a useful contrast, in the most familiar Gamist brand of role-playing, strategizing among options of Effectiveness and Resource is crucial, especially in the long term. One chooses one's race and class, one buys weapons and chooses spells with a specific eye toward efficiency, and one strategizes with (and occasionally against) fellow group members for purposes of acquiring new options, and thus a new platform to strategize from. That's pretty familiar, right?

Whereas in The Exchange, HeroQuest, and in Sorcerer, an increased point adds a modicum of Effectiveness, but the real oomph of that reward system is to nudge or angle the character into a different relationship with "what's going on" in any given way. I could give examples, but I am confident that if you, instead, listed the way every point was spent for every character, from the very beginning to the just-before-done bit (i.e. now), then we'd see exactly what I'm talking about.

Can you do that, maybe for your character during this particular scenario/story? Or anyone else's character? I'd like to see it.

One other point, which I think is most pronounced in Sorcerer, is that one important re-positioning is to remove the character from further conflicts. "OK, he's done," with the option to keep playing in some way or (if everyone's done) to finish up this particular game. This is such a functional and powerful feature of role-playing that we could have a whole symposium session on why it's so rare, and why the default seems to be "Your character dies so you can't play any more" instead, or why reward systems have traditionally assumed continuing play.

The reason I bring this up is that you guys clearly grasp that, in this Narrativist context, situations do get resolved, and the trenchant/potential themes (I call'em Premise) get answered. That's what you're calling a "season" in your post. But how does it strike you to permit a given character, within the context of a season, to have his or her issues "be done" and be removed? Or is it more suitable to say all the characters have to stick with the basic conflict of the scenario, hell or high water?

Either one is good, but I'm interested as to which it should be, for this group and for your thoughts on the game. And I'd recommend making your choice clear in the rules.

Second thing: Lumpley strikes

Long ago, Vincent provided the phrase, "system is the means by which we agree about what happens in the game." I bolded those particular words because people are always mis-reading it with an incorrect emphasis, bolding "we agree" instead.
I think you understand the difference between the right and wrong emphasis because of your phrase in The Exchange:

Quote
This isn't just a debate about who should win.

What I'm driving at is the idea that you guys are using a codified system for a reason, because it facilitates your Creative Agenda, and you've been careful to compartmentalize its functions away from other systems which either facilitate other CAs or are unworkable in some way (i.e. the "rule" in many games about not talking during others' conflicts, which you explicitly exclude from The Exchange).

Everyone else is providing useful information to you as author about the system as it's played, too. For instance, John shows you whether its tactical and quantitative elements can function productively toward the Creative Agenda, and Holly shows you to what extent the system is absolutely necessary (i.e. desirable).

So why can't we say everyone is using different systems? Why am I so casual about saying, "differences shmifferences, you guys are all playing the same thing?"

Vincent helps us here too. I'll take some credit - in Sorcerer and Trollbabe, the standards for rolling dice are extremely solid, but textually, both games suffer a little because the language for explaining it was still being birthed here at the Forge. I called it "Conflict resolution," but this term still encounters a lot of resistance (and even worse, over-extension in mistaken agreement). Vincent turned it around into direct instruction, in the text of Dogs in the Vineyard: "Say yes or roll the dice."

What this phrase means is that the die mechanic is highly focused on facilitating the CA, and as such it is held in reserve until such moments, and not applied semi-randomly to anything and everything in the SIS.

That's what you guys do. At a given set of imagined circumstances for the characters, you (as a group) say "sure, let's move on," and treat it as parameters or setup for a later conflict, or you say, "OK, there's a conflict of interest here that I want to turn over to the dice stuff."

In the broken language of gaming culture, the prior option is "system-less" and the latter is "going to the system." But by the Lumpley Principle, it's all system. Saying yes or rolling the dice is a step in that system you're using.

And, finally, that's why you are seeing diversity among the players concerning when the dice are rolled. Because each person has his or her own way of arriving at the crucial juncture of "roll the dice," which is to say, his or her own way of attacking or addressing the potential-themes (Premise) relative to the whole imagined situation.

How's that work? I really wanted to show how the diversity you described in your first post is not even beginning to threaten or contradict the existence of a shared Creative Agenda, but rather is an expression of it to a significant degree.

Let me know how that sounds.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 05, 2006, 01:30:52 PM
Just a quick note:

I'd prefer to write up that update to the Exchange before replying in detail, and all the stretches of time when I can expect to be able to work on such stuff for more than half an hour uninterrupted (which I'll need) this weekend are largely going to be spent away (or far from sober).  So if there's a few days of pause here, it doesn't mean I've wandered off.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 06, 2006, 10:14:54 AM
All right then! In the interim, while Levi is carousing or whatever it is he's up to, I will now accept five separate posts from five different people, which include specific questions that relate to anything Levi and I have discussed so far. To be clear about that ...

1. Your question may in fact be about your own play-experience with some other game, but the relationship or parallel or contrast to Levi's should be clear.

2. Your question should concern the Big Model, or even Creative Agenda (GNS), in some way, because that's the topic of the thread.

3. It should really be a question and not some kind of praise or condemnation of the ideas or the discussion so far (I ain't paid to read your opinions).

Once five people have posted (and only one post each), I'll provide responses. I promise to be much nicer in the responses than I was in writing this post.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ricky Donato on August 06, 2006, 04:25:20 PM
Hi, Ron,

I've been following this thread with a huge amount of interest, and I'm glad that I can finally comment on it. I hope that after the 5 posts, you'll be willing to answer some more questions, because my head is bursting with them.

Can you explain your thought process? More specifically, what clues did you look for to determine that the CA is Narrativism?


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Precious Villain on August 06, 2006, 08:20:47 PM
I'd like to post a question for Levi -

Looking back at your past thinking, I'd like to hear a summary (one or two sentences) of what you thought constituted a Creative Agenda (any one, doesn't have to be connected specifically to your game) - as opposed to what Ron has been getting at.  Something as clear cut as your "emergent story" comment would be ideal.  I'd like to know, because I hear a lot of "But I don't/my game doesn't fit any of those categories" responses to the concept of GNS from gamers I know who aren't into theory and I'm guessing that you were fairly representative of that bunch.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Caldis on August 06, 2006, 09:47:46 PM

Ron, my question goes right back to the beginning of the discussion. 

Levi assumed the differences in player preferences for how things were getting done was a sign of different Creative Agendas ones that he felt were working together.  I feel, and it seems Levi has come to the same conclusion, that you've shown that they weren't different CA' s rather different means of achieving the same agenda.  So what are typical symptoms of actual CA clash and how does that relate to the text you quoted earlier about CA being exlusive in application?
What differentiates an actual conflict of CA instead of just a difference over preferred means or possibly a disfunctional version of the CA, such as a Typhoid Mary GM or Primma Donna player?

Do you have actual play examples that you can share that show this in action, or are your CA clashes so far in your past they're hard to clearly remember :)





Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on August 07, 2006, 08:22:08 PM
Hi Ron,

Could you address the difference between the gaining of "social esteem" (as Ben Lehman phrased it on his blog) as the core of GNS Creative Agendas, and the use of medium (as phrased in this thread) to gain that esteem? This social aspect is the key, right? But most people focus on the medium, right?

As a sub-question to that: What about a group that simply doesn't care about social esteem? Have you observed such groups?

In my experience, what happens is the "wandering away" factor: people picking up magazines to read and so on. Or even waiting patiently for their "turn." Does the Big Model really have anything to say about or to these people -- if they are content?

What if simply not being fully engaged with folks at the table for the duration of the session isn't a high priority for people. It may be incoherent, it may not be what you and I would like, but does it necessarily need to be "fixed"?

I assume that you think this is -- well, bad. And so do I. And yet -- I'm hard pressed to say exactly why. If not being fully engaged with someone is -- you know, okay... I don't want it. And from your writings, I know you don't want it. But, geez this is tough...

How about this...

Although the Big Model is only about the activity of RPGs, isn't it actually about the choice to be fully engaged in a social group and a social activity? (The same way, when the pitcher is about to pitch, all the players on the field move as one to "get ready" -- they are engaged... Whereas, some employees, say, at a B&N, seem completely disengaged from their fellow employees and customers?)

If I'm taking this opportunity for the question too far afield, I apologize. But after reading lots of threads around the internet lately, and thinking about how thinking about GNS has changed my point of view on how to conduct myself and my choices outside of RPGs, what is your view that the division between those who see it as a useful understanding of RPGs and those who don't is actually a difference of desire about what people want from what they do with their time with other people?

Because truth to tell, I think there IS something wrong with not being engaged. And I could not tell you why I think OTHER people should be engaged at the table as a group (like the baseball players on the field). The Big Model seems entirely designed to push people toward that kind of engagement. So, what are your thoughts on this idea that this, ultimately, is what the Big Model is all about? That The Big Model is simply the "medium" for being more engaged with the people around you, a commitment to the activity you're sharing with other, and, in fact, a philosophical point of view about how to conduct oneself as a human being?

Thanks,

Christopher


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Joel P. Shempert on August 07, 2006, 10:04:24 PM
Riffing off the concept that the actual transcript of a game says nothing in itself about the CA, I'd like to ask about PCs being violently at odds and how that relates to CA. Specifically, the incident of Andjagger vs. the Crone in your account, Levi. . .this incident bears a lot of resemblance to some styles of trad play: A band of PCs with a "party" structure, all having roughly the same goal, some reason for one PC to attack or otherwise dramatically oppose another, and then the respective player's decision to do so, resulting in "inter-party" conflict.

Only there seems to be a world of difference between Levi's scenario and the traditional version. But it's a difference I wouldn't have pegged from merely hearing/reading an account of the events. It's something in the tone used, and even moreso in the OTHER things Levi says throughout the thread, that tells me the conflict arises from, and works toward, Narrativist goals.

I've seen a fair amount of "PvP" in my roleplaying history, and barring a few instances of just plain dysfunction, most of the conflicts seem to have been, for the participants (i was usually a spectator), just "fun" in a departure-from-usual, let's-see-who's-tougher way, with the reason for the conflict unimportant, perhaps even forgotten. A couple of times I remember it was mind control or possession; in the few cases where it was a real conflict of interest, it always seemed like a pretty bland one, like "my guy is so crazy he'll kill you for the slightest insult". And one always suspected the participants were simply happy that the "reason" was sufficient excuse to trigger the fight.

So my question is, how does one tell the difference between Narr inter-player conflict and, say, non-dysfunctional Gamist? Does it look (or feel) different in play, or is it one of those "you can't tell from just the incident, look at the whole play cycle" sort of things? Levi, was there any element in that confrontation of "heh-heh, now we get to fight each other," or was it ONLY "wow, so THAT'S how devoted to the Totem Andjagger is" and the like?

Peace,
-Joel

PS In light of my recent gaming experiences, I'm really jazzed about Christopher's question.


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 08, 2006, 01:52:01 AM
Hi everyone,

OK! Five posts, five questions. Now it’s me & Levi again, no more outside posting.

I’ll clarify my reasoning for calling for the questions. First, and most minor, was sympathy – I could sense all the heads out there distending with the need to process the discussion so far.

Second was to give Levi some space to process the latest exchange, which he is taking anyway, and that leads me to a bit of a conundrum. Because I hadn’t intended for him to whacked with questions, but failed to phrase my post accordingly. I’m torn between (1) my desire for Levi to stick exactly with the dialogue with me, and not get into “speaking to the multitudes” mode – which can be destructive to the kind of thinking and writing we’re doing – and (2) my awareness that muzzling him at this point is simply not fair, especially since people asked him questions in good faith.

So, what to do? Levi, I guess my desire is for you to stick with the dialogue with me for now[]/i, because there are still some outstanding inquiries for you in my post ‘way up-thread. But then after, can you return to the questions from Precious Villain and Joel?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 08, 2006, 06:00:55 AM
Despite my intentions, I'm answering these out of order.

REPLY TO CALDIS

Quote
what are typical symptoms of actual CA clash and how does that relate to the text you quoted earlier about CA being exlusive in application?

Symptoms of CA clash

1. Pure agonizing frustration, usually covered up with highly-characteristic denial statements, but which can be seen in side-comments or qualification-statements, and which erupts when you ask the right questions

2. Isolated moments of pure satisfaction, highly treasured, often-repeated, and held up as emergent properties of “good” role-playing

3. Repetitive attempts to “do it right” without negotiation, because the other person should “just know”

4. Highly personal assignments of blame, usually to someone who is secondarily involved (much as an alcoholic family will blame the acting-out teenager for all their problems)

5. Split-up for obviously spurious reasons (“personal reasons,” “we just drifted apart”) OR play characterized by sitting there glumly hoping for one’s own moment eventually

Note that I do not call any of these dysfunctional play. That would be the case if and when play becomes consistently un-fun and/or socially abusive. #1-4 above can apply as a low-level context, and the gaming group can still have fun in the most general sense, usually described as “well, we just game in order to hang out together.” That’s incoherent play, but not dysfunctional.

As for how this relates to exclusivity … um, well, I think this would do well to refer to series of older threads.

What is Creative Agenda? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16126) (in which Fred demonstrates that he does not really want an answer, and Nathan’s brain fuzzes out)
Teaching Creative Agenda (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16144.0) (in which Nathan starts defiantly and then figures out what his question is)
Group vs. individual CA (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16180.0) (in which Nathan asks a great question and gets answered)

After reading over that, if you have any other questions about why I consider real Creative Agendas to be exclusive, then I recommend a new Actual Play thread, with an actual-play description, to talk about it.

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What differentiates an actual conflict of CA instead of just a difference over preferred means or possibly a disfunctional version of the CA, such as a Typhoid Mary GM or Primma Donna player?

When you say “differentiates,” I assume you mean observational variables, not definitions.

CA conflict – a little difficult to describe without further context, because it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Here are three forms or expressions.

a) The typical result is incoherence, as described above. A good recent example of incoherent play without being dysfunctional can be found in Hero System, M&M, and assessing incoherence (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19543.0); see especially my comments in my first long post about “flashes” of Creative Agenda.

b) Another result is sudden and social censure of a given person’s desired CA getting expressed, but as a kind of flare-up that subsides and gets repeated. This is interesting because the person who’s “at fault” is convinced that sooner or later everyone else will get it and join in, and everyone else is convinced that sooner or later he’ll stop “acting like that.”

c) Re-arrangement of the group. This isn’t exclusively symptomatic of CA clashes, obviously, but it takes on some interesting details when CA clashes are involved. For example, if the GM stops playing with the group and the group continues with one of the former members as the new GM, the first one becomes a “non-person” in the purest Maoist sense, in group memory. That doesn’t happen when one person, for example, simply moves away. This is why I often ask about the history of GMing in a particular group, in discussions. “Oh yeah! Steve ran the game for a while, then he, uh, well, John started GMing, and Steve, well, it was personal reasons.” (Secondary point: sentences without verbs are a great sign of stuff that’s been shielded from critical thought.)

Difference over preferred means – play with this going on is characterized by what I call procedural hiccups. Every so often, there’s a re-negotation about how the hell does X happen, or why you can’t say that, and similar things. However, it doesn’t become acrimonious, even though it’s repetitive. In some groups, they avoid certain kinds of conflicts or certain kinds of statements, like avoiding potholes (you have to be there with them to catch this; it won’t emerge in verbal accounts of play). In some groups, they do arrive at a way to handle a particular situation, but someone retains a funny itch because he doesn’t really like it, and you can see that when they play using the agreed way – he bugs out, for a little while, and essentially lets someone else (the GM, for example) play his character through it.

Dysfunctional – best recognized as social outcomes that lead people to cry or to lose their tempers, to go into long and repeated debriefing and retro-interpretations (usually involving secret or at least separate communications via phone, email, and private meetings), to lie and to build upon webs of lies, and to exert blackmail on one another

The phrase “dysfunctional play” is actually a bit of shorthand … it’s play which is continued in such a way that it facilitates these dysfunctional social behaviors, becoming a rather depressing nexus of activity which, in time, guarantees that the dysfunctions persist.

The Typhoid Mary, for example, may have enlisted everyone into the shared delusion that he or she is a “master storyteller,” and that their game is a “great story.” If the others buy into reinforcing this notion, then they can’t violate it without (they think) hurting the central person. That’s why this behavior persists in the group, if it does.

Signs of this problem are easy, once you understand it – semi-hysterical repeating that the game’s story is so great, but it always seems to be some game in the past; crashing boredom and distraction at the table in actual play; social deferment to the central person in all kinds of ways (up to and including everyone sleeping with them, or thinking they’re about to!!); disdain for all other groups and all other games; and more.

The play itself contributes to these problems because it provides a shared mythology of how great it is, via edited memory, and it provides the crucial social environment in which the Typhoid Mary can exert total dominance. However, within this seemingly unified group, all the symptoms in the first paragraph above (“Dysfunctional” heading) can be observed.

In an attempt to be perfectly clear: Incoherence and CA-clashes do not have to be dysfunctional, but dysfunctional play observably arises from them consistently enough to be noted as such. It can, however, arise from other things as well, usually at the Social Contract level, like who’s screwing whom and stuff like that.

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Do you have actual play examples that you can share that show this in action, or are your CA clashes so far in your past they're hard to clearly remember :)

“Do I have actual play examples …” Christ, man, I have a whole life-history littered with ruined relationships as actual play examples. Finding one isn’t the hard part, it’s finding one that isn’t outright traumatic to summarize. However, time has caught up with me, as I’m going to GenCon tomorrow morning. I will have to provide an actual play example another time, afterwards.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 08, 2006, 06:19:48 AM
REPLY TO CHRISTOPHER

Hi Christopher,

This is about two different things: what the Big Model is saying, and judging other people.

AS FOR THE BIG MODEL

I think Ben’s point about social esteem is … well, trivial. All social interactions occur in a medium, so saying that they require or take on certain aspects due to the medium seems, to me, like saying swimming takes on features because it happens in water. True but not, you know, really exciting unless you really want to engineer using hydrodynamics (or design a game).

Your comments on engagement scare me a little …

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In my experience, what happens is the "wandering away" factor: people picking up magazines to read and so on. Or even waiting patiently for their "turn." Does the Big Model really have anything to say about or to these people -- if they are content?

See, I think you’re talking about way too many things as this vague “lack of engagement.” If you’re talking about people taking rests or scaling back their overt input as a means of facilitating others, as a means of collecting themselves or recharging, or as a means of enjoying what others are doing, then it’s all still engagement to me.

But I think you’re talking about really checking out, really not paying attention, in the sense of not even wanting to pay attention. If that’s the case, then

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What if simply not being fully engaged with folks at the table for the duration of the session isn't a high priority for people. It may be incoherent, it may not be what you and I would like, but does it necessarily need to be "fixed"?

I’m getting a little nervous, or you’re getting too Californian, or both. I’m getting the idea that by “engaged,” or “fully engaged,” you are imagining everyone reaching into their core beings and gutting out brutal, wild, intense input, with everyone imagining what everyone else says in the most attentive, soak-it-up sense possible.

OK, I’m recovered. Let’s say we’re talking about an incoherent, wait-around, not-involved situation of play. Am I saying it needs to be fixed?

Nope. I’ll develop why not in a few more paragraphs.

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How about this...

Although the Big Model is only about the activity of RPGs, isn't it actually about the choice to be fully engaged in a social group and a social activity? (The same way, when the pitcher is about to pitch, all the players on the field move as one to "get ready" -- they are engaged... Whereas, some employees, say, at a B&N, seem completely disengaged from their fellow employees and customers?)

No, the Big Model is about role-playing with the baseline assumption being that people are engaged as you describe in the baseball team. Its processes occur in the social context of that full engagement, sure. But geez … again, my response to that is “yes, and?” As in, OK, yeah, it’s in water. I was talking about swimming, and that’s where it happens, in the water.

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… what is your view that the division between those who see it as a useful understanding of RPGs and those who don't is actually a difference of desire about what people want from what they do with their time with other people?

Umm, how to say this nicely? I think that’s too simplistic. I think the roots of resistance regarding the Big Model lie in two things:

1. Failing to grow out of the Geek Social Fallacies (http://sean.chittenden.org/humor/www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html), in which case the Big Model is threatening for the reasons you’re describing – it cannot provide a haven from socializing, but is rather a thing to with (or when) socializing.

2. Failing to grow out of the Geek Hierarchy (http://www.brunching.com/geekhierarchy.html) (a different variable!!), in which case the Big Model is threatening because different sorts of role-playing can no longer be parsed up into arcane little sub-cliques with complex status games among and within them, based on membership.

Both of these are separate from the far more localized, far more specific criticisms I have for “storytelling” issues in role-playing, which is a Narrativism-only issue, so I’d appreciate it if people didn’t mix that up. (faint hope …)

AS FOR JUDGING OTHER PEOPLE

It’s not that tough, unless one buys into the Geek Social Fallacies. At the most basic level, we judge other people in choosing whether to spend time with them. Judging goes on all the time. I guess you’re talking about whether the Big Model is involved doing so.

Vincent is the least compromising of the theorists in this regard. He says, “I’m not interested in stupid play,” meaning play which fails to have group-level buy-in to one another’s enjoyment. (For some reason, everyone thinks Vincent is the nice one and I’m the mean one. But he’s really mean!!)

As for me, judging others really isn’t the point. Despite all the victimized rhetoric scattered ‘round the internet in reference to me, there are only a couple of things I really think are bad (presented below).

For instance, “non-engagement,” you wrote,

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I assume that you think this is -- well, bad. And so do I. And yet -- I'm hard pressed to say exactly why. If not being fully engaged with someone is -- you know, okay... I don't want it. And from your writings, I know you don't want it.

See, there it is: because I don’t want it, doesn’t mean I think it’s bad. Not at all. If people want to do it, my outlook is, “Well, at least they’re not selling crack to kids,” and I move on. It’s not about whether their activity is good or bad.

I’ll tell you what I do think is bad in role-playing – dysfunctional group behaviors, like what I described for Caldis, above. They result in real damage to real people’s lives, in terms of emotions, disorders, money, careers, and life-choices. I’m not being alarmist – I’ve seen it, you’ve seen it, and many people reading this post have seen it.

Another thing which is bad in role-playing involves personal maturation, consumerism, and effects on creativity, but as I demonstrated only too well in February, this topic is not for the internet.

But engagement, as a good or bad thing in general?

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Because truth to tell, I think there IS something wrong with not being engaged. And I could not tell you why I think OTHER people should be engaged at the table as a group (like the baseball players on the field). The Big Model seems entirely designed to push people toward that kind of engagement. So, what are your thoughts on this idea that this, ultimately, is what the Big Model is all about? That The Big Model is simply the "medium" for being more engaged with the people around you, a commitment to the activity you're sharing with other, and, in fact, a philosophical point of view about how to conduct oneself as a human being?

Uh, hold on. The Big Model assumes that we’re talking about people who are engaged in the basic sense of “we’re role-playing together,” and not using that phrase as a mask over asocial huddling. I’m talking, in my essays and posts here, to people who buy into that from the start, myself included. I’m not talking to (or about) those who aren’t, no matter how much they self-identify as gamers and no matter how much they fill out character sheets and roll dice.

So no – it’s not as profound as all that. The Big Model does not push anyone toward anything. If someone who is currently not enjoying role-playing sees it, and then says, “Hey! I want some of that!!”, then bluntly, that’s a side-effect. My typical reaction is exasperation, as Jesse can attest, and it only becomes outreach when the person really tries. I am, however, such a sucker that after that point, I am willing to put forward some major effort. But that’s me, not the Model.

Maybe that’s the key to this point, and perhaps to your entire post – distinguishing between the Model itself, and me, the guy, who interacts with other people, and often in the context of discussing the Model.

The Model itself just sits there, although it constantly undergoes refinements and clarifications, and provides nifty new things to discover (e.g. the four authorities I just parsed out with Paul T). It does require a discourse community, and such communities benefit from an ongoign, academic-style induction/graduation process. I, as a person, participate in this discourse.

I, the guy, also practice some outreach about understanding the Model only because I am constitutionally incapable of ignoring people who face the same hassles I faced, or different ones which I think I might nonetheless understand.

But no, neither the Model itself nor I as a person are better understood by adding the outreach as a necessary feature, nor do I consider it a form of self-help as a fundamental goal of its (or my) existence.

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As a sub-question to that: What about a group that simply doesn't care about social esteem? Have you observed such groups?

At first glance, this looks like metaphysical babble – what if I pick up a rock and it doesn’t fall?

On the chance that it’s not babble, I really need an example from you first, so I can understand well enough in order to sift my memory for examples of my own.

Your example, though, has to take the term “group” seriously. You can’t describe a mere aggregation of people. They have to be a group in the sense of doing stuff with one another, together, in a way that I can identify with.

I confess I don’t think you can do it. Even a few strangers standing in an elevator together display concern for social esteem, for instance, not farting loudly.

Overall, Christopher, I think I’ve been a bit dismissive to your points, for which I apologize. It may be a simple failure of vision and expertise on my part. As you know, I think humans are pretty easy to understand, contrary to the popular view that our identities and behaviors are too complex and ineffable for anything but awe. So when it comes to these more generalized or philosphophical points (or rather, philosophy that’s not material inquiry, my chosen professional sphere), I’m not very useful.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 08, 2006, 07:46:42 AM
Hi Ricky,

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Can you explain your thought process? More specifically, what clues did you look for to determine that the CA is Narrativism?

I hope some of my answers to Caldis helped, although they were phrased generally rather than specific to Levi’s game.

I don’t think just picking bits and pieces out of Levi’s posting is going to help you much. I already pulled quotes from his posts, to use in mine, extremely selectively, and similar chose portions to point out or make reference to.

Here’s what I suggest as a procedural outline, for you to use yourself. For a lot of different experiences, yours and other people’s, do this.

1. Find out who the players actually are. How old, genders, sibling or other family relationships, romantic connections (past and present), and other basic variables. Also, who’s recently joined or who’s recently left, how long the group has been running, how long it’s had its current organization (who’s GM, etc), where it meets, how often.

2. Consider which game is being played, and how long has it been played, what other games have been played, and, importantly, whether this set of characters is a new thing or a long-standing thing. Learn how invested the group is in this game – are they playing it because one guy begged, and they finally gave in? Or is it their best-beloved game they’ve been playing for twenty years? Or is it another in a string of games purchased in hopes that “this one will be good?” and similar.

3. Identify how at least one person, preferably more, speaks about enjoying the game. Look for statements of clarity or vagueness. (Contrast Levi’s clarity with Mike’s multiple self-qualifiers and backtracking in the Champions thread I referenced for Caldis.)  Make sure to cross-reference these accounts and descriptions with #1 and #2 above

4. Get an account of at least one full session. What happened to the characters, what they did, how it turned out, and so on. But also, what did the people do, how did they interact with one another, and what socially occurred, whether subtle or dramatic (hugs? arguments?). Look at the small-scale techniques employed in particular places and see if any are disconnected or weird relative to the others. Look also at the larger scale, of the events of this session and how they relate to sessions before and after.

5. At both scales described in #4, look at what the social rewards really are, and whether any rules-based rewards reinforce them (extreme correspondence vs. extreme disconnection are the trends). See whether the group as a whole buys into these rewards, or whether they’re individualized, or even isolated. Identify a reward cycle, which is to say, when a payoff demonstrably occurs and a new “round” of attention to what play will be about begins.

6. For purposes of clarity and curiosity, look for Drift relative to the textual rules. Does the group actually follow the rules in the book? If they don’t, do they say they do? If they say they do, do they insist the rules really say what they think they say? (very common in D&D, by the way) This step isn’t required, but it’s interesting because strongly-justified Drift may indicate a strong CA.

7. The time/play unit of Creative Agenda is a reward cycle. So it’d be best to observe more than one cycle, to see phenomena repeated and hence show themselves to be patterns (if they do).

8. Follow up with questions at any and all signals of denial, mumbling, unnecessary protestations; similarly, follow up with questions at all signs of triumph, excitement, mutually-socially positive reward, and similar. Pay strict attention to whether all statements of enjoyment are backed up by real play-events, or whether they are vague … and also ask how often such things happen.

Looking over all these things, use my bicycle race analogy that I talked to Levi about. Forget everything you think you know about “being a gamer” and “what role-playing is …,” and ask the extremely easy human question – what the hell are these people doing? What’s the freakin’ point?

You’ll either …

a) get an easy answer, which is to say they have a coherent and obvious CA (despite their protestations, which is common; they’ll claim they are “just” role-playing, or enthuse about getting into character or their setting, or whatever – for some reason, the only really honest-off-the-cuff role-players, about CA, tend to be the Gamists) (in practice, CAs are either Gamist, Narrativist, or Simulationist)

b) see that play is incoherent with a number of coping mechanisms or, perhaps, a certain low-level contentment that’s enough for them (although if you ask, “really?”, the answer is often “No! Actually I’m fed up!” even though the person just claimed he was soooo content about ten times, unasked)

or c) see that play is dysfunctional, that these people are borderline or over-the-line miserable, and that their so-called friendships mask a pit of really bad behaviors (although this doesn’t have to happen if their play is CA-incoherent, and it might be happening for totally social reasons, it never happens when their play is CA-coherent)

A couple of follow-up points …

It’s not about clues

I hate to disappoint everyone who’s looking for inductive, additive “proof” or “clues” about a given CA. I do think that if you follow and practice the above protocol, and if you really get the point about the bicycle races, then it’s easy, based on what humans do and what they want in the simplest of terms.

A coherent CA is not something you have to tease out and deduce from hidden, arcane signals and isolated, intermittent clues that only an expert can spot. It is glaringly obvious. All this huntin’ and peckin’ for clues is misplaced effort.

It’s not about percentages

I talked about this in one of the threads I linked to in my reply to Caldis, but I think it needs to be repeated here:

Quote
… From the very first day I posted System Does Matter, I was thinking about big ol' arcs of satisfaction and participation, and this fascination with "Bludgeon-Man hits Ultra-Weasel! Is that Gamist?" has kept tripping me up from all the way back then.

 … I suggest jettisoning instants as a direct Creative Agenda indicator. Yes, of course instances are composed of instants. I hope you can see that "instants" now have a name, specifically Ephemera, and the Big Model is built, in part, specifically to keep us from getting all hung up about Bludgeon-Man's action. We can recognize that Ephemera are often indicative, but also that we do not have to (and cannot) classify them individually by GNS and counting their little noses to arrive at a conclusion.

I also hope you can see that historically, I asked about all those "instants" from people, and still do, using this logic:

"What happened in that fight?"
"Bludgeon-Man hit Ultra-Boy! It was rad!"
"Why was it rad?" (answer)
"Did the GM or anyone else say anything?" (answer) ... and so on ...
... evolving eventually to things like "How does such an action factor into resolving stuff during play, with you guys? What sort of stuff? Does anyone sulk when that stuff comes up? Do people make suggestions about that stuff?" and so on.

I use these questions, the later one, to help the person evaluate the Creative Agenda, if any.

But I do not use this logic:

"What happened in that fight?"
"Bludgeon-Man hit Ultra-Weasel! It was rad!"
"Why was it rad?" (answer all about tactics and guts and ego)
"Oh, that's Gamist. So does that happen a lot?"
"All the time, except when we describe stuff or get involved in the whole family-issue thing."
"Ah, so if you have lots and lots of those, and they outnumber all those Sim and Narr instants, then the whole thing is Gamist."

I'll stick to my guns, this time. This really is an "all the way back to the beginning" point. Gamers' intense emotional reactions during moments of play, and their need either to be praised for them or called on whatever bullshit social-game they were playing at the moment, are very strong. They wanted to talk about that, and what I was trying to talk about was lost as we always hit upon fucked-up Social Contracts as revealed by those moments. So people rarely "graduated" to talking about any kind of play in terms of agenda as I wanted to discuss. Hundreds of threads, thousands of posts. It's been a long six years, man.

You didn’t ask anything about that issue, Ricky, nor even imply it. But my antennae are twitching suspiciously, such that I think at least a few of the readers out there are thinking it. So that was for them.

It’s not a zen thing either

I don’t have any mystical insight into anything. Nor do I have a little emotional meter I run over actual play, and if I like it, pronounce it “Narrativist.” Nor do I claim that anyone “just knows CA when they see it.”

I told Ricky that it was easy and that he’d just have to try doing it. That does not mean that it is inexplicable or ineffable.

When people get together to have creative fun by making stuff up, and if (unlike many self-identified gamers) they actually do it, then their shared agenda in doing so falls into easy types:

- They want to see who cuts the mustard and who doesn’t (for non-English speakers, that means who is impressive/competent)

- They want to celebrate a common ground of imagery, narrative, or proposition of some kind, by reproducing it and maybe subjecting it to modifications

- They want to author a story – note, not merely enjoy a story (they can do that with any of this), but to make a new one where before there was none

Doing any one of these isn’t hard to see, nor does it take special skills beyond knowing what scale of activity to look for, as I showed to Levi. He didn’t need any indoctrination into every damn page of the Forge Glossary. He didn’t need to drink any Kool-Aid. He didn't have to believe I'm a special person. He just had to point his gaze toward where I was indicating. His own understanding of humans did the rest.

I hope that helps, Ricky. Remember, if you want to run through any of your play-experiences with me in the fashion Levi just did, all you have to do is post. After GenCon, though, please.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 08, 2006, 09:05:27 AM
REPLY TO JOEL (MELINGLOR)

Hi Joel,

I’m a little surprised at these questions, at first. They seem to hinge on Social Contract and fictional-transcript, with no focus on the techniques of play itself, except for a couple of Ephemeral bits.

Then I realized why you asked them - because Levi and I haven’t talked much about system-stuff yet, and so far have only really talked about Social Contract, fictional content, and Ephemeral bits. But that doesn’t leave System out of the mix. I have tons of points to make about it, and tons more to follow upon his answers to my questions about his reward mechanics.

I think you'll see whole constellation of stuff at that level which makes a difference between your two contexts for inter-player-character conflicts.

Therefore, my discussion with Levi really isn’t complete and my points about system and CA are not yet articulated to him, here in the context of our immediate dialogue. And for this thread really to be an effective library reference for the future, that has to happen.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Frostfolk and GNS aggravation.
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on August 09, 2006, 11:33:21 AM
Okay, first thing; here (http://members.shaw.ca/LeviK/Exchange2.pdf) is that second draft, with the extra stuff.  It's still nine different kinds of rough and cranky, and I haven't shuffled any pages yet, just added stuff, but I figured I'd already been out of this discussion long enough, time to just put the damn thing up and get back in.

Now, then.

I hope it is not too traumatic to look in the mirror and say, "We are playing with a Narrativist Creative Agenda." 'Cause that's what it is, lock stock and barrel, without any complications or confusions.

Easy enough; given how much less of a directive it is than I'd assumed, the idea suits fine.  Given the CAs as written, and the nature of agenda as you've described it here, that pretty much suits our group right down to the ground.

If you have any questions about what incoherent play or dysfunctional play are, or how Creative Agenda relates to them, feel free to ask, although nothing of that sort applies to this group for the sessions you described.

I'm still kind of in hash-it-out mode on a lot of that stuff, but I'll come back to that when I'm done, if I'm still chewing on it.

You also might consider altering your example setting in The Exchange to focus on the thematically-rich conflicts it offers, rather than just the

There's just a touch of that among those new pages.  You'll see it.

Well, hold on, tiger. I do want to address that, but it couldn't be done until the whole Creative Agenda bugaboo got clarified. Didn't you know that I always said, CA (or GNS, whatever) is easy, and the real questions I want to discuss concern system? No one could have been more surprised than me to have the GNS thing turn into a tentacled monster that upset people at its very mention - I thought it'd be a big no-brainer and we could move on to talking about how role-playing, you know, functions.

Hey, I'm still frittering around with ways to explain what I'm looking at from this particular perspective and how to express that, possible other agendas, the nature of an agenda in general, better words than "agenda" ('cuz I really don't like "agenda", myself) and so on.  But I can torture-test all of that elsewhere, with help.

First thing: rewards
In the version I'm looking at, reward mechanics are very, very similar to those in Sorcerer. The point is not necessarily to make the character better at things, although this can happen to a small extent if you really want, but rather to re-position the character relative to existing or potential conflicts.

Sigh ... jargon alert. OK, a character in a role-playing game is always composed of three things: Effectiveness, Resource, and Positioning. The facts that a given number can do double-duty for more than one of these, or that in a given group some of these may be understood or simplified down to the bedrock, are not important. Without these in action, a character cannot exist as a part of the SIS. This applies for all role-playing, regardless of Creative Agenda, regardless of so-called crunchiness, regardless of anything else, yes, even for free-formers (who are not any such thing).

I also like to talk about Currency, which is to say, the means and rate by which "stuff" in these three categories gets traded off and switched around. Reward systems almost always concern Currency.

As a useful contrast, in the most familiar Gamist brand of role-playing, strategizing among options of Effectiveness and Resource is crucial, especially in the long term. One chooses one's race and class, one buys weapons and chooses spells with a specific eye toward efficiency, and one strategizes with (and occasionally against) fellow group members for purposes of acquiring new options, and thus a new platform to strategize from. That's pretty familiar, right?

Whereas in The Exchange, HeroQuest, and in Sorcerer, an increased point adds a modicum of Effectiveness, but the real oomph of that reward system is to nudge or angle the character into a different relationship with "what's going on" in any given way. I could give examples, but I am confident that if you, instead, listed the way every point was spent for every character, from the very beginning to the just-before-done bit (i.e. now), then we'd see exactly what I'm talking about.

Can you do that, maybe for your character during this particular scenario/story? Or anyone else's character? I'd like to see it.

Hmm.

For Andjagger, I think that in total, I've reworded two trait, created two new ones, and advanced traits about five times, as well as picking up an assistant (the magic sword).  It's been largely, but not solely, advancement to bigger stuff - but with "trait changes as stakes" in play, it doesn't feel so much like straight advancement.

One other point, which I think is most pronounced in Sorcerer, is that one important re-positioning is to remove the character from further conflicts. "OK, he's done," with the option to keep playing in some way or (if everyone's done) to finish up this particular game. This is such a functional and powerful feature of role-playing that we could have a whole symposium session on why it's so rare, and why the default seems to be "Your character dies so you can't play any more" instead, or why reward systems have traditionally assumed continuing play.

The reason I bring this up is that you guys clearly grasp that, in this Narrativist context, situations do get resolved, and the trenchant/potential themes (I call'em Premise) get answered. That's what you're calling a "season" in your post. But how does it strike you to permit a given character, within the context of a season, to have his or her issues "be done" and be removed? Or is it more suitable to say all the characters have to stick with the basic conflict of the scenario, hell or high water?

Really, it seems as if we're trying (not hard, but just a little) to keep characters running through the season so that they can change or leave or whatever at the end of the season instead of midway.  A mid-session dropoff for a character would just be a little much.

I'm not saying we'd never do that.  But I would be reluctant, and I believe that the other players would be too.

Second thing: Lumpley strikes

*Snip*

How's that work? I really wanted to show how the diversity you described in your first post is not even beginning to threaten or contradict the existence of a shared Creative Agenda, but rather is an expression of it to a significant degree.

Works just fine, for me, in those terms.