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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Josh Roby on October 02, 2006, 10:36:42 AM



Title: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 02, 2006, 10:36:42 AM
This is a spin-off of the story-games thread Explain to me how Bangs are not warmed-over Illusionism (http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=1494).  Ron asked for some Actual Play.

Dogs in the Vineyard
Jesse's character Sebastian is the sole surviving member of his team (it was a solo game), and we're about to start in on the last town on his route.  I frame the opening scene as him coming into the cultivated lands around the town, ask him if he's mounted, he says no, and describe him coming down the path with a farmhouse looming above him to the right.  Just as he's beneath it, the window shatters and a man comes crashing down to the ground.  It's Henry, a relationship from Jesse's sheet.  This is, I'm pretty certain, a bang; I used some pretty potent GM Force in determining where Jesse was and when.  If I hadn't done that, I couldn't have used the bang.

Full Light, Full Steam
Laura and Ben are playing Gwendolyn and Preston in a small escort ship.  They've flown down into an asteroid mining facility and rescued an MP that was stranded there.  He says that pirates took over the asteroid and there are many civilian miners and colonists within.  The PCs get him on board and fly back out the tunnel to open space.  When they get there, the battered pirate dreadnought, much larger than them, is looming above.  Do they run, fight, sneak, retreat, et cetera?  What about the colonists inside?  Is it more important to get the word out that there are active pirates or to immediately help the miners?  As the GM, I put up only token opposition getting in, and saved the dreadnought's return for when they would want to get out.  I threw a member of parliament high-up muckety-muck and some low-born miners at them to hit their thematic batteries (Preston's Ambitious and Gwendolyn's Cockney, IIRC) and make the decision difficult.  Is all of that not Force?

The Shadow of Yesterday
Judson's GMing (or SGing, whatever).  I'm playing a goblin with the Key of Glittering Gold.  He has me investigating a ruin and falling into a fabulous pit of treasure.  I find my way out only to find that it is, in fact, the treasure-stash of a crazy tribal emperor guy.  Said crazy emperor then hits my Key of Renown by asking my character to be his emissary to the civilized lands to the east.  Do I serve the guy and get respected for my exalted rank and place?  Do I sneak his glittering gold out from under his nose?  Do I do both?  Judson dumped me into the treasure pit in the opening scene and then used a number of gentle nudges to get the PCs to an interview with the crazy tribal emporer guy.  As a player, I had some big difficulties overcoming the place that he'd put me, because it wasn't where I had originally seen my character going at all.  The bang was a potent double-bind, and very effective, but couldn't have happened without Judson's positioning.  Was that not GM Force?

So, to recap the question, I don't have a problem with bangs at all and think they're spiffykeen.  What I am wondering at, however, if the GM needs to apply some measure of Force in order to get to the interesting bits of the bangs.  Is there some 'acceptable level' of GM Force in the bang-structured game?  Is bang-structure advocating short bursts of illusionism to get to the very non-predetermined decisions that the PCs make in the bangs?


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 02, 2006, 11:43:49 AM
Hi Joshua,

I'd like my discussion here to take into account my final two posts in the Story Games thread as well.

As a general answer, I suggest the 2001 thread Scene framing (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=383.0). If I recall correctly, Jesse and I took the rest of his questions to private email (that was part of about a year and a half of aggrieved emails from him that I like to call "the long dark night of Jesse Burneko"), but the basic answer satisfied his first question. See also Is this Forcing? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=14368.0) although I caution you to focus on my posts, as some folks got themselves awfully tightly wrapped in that thread.

As you can see, the core concept of whether Force is involved (the first discussion pre-dated the term) is a matter of authority over characters in the context of a situation. Who gets situational authority? Well, characters are part of situations, so when it comes to transitions and confrontations, in many cases the player necessarily has authority as well as the GM. That's why this whole business of I-play-world, you-play-character ultimately breaks down. I mean, it would be nice if we had some telepathic way of having every situational feature introduced by the GM accord perfectly with every character-based feature expected by the player, but we don't. It has to come down to a shared and fully-consistent understanding among the people involved as to how this will be done.

So let's say we're playing a game, like Space Rat, in which it's frankly more fun for the GM to have buckets of situational authority. When we played, the players liked being aggressively popped into unexpected situations, in part because the reward system is so tightly integrated with the resolution system. So the more to resolve, the better. Is this, then, Force? Nope. The players and the GM are 100% in accord with such framing; they've said, "Do it unto me, GM-baby!" and I do ... but I still double-check as we go, just like in the shower example in the first thread I linked to. They know they can override such a framing-device if there's something they wanted the femme babe to do before such an event. And I know they can, and I agree to abide by that. Hence no Force.

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Dogs in the Vineyard
Jesse's character Sebastian is the sole surviving member of his team (it was a solo game), and we're about to start in on the last town on his route. I frame the opening scene as him coming into the cultivated lands around the town, ask him if he's mounted, he says no, and describe him coming down the path with a farmhouse looming above him to the right. Just as he's beneath it, the window shatters and a man comes crashing down to the ground. It's Henry, a relationship from Jesse's sheet. This is, I'm pretty certain, a bang; I used some pretty potent GM Force in determining where Jesse was and when. If I hadn't done that, I couldn't have used the bang.

No Force. I see no Force. You framed a scene. It's like my shower example. There was no imaginable reason why he wouldn't be walking down that path and go by a house. You took no decision away from Jesse. He has already committed to the fact that his Dog has entered the town and is walking through, and he's looking at you with some interest in what might or might not happen. He is saying to you, "I'll keep walkin' until you place me where you'd like." I see full consensus and a fully functional awareness that "I play my character / you play the world" is a false construct.

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Full Light, Full Steam
Laura and Ben are playing Gwendolyn and Preston in a small escort ship. They've flown down into an asteroid mining facility and rescued an MP that was stranded there. He says that pirates took over the asteroid and there are many civilian miners and colonists within. The PCs get him on board and fly back out the tunnel to open space. When they get there, the battered pirate dreadnought, much larger than them, is looming above. Do they run, fight, sneak, retreat, et cetera? What about the colonists inside? Is it more important to get the word out that there are active pirates or to immediately help the miners? As the GM, I put up only token opposition getting in, and saved the dreadnought's return for when they would want to get out. I threw a member of parliament high-up muckety-muck and some low-born miners at them to hit their thematic batteries (Preston's Ambitious and Gwendolyn's Cockney, IIRC) and make the decision difficult. Is all of that not Force?

None of that is Force. You seem to think that any contribution to the imagined situation from the GM is Force. I have no idea why you think that. I don't even know what to say in the face of such a perception. It's like someone holding up a puppy and saying "see? my sea urchin!" I can't even point you to the Glossary ... if you read that and still want to talk about sea urchins while proffering your puppy, I can only stare.

Maybe this will help. "The dragon wakes up! He attacks!" is not Force. Can you tell me why not, on the basis of my definition in the Glossary?

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The Shadow of Yesterday
Judson's GMing (or SGing, whatever). I'm playing a goblin with the Key of Glittering Gold. He has me investigating a ruin and falling into a fabulous pit of treasure. I find my way out only to find that it is, in fact, the treasure-stash of a crazy tribal emperor guy. Said crazy emperor then hits my Key of Renown by asking my character to be his emissary to the civilized lands to the east. Do I serve the guy and get respected for my exalted rank and place? Do I sneak his glittering gold out from under his nose? Do I do both? Judson dumped me into the treasure pit in the opening scene and then used a number of gentle nudges to get the PCs to an interview with the crazy tribal emporer guy. As a player, I had some big difficulties overcoming the place that he'd put me, because it wasn't where I had originally seen my character going at all. The bang was a potent double-bind, and very effective, but couldn't have happened without Judson's positioning. Was that not GM Force?

It's only Force if it broke the contract between you and the GM about what key decisions were to be made by your character. The content of those "gentle nudges" should be examined closely with one key variable in mind. It is: if getting you into that situation overrode any opportunity for you to make key decisions, such as what you might have liked to do at some point along the way (I dunno, curled up into a goblin ball and dribbled yourself, whatever), then Force was involved. If it didn't, and you were essentially in the same situation as the Dog walking through town (I'm in the pit? Cool. OK, this is the way out? Cool. Oooh! Scary guy!), then no Force was involved.

Notice this has nothing to do with the content of the Bang itself, when it arrived. The Bang rattled you. That's nifty, like my example about the homeless weirdo Sorcerer character in the parent thread. Good job on his part and I hope you rolled with it and had fun too. But you still had every authority over what your goblin would actually do, right? If so ... then no Force.

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So, to recap the question, I don't have a problem with bangs at all and think they're spiffykeen. What I am wondering at, however, if the GM needs to apply some measure of Force in order to get to the interesting bits of the bangs.

Stop right there. You are describing the GM saying stuff about where the character is and what's going on as "Force." The term does not apply to such input ... rather, as I tried to explain at Story Games, such input has been known to be used covertly as means of controlling character actions ... but that doesn't mean it has to be used in that way. Force as a concept is an independent variable from how extensive or how transitional the GM input is.

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Is there some 'acceptable level' of GM Force in the bang-structured game? Is bang-structure advocating short bursts of illusionism to get to the very non-predetermined decisions that the PCs make in the bangs?

No and no. In scary red neon letters.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: jlester on October 02, 2006, 12:06:16 PM
Is the confusion then about what constitutes illusionism?   I had, in times past, recognized the following as illusionist play:

Me: So, do you follow her into the bar?
Player: Sure.

(And I think this is the sort of "gentle nudges" to which Josh is referring.)

Because my sense was that the player believed that was what was expected.  Despite assurances to the contrary, the incidence in most gaming circles where a player will say "Nope.  I do this other thing..." is incredibly low.  Now, I tend to read this as a force, and the play as illusionist (or at least participationist), since my impression is that ever player reads a threat (which I never intend) of the form "go along, or no fun for you!"  In discussion, I've also heard the idea floated that my players didn't want to "mess up what I had planned."  Even when I've made clear that I had nothing of significance planned that they could mess up.

Contrariwise, if you'd not consider that forcing, nor illusionism, then it strikes me that both behaviors must be so egregious that I've never personally encountered them outside the realm of second hand horror stories.

Now, maybe there's a third option.  But right now, I see two warm blooded animals, and I'm not sure which is a cat and which is a duck, if that's not stretching a metaphor too far.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 02, 2006, 12:18:21 PM
Ron, before I wade into a longer response, let me clarify one quick point.  Are you using Force as "stuff the GM does that the players don't like?"  Is there any instance of Force that the players might agree with?


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 02, 2006, 12:30:44 PM
Hi Judson,

That's a great focus-point for this discussion. I think I can break it down into four possibilities, without much if any spectrum bridging them.

1. The GM is offering that possibility and can live with a "no" in response, or even an "I attack her!" or whatever sort response might show up. Similarly, the player is fully on top of this possibility as well and in this case has decided that the character shall follow the girl. Maybe the player does this to see what the GM has in mind for later, maybe not. It doesn't matter. I'm emphasizing that both people are fully aware that any response is on the radar screen (except, perhaps, going ape-shit for no reason or turtling up and doing "nothing! nothing!" no matter what; arguably, both of these effectively refusing to play). This is Bang-driven play and no Force is present. Note that more transitional input by the GM, such as "next evening, you're at the bazaar" to start the scene, is subject to negotiation - it doesn't happen just because the GM says so.

2. The GM is doing what you describe - "go this way so we can play." The player, unfortunately, is like the player in #1 above and might take it upon himself to have the character kidnap the girl or something totally oriented to some other goal that might be, say, on the character sheet but has nothing to do with whatever the GM introduced the girl for in the first place. Now, maybe he wouldn't do something so extreme in this case, but sooner or later, his expectation that "I can do cool shit when I get the bug up my ass to do so," is going to come a-cropper against the GM's expectation that he'll go where he signals him to go through such beckonings. This is a disaster waiting to happen, because the GM is exerting Force and the player doesn't like it. Cries of "railroader!" and "powergamer!" are sure to arise. The GM may stave it off for a long time by smoke-and-mirrors techniques, but it never works as well as such GMs like to believe. Unfortunately, these are exactly the GMs who like to write published scenario splatbooks.

3. The GM is not doing what you describe, and although he's OK with the player following the girl, maybe even has a next step in mind, is also pretty open to however it might go down. He knows what the girl's like (presuming she's not furniture) and how she might respond to being ignored, for example - saving that for a later scene. (In other words, the girl is a Bang and ignoring the girl is a response to the Bang just as kissing her or following her might be.) But in this case, the player is cooperating because he thinks he's supposed to be obedient. There is no Force, but the player is trying to play with Participationist techniques. Sooner or later, this will yield problems too - the GM will get find the player cooperates even when the GM throws him the full plot authority to do stuff that matters. To this character, there are no Bangs, only cues. The GM will slowly become fatigued with providing both the adversity and the solution to it, as the player "acts it out."

4. The GM is doing what you describe and so is the player, in full relinquishment of authority for purposes of this kind. "Where do you need me?" "I need you here." "OK!" Put that dialogue into fully tacit application, and make damn sure that the player in #1-2 never shows up in that game, and all is well. It is, technically, Force, which is why I say Force is not always dysfunctional. This is Participationism. The GM is exerting what would be objectionable Force in any other context, and it's totally consensual - effectively, every PC is being team-played by the player and the GM together, with the latter actually having the final say and the former conceding that.

So to answer your question, I have to ask - which was it? And how do you know, based on the actual behavior of the real people at the time? Also, how did that relate to similar scenes and setups in play for those specific people, across sessions of this game or even into other games entirely?

Although you conclude in your post that Force was involved (and hence either #2 or #4 was going on, what you have described so far is not enough to say that.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 02, 2006, 12:47:18 PM
With any luck at all, Joshua, you'll see from my reply to Judson that Force is not defined as "stuff players don't like." There are such things as consensual uses of Force.

A lot of discussions about Force focus on the negative, for two reasons. The first occurs when the person in question (like yourself) is asking about Bang-driven play. If that's posited as desirable for this person at this time, as stated by him or her, then Force must necessarily be posed as "the enemy." See Joel's current thread about Illusionism as the example.

The second reason is that, as briefly mentioned in my example #2 above, using Force is often accompanied by deception about it, what I call the Black Curtain. When such deception trivializes their presence as co-creators or their characters' role in the fiction or both, they figure it out relatively quickly and get pissed off. When this annoyance, which is pretty common, fuels the inquiry here, then Force (and Illusionism overall) is necessarily posed as "the enemy."

But let's say we're not talking about Bang-driven play at all. Not one little bit. Let's say the GM and I and the rest of the group are perfectly OK with the kind of play I'm describing in #4 above, in my reply to Judson. In that case, I'm happy with the highly-responsive, reactive mode I'm in ... it's kind of like playing in media res all the time, and I know if I follow my cues, I'll get to use stuff on my character sheet. In this case, Force is a functional, even necessary technique. The "melodramatic hook" rule in Feng Shui is built to do exactly this, for example. (I am convinced few people actually know what the melodramatic hook rule says. It is antithetical to Bangs.)

In such play, the Black Curtain is in place, but it's less of a deception than a simple agreement not to dwell on it. That's Participationism. The player's opportunities to strategize or to address Premise is severely curtailed in such play, which is why Gamist and Narrativist priorities tend to get frustrated in it. If those priorities are not present, then Participationism is apparently quite fun. If I'm not mistaken, Mike Holmes often advises GMs who cherish their use of Force (and hence do not want Bang-driven play, e.g.) to consider Participationism over their more-deceptive Illusionist habits. Of course, that's a CA-based argument in the sense of finding people to play with who share your aesthetic priorities.

Or to put it a little more clearly, you can't mix Bangs with Participation. Both are functional but are highly consequential in terms of all other aspects of the system - resolution, rewards, and more, such that CA is often directly involved.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: jlester on October 02, 2006, 12:52:51 PM
Honestly, in the campaign I'm specifically thinking of, it started as 1 & 3 (because of a mix of players) and slowly became 1 & 4, as I learned to direct the players that wanted to participate to support the players that wanted decisions.  (As opposed to merely becoming fatigued.) Eventually, I think a sort of viral behavior took over, as the #1 players started to influence the #4 players, resulting in a mass murder that continues to chill me.  But the eventual shift occurred after a couple of years of weekly play.

But with players I don't know well, I find that the passive players will also assure me that they understand what I'm trying to do.  So I almost feel like this is one of those logic problems, where you have to ask the one guard what the other one would say, and then open the other door.  Except I haven't solved it yet.  I don't know how to tell a participationist player from a merely agreeable one.  And I think that's the real trick: only mental telepathy can distinguish case #1 from case #3.



Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 02, 2006, 01:08:41 PM
Hi there Judson,

I don't think it has to be that difficult. It's definitely not included in the usual lexicon of gamer culture and dialogue about play, so for most of us, me included, it's a new skill. It might be a matter of wrapping one's own head around the issues first, then learning what questions work to reveal outlooks. Sometimes I've been surprised at how strongly and specifically people will respond once I've asked about what they did and didn't enjoy in specific previous play-experiences in their pasts. Especially when those same people will shrug and say stuff like "Oh, I dunno, I just like playing my character" when you ask about the same things in general or abstract terms.

Also, for people who are so inclined, here are some historical threads of interest:

Illusionism and GNS (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=4232.0) (included to illustrate how confused we used to be about this - I can now see where this one went off the rails - Mike introduced the red-herring notion of intentionally addressing Premise which I didn't catch at the time)
Arrowflight and illusionist texts (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=3966.0) (a bit before things were clarified; Mike does right to point out that I'm really talking about Participationism when I say "Illusionism can be functional")
Illusionism: a new look and new approach (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=4217.0) (when I finally wrapped my head around what I was trying to say, and "force" gets its name)
Force (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=12482.0) (an exasperated summary by me)

Please pay attention to the dates; those are some oldies.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 02, 2006, 01:09:59 PM
Oh, I'm well aware of how Force has been stigmatized.  In fact, that's a large portion of the itch I'm scratching.  Force isn't a bad thing; deception is, but Force notsomuch.  But Force and the Illusionism<->Participationism spectrum are often dressed up as the bad guys.  Which is why I'm not entirely surprised that there is such a profoundly negative reaction when I see Force coupled with Bangs.

So to take the AP again, in the Dogs example, it seems your criterion is based on what is reasonable for the character to be doing.  He's a Dog, it's the beginning of a session, he's heading into town.  I can agree with most of that; what about making the guy shoved out of the window his relationship?  This was the caravan leader who brought him out from Back East; how much of Jesse's reactions am I pre-writing by doing the narrative equivalent of a sucker-punch?

In Full Light, Full Steam, it's more elaborate.  There I took some player flags and twisted them together to create a conflict that was almost assured to rise to PC-vs-PC level.  I "went easy on them" getting in and then escalated the immediacy of the problem when they tried to get out, effectively 'trapping' them (which is a good bang, right?  They must respond with a thematic decision, no wimping out).  Their rival ship was also lurking about somewhere, no doubt ready to steal all the glory if they could.  Which was all great for creating a powerful scene -- I mean, it worked and was awesome -- but they didn't get their of their own doing, and they certainly were placed in a disadvantaged position through no fault of their own.  Even if they were okay with it (they were), all of the half-hour or so of play that led up to it didn't involve any significant decisions on their part.  I made those, until the situation was 'ripe' enough for player decisions to be interesting.  How was this not mixing Bangs and Participationism?

In the TSOY example, we had an agressive frame (you're investigating a ruin!  you fall down a chute!) and then some prodding by Judson much like he outlines above.  I don't get the impression that my character walking away would have 'worked' for the game; it's my impression that that would have necessitated some scrambling on his part (although Judson could correct me if I'm wrong).  But he'd baited the hook with big piles of gold, so it was not likely that I'd walk away.  How much of his reliance on my character pursuing his keys is surrepticious (and beneficial) Force?

To me, all three of these, and the latter two especially, fall somewhere between "Type One" and "Type Three" in the Scene Framing (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=383.0) thread you linked to.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: jlester on October 02, 2006, 01:30:45 PM
In the TSOY example, we had an agressive frame (you're investigating a ruin!  you fall down a chute!) and then some prodding by Judson much like he outlines above.  I don't get the impression that my character walking away would have 'worked' for the game; it's my impression that that would have necessitated some scrambling on his part (although Judson could correct me if I'm wrong).  But he'd baited the hook with big piles of gold, so it was not likely that I'd walk away.  How much of his reliance on my character pursuing his keys is surrepticious (and beneficial) Force?

Now, being fair, while the initial framing was pretty aggressive, I never said "you fall down a chute."  Although I guess, "you don't remember which entrance you came in from" is essentially the same idea.  Yeah, if you'd walked away, I would've scrambled.  But I would have, you know?  Although I assure you, it would have initiated a meta-game discussion along the lines of "I'm trying to hit the flags on your sheet, as well as what we discussed during character creation.  What's not engaging you, and how can we fix that?" 

And in any game where the GM has a lot of situational control, especially where the situation is strongly influenced by explicit character flags, how different is "I just walk away" from "I hide and do nothing?" in terms of being a rejection of play.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: greyorm on October 02, 2006, 01:34:24 PM
Isn't the easy answer to the question about the distinction: Illusionism is control over the outcome of the situation, whereas Bangs are simply the introduction of a situation, come what may from it? Does that help, or am I just confusing the issue (or confused myself)?


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 02, 2006, 01:42:25 PM
Raven, that's where I lean.  I don't see Bangs and Illusionism as apples and oranges on the same level.  I see Bangs, a technique, like cogs and levers; I see Illusionism, a mode of play, like a way to operate a machine.  It seems to me that Bangs can be used in Illusionist play without much fuss.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Valamir on October 02, 2006, 01:48:42 PM
Then they aren't really Bangs.

They're just plain old Plot Hooks like GMs have been using for decades.  Sometimes stupendously amazing and some times duds.

The distinction is in HOW they're used.  Bangs are not simply the introduction of a situation.  Any old plothook can do that.  Bangs are introducing a situation to which the GM has no vested interest in the outcome and hense no motivation for, or expectation of using illusionist techniques to influence.

As soon as you introduce illusionism, you have no bang.  You have a plot hook.  They are 100% incompatable. 

Saying that a bang is a plot hook from which the illusionism has been purged might be a helpful way to think of it given the specific hangups you're expressing.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 02, 2006, 01:52:22 PM
Hi there,

As long as we stick with actual play examples, this gets somewhere.

Joshua, I can't talk to you about "what if this? what if that?" I keep saying, given an actual instance of play, you can too tell if the GM overrode opportunity for player input which the player thought he had.

Now, my insistence that you can just tell may see a little raw. It may seem quite unreasonable right off the bat, as no one is a mind-reader. That's why I should have emphasized that a lot of material from a given game or ongoing relationship among the people, during play, is called for. In this TSOY case, Judson is stepping in to let us know what his perspective was, and who knows, maybe a #3 situation was in place where he didn't use Force and you cooperated with its non-existent presence. But without that fair and non-defensive dialogue from another person in the group, you (and I) are stuck with considering some of these situations in a broader, longer-term context than just the isolated scenes.

I'm going to tackle all this from a different angle entirely. Consider this dialogue, from a Hero Wars session:

[player-characters show up at a social gathering]
Me: [describes physical setting and (friendly) demeanor of NPCs]
Tod: [gets irked] But I'm not being nice at all! I'm saying right off ..."
Me: Hey, that was just Color, you can have your guy enter into the scene however you want.
Tod: Oh! OK, let me know when.

Was I using Force? No. Tod would have me for breakfast in any RPG situation if I tried, and you can see that outlook here. He was concerned that my scene-framing was grading into playing his character for him, assuming a particular behavior or actions upon entering the room. However, as long as he knew that my waxing eloquent about the scene could not replace the input that he had every intention of delivering, he was good with it. Notice as well that he did not automatically assume that I was overriding him and get angry about it. He simply checked in to see where I stood.

I'm getting the idea that such explicit checking-in, verbally, during play itself, has not been a big part of your role-playing experiences. Is that right?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 02, 2006, 02:40:37 PM
As long as we stick with actual play examples, this gets somewhere.
Okay.  I wasn't aware I had strayed away from it.

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Joshua, I can't talk to you about "what if this? what if that?" I keep saying, given an actual instance of play, you can too tell if the GM overrode opportunity for player input which the player thought he had.
Ron, perhaps you're mistaking what I'm getting at.  I'm not saying "the GM steps on all the player's toes, oh noes!"  I'm saying, in order to perform her job and to do it well, the GM has to participate in the game, and when the GM participates in the game, she fundamentally affects and limits the choices available to the players.  And this is a good thing.  It's collaboration, interaction, playing the game.  Because if the GM doesn't impact the game, if the GM doesn't impact the characters, if the GM doesn't impact the decisions that the players make, what the hell is the GM there for?

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I'm going to tackle all this from a different angle entirely. Consider this dialogue, from a Hero Wars session:

[player-characters show up at a social gathering]
Me: [describes physical setting and (friendly) demeanor of NPCs]
Tod: [gets irked] But I'm not being nice at all! I'm saying right off ..."
Me: Hey, that was just Color, you can have your guy enter into the scene however you want.
Tod: Oh! OK, let me know when.

Was I using Force? No. Tod would have me for breakfast in any RPG situation if I tried, and you can see that outlook here. He was concerned that my scene-framing was grading into playing his character for him, assuming a particular behavior or actions upon entering the room. However, as long as he knew that my waxing eloquent about the scene could not replace the input that he had every intention of delivering, he was good with it. Notice as well that he did not automatically assume that I was overriding him and get angry about it. He simply checked in to see where I stood.
See, I'd need more information from you before I could say much about your snippet of AP, here.  Were you intentionally setting the scene up so Tod could make a brash entrance?  Or were you personally interested in the NPCs being friendly, either so they would be favorably disposed to the characters, or to contrast with how you expected they'd be acting once the players were injected into the scene?  You made a decision to make the NPCs friendly to start with; what was the rationale behind that decision?

Quote
I'm getting the idea that such explicit checking-in, verbally, during play itself, has not been a big part of your role-playing experiences. Is that right?
At some point I'll get you to read the "talk about the damn game" sections in FLFS.  I am very interested in talking about what's happening and facilitating more dialogue about what's happening.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 02, 2006, 03:00:50 PM
Hiya,

Joshua, you wrote,

Quote
I'm saying, in order to perform her job and to do it well, the GM has to participate in the game, and when the GM participates in the game, she fundamentally affects and limits the choices available to the players.  And this is a good thing.  It's collaboration, interaction, playing the game.  Because if the GM doesn't impact the game, if the GM doesn't impact the characters, if the GM doesn't impact the decisions that the players make, what the hell is the GM there for?

I agree. What I'm saying is that such activity is not Force. Force, as I defined it - in fact it's the other way 'round; we identified a phenomenon and named it Force - is:

one person takes control over another person's character's thematically-significant decisions

... which is not what you describe in that section I quoted. You are talking about a relevant and important form of input into the game. You are not talking about Force.

Hence, your stated question - does a Bang require the exertion of (some) Force? is answered: no.

Your implied question - does a Bang benefit from the input of a GM or GM-like person, often acting in terms of limits or parameters on the characters? is also answered: yes.

Now, regarding my Hero Wars example, I think you need to slow down and review its purpose. Don't fling it back in my face in the sense of "you asked me for detail when I asked you about Force, so now you give me some!!" I said, if you are asking whether Force is being exerted in a given situation, then give me lots of detail. If that were the purpose of my Hero Wars example, to "prove" to you that I exerted no Force, then I'd accept your counter-demand.

But it's not. The purpose of that example is something else entirely: to present a kind of interaction during play, between me and Tod, which I am asking you about. I'd like you to focus on that purpose. The question is whether you have engaged in such verbal interaction as shown by me and Tod, in your experiences of play.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 02, 2006, 04:45:07 PM
The dual venues of discussion are starting to make my eyes cross.

I understand the question you were asking.  I was trying to clarify the place the question was coming from.  Which, not surprisingly, is also the basis on my present problem with the entire affair.  As long as the GM has control over how the question/issue/bang is framed, the GM has some control, from negligible to absolute, over the address of the bang.

Do I have a back-and-forth with other players during a game?  Absolutely.  Much of my gaming experience has been online, in which there's probably twice as much out of character chatter as there is in character.  Most of my current gaming is either convention games or playtesting, both of which all but require a significant amount of out-of-character discussion in order to function.  Full Light, Full Steam, occupying large parts of my brain right now, continually advises players to maintain open communication lines across the table whatever happens in the fiction, and has a number of places in the structure of game where such touching-base dialogue is required.

But what I'm not sure is what you were doing in your example with Tod.  Where you checking that you hadn't stepped on Tod's toes?  Were you checking to see if you had captured Tod's engagement?  Was Tod invoking an informal mechanic by which he placed a check on your narration rights?  Was Tod opening a space in which he would be able to make an entrance according to his idiom?  Dunno; not clear.

So do we talk at the table?  Well, yeah, that's the whole point.  Do we talk about the things that you were talking about in that short snippet of actual play?  Maybe?  I don't know what the subtext or the context was.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 02, 2006, 05:04:57 PM
Tell you what, I totally agree about the double venue, and I also think the rapid pace is counter-productive. I think that some of my statements are being missed and you may well agree in reverse.

If there is one single itty-bitty point I'd like you to consider, please see my response to the quoted material in the last post, the part where I say "yes" and "no." Let's pick up from there tomorrow.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Callan S. on October 02, 2006, 07:32:40 PM
Looking at it again, force almost seems as simple as trying to overide turn order - ie, another player basically trying to take your turn. Bangs don't really fall into that, because the line between GM's turn and players turn is pretty damn clear (BANG - your turn!).

Kinda felt that recently in recent world of warcraft comp game play (if that counts to any degree as AP). A top level character was walking us through a dungeon (no, I didn't really agree so much as just go along with this), when the text comes up "Dismiss your pet" (pets are monsters that assist you in combat). That was it. I asked why and some other party memember even commented with 'someones got an attitude problem'. Basically it irked me because why not just play my character for me? It wasn't advice, it was an instruction as what to do with my turn. Yeah, 'turn' is a little fuzzy in real time play, but I think you get what I mean.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: greyorm on October 02, 2006, 09:47:22 PM
Raven, that's where I lean.  I don't see Bangs and Illusionism as apples and oranges on the same level.  I see Bangs, a technique, like cogs and levers; I see Illusionism, a mode of play, like a way to operate a machine.  It seems to me that Bangs can be used in Illusionist play without much fuss.

Joshua, I think you rushed through reading my distinction, because we aren't leaning in the same direction.

Bangs can not be used in Illusionist play because Bangs, by nature, break the fundamental property of Illusionism: they demand the GM not decide what the situation's outcome or effect upon the game actually be.

The term "plot hook" is an excellently descriptive term of the similar-seeming Illusionist thing: it literally hooks you into the plot. "Look, Old Jed was killed! Obviously, we have to find his murderer and bring him to justice!"

That's why I made the distinction with the very important statement "come what may from it". That's the lynchpin of the whole thing right there. Bangs don't hook you into the plot, they let you create "the plot" (to put it crudely). You can ignore the event or follow-up on it any way in which you desire, "Jed? Whatever." or "Jed?! Noooo! I track down his killers and make them pay." or "Jed? I hear he buried treasure under his house. Now it's free for the taking!" or "Jed? Yeah, I killed that old bastard for kidnapping my wife."

Special note: with the last one, the statement being true or false is unimportant; that's the player's reaction and stance, and come of it what may. The GM might say "Oh, wow, ok!" and run with it, abandoning his previous thoughts, or might say, "Cool, but he really didn't. But now everyone THINKS he did." and follows through with events stemming from the player's desire to have his character be seen as the killer.

All sorts of talk might spring from this (or not):
"Does your character really believe he's the killer?" The answer is the player handing the GM great fodder for the game, all sorts of questions to be asked and answered.
"No?! Oh, he just wants to get a bad rap and use that to get an recruitment visit from the gang he's chasing." More fodder, pushing the game in an entirely different direction.

Or whatever.

There is no plot to be hooked into.

So, Bangs are not simply "introducing a situation" or even "introducing an interesting situation". I know, lots of people think that's what they are; the name sounds like that's what they are; gamer tradition reinforces that's what they are. But all that misses a key component of what a Bang is. It isn't just "Oh wow! Incredible! What an event! I must react!"

Think of it like this: introducing a situation, even an interesting situation, is a component of a Bang -- it's only a piece of a larger object, like the tongue of a shoe and not the heel or laces. Because you have those other bits, the "you don't get to control or decide where this goes" bit, it causes a great amount of fuss in Illusionist play, because Illusionism is all about "This is where it goes".


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 03, 2006, 04:28:28 AM
Hello,

I need to stomp on one thing right away - Raven, it's really easy to bring in stuff about re-inventing or inventing back-story on the fly, because once you take the red pill about that, it's hard not to proffer it when the opportunity arises. But in this discussion, about Bangs and Illusionism, it's tangential ... and has enough overwhelming scare-power to readers to dissolve their attention to the topic at hand.

Joshua, here's my current call: you're posting too fast. And furthermore, you're operating in a between-site mode of posting that I really hate - hate to do, and hate to see happening. It's inimical to thought. If you'd like to continue this discussion, and if you'd really like to see your thread title validated, I'll do it. But confusion cannot be beaten down in an environment of frenzied posting and double-screen performance.

Have this conversation with me, here, slowly. Nowhere else, and not fast. We may go back to one of your play-examples, only one of which we barely managed to touch upon. We may go back to my yes-statement and my no-statement, which at this point I have zero trust that you actually read, in the sense of "to read" that I value. We may dance the hula. The point is, only here, slowly. No more of this internet-bullshit.

If you're up for that, I am.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 03, 2006, 07:41:41 AM
Ron, I'm pretty skeptical of the value of continuing the exercise.  It seems obvious that "Force" is a synonym for "bad" and "bangs" for "good."  When such moral judgements are so embedded in the discourse, it's almost impossible to discuss things rationally.

I mean, how many people have tried to tell me something to the effect of "bangs are different cause you don't know how the player will react?!?" which is pretty much an assumed given and not addressing at all what I was saying?


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: greyorm on October 03, 2006, 10:10:18 AM
I need to stomp on one thing right away - Raven, it's really easy to bring in stuff about re-inventing or inventing back-story on the fly, because once you take the red pill about that, it's hard not to proffer it when the opportunity arises. But in this discussion, about Bangs and Illusionism, it's tangential ... and has enough overwhelming scare-power to readers to dissolve their attention to the topic at hand.

Ron, that was my point. I don't know if I didn't write it clearly enough, or you swept through it too quickly, but what you just said, is what I said or was trying to say.

I was trying to avoid the whole scare-situation you mention by bringing it up-front as a non-issue, because the red pill was also looming large in my mind as a (all too typical) counterpoint/point-of-confusion. "No control? So the players control everything?" "No. They could, they don't have to. Let's just look at how it works when you have authority over the back-story and the player says something that contradicts it."

Hence the statement about truth/falsehood of the player's statement not mattering, because we aren't talking about the player making up setting details or background on the fly. Yes, we could be, but we don't have to be. Whether or not the player does, or the GM does, it doesn't matter. If the GM has authority over the background/the setting elements, that's fine, it doesn't matter. It's a red herring. So let's say we aren't, and deal with that: so the player says, "I'm the killer!" and you didn't expect this, because he's not, what do you do? Etc.

By this, I was trying to show that the Bang functions by the GM not pre-planning or investing himself in the outcome or effect of the Bang on the game. "Jed is dead" is not a Bang if it is accompanied by, "Now, the players have to track down his murderer and discover the clues that lead to this other thing I have set up over here." or even just, "And now the players/characters will be really sad."

And Joshua, "bangs are different cause you don't know how the player will react" is not what I'm saying. I don't know what's happening elsewhere with this conversation, but with me, here, I'm not saying that. In fact, I agree, the statement you provide is obviously a given; but that's not how they're different: Bangs are different because you can't decide how YOU will react (or what you want to react to).

Do you see the difference? Do you see why (as such) they don't work with Illusionism?

(If there's still some problem with what you believe you are asking/arguing and what I am responding to/you think I am saying, obviously we are crossing wires somewhere.)


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 03, 2006, 04:04:34 PM
Hello,

Raven, please give some room.

Joshua, the choice is yours, as it always was. I'm going to speak harshly for a second. At present, I think you're responding primarily emotionally. I'm pretty sure that my posts are going essentially unread, in any critical sense. Here are two examples.

1. I've described, for example, a form of play in which Force is a fine thing. Yet your latest post insists that my definition is a negative value judgment. What can I make of that?

2. I've also written in detail how your basic point - "the GM must participate decisively in Bang-driven play" - is fully correct. Yet you protest that this very point is being ignored. What can I make of that?

Clearly I am unable to communicate with you at this time, and you are missing the fact that I am fully on your side in this conversation. If we were face to face, looking at a printout of the posts, I could maybe help. As is, I'm pretty sure I can't unless you take a different approach to posting.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 03, 2006, 05:38:04 PM
Ron, I considered just shooting this to you in a PM, but I get annoyed with other folks take things behind a black curtain.  So understand in the following that I'm more than a little frustrated on a number of levels, both with you personally and with the community at large.

Two numbered responses to your two numbered questions.

1. Ron, you may have noticed that there are more than the two of us in this conversation.  So my good/bad summary in the last post should not be assumed to be a firehose hitting everybody.  The general sense that I have had hammered over my head after asking a simple question is THOU SHALT NOT QUESTION THE DOGMA, and let me tell you, it's been really disappointing.  I have been trying, since the beginning to talk about techniques, actual procedures done at the table, and I have got a big heaping serving of manifesto in response.  I know what all these bits and pieces are supposed to do; I'm trying to talk about what they actually do.  Apparently I am off my rocker for suggesting that current game design might not be perfect engineering.

2. As long as "Force" is "the GM reaching over and taking complete control of your character at the moment that you make a significant decision," then sure, Ron, you're totally right.  You're also, I'm thinking, roleplaying with screaming assholes.  Every time I try to engage with your definitions and your game design concepts, I'm told that the concept doesn't apply there, and it in fact is only applicable to a sort of situation which I can only describe as horrific emotional carnage.  Over and over, the body of Big Model theory retreats further away from how I and every person I know plays until it covers only this spare little remnant ofgibbering psychos.  So while I have found a great deal of what you've written to be incredibly inspirational to how I play, when I try to actually talk about it, I'm told that, apparently, the people that I play with aren't big enough dicks to qualify.  What use is all of this if it only applies to people I'm not playing with in the first place?

So there isn't currently a term for when the GM uses his massive authority to affect change in the fiction, frame and contextualize the question of the premise, and basically set play in motion.  This is an essential element of GM-led roleplaying.  Does Big Model just not address it?  I really don't know what part of Big Model addresses any of my play.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 03, 2006, 06:53:19 PM
Hiya,

Those are good questions. I'd like to remind you that I respect you and have always treated you with my utmost attention. I follow your blog with interest and look forward to Full Light Full Steam. I am not just blowing sunshine up your ass when I say that. I am asking you, instead, to consider that as the unshakeable foundation for this discussion. Your work on that is the reason this site exists.

Now, I think that we need to work together in this thread. You titled it in a way I really like - it says that you trust me to clear up some confusion. Can we work with that? I say "yes" to that trust and recognize it as a responsibility to take your feelings seriously, as well as your ideas. I absolutely promise that I'm not saying "thou shalt not question the dogma." I also promise to consider the questions you just asked as our reason for posting. This is Actual Play after all, and I closed those other two forums in the hopes that this would be the new, real theory forum.

How about a "yes," tentative as it may be, for those two promises? We'll go to the heart of your questions. There's lots of time, days and days if we need it, no need to rush or pump out every bit of reaction as we go. That was my mistake, yesterday, and I'm sorry.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Valamir on October 03, 2006, 07:01:33 PM
Hey Joshua,
I've been a fan of your posting since pretty much when you first started posting here.  When I see you've posted to a thread I'll typically read it just to see what you had to say, even if its not a thread I'd previously followed closely.  Many times I've thought about posting to a thread only to decide "no need, Joshua already covered that".

I offer that not as some random compliment, but just as a preface to the following:  For this thread, for this discussion, for these last couple of posts, and for the parallel story games thread....I've no idea whatsoever what you're talking about or what you're getting worked up about.  Clearly you have some items you want very much to discuss, and clearly you're not getting the level of engagement you hoped to get.  But I have to wonder if you're actually laying all the cards on the table on the topic you actually want to discuss...because from what I've seen in these thread...we have engaged in what you've actually said and brought up...asked and answered (several times) and not in a dogmatic or manifesto manner either (I'm rather disappointed to see you go there actually).  Every issue you've raised has been addressed as clearly as I've seen it addressed, so I'm wondering if there is some other issue that you've been prodding around but not explicitly getting to that's what you really want to talk about.

As far as Force goes I don't think its what you're really trying to get to.  It sounds like you've got an important concept that you're trying to articulate and you've grown attached to thinking of that concept as "Force" and are now running into trouble when it turns out that "Force" doesn't mean what you thought it meant.  So perhaps its best to just shelve this whole notion of "Force" (which actually IMO is a pretty straight forward concept) and get to talking directly about the actual concept that piqued your interest.

Is it possible that what would really be the productive conversation to have is about the role of GM input into narrativist play; what the GM's job is; and what techniques a GM can use that allow them to actively participate in the creation of thematic loaded story without blocking the players from doing the same?  That seems to me to be what you're really eager to discuss in the Story Games thread yet getting perpetually sidetracked into Force and Illusionism.  


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 03, 2006, 07:17:46 PM
I support your points fully, Ralph. I hope you can see that I'd really like it to be just me and Joshua for a bit. Only for a bit.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 03, 2006, 09:14:03 PM
Clear and rational discussion?  That's not a flavor of discourse I turn down.  So yes and yes.

So here's what I'm wondering after:
What I am wondering at, however, if the GM needs to apply some measure of Force in order to get to the interesting bits of the bangs.  Is there some 'acceptable level' of GM Force in the bang-structured game?  Is bang-structure advocating short bursts of illusionism to get to the very non-predetermined decisions that the PCs make in the bangs?

And for contextual reference, here's a snippet of Sorcerer that is part of what led me down this path:
Quote from: Sorcerer p77-78
In order to get to the Bangs if the players are being dense, or if the GM is letting them flounder around, the GM should begin to ask leading questions or remind them of things they might check out.  Every group is a little different in terms of how much prompting they need...

The really fun part is the final Bang.  It's especially easy if your Sorcerer game is on the violent side.  Envision a climactic set piece, stealing shamelessly from any movie or comic or book you like.  ...(examples, gargoyles, motorcycles, etc)... The nice thing about well-planned set pieces is that they are the only times during the run when all the characters have to be in the same place at the same time. ...

PACING
Bangs are well and good, but how to get to them efficiently?  The GM's most crucial role during play is to dictate scene transitions: in other words, to say, "All right, everyone, you all get out of there and go home.  The next morning..."  The way to pace right is to know exactly what each scene is supposed to acheive.  If the point is merely to get some information across, don't make the characters wait and suffer for it, and do end the scene once they've got it.  If the point is to get across town, there's no need to throw in a bar fight along the way.

Which is all nifty advice.  I can see how none of this is "Force" if Force is taking away thematically significant decisions from the other players.  But this is some level of power disparity, and to my eye the contextual power that the GM has far outweighs the power of the players to freely address the premise.  The largest part of the GM's power in such a schema seems to me to be the power to determine what is and is not a thematically significant decision.

To rope this back into actual play, in the FLFS and TSOY examples, the GM is using some powerful tools to present complicated, weighty, significant decisions to the players.  Which is awesome.  In FLFS, the GM (me) decided when to escalate the situation, which determined when the significant decision took place.  In TSOY, the GM (Judson) used some 'leading questions' as Ron suggests to get me to the second half of the tough decision.  If the GM is using these powers to determine now is the time to make a thematic decision, not beforehand and not after, how is that not a little taste of totally productive Force?


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 04, 2006, 04:18:05 AM
Hi Joshua,

Spot me one thing ... whatever it is (and I can answer that, I'm holding off for a minute), it ain't "Force." I can't get to the good part of the conversation if you keep phrasing your question with Force in it. You have said,

Quote
I can see how none of this is "Force" if Force is taking away thematically significant decisions from the other players.


Great! That means we have thrown "Force" out the window for purposes of the discussion. It's gone. We're not talking about it. We're talking about the other thing which I can break down for you, but for me, every repetition of the term "Force" drags me back to the beginning and undoes everything we've communicated about. I was all set to answer your questions about GMing, but man, that "Force" just re-appeared in your last line of the last post, and I see red again. At this point, it's like a sharp stick poking me.

"None of this is Force," you say. Good. It's not. We agree. Let's talk about the thing you want to talk about, and we'll never say Force again in this conversation. "The thing" is something else.

I'm not stalling. I am totally ready to answer your questions, fully and without any ambiguity. But the air must be clear.

Everyone else, shut up, for God's sake. Can't you see Joshua cannot stand to have more than one person answering at once, at this time?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 04, 2006, 08:47:20 AM
Sure, Ron.  "This thing" is very, very close to Force as far as I can tell, and looks very similar -- functionally, at the table, in terms of what is happening and not the intent behind the actions.  I can accept Force as defined in terms of intent, though.  So what is "this thing" that isn't about making decisions for the players, but is about setting up a situation for the players to address?  And how is the act of setting up a situation not fundamentally constraining, limiting, and preventing the players from making other significant decisions?


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 04, 2006, 08:58:45 AM
Hi Joshua,

It's not a definition from intent. I hate "intent." I dunno man, with every post, I keep getting this content that keeps me from answering you.

Not Force, which is an identifiable thing at the table. Something else, which is itself an identifiable thing at the table. Not "same thing, different intent." Something real. Can you work with me? Please?

I mean, it's right freaking there to talk about. I was ready two days ago. I know the jargon terms. I know the examples. I can use the actual play you talked about.  I'm ready to tell you. But I cannot continue with the statements you're making, like "it's a definition from intent." That can't be let stand.

I need a confirm on that. Please don't re-state the basic question again, which I totally get. Just "Yes, you're saying it's not a definition from intent." You don't have to understand why yet and I accept that you are not conceding this point.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 04, 2006, 09:01:47 AM
Ah, I get you.  Okay, you're not defining based on intent.  Show me how they're different.  Here's me with popcorn.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 05, 2006, 04:17:09 PM
Hi Joshua,

Now that I've finished the bulk of my contribution to the Rifts and Frostfolk threads, I can get to this one. It's been a lot of Forge for me this week ...

OK! I've got three points to make, all of which are like points on the rim of a wheel. With any luck, you can then state whatever you see at the center of the wheel and we can then apply it to your questions and the actual-play examples. The reason I'm doing it that way is because, as I see it, you do not like being lectured to and told what to believe, or having information presented in a way that can be interpreted as those things. So maybe you'll be OK with me waxing long about these three things which aren't specifically telling you what is "right" or "what to think" about the issues you've raised.

PART ONE: CZEGE

Paul discussed some playtesting a long time ago, and the net conclusion of those threads was "creating your own adversity and its resolution is boring." I'm talking about role-playing, not novel-writing and other art forms, and why it's different from them is neat, but not to the point here - it has to do with who the audience and when they receive the work. Anyway, Paul's point means that if I'm playing a character, and if I have to say "the lizard-aliens attack!" and then, right away, it's up to me to say how my character fights them and what happens (really happens, meaning are they defeated or do they win) ... then I'm going to get tired, and eventually, after several such scenes (and listening to others'), bored.

I agree with Paul about this and dubbed it the Czege Principle half-in-fun. I've watched independent game design grappling with it for years. With respect to Jared, I think that's why octaNe is merely funny and hip, but not sustainably fun. Tony takes it about as far as it can go in a certain direction, with Capes focusing on challenges to scene-outcomes; Meg's done the same with 1001 Nights. The point is that someone else needs to be involved in that process, in some way, and there are many, many ways to do it. Even if it's only to modify things slightly in the middle, or as far as handling both ends with you making the decisions in the middle.

That's why I discourage conch-game design, in which the system mechanics only affect who gets to talk when, there's no constraint on outcomes within a given narration except perhaps an in-the-beginning guide, and a narration typically encloses an entire [scene [conflict]]. I've been calling that "parlor narration" in my Ronnies judging. (Bacchanal is perilously close to being parlor narration and most of its flubs during play arise from not utilizing its non-parlor-narration features.)

Thoughts, questions on the basic idea? Have you played any conch games for any length of time?

PART TWO: BAKER

Vincent likes to talk about one guy saying to the other, "Here's a can of peaches," referring to their shared fictional imaginings, and the other guy saying "I open it" or anything else to do with the peaches, and the first guy undercutting him with "no you don't." I figure you know about this one already. It's the necessary starting point of role-playing, that we're all allowed to contribute in some way. Fucking with someone's "this is how it is" statement, when it's fairly delivered according to the existing standard, is literally not playing, and making them not play either. Like all social activities, role-playing can be disrupted. Just because football is simulated warfare doesn't mean it's "still playing football" to knife a guy on the other side in order to make a touchdown, or to kill the scorekeeper and change the scores to 1000 to 0, then shout "we won!" Similarly, just because role-playing is organized talking, that doesn't mean it's "still role-playing" to control the can of peaches through social pushing or manipulating, basically denying the other guy the right to participate.

A lot of the time, discussion of this point goes straight into resolution and reward, or at least it does when I'm involved. This time, though, I want to focus on larger-scale issues, authority and establishing conflict.

I don't know if you saw my little discourse on "Authority" in a thread a couple of months ago. I liked what I came up with there - the distinctions among content, plot, situation, and narrational authority. I also don't know how many people really understood what I was saying about how leaving some of them open is even more important than allocating them. I'm bringing them up here because all of it is a subset of the peaches-point; the authority material lies at the heart of making the peaches even possible.

OK, all of that is really abstract, and so let's get concrete - we're talking about the situations characters are in and what kind of conflicts they face in those situations. This is about scene framing, and within scenes, conflict-framing. Who does it, with authority about what? I mean, conceivably, we could have a big sharing of this stuff, taking turns or spending resources for turns, which is pretty much what Universalis and Capes do. But it's also socially functional, and sometimes a lot less fatiguing for everyone, to allocate it unevenly.

If I do say so myself, I think the breakout game design for this point in action is Trollbabe. The player may suggest scenes (locales, basic placement of characters), but the GM has full authority over beginning and ending scenes. Within a scene, anyone may pose a conflict, and that cannot be denied. Within that conflict, a back-and-forth procedure establishes what resolution mechanics will be applied, and how many times. Narrational authority is allocated in two places: freely without consequences before the resolution occurs, and then in a highly organized way as part of the outcome of those mechanics. It is just as organized as any standard card game for these things; there is literally no free-form in Trollbabe play. Yet neither is it overly organized in a sense of droning out the designated/cued events; it's full of fruitful voids that tie into the reward system of the game.

Thoughts, questions on this part? Out of curiosity, have you played Trollbabe?

PART THREE: SORENSEN

I've written about the (badly-named) GM-Tasks that have to go into role-playing, all the time as far as I'm concerned. I try hard to express that each of these is a little and independent thing, maybe even calling them "chores" in the sense of an ongoing routine is better than "tasks." What I'm after is that they can conceivably be done by anyone independently of who's carrying out the one or more of the others.
God, every time I think about it, I find more of them ... here's a list I've given before with still more tacked in there: the rules-applier and interpreter, as in "referee;" the in-game-world time manager, the changer of scenes, the color provider, the ensurer of protagonist screen time, the regulator of pacing (in real time), the authority over what information can be acted upon by which characters, the declarer of conflict, the authority over details of characters' positions, the authority over internal plausibility, "where the buck stops" in terms of establishing the Explorative content, the social manager of who gets to speak when, the giver of cues for others to contribute ...

It even gets crazier when you toss social roles, hosting, and stuff like that in there, which in many groups is all tied up with the above actual-play-in-action things.

I generally give Jared the credit for first really dissecting this down into a game design, for InSpectres and other early games, and choosing which tasks were going to be centralized, meaning not the others. Games like that taught me that there is no "the GM." He doesn't exist and never existed. There are these necessary tasks of play, which make up and contribute to how situations and conflicts are handled, all of which lie within the larger and necessary aspects of the Can of Peaches and the Czege Principle. When at least some of the tasks are distributed in a centralized way, then gaming-culture has a jargon term, "the GM," which is doing multi-duty for diverse jobs, in different games and groups, that are so insanely different from one another that they are not possibly be included by the same term.

This is the content-based core of why so many game texts have tried to assign new names to the way their rules distribute these things, as opposed to the twee or kewl concerns that also lead to more such names. In the better games which do this, their new name for this role is struggling to express that it's not about saying "what does the GM do in this game," but rather, "what combination of which tasks is going to be centralized?"

Thoughts or questions on this one?

(one more post)


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 05, 2006, 04:18:13 PM
AND AT LEAST SOME OF MY CONNECTIONS ABOUT THESE

My hope is to sketch out some of the rim of the wheel now. You'll notice that I didn't mention Bangs once yet. Well, now I'm linking options among the above points in such a way as to produce Bangs, which are only a technique out of many for getting relevant conflicts into play in a fun way. I'm also really focusing strongly on Sorcerer, because so many games have used its particular combination as their jumping-off point.

Rim bit 1

a) Starting with the first, the Czege Principle can be spun such that person A says X relative to person B's character (i.e. person B doesn't typically do it himself), so person B is placed, stuck, pushed, pulled, or whatever, into a "do something" position. It's a specific order of the Czege Principle in action, out of many possible. In this case (the Sorcerer Bang), you start with the person not playing the character. If you don't, well, it's a totally different technique with features of its own.

b) Taking that idea into the second point, Bangs definitely represent a highlighted version of peaches and authority. At the most general level, a Bang is, "here's a can of peaches, and I'm interested in what you do," plus the response, "OK! My go: I do this with the can of peaches." At the more specific level, and talking particularly of Sorcerer, it's a signalled transfer of authority but across the types, not within one of them. The one guy is saying, "Content + Situational authority produces X." The second guy is saying, "Plot authority responds with Y and seeks resolution to create yet more Plot, which will become further Content."

c) Finally, in terms of organizing this among the group, the task of Bang-delivery is assigned to one person relative to other people's protagonist characters. I mean, just as conceivably, it could be a "the guy to the left Bangs my character" rule, but in the case of Sorcerer and many derived-Sorcerer games, it's not, it's centralized instead, and frankly, that's good in this case because the people playing characters are busy enough.

I'm driving at the point that all of these are options, within many possible functional options inherent to all three points. Picking the options in the way I just ran down results in a nicely-functional, fruitful way to play, and hence it gets a name, the Bang. But that doesn't mean that if a relevant conflict is present in play, that a Bang is the only way to get there, or even the right way.

Rim bit 2

Saying "the GM" and positing Bangs as a thing within that uber-role is actually backwards ... better to say, someone's gotta deliver Bangs (otherwise they're boring), so in this game one guy will do it, we'll call him the GM. That whole term is loaded with confusions about which tasks "must" be involved, as I talked about above. If you put it in this order, then you can see that certain elements of authority (especially situation in-play and content) need to go with Bang delivery.

Since GM-Tasking in general is often tacit, I think a lot of people play without thinking much about it. So that means different people may be sitting there with different notions, which leads to different interpretations of specific actions and phrases.

Example 1: in playing Sorcerer, I've found that many people new to it interpret my [Situation + Conflict in it] as a cue to obey what they perceive as my signal of Plot authority, whereas I'm sitting there thinking "oh boy! now they have Plot authority, what will happen?" This is the source of my frustrations with the GenCon 2005 game I talked about earlier, where to my thinking, one character was not even played.

Example 2: Remy, Jason, and Clinton playing Hero's Banner - the first two (who had the player-characters) seized upon Plot authority as a starting point for announcing their actions and tried to utilize the resolution system for hashing out who'd "win" about it, with Situation authority as a sub-set. Clinton was more oriented toward providing the Situation authority, thinking of Plot as an emergent property in a more Sorcerer or Trollbabe way. This led to horrible confusions and losses of temper at the table.

Rim bit 3

A quick look at Sorcerer specifically ... just about everything associated with "GM" in Sorcerer is some aspect of Bang delivery; he doesn't really do anything else (which is not to say Bangs arrive once-a-minute; there are lots of aspects to attend to). So maybe in Sorcerer or similar games, it would be easier to focus on the task he's assigned and call him the Bangmaster. No? Oh well, no one appreciates my taste in jargon, we knew that. And to be complete and clear, it occurs to me to say, Bangs can be delivered ("they arise") from other participants as well; it's just nice to have a guy who really does hold responsibility for them in the absence of anyone else doing it, and he's armed with all the demon-NPCs for just that reason.

Thoughts, questions on any of that? What do you think of the rim?

I'd like to go through any thoughts & questions about these things, and then to ask you about what you see at the wheel's hub. It's likely that you'll say "yeah, I get it, this is all review," but I'd still appreciate you taking the time to check.

Also, I'm making damn sure not to construct a wheel-hub of my own; this isn't about you guessing what I'm thinking. I want to know what you see there.

My hope is that upon doing all this, that the actual play context can be restored and we can talk about all of them without stress or frustration.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 06, 2006, 08:34:06 AM
Lots of stuff to respond to.  In order:

CZEGE PRINCIPLE: creating and running your own opposition isn't fun.

I'm totally on board here.  Basically, it's necessary that somebody else presents you with opposition/bangs/thematic decisions, otherwise you're "just" telling a story and not roleplaying.  Interaction between players is key.  Word up.

VINCENT'S PEACH ETHICS: framing a question and then answering it yourself is bad form.

I've summarized a little harder here, but this is what Vincent's peach thing boils down to me.  Saying "here's the peaches!" and then not letting the other person actually respond but plowing on negates their ability to contribute, participate, and interact.  It's the same as when you're in a discussion about some topic and you start proposing rhetorical questions and answering them.  It ain't cool.

As for your various types of authority, I'm not totally sold on this schema.  You have content, plot, situation, and narrational authorities, and to my mind they are so bound up with each other that they do not divide neatly.  Content I can give a by to; it's the most distinct to me.  I see little to no distinction between plot and situation, though.

Which may set off alarm bells so let me take a moment to explain: I know the difference between situation -- the set-up juxtaposition of stuff that prompts the big questions -- and plot -- how those questions are answered/addressed/dealt with.  By no means am I equating situation with plot and yadda yadda yadda.  However, my only real distinction between the two is in terms of when it happens in relation to a game.  You prepare a situation, you play a plot.  In structural terms, though, these are two parts of a seamless whole.  Situation is part of plot: the development of a situation is the development of the plot, and the development of the plot is the development of new situations.  It's a feedback cycle.  As such, I don't see any viable division between them outside of the timing of procedures of play.  I highly suspect that this is where our primary difference lies.

Narrational is only semi-distinct but I believe you mean it in terms of how things happen, rather than what happens.  So the plot and/or situation will be determined by other means like stakes or pulling a card or running out of hit points.  Narrational authority is just who gets to describe how that stuff happens.  If that's how you're using the term?

JARED'S GM TASKS: the Game Master is not the Dungeon Master is not the Producer is not the Story Guide.

Different games call for different things done by different people.  Yes, yes, yes, total and enthusiastic agreement here.

The Rim: the Bangmaster

The three rim bits all seem to be saying the same thing to me: somebody's got to deliver the bangs so the players can react (Peaches), it's boring if players always bang themselves (Czege), so we make one guy in charge of delivering bangs (GM Tasks), equip him appropriately (Authorities), and we call him the GM.  This arrangement is how Sorcerer is structured; other games may also be structured like this, but still other games are structured in different means entirely.

I'll let you catch up and comment before I head in on to the hub.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 06, 2006, 10:17:42 AM
Hi there,

I'm fine with all this, Joshua. You've got the narrational thing just fine - it's a description of whatever.

I don't see much need to split hairs about the situation/plot distinction. If you're interested, my thinking goes that "plot" stuff is very much about revelations, drastic changes in relationships, deaths and maiming, and stuff like that.

My thinking arises from a major constraint in my Sorcerer GMing. As I play it anyway (not that I'm claiming the book's any good at explaining this part), it's not kosher for me, as GM, to have plot, as conceived above, occur except in the context of resolution. So all that stuff can only occur from using those mechanics. I can't "write" as Sorcerer GM, not even a little bit. So I'm gonzo with Situations and Content, even to a degree that can scare players, but no jot nor tittle of Plot shall pass my lips - gotta use the dice for that. I've found the distinction between the two sets to be extraordinarily helpful over the past five or six years of role-playing. And when in other games I do use plot-based authority (for some games it's absolutely required), well, at least I know I'm doing it and can decide what the limits of it will be.

(I have not explained this well on-line in the past, either, regarding Sorcerer. It's almost impossible when someone's still clutching their hair at the concept of a Kicker, or other introductory stuff. I figure it's been better over the years to let groups arrive at whatever sort of authority-parceling they want, at their own speed.)

Again, I'm not posing any of this as meat for debate, not intending to challenge your outlook nor to invite you to try to refute it. This is just about communication, musing, seeing where I'm at if you're interested.

The GM or "GM" thing really seems like the biggest deal to me in this case, 'cause I figure we'll get back to Force eventually. Maybe the plot-authority thing will be relevant there, maybe not. We'll see.

I think you've summarized everything just peachy, so onwards we go. What's the hub, especially in the context of the actual-play situations you described? One or any or all is fine, I guess.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 06, 2006, 12:40:49 PM
Two words, man: Sorcerer Compiled.  Bring them all together and beat them with the edit-stick.  But that's tangential.

The Hub

Seems to me the hub is something like this: the Bangmaster GM is responsible for delivering the bangs.  Some bangs happen on their own, and that's fine, but it's the Bangmaster's job to make sure that bangs happen in general.  In order to make that happen, the Bangmaster is invested with situation authority (and to a lesser extent content authority).  The Bangmaster... hm.  We missed flags.

The Bangmaster constructs/plans/muses about potential bangs based on player flags, whether they be Kickers or things on the backside of the Sorcerer sheet or brought up in conversation or whatever.  To my eye, it's mostly the Bangmaster looking over a long list of buttons to push and thinking, "I wonder what happens when I push this one here; I wonder what happens when I push this one and then this one; I wonder what happens when I push these two at the same time..." and so on.  The Bangmaster is not invested on anything in particular happening ("I hope this button turns on the red light"), but she does want something to happen.

So, armed with these bangs, the Bangmaster then uses content and situation authority to set up scenes, conflicts, and unstable relationships.  Once the question has been posed, so to speak, she then steps back to allow the players to address the open question.  They either do this by exercising a little plot authority ("I just walk away, abandoning her to her fate.") or by providing character-intent inputs to the resolution system ("I haul off and deck him.").  So stuff happens, and people are engaged with the progress of stuff happening because it's stuff that they care about that's happening.

Are we copacetic so far?  Not mangling any terminology or anything?

Here's where the hub comes off the axle for me.  "Situation" can mean the initial situation or it can mean the current situation, and past the first hour of any game that's running on all six cylinders, the current situation doesn't resemble the initial situation very much.  The means by which that situation changes is via plot authority, ie, all that stuff happening in the game.  So while I see all of the above working just fine up to the first bang, it's the movement to the second bang that I wonder about.  What the player characters do needs to figure into what happens next, or else, really, why are the players there?  But the players' address of Bang #1 cannot directly set up Bang #2 or else you're trampling the Czege Principle.  So it's up to the GM.  Somehow, she's got to take what the players did and maybe a little of what the players said about what they were hoping to accomplish and then progress events further in order to get to another bang.

In the TSOY example, Judson first puts my Glittering Gold guy in a treasure chamber with another PC and we see if we team up or fight or whatever.  We do all that, and I get coerced into playing nice for the moment.  Then we "find a way out" which turns out to be a tunnel into some NPC's hut.  Said NPC just happens to be hosting the other two PCs in the game, and conveniently has all the leading information that directs us to the crazy tribal emperor guy.  Crazy triabl emperor guy is just happening to hold court that evening, and that leads us right to the next big thematic choice.  Now, the tunnel, the NPC with the information, and the timing of the court, that all sets up situation in order to deliver the next bang.  However, if the first bang had gone differently, with our two PCs having a big fight and heading off in different directions or whatever, Judson would have to be introducing some different set of things in order to get us to the next bang.  The tunnel would be different, say, or there would be a different NPC with the information, or perhaps we'd come up to the surface in the middle of the festival where the crazy tribal emporer was holding court.  Now, it may sound like I'm advocating an All Roads Lead to Rome approach, but I'm not.  Maybe, if the first bang had played out in a different way, we would have proceeded to some other second bang.  But regardless, we'd be heading to some bang, and Judson would be introducing facts and characters and events into the fiction in order to get us there, cause that's the SG's job.  Call it the All Roads Lead to Somewhere Interesting approach.  But whatever happens, Judson is taking in input of what the characters have done and have succeeded in doing, and spitting out output that incorporates those things and delivers the next bang.

That process -- with player-action input and what-happens-next output -- doesn't fit neatly into either situation or plot authority to me.  It's pretty thoroughly both.  Whatever that thing is seems close to, or related to, Force.

Or frame this around the other way: Force is about taking away the significant decisions of a game.  In a nar game, they're thematic decisions; in a gamist game, they're tactical decisions (really reductive, yeah yeah).  So describing how evil infects a player character's soul (a thematic thing) might be total Force in a nar game but perfectly kosher in a gamist game (see: cybernetic implants in Cyberpunk/Shadowrun).  It seems to me that Force is misapplied authority, overstepping the bounds of what a GM/ST/SG/HG is supposed to be doing and trampling on what a player should be doing.  Since it's contextual, we could talk about the same procedure performed at the table and in one case it would be Force and in another it wouldn't be.  The procedure that actually happens, though: that's what I'm getting at.  That's what a GM does, whether or not it's detrimental to the point of play.  It's the thing that is abused when the GM railroads players who don't want to be railroaded, but it's the thing that the GM uses appropriately when she railroads players who just want to get to the next big combat set piece.  And that thing, which Judson used to get us to the crazy tribal emperor guy, doesn't fit into the authority schema you've got so far, to my eye.

So that thing -- would you equate it to one of your authority flavors?  Or would you say it's some other thing?  Is it 'just roleplaying'?


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 06, 2006, 01:06:58 PM
Clarification: when I say "I get coerced into playing nice for the moment" I mean the character, not me the player.


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 09, 2006, 07:35:38 AM
Hi Joshua,

I don't think this discussion is really about Bangs or Force at all. I think it's about something much bigger - the actual dialogues and interactions in which all system use is embedded.

Historically, role-playing is practically defined by a bunch of techniques hidden or at least isolated within a bunch of unconstructed dialogue. When I say "unconstructed," I don't merely mean "not rolling dice," and not even "open dialogue." I mean: primal chaos that cannot itself produce a solution (in the technical sense of that term). No one knows what this interaction is supposed to be like. No one knows how it's supposed to get anywhere or accomplish anything. Gamer culture avoids the question as if it's a deadly disease; "game-mastering advice" in a hundred texts dances around it and focuses instead on mood and superficial style, with few exceptions. Existing solutions are guesses, tacit interjections, tacit impositions, and often desperation measures.

I'll dub that unconstructed weirdness as "murk." Sure, a rules-set may well outline every permissible option during a sequence of fight mechanics. But how does one get to a fight? What's the fight for? How do the mechanically-permissible outcomes of a fight, in this game, lead to whatever it is that happens next? Individualized answers to these things exist, whether described in detail or implied very heavily or simply assumed. But cross-hobby, subculturally speaking, as a general understanding across this bunch of people, I think "murk" is a pretty good word for it. I'm trying to connote that stuff does happen in it, some way or some how.

I also suggest that most of the historical solutions are not really very constructive, either focused on compensating for the murk in some cases or in using it to mask single-person control over what goes on. Culturally, in order to play at all, a group must arrive at something to make their way through the murk, and when it occurs at all, people say "he's a good GM," or, "we're a good group." That's kind of a bad sign: that simple functionality is, in our subculture, taken as evidence of superior practitioning. I think it's fair to say that much of the time, simple functionality is not achieved, and also that many of the solutions to date are not especially socially or creatively satisfying.

Clashes over Creative Agenda are a feature of my second suggestion (the above paragraph). Boy, that's a whole dialogue right there, "why incoherence is perceived as a virtue," but not to the immediate point.

Instead, I want to discuss the murk itself. The immense library of scenarios, modules, and campaign packs of the 1980s are like a library of murk-coping mechanisms which, in the GNS-avoidance context of the time, are completely incomprehensible unless one shares the agenda of the author and recognizes the techniques from one's own games.

The whole diceless and in many cases pseudo-diceless issue that arose around 1990 is probably the first major sign that some people were getting tired of pretending to use dice/task mechanics when everything important was being managed by the unconstructed part. It's also about then that a number of authors just decided to admit that the "story" was being solo-controlled in their games, and to go ahead and foster that control rather than hide it. Both of these are the backbone of the cry that "system doesn't matter."

For the ambitious practitioner, whether for play or for design or for both, I very strongly suggest that the current array of coping-mechanisms, which is to say, "look what people have been doing all these years," is not a good starting point. Again, I think many of them are compensatory at best, often desperate, and even a bit dishonest in the sense of "get my agenda fulfilled at least for myself." I expect that enough subcultural status and enough monetary investment exists to pose some fierce resistance. 

How about the context of games that were written as the Forge was birthed and immediately afterwards, say 2000-2002? Has the Forge dispelled the murk? I think authors like me, Jared, Paul, Ralph, and a few authors certainly were among the first to attack the murk directly. But the overall answer is no. The hobby as a sustainable activity (which requires no-murk) is still in its infancy. I can still see it everywhere - the ongoing failure to understand Giving in Dogs, the confusion about the bonus dice in My Life with Master, the bizarre general failure to grasp the conflict-resolution (and role-playing!) rules in Universalis, the stumbling-blocks about when to expect rewards that arise when playing Perfect or carry or Capes, and more. I hope we got somewhere, such that the answer is "not yet," rather than "bzzzt! try again please," but at this point only time will tell.

There's a positive side to all this. I think that full solutions are out there, waiting to be discovered and to be used. Polaris is a good start. Sorcerer is a good start, although the big problem there is people trying to apply the old mechanisms to it during play, not realizing (how could they?) that compensations or control are not necessary. I suggest that Trollbabe, My Life with Master, and Universalis all offer solutions. It doesn't surprise me that these games in particular, along with Polaris and Primetime Adventures, tend to be dismissed as curiosities by people who are at least comfortable in the murk and with their subcultural status they associate with their partial solutions. I'm not surprised to see claims that removing the murk would, itself, destroy the role-playing experience.

For the ambitious practitioner, there's room for discovery, and also for diversity of possible solutions. I think that the incoherent and murk-favoring practices of our hobby only persisted so long (in the products and in the rhetoric) because actual games were not subjected to true market forces from the early 1980s through about 2000. Now, times are different and solutions can appear, although whether they can be embraced by self-identified gamers is another question (perhaps those of us who are interested ought to turn our publishing attention elsewhere entirely; that's another off-topic issue).

My initial point: murk is still the prevailing context for play among most people involved in the hobby at all.

And finally, now I can bring this to our discussion and the hub of your wheel, I'm composing it now. I figured I'd post this part first and go do some stuff, then come back in a bit.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 09, 2006, 09:42:00 AM
Hi there,

Continued!

I think it's non-controversial to say that role-playing is composed of talking and listening. Sure, everyone's minds and imaginations are active too, and no one can see all the way into everyone else's mind, but all that starts getting into metaphysics and I'll be boring and say, "it's composed of talking and listening." The key is that it's interactive - I can't just talk and listen to myself, and I can't just talk and have all of what I say sink into everyone else without talking being directed back, to modify it. It's shared in a crucial way that's more like playing music and less like writing a play or novel.

Now ... the murk hides all the stuff we do, pretend to do, or fail to do in making any of this happen successfully. And in utilizing anti-murk approaches (exposing our techniques), there's a certain set of fears and halting-steps involved.

For instance, I just betcha that a bunch of people reading this are going to mistakenly think I'm saying that (a) GM-control over specific elements, e.g. NPC behavior, is part of the murk; and (b) non-murk play must mean no hidden prep, what some folks here call "no myth" where everything just gets made up as you go, and full knowledge of every element is disclosed/available at all times. None of that is true.

I'm saying instead that centralized and exclusive ownership of various game elements is a fine thing as a technique, and doesn't have to be hidden by the murk in order to function well ... even if it's not disclosed right away, or even at all. If you make up a character and decide, in your heart of hearts, that he suffered some form of abuse as a kid, and this informs your decisions/play of that character but you don't share it with us ... that's OK. Similarly, if the GM makes up a character and decides in his heart of hearts (i.e. his prep-notebook) something similar, and does exactly the same ... that's OK too.

Lack of disclosure but impact on play, for some imagined element of any game component (say, characters, it's easier in this case), is a technique. In many of the cases that we're talking about in your example, that impact arises in terms of revelation, or at least some dramatic instance of that character's behavior. "The cannibal king muses, 'Boy, I wish I could marry that hot princess from the neighboring island," as the tribe cook eyes you eagerly."

In the murk, this means ... what? A signal for you, saying you, the player, must now offer to act as go-between to the other tribe, or we cannot play further in this scenario? Or does it mean, I sure like playing this ditzy, romantic cannibal chief, and I'd love to see how you guys riff off him, no matter what happens?

The first would be Force, especially among a group in which the players like to reserve all judgmental actions to their own spheres of input (i.e. talking). The second is an opening of some kind, to what, who knows. But in either case, the sentence itself gives no indication.

See what I mean? As long as we continue to play in the murk, no one will know what such input means ... and if someone tries to analyze, there's every reason (historically speaking) to say, it's railroading! He decided for us! It's railroading to say "you see the dungeon entrance!" It's railroading even to say "the pirate guy looks at you" in the bar! All GM input which matters at all is railroading!

I am suggesting that this interpretation is a function of the murk, not of reality, or at least, not definitional reality. At the moment, all we know is that such input is talking, and that such talking represents some kind of centralized authority. And yes, in the murk, we are forced to guess and to infer intent (which is where your comment above came from, I think), and forced to play along in hopes that we are all on the same page about what such input really means. Furthermore, for people who are long-resigned to the fact that in their experience such statements are Force-ful, then they won't believe otherwise unless they get extremely clear, non-murky experience with another way to play over several games and many sessions. Maybe not even then.

Now, I don't know if you find this convincing, but I presented Bangs in Sorcerer as part of removing the murk from playing that game. That means a couple of things.

1. Considering them in isolation from the rest of that system is not enough for that purpose. I'm not convinced we should go down this road in dialogue, as I think you may be pretty committed to writing off Sorcerer as a dated artifact. I disagree with that strongly enough that I don't think we'll get very far. I do think it's a fair general point to say, "Bangs are not a murk-dispelling thing all by themselves."

2. I fully expected many people to prove incapable of playing Sorcerer because they can't emerge from the murk. You can't make people play without the murk and hence continue to apply unnecessary techniques (or utterly to ignore or recoil from the textual ones) during play; I could only provide enough context for some people to say "hey! I hated the murk! and I don't need it here! wow!", if they were so inclined.

The Bang is presented as a form of acknowledged privilege on the GM's part to do specific things during play, up to a highly-specific limit and no farther.

What I'm really saying is that in the absence of murk, the members of the role-playing group do not have to guess about whether statements like "you fall into the hole!" are railroading. They know, because whatever such statements mean in terms of specific communicative techniques, here for this game, here for this group, that's what they came here to do. (1) Discover and enjoy the neat story the GM has in mind, in which maybe they get to respond once in a while; or (2) grab onto opportunities like falling into a hole and make them squeal like a pig relative to the characters' responses, such that pound for pound, they end up providing more context for GM/NPC actions than he is providing for player/PC actions.

In the context of the latter "squeal like a pig!" option, GM input like "and then the monster rears up from her chest cavity, and calls you 'father,'" is a Bang. It is only recognizable and usable[]/i as a Bang in the absence of any murk about that role. It could, in some other game, not be a Bang at all but rather a wonderful cue for "now you get to use that power I want you to use," or something similarly directed. (In the absence of murk or deliberate deception, this would be Participationist play).

But let's say it's as I describe, a Bang in terms of the GM's understanding. If there's murk, a player may get mad about his character sheet never saying anything about "parent to a demon" and feel violated. If there's murk, a player may struggle to guess what he or she is now supposed to do in response. If there's murk, a player may mistakenly (in this game) think that he or she has just as much authority over the back-story as the GM, and say, "I roll to establish that it's lying" or something like that.

But in Sorcerer, anyway, these three things shouldn't be a problem - (a) all characters may have more back-story particularly in terms of NPC relationships and actions, (b) there is no "supposed to do," ever, and (c) back-story (content authority) is not the province of the player. All that should be entirely murk-free. In which case, the event as narrated by the GM in the context of his actual job (reason to be there), is now fully a Bang. Yes, the GM provided incontrovertible input. No, it was not railroading or Force or anything like that. We knew he was supposed to do that and even looked forward to it ... in the context of knowing that any response on the character's part is wholly up to the player, there is no "hop into this box" implied.

How is this going? Sense, lack of sense, anything?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 09, 2006, 10:09:44 AM
Seriously, I think we've come around to agreeing on all the fundamental points, Ron.  The GM providing incontrovertible input in order to deliver the bangs, and that input being a necessary feature of the game's operation, is what I'm getting at.  Perhaps the closest question in the OP was "Is there some 'acceptable level' of GM Force in the bang-structured game?"  So it's not Force by your definition, it's authority, and it's acceptable because it's embedded in the game.  That sounds about right.  Your authority, whatever its flavor and whoever it is assigned to, is that thing that I was talking about.

I don't think the extent of GM authority needs to be explicit (murkless) for this to work.  I'm with you in that I think it's preferable, but I don't think it's fundamentally nonfunctional if it's not.  However, the game becomes something of a crap shoot (or rather, even more of a crap shoot) when these questions are left unanswered.  Making them explicit seems to make the game more reliable while removing the mystique around it.  Some folks value the mystique more than the reliable social interactions -- folks with more time than I do, or folks whose friendships with their fellow players are more durable or less valuable than mine.  But that's a whole different topic entirely, I think.

Thanks for the chat, Ron.  It's helped in more ways than you probably know.

-- Josh


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 09, 2006, 10:58:59 AM
Cool!

Thanks Joshua. I would have liked tying the latest points to the actual play examples, but I suppose that can be left to a reader's exercise.

Considering the length of the thread, I figure it's best to close it here and request daughter threads if anyone wants to continue discussing this-or-that bit.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion
Post by: Josh Roby on October 09, 2006, 07:33:58 PM
Oh, lovely.  Then I go home and get to doing the final proofread of FLFS and I find the entire conversation paraphrased in something I wrote a year ago.  Hooray for irony. =P

Quote from: Chapter 6: Roleplay
All the players at the table will contribute to the developing story.  The Game Master is primarily responsible for presenting the story’s situation and portraying the individual characters and events in such a way that the other players cannot just sit idly by.  The other players, in turn, are primarily responsible for describing what their characters do in the developing situation.  Sometimes these responsibilities overlap — the GM may suggest a plausible course of action for the player characters, or the players might elaborate on an element of the situation.  The GM may even ask a player to portray one of the situation’s characters.  All of this comprises roleplay.
In broad terms, roleplay consists of two activities: narration and direction.  Other things do affect play — imagining your character’s thought processes, planning out future actions, explaining your character’s motivation to other players, and the like — but once everyone is sitting around the table ready to play, most of the interaction boils down to these two things.
Narration is the act of describing to the other players what is happening in the story.  Direction is the process of deciding who does the narration.  Ideally, all the players in the group share narration more or less equally, ensuring that everyone is involved.  While the GM tends to direct more often than the other players, she doesn’t do it all.  The other players can try to take direction with interjections or interruptions or hand direction off to another player.  This is accomplished according to some simple rules...