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Independent Game Forums => Dark Omen Games => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on November 27, 2008, 08:09:28 AM



Title: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Ron Edwards on November 27, 2008, 08:09:28 AM
Hello,

As some of you know, a relevant and sophisticated conversation is occuring about a key aspect of game design, so far undiscussed until raised recently by Markus.

Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26752.0) (the place to start reading; now closed to posting)
Traits in While We Were Fighting (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26901.0)
[Space Rat] Femme babe action at GenCon (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26870.0)
[L5R, The Pool, and others] A new look at Drift (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26918.0) (this could use a little participation from more people; I want to get back to it soon)
Traits and the darkness that comes before (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26937.0) (so could this!)

I should always emphasize that we're not talking about anything that any game text happens to have called a "trait," but a highly specific type of mechanic, by whatever name. Check the threads to see what I mean. Markus listed a whole series of questions and concerns about this mechanic, and we're essentially working through out as well as discovering new issues on the way.

Legends of Alyria provides a wonderful, powerful opportunity to add to this discussion. For those who don't know this game: once a conflict has begun (let's say between two characters for simplicity), each character chooses an Attribute to use. It sets the target value for the other character. Then each may utilize a Trait (any Trait, either character's) to modify either score that's showing. Traits themselves are rated according to the same units as the Attributes; using a Trait replaces the Attribute currently showing with the Trait's value. So I might drop your score or raise my own.

1. This is how I understand Alyria Traits. Traits are always defined as attitudes, expressed as a way to do something; for instance, they cannot be neutral abilities (good climber) or people (my brother). Their use is limited by content, as you cannot use one unless it makes sense in the context of the fiction so far (more on this in a minute). You get one free Trait shift per exchange (conflicts = 1, 2, or 3 exchanges); shifting a given Trait more than once (i.e. in more than 1 exchange) requires paying for it with I/C (an important Positioning mechanic). To clarify, by "free" I only refer to mechanical resource, all Trait use is brutally constrained by prior fictional constraint.

Seth, do I have all this right?

2. Assuming that I have it right, look at how all the concerns raised by Markus and myself are well-handled here: constraint on when and on why a Trait is used; with both a resource-based constraint and a defined SIS constraint; note as well the interesting tactical consequence of a low-Tension conflict vs. a high-Tension one. (Remember that game-mechanics tactics may be a strong procedural feature for any CA.)

3. Yay! A new issue about Traits! This one is kind of easy, but important in its way. The question is what what the Trait actually is in the fiction: an adjective of some kind (physical, mental, social, et cetera), or a noun expressing such an adjective; an object or possession; a person or group; a relationship with a person or group; a particular ability (0-sum, you have it or you don't). Some games offer all of these as Traits, but others are more limiting. (Alyria is very specific for instance.)

4. Now for the key, main issue, which is related to #3. Whereas #3 is about what the Trait is, this part is about what using the Trait does. All of this raises the practical question: does saying "I'm using this Trait" reflect {what is already happening / obviously very easily applies to what is happening} OR does it literally activate or alter the existing SIS to show that {something new or something previously hidden is now present or apparent}?

For example, say my character has the Trait "Quick-witted" and let's say it provides a bonus die to some kind of roll. In the extreme form of the first idea, I could not use this Trait unless my character were already engaged in some kind of wits-based, cleverness-oriented situation (maybe a swindle or a fast-talk to escape punishment) or attempt at something, and/or I must have narrated something he or she did which is acknowledged as quick-witted. Otherwise, that bonus die isn't coming to me.

In the extreme form of the second idea, however, my character might be engaged in some non-cleverness-oriented problem, perhaps climbing a cliff face while being strafed by harpy feces. I say, "OK, quick-witted," and I add the bonus to my roll. In my experience, the only constraint is that whoever narrates what happens (let's say I succeed) has to take my character's quick-wittedness into account. In fact, if I fail, perhaps that means that quick-witted didn't apply after all.

I think of these concepts, basically, before and after. "Before" means that the SIS must be firing with certain elements in place which then permit the Trait to be legally used. "After" means the Trait is simply activated more-or-less freely, thereby changing the SIS in a distinct fashion as part of its use.

Markus, I really want your input on this, because it has a lot to do with the issues that arose in your game of The Pool. It sets up several further useful topics. For instance, there may exist a grey area between the two, and I have no idea whether this is a problem waiting to happen (and obviously avoided without reflection by those who enjoy these mechanics) or whether it's a fruitful thing (in which case utilized to the fullest by those players). Also, I also think the relatively recent design phenomenon of having a person be a Trait (it does have antecedents going back to the mid-1970s) is worth a whole thread of its own later, in the context of this before/after concept.

My understanding with Legends of Alyria is that "before" is the guiding principle. I'm not sure whether my own previous play or Seth's play has been entirely faithful to that, but the trouble is, both groups are Trait-friendly, which means we have been making it work without knowing how or why. Seth, what do you think?

5. There's also an important issue hidden under #4. I'm talking now about the common constraint, or attempted constraint, of having the trait be plausible when used. I think this phrasing is actually code for a lot of different things. (I am certain that many of you will recognize it as related to the long-standing issue about skills like Fast-talk, Seduce, or Diplomacy, regarding whether a player has to do anything except "use the skill" mechanically. Here, however, I want to focus on the Traits concept rather than a straight-up skill issue.)

The puzzle for me is that it's never been an issue during play, but it's also clear, upon looking at it (in its myriad forms throughout game texts) that the instructions themselves are not providing actual procedures to keep it from being an issue.

Even with "before," explaining it isn't as easy as I'd originally thought. For one thing, the trap exists of the always-there always-useful Trait. For another, apparently a number of groups fall into the problem of "sing for my supper," in that a player feels he or she must put on an elaborate thespian act in order to get the bonus. With "after," it's hard too. If I can activate my "quick" trait and thus bring my quickness into things, then it's basically always on-call unless some mechanical limit applies (as in "use once per session" or some equivalent). This is especially tricky when Traits are either qualities like quickness (which are in many cases redundant with other mechanics like a Speed attribute) or whole allied-characters.

We need to dissect out #4 and #5 most carefully by talking about real play. I intend to reflect as accurately and critically as possible on how these mechanics play during our Alyria game, and if it's OK with you, Seth, I'll use this thread to focus on them instead of the Actual Play one which is intended for more general issues. The thing is, I don't anticipate any problems with them, so the question is, why is that?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: GreatWolf on December 02, 2008, 02:43:03 PM
First off, Ron, please feel free to continue to add reflections on Trait use to this thread. That'll be a good thing all around.

Your description of how Alyria uses Traits is correct, including prior fictional constraint. Of course, the funny thing is that I had to think pretty hard about the fictional constraint bit, because I don't recall it ever having been problematic. Though, it might be better to express the Trait constraint as either being the result of previous actions taken or being a reasonable response to the conflict at hand. I think that an example might be handy here. Um, let's try this.

Let's say that Chrome was going to get into a fight with Ferret because Ferret had accidentally insulted Chrome's honor. In this case, we could all agree that activating Chrome's "Pride" Trait would be called for, since that Trait prompted the conflict in the first place. At the same time, we could also all agree that activating Ferret's "Timid" Trait would make sense. Sure, he hasn't had a chance to be timid yet, but it's obvious (there it is) that he could be timid during the conflict or might have to overcome his timidness to do well in the upcoming fight.

So, with this elaboration, I agree that Trait use in Legends of Alyria is a "before" affair.

From a design perspective, I added the constraint on Traits late in the design process. Otherwise, a player could just keep using the same Trait over and over and over and over.... It wasn't a game balance issue; after all, Traits are actually a Conflicted design feature, meaning that a Trait is both a source of strength and weakness. No, the problem was that it just got boring to see someone using the same Trait like that.

Of course, I still haven't discussed why this works in our group. As Ron said, my group is a Trait-friendly group. How did this happen?

At this point, the best that I can figure is that our group has a lot of experience together, as discussed in this thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27066.msg257100#msg257100), which has resulted in a synchronizing of our aesthetic vision. Hmm. "Synchronizing" might be too strong. Perhaps "harmonizing" of our aesthetic vision might be a better way to put it. At this point, we generally know what the group will accept and what it won't. I'm guessing that Ron's group is similar.

It has taken us a while to get to that point, though. I wonder if applicability rulings on Traits is something that needs to be vested in a GM with the understanding that he is speaking for the group. I'm thinking here of a Sorcerer GM's responsibility to hand out bonus dice. Sure, this is the GM's job, but he is supposed to be aware of the "sense of the table" and respond accordingly. Perhaps Trait adjudication for "before" style games needs to be formally stated in this way.

(FWIW, I tend to view "after" Trait designs as a player making a promise to the table. "Grant me that this applies, and I'll make up something cool for you." So, I think that it can be a functional design as well, although I think that it's a different set of issues.)



Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 03, 2008, 09:12:05 AM
Hi Seth,

I agree with you about the "after" design expectation, and the funny thing is, despite my first impression, I'm getting the idea that that method might actually be easier to explain.

But here we're talking about "before," so ...

Quote
At this point, the best that I can figure is that our group has a lot of experience together, as discussed in this thread, which has resulted in a synchronizing of our aesthetic vision. Hmm. "Synchronizing" might be too strong. Perhaps "harmonizing" of our aesthetic vision might be a better way to put it. At this point, we generally know what the group will accept and what it won't. I'm guessing that Ron's group is similar.

I think we're in the same boat in terms of not being able to articulate this well. You're pretty much saying "we can do it because we can do it." The closest I came to breaking out of that was in describing demo play, and that may not be the best indicator of what I, and you, are doing, or what our groups are doing, in the context of an ongoing social and creative situation. And to make it more difficult, clearly the process occurred a long time ago while playing some other game, so it's probably not possible to observe us now to see how such an understanding can be brought about.

To make it even crazily more difficult, we're not only talking about one kind of Trait usage, but about a group understanding of the range of Trait use, such that we can pick up games with widely differing approaches to the concept and make any of them work, without even knowing that we're processing them differently. I mean, for ten years, you and I have been dissecting out role-playing processes with every ounce of self-reflection and critical thinking we can muster, and neither of us recognized this entire issue until Markus pointed it out.

Quote
I wonder if applicability rulings on Traits is something that needs to be vested in a GM with the understanding that he is speaking for the group. I'm thinking here of a Sorcerer GM's responsibility to hand out bonus dice. Sure, this is the GM's job, but he is supposed to be aware of the "sense of the table" and respond accordingly. Perhaps Trait adjudication for "before" style games needs to be formally stated in this way.

That certainly matches what I was talking about in [Space Rat] Femme babe action at GenCon (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26870.0), but I think your phrase "a GM" needs revision. It just so happens that the person who introduces and primarily teaches a game to the rest of the group is also typically the person who will GM, but that doesn't mean the two ideas are necessarily linked. In You've Landed on Gaming Group "Park Place", Pay $15 Rent (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=22268.0) I talk about rules-leadership as an isolated role, and my thought at present is that what you're talking about gets taught by the rules-leader, whoever that might be.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: GreatWolf on December 03, 2008, 09:37:23 AM
Quote
And to make it more difficult, clearly the process occurred a long time ago while playing some other game, so it's probably not possible to observe us now to see how such an understanding can be brought about.

No kidding. When I was writing my last post, I was thinking, "Uh, it used to be tricky, but now it's not." That's why I offered my idea about formally investing someone with that power, almost as "training wheels", until the group dynamic made that feature somewhat unnecessary.

I wonder if we might be talking past each other a bit with the "rules-leader" and "GM" point. To be clear, I think that we're basically in agreement as to the dynamic, but nuance can be good, right?

I'll use an example from that Sorcerer game that Raquel GMed. (We really need to get back to that....) In this case, Raquel is the GM and therefore wields the "bonus dice" authority within that game. However, this game was part of a conscious effort to help Raquel develop her GM skills. So, I would also function in the "rules-leader" role from time to time by instructing Raquel as to what she should be considering, including the awarding of bonus dice. So I'd say, "Now, do you think that was worth bonus dice? Here's how to make that determination: blah blah reading the table's reactions yadda yadda." Then she would exercise her judgment, which didn't always match up with mine.

This is why I'm saying that, from a design perspective, it might be good to formally vest this authority in a particular player. For some games, that'll be the GM; for games with distributed authority, it might depend on the situation. However, clearly delineating who gets "final say" could be helpful. Again, I do consider this to be something of "training wheels", if I can say that without sounding belittling.

At the same time, I totally agree that these formal interactions will be heavily influenced at the social level by the initial "rules-leader", who will set the tone for how the players exercise their formal powers.

Between these two dynamics, a group will gradually find its way to a functional approach to Traits. Well, I would hope so.

Also, at some point, we need to discuss the issue of "rubber-banding" Traits (i.e. stretching them to fit a variety of situations) in the context of both "Traits before" and "Traits after" systems. That would be an interesting and profitable discussion. (I believe that "rubber-banding" is Mike Holmes' term.)



Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Valamir on December 03, 2008, 01:25:34 PM
Seth, you've seen some of my threads where I claim that good game design includes process for reaching understanding about various game aesthetic issues.  I'm thinking here specifically the Taste for Murder thread and This Story-Games post (http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=8169&page=1).

I'm seeing a connection between this discussion of group understanding of how Traits get applied being arrived out organically through experience and my notion that a good design can help facilitate this with clear procedures for how to resolve different perceptions.

Yes?


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: GreatWolf on December 03, 2008, 02:26:49 PM
Quote
I'm seeing a connection between this discussion of group understanding of how Traits get applied being arrived out organically through experience and my notion that a good design can help facilitate this with clear procedures for how to resolve different perceptions.

Absolutely. My "empower the GM" suggestion is really just an example of a "clear procedure[..] for how to resolve different perceptions". Though, procedures don't account for the "rules-leader" role that Ron is discussing which is also a factor in how this plays out in a group.

Actually, this discussion is making me think of Rules of Play (http://www.amazon.com/Rules-Play-Game-Design-Fundamentals/dp/0262240459/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228342488&sr=8-1) which Ralph and I both own. (To the rest, I highly recommend this book.) This book discusses games from three perspectives: games as rules, games as play, and games as culture. To be clear, these aren't three different types of games; rather, they are three different ways to look at the same thing. Anyways, "games as rules" are closed systems, with procedures and rules and whatnot. "Games as play" are both closed and open systems, because that's where the human players engage with the rules. So, it's closed in the sense that the rules are a closed system; however, they are also open, because humans don't drop their broader issues when they sit down at a gaming table. I believe that we call this Social Context, yes?

I'm of the opinion that we might be at the beginning of a new wave of design. The first wave of design that came from the Forge rallied behind "System Matters". However, we essentially understood this as "System=games as rules", which is why people still don't really get the Lumpley-Care Principle. I think that we're beginning to take the lessons that we learned from "System=games as rules" and beginning to apply them to "System=games as play". Players aren't just emitters of moves; they are human beings interacting socially. And yes, the better designs have understood this for some time, but it seems like we're giving more attention to the ability of design to draw on and shape broader social concerns without using "mechanics", narrowly defined.

As an example, here are two rules:

"When two players cannot agree on what happens in the fiction, they both roll their character's Intelligence. The high roll gets his way."

and

"When two players cannot agree on what happens in the fiction, the game must come to a halt until both have resolved their differences."

(Okay, those aren't great examples; I'm pressed for time here.)

Anyways, my point is that both address the same concern (disagreement between two players). However, the first rule appeals to mechanical outcomes, while the second rule throws the issue to the social level.

(Actually, In a Wicked Age ends up leveraging both these techniques to good effect. "The mechanics say that I win. Therefore, I can inflict mechanical consequences on you, unless we engage socially to come to terms." That's some quality design right there.)

I wonder if Trait use (specifically of the "before" variety) ends up being an early example of this socially-based sort of design, except that we never realized it.

I also feel like I'm talking around something important but haven't quite arrived yet. I'll post more if I figure it out....



Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: JCunkle on December 04, 2008, 09:10:23 PM
I know the giants are talking, but maybe my squeaky little voice might be heard...

So, a potential direct application of this kind of shared trait agreement might be mechanically 'training wheeled' by, say, not ever seeing your own traits?  You might have a character sheet, or not, but the other players develop traits around your character, and decide when you activate them.  It's 'guess the GM' becoming 'guess the whole group'.

Right?  or no?


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 04, 2008, 10:01:58 PM
That ain't no squeaky voice. It's a neat idea, and certain games like InSpectres and Misery Bubblegum utilize it to some extent.

I don't think it fits for Legends of Alyria specifically, because in this game, it's important that in a conflict, I can use any Trait of your character's to modify either my or your current clock face, and I can use any Trait of my character's to do either of those too. And you can do the same. So open knowledge of everyone's Traits is a big deal.

As I say, though, that's just this game, and your notion is by no means irrelevant or uninteresting.

Best, Ron

P.S. Seth is indeed a giant, ranking among other such Forge behemoths as Mike Holmes, Scott Knipe, Sean Wipfli, and Jason Blair. But Ralph and I are by comparison very short, being about sort of normal-size for humans.


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Markus on December 10, 2008, 04:27:44 AM
I must confess I found this thread by chance... I was lucky, because it's a fascinating discussion, and it surely helps me a lot to clarify/rationalize some aspects of the problems I experienced with traits. The 'after' type of traits in particular, are something I wondered about some time ago. If you forgive the egocentrism of quoting myself:

*Now* I see that maybe there are other functional ways of looking at this traits stuff. Another idea I'm considering is this (and it's my attempt to 'fill the gaps' in the system, effectively transforming it in *another* system however). So the idea is as follows: when you use a trait, just state it. No dialogue about if and how the trait is 'relevent' and so on. You get your bonus. However, the narrator (you, if you chose a MoV, but maybe the GM) will be the one responsible for integrating the trait in the narration, after resolution is rolled.

But I didn't have the chance to try this out and understand what type of effects it could generate. Seth, Ron, you seem to agree about 'after' traits being somehow problematic, in a different way than 'before' traits of course, but problematic nonetheless. I think I have just a glimpse of what the 'after' problems could be, but I'd like to hear your opinion on this specifically. Of course I'm using the word 'problem' in a very loose way, maybe 'feature' could be a better term for now (both for before and after traits). I foresee that this will be very useful to me, so thanks in advance!

M


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: GreatWolf on December 10, 2008, 01:49:26 PM
I must confess I found this thread by chance... I was lucky, because it's a fascinating discussion, and it surely helps me a lot to clarify/rationalize some aspects of the problems I experienced with traits.

In that case, you may want to look at this discussion (http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=402) on Vincent's blog, too.

Quote
Seth, Ron, you seem to agree about 'after' traits being somehow problematic, in a different way than 'before' traits of course, but problematic nonetheless. I think I have just a glimpse of what the 'after' problems could be, but I'd like to hear your opinion on this specifically. Of course I'm using the word 'problem' in a very loose way, maybe 'feature' could be a better term for now (both for before and after traits). I foresee that this will be very useful to me, so thanks in advance!

Yeah, I'd say "feature", too. I don't think that "after" Traits are necessarily problematic; rather, they mean something different than "before" Traits.

First, I'll restate what's been discussed so far, like so:

"Before"="fiction constrains Traits"

"After"="Traits constrain fiction"

It seems that the issue in both cases has to do with how Trait use is evaluated and who gets to do it.

The difference is how you evaluate the Trait use. With "before" Traits, the question is "Is the character positioned in the fiction to be able to apply this Trait?". With "after" Traits, the question is "Does the successive narration properly include this Trait as a constraint?"

Upon some reflection, I think that the use of an "after" Trait still feeds back into a broader evaluation of "Does this narration fit into the SIS?" Uh, I guess what I mean here is that the question changes from "Is this an appropriate Trait for this moment in the game?" to "Is this appropriate narration for this type of game?" In both cases, it's an aesthetic judgment, but the emphasis shifts. With a "before" Trait, the aesthetic judgment is only on this particular point and focuses on positioning. With an "after" Trait, the aesthetic judgment is two-fold: is the narration constrained by the Trait and does it fit into the look-and-feel of our SIS?

Again, I feel like I'm talking around something that I'm not quite getting, so I'll stop typing and see what happens.



Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 10, 2008, 05:30:47 PM
Hi Markus,

As a quick first point, I want to extend Seth's comment about "problematic" - as I see it, all Techniques are problematic insofar as the SIS is built by human communication (and all of it is, by definition). In other words, there are no guaranteed Techniques any more than there are guaranteed tools for, say, car repair, or guaranteed procedures for driving a car. Right now we're merely investigating the distinct qualities of a particular Technique, that's all. You should see what we went through regarding narration back in 2001.

Fundamentally, the issue with Traits is that they are a deliberately secondary layer on the ordinary resolution process. There is almost always a "cross-weave" between how the group might resolve the issue without the Trait, and how they might do so with it. In the case of your Pool game, the player might simply have accepted your Gift dice if any and then chosen however many to invest from her Pool, and rolled - without any Trait. In the case of Legends of Alyria, two characters might choose Attributes and simply roll, again without Traits.

When the Traits are employed, the "cross-weave" generates a more immediately, System-augmented SIS, but it also has all the potential that any cross-weaving of actual fabric fibers has to generate snarls, runs, and bumps. Basically, you have to do it right.

To do the Before type right, the basic task is recognition: ideally, given the situation, obviously this particular Trait must be involved. An excellent example would be for my L5R character Kakita Gan: when it's time to establish the initiative order in combat, then he gets +2, always, period. In this case, the cross-weave is mandatory. You can't get more straightforward an example of Before Trait application than that. Less rigid Before Trait systems may offer choices of not using Traits, but essentially, the logic is the same. Interestingly, if a given "obvious" Trait is ineligible due to some kind of resource limit, then its failure to be involved is of some note. Such an absence is most easily handled by role-playing it anyway and ignoring the Trait bonus, but may also be itself a source of narrational interest.

One thing I'll be paying attention to, however, is whether and when a Before Trait system does allow activating Traits which are surprising given the current situation. Using Intimidating in a seduction situation, for instance, clearly alters the nature of the fiction drastically. Could the character do such a thing? Is it reasonable to "see it" happening when it's announced? When is something unexpected like this (in English, "out of left field") constructive? These questions remain to be addressed via actual play accounts.

To do the After type right, the basic task is to manage Authority: ideally, given the announced Trait use, everyone knows how much of what kind of Stances are acceptable in using it, and what sort of Authority is being exerted. In this sense, the issues of After Trait use are very, very similar to those of narration-right allocations. One minor but potentially annoying issue, for instance, is repetition - if the player deals with every conflict by hitting Trait X again and again, the basic crisis arises because that person's contribution to the SIS is becoming boring and the character is not developing or really doing anything interesting in a linear fashion through time. That isn't as hard to understand as it seems at first, because again, the whole point is whether the Trait use enriches the SIS or makes it plain and repetitive. I think that I'm going to pay some attention to what kinds of use-limits may be found in existing After Trait systems.

(Also, an important side note: your situation was compounded by the difficult issue of having an NPC be the Trait. Let's ignore that for now and save it for another thread devoted only to that topic.)

All Trait use also carries a certain Positioning impact that should not be ignored, and I think our current focus on the precise moment of use should at least acknowledge the ongoing aspects of the cross-weaving.

What I'm about to say may seem like a shift in topic, but it's not. I'm sure you're familiar with the long-standing crisis in role-playing concerning players who have their alleged good-guy characters kill people, whether bad guys or bystanders or whoever - the points being that they are characters that other people in the group do not want to see killed, and that the other people in the group have ethical expectations for player-characters regarding killing. You're certainly also familiar with the common textual advice to deal with this: "punish the character," which is to say, the player. Which is among the stupidest advice ever printed and repeated throughout the history of role-playing texts. It flatly doesn't work and only serves to aggravate people.

I bring this up because one of the most fruitful and interesting aspects of playing with Traits, especially After Traits, is the consequence of their use. I wrote about this earlier in your first thread regarding, say, a Pool character with a trait called Bad-ass. Sure, it's a great dice-heavy Trait, but using it means the character is being played in a particular way. Over time, the character's Bad-assitude, and especially the way he or she might have used it in situations that did not particularly seem suited for it, can itself become a relevant part of the ongoing fiction.

I made that point about the kill-happy character because I don't want to be misunderstood as stating the common, bogus advice. I am not talking about creating disincentives for Trait use through punishing the character (i.e. player) with long-term aggravation. I'm talking about making the SIS richer through the Trait use, and if, for instance, a given After Trait is used over and over, how enjoyable consequences of doing so might be employed.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on December 13, 2008, 06:45:50 AM
Hi guys! What an interesting discussion!

I have questions that I hope will help me get on board with you:

Dust Devils seems to be of the "Before" variant, while the Pool states it's okay "if you can show an obvious connection between your intention and one of your character’s Traits", which sounds it might be both "After" and "Before", depending on situation and Trait. (In the Questing Beast it's "if one of your Motifs seems fitting for the event you have in mind, you can use it (...)")

This observation made me think of IIEE (http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=206) and surely the topics are related. For example, in Dust Devils one gets the chance to complete the description to validate the "Before" use. Before what? Before Execution, right? (The high card Narrator is only constrained by successful Goals and Harm, not Traits.)

In the Pool, it isn't quite as clear. It depends a lot on the way the Trait is formulated. Here, just about anything goes, whereas in Dust Devils it isn't the case (they are characters' qualities). I've had traits like the one involving "Boba Fett" Markus told us about which worked quite well, although our Boba Fett was quite extensively played by the GM as well, introducing interesting constraints (not logical ones, aesthetic ones) on the use of the Trait. And that's okay in itself, because in the Pool, there is no way to add any narration during resolution since it's punctual.

By the way, are Traits in Dogs in the Vineyard "simultaneous"? A player gets to roll the related dice when he narrates something that is related to them. Not based on what has happened before, nor is it a promise to use the Trait for narration afterwards. In any case (whether that really is "simultaneous" or just a specific "before"), "after" use is not warranted, and not needed since multiple sequences of IIEE follow each other, allowing anyone a great degree of freedom to integrate Traits. Or, rather, since each Raise is a complete IIEE sequence whose effect (and often execution) might be blocked, there is no point in differentiating between before and after, since traits and narration form one procedural package.

Am I getting somewhere? Should this be taken to another thread?


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 13, 2008, 01:20:26 PM
I think you're on the right track, Christoph. The one thing I'd like to save for later is the important case of NPCs being Traits, which has a history of its own in role-playing and needs to be dealt with as a separate issue.

Given the depth of the discussion (I hope everyone coming to this one is reading the prior ones too), I will think for a while over what you wrote. The only thing I'll say now is yes, your comparisons are relevant, and yes, it's fine right here in this thread insofar as Seth, the moderator of this forum, agrees.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: GreatWolf on December 13, 2008, 07:40:30 PM
Given the depth of the discussion (I hope everyone coming to this one is reading the prior ones too), I will think for a while over what you wrote. The only thing I'll say now is yes, your comparisons are relevant, and yes, it's fine right here in this thread insofar as Seth, the moderator of this forum, agrees.

I'm perfectly happy to have this conversation go on here. Please, continue!


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: otspiii on December 14, 2008, 12:27:33 AM
I'm very excited by all of this Trait discussion, because my recently built game operates on a more-or-less entirely Trait-based conflict resolution system.  I wasn't going to post anything about that aspect of it until I had play-tested it once or twice, which won't be until January, but I just now found this series of threads on the topic and I think the ways I handled Traits might be interesting to some people.  I have a few perceived solutions to some of the issues talked about here, but as I just said, I haven't play-tested any of it yet so it's all just armchair theory for now.

Should I post a summary of my trait system here?  It's pretty much the entire set of mechanics in the game, though, so should I post a link to the rulebook here?  Should I make a new thread somewhere and link to it from here?  All the discussion on the topic has really given me some exciting ideas, so I'd love to do everything I can to help stir the pot, but I don't want to derail the thread.

--Misha


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 14, 2008, 08:12:27 AM
Hi Misha,

That sounds like a perfect candidate for First Thoughts!

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: otspiii on December 14, 2008, 03:34:28 PM
Alright, that is where I posted it.

[Burning Passion] Traits, Running Wild and Free (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27316.0)

The section with the bolded question on top is probably the most relevant part for what's being discussed in this thread, but the rest gives it context.

Seth says: I edited this to fix a link


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 14, 2008, 05:39:28 PM
Hi Christoph,

I changed the order of some of your material to consolidate certain points

You wrote,

Quote
Dust Devils seems to be of the "Before" variant ...
This observation made me think of IIEE and surely the topics are related. For example, in Dust Devils one gets the chance to complete the description to validate the "Before" use. Before what? Before Execution, right? (The high card Narrator is only constrained by successful Goals and Harm, not Traits.)

Absolutely right. I should also point out that the Used to Be / Is Now traits are very strongly Before, because they need to make sense in terms of fleshing out the character's back-story. When you announce that you're using one, people lean forward and (probably without realizing it) assess whether what you say makes sense in terms of the character's portrait. This idea applies even if how you utilize the trait is a bit unexpected. (In our most recent game of Dust Devils, a personality-dominance conflict ensued between two people who were having sex. The female NPC performed a startling and graphic act at one point as she coaxed some kind of concession from her opponent - I draw the extra cards and pointed out that she Used to Be a Wife.)

Your points about The Pool are more tricky, I think.

Quote
while the Pool states it's okay "if you can show an obvious connection between your intention and one of your character’s Traits", which sounds it might be both "After" and "Before", depending on situation and Trait. (In the Questing Beast it's "if one of your Motifs seems fitting for the event you have in mind, you can use it (...)")

The Pool is pretty much Before given that phrasing. I think people are reading my Before too strictly. Remember, I include "not yet expressed but obvious once mentioned" in Before, or as Meserach (whoever that is) put it in the Anyway thread, the "plausible future of penumbra of the current events." Perhaps it's better described as Obvious vs. New, or Embedded vs. Additive. (Again, the tricky thing is that one may still do something surprising via Before - in a seduction scene, it's embedded that some kind of emotional interaction is involved, but to use Intimidate when until this point people might expect you to use Charming is surprising ... but it's still Before.) Both your Pool and Questing Beast examples are anticipatory to some degree, but that doesn't mean After as I'm using the idea. The Pool phrasing does require an obvious connection in order to use the Trait. That's Before-ness.

Quote
In the Pool, it isn't quite as clear. It depends a lot on the way the Trait is formulated. Here, just about anything goes, whereas in Dust Devils it isn't the case (they are characters' qualities). I've had traits like the one involving "Boba Fett" Markus told us about which worked quite well, although our Boba Fett was quite extensively played by the GM as well, introducing interesting constraints (not logical ones, aesthetic ones) on the use of the Trait. And that's okay in itself, because in the Pool, there is no way to add any narration during resolution since it's punctual.

This actually doesn't have much to do with Before and After, but rather with what the Trait "is" in the fiction. We need to understand how they're invoked (relative to the fiction-of-the-moment) before returning to the issue of what they are (in the fiction). Again, let's save all talk of NPCs as Traits for later.

Quote
By the way, are Traits in Dogs in the Vineyard "simultaneous"? A player gets to roll the related dice when he narrates something that is related to them. Not based on what has happened before, nor is it a promise to use the Trait for narration afterwards. In any case (whether that really is "simultaneous" or just a specific "before"), "after" use is not warranted, and not needed since multiple sequences of IIEE follow each other, allowing anyone a great degree of freedom to integrate Traits. Or, rather, since each Raise is a complete IIEE sequence whose effect (and often execution) might be blocked, there is no point in differentiating between before and after, since traits and narration form one procedural package.

Good question. My initial thinking is that you're over-thinking things. Rounds in Dogs aren't any different from rounds in Sorcerer, The Riddle of Steel, The Burning Wheel, or any other game in which combat proceeds through a series of consequential exchanges, and I think you might simply be wrestling with the scale-difference of a round within a conflict vs. the conflict as a whole.

However, the topic's worth a dialogue, and as Vincent implied in the Anyway thread that Seth linked to, above, he's mulling over the material himself. We'll probably get to that topic soon.

Best, Ron

P.S. Seth, I initially included a more graphic description of the Dust Devils conflict and Trait-based action, but amended it out of delicacy. Let me know if you want the original text restored.


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: lumpley on December 15, 2008, 10:04:26 AM
Well, as far as Dogs goes, (a) I figure that it's a straightforward "before," and (b) I did my very best by it with "GM, back the judgment of the most critical player" plus "over the first few sessions, you'll develop standards for what's a legit use of a trait."

That was my very best at the time, and I'm not sure I could improve on it today. Minus the requirement that traits modify an underlying resolution system, In a Wicked Age's forms work a lot like traits do, I think, and I didn't do any better by them.

Seth, it's interesting that you tag the Wicked Age's forms as "before" OR "after." I'd've guessed that they crash and burn, played "after"-wise. It's seemed to me that when people have problems with them, it's because they're trying to play them "after."

-Vincent


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: GreatWolf on December 15, 2008, 06:39:27 PM
Vincent,

Yeah, I might be changing my mind on IaWA, based on this quote of Ron's from upthread:

Quote
I think people are reading my Before too strictly. Remember, I include "not yet expressed but obvious once mentioned" in Before, or as Meserach (whoever that is) put it in the Anyway thread, the "plausible future of penumbra of the current events."

So, we're heading into an action sequence, and Ralph (playing Zahir) says, "I'm acting With Love For Others." And I'm like, "Really?" Because, you know, that completely contradicts my understanding of Zahir. But Ralph says, "Really." I figure I trust him, so I don't object. Then he narrates Zahir doing something which is completely obvious once Ralph says it, but I never saw it coming.

That strikes me as "Before". So, apparently I was wrong before.

(Though, now I'm wondering if I've ever seen a game use "After" Traits.)

Oh, for what it's worth, "back the judgment of the most critical player" plus "over the first few sessions, you'll develop standards for what's a legit use of a trait" works just fine for me. In fact, that seems like a reasonable way of phrasing how any game with Before Traits needs to work.



Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: GreatWolf on December 15, 2008, 06:42:40 PM
P.S. Seth, I initially included a more graphic description of the Dust Devils conflict and Trait-based action, but amended it out of delicacy. Let me know if you want the original text restored.

Nah, I'm good. Thanks!


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on December 16, 2008, 03:15:21 AM
Good point about Before traits being about "not yet expressed but obvious once mentioned". With this new way of seeing it, the idea of "simultaneous" Traits is superfluous.

Ron, your reading of the Pool rules made me realize that maybe I interpreted it too much. I'm sure we've had numerous situations that go something like this:
Player: "I want to pass this guard." (Player's intention, probably the character's as well, we usually hardly describe anything before rolling.)
GM: "Okay, roll for it, what Trait?"
Player: "Killer instinct"
Roll proceeds, narrator includes "Killer instinct" in IEE, after the mechanical resolution. Then again, "Killer Instinct" could be seen as not yet expressed but obvious once mentioned: the history and definition of my character makes it obvious that he's going to kill yet again (at least try, as my choice for the Trait implies). If the GM ends up as the narrator, he could decide, since we don't even do Initiation before the roll, that just as my character was about to draw his dagger, he sees into the guard's eyes and suddenly takes pity on him, and asks the guard if he can get in: "Why yes of course!"
However, this would be "after" in the sense that the mechanical choice of involving the Trait "Killer instinct" entails a constraint on the fiction that will essentially be produced after that choice, whereas the Dust Devils rules are the other way around explicitly (the fiction constrains the use of the Traits, whether in accord or in contradiction to them).

I've already realized that my play of Pool was very different to yours, Ron, because we allow Content Authority in the MoVs (this does give rise to very absurd stories, but often in an enjoyable way). Now, I'm wondering if the fact that we do the IEE of IIEE in the narration after the roll is different to the way you do it (perhaps just the last E?) could change the way the Traits are used.
It's quite clear to me that if we would use resolution only after Execution, the question "has the trait use an obvious connection to what was described until now?" would be pertinent, and Vincent's point of view that in this case "after" is perilous instinctively (I can't justify it) makes sense to me.

I'm not sure we were always consistent in where the resolution process comes in the IIEE sequence (it's been two years since my last Pool game if I recall correctly), I should look out for that.



Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: lumpley on December 16, 2008, 06:14:07 AM
To be clear, I think that "after" won't work for In a Wicked Age, not that it's perilous across the board.

-Vincent


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 16, 2008, 06:57:30 AM
Hi Christoph,

Can you take the Pool topics to the current thread about Drift, in actual play? It would be nice for that thread to be, after all, about the Pool and Drift.

I'll post more about After in this thread in a bit. (By the way, you guys have read Misha's thread, right? His term "Partial Invocation" works much better than "Before." If not, hop in there.)

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on December 17, 2008, 02:10:42 AM
Oops, sorry Vincent, I mangled my reference to your idea. I will try to make my points and references clearer in the message Ron invited me to post in the thread on Drift.


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Callan S. on December 17, 2008, 09:41:45 PM
Hi Ron,

Quote
In the extreme form of the second idea, however, my character might be engaged in some non-cleverness-oriented problem, perhaps climbing a cliff face while being strafed by harpy feces. I say, "OK, quick-witted," and I add the bonus to my roll. In my experience, the only constraint is that whoever narrates what happens (let's say I succeed) has to take my character's quick-wittedness into account. In fact, if I fail, perhaps that means that quick-witted didn't apply after all.
I'd like to nail down the use of the word 'has', here. Does it mean...
A. It's fun to work within the fiction established so far, even though in pure system terms one might be able to ignore that fiction entirely in ones system use. Or
B. Whether they find it fun or not, they have to work within that fiction, or otherwise they are breaking the rules, like using a weighted die is breaking the rules.

Disclosure: This topic in all the threads driving me bonkers where seemingly A and B get used interchangeably. If I'm a bit clipped, its not intentional, I'm just struggling with going bonkers...


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 18, 2008, 01:42:21 AM
Hi Callan,

In the interest of clarity (which I know is necessary because I had to go back and carefully figure out what that passage was referring to), that passage is about After Trait use.

Your A and B don't seem to be about After at all! They're all wrapped up with the "fiction so far" concept and the whole point of After Traits is that the fiction so far isn't a constraint. Using them imposes a forward-looking constraint.

A and B might be driving you bonkers regarding Before Traits (or Partial Invocation as I'm leaning towards), but using that passage as a basis for discussing it won't work.

I'll try to answer your question about that passage but it's not going to be about A and B, so I think it might not help with the bonkers problem.

The answer: if the narrator of the Trait's involvement in the outcome of the conflict (task, roll, card draw, whatever) doesn't incorporate it into how things turn out, they're diminishing, possibly breaking, the SIS. (I think the Big Model diagram (http://indie-rpgs.com/_articles/bigmodelpic.pdf) shows how this might happen very well, but then again, I would, wouldn't I?) Doing this repeatedly creates at best an individual-only, multiple IS without being Shared, thin experience.

In some groups, the "has to" becomes overtly mandatory: over time, a person who continually fails to follow through with invoking the Trait will be policed by the others and possibly barred from using Traits. In others, such policing is considered rude or impossible for some reason, and the play experience suffers accordingly.

In practice, I've noticed that incorporating the After Trait doesn't take much effort at all. I'll hold off on that until we get a discussion about After going. Since I'm pretty sure you're still focused on Before issues, because that's what your A and B are about, I don't think that discussion has begun.

Seth, you were saying you weren't sure if you've ever played After Traits. I assure you that you have. It's only that once you think deeply about Before it's hard to snap the mind over to the completely-opposite option. I bet when we discuss After in detail, you'll be saying, "I can't imagine playing Before."

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Callan S. on December 18, 2008, 03:39:43 AM
But you can see that your 'after' is my 'before', if I have to stick to established fiction. If I'm stuck having to fit into your fiction, your 'after' contribution simply becomes my 'before'. Indeed, even if I fit into your fiction in my system use, you'll have to fit into mine following that, so now your in a 'before' trait system as well. At best there's only one invocation of 'after' traits, right at the begining, IF everyone has to work within the fiction established.

Mind you, my perspective is radically different enough that it might be useless
Quote
In some groups, the "has to" becomes overtly mandatory: over time, a person who continually fails to follow through with invoking the Trait will be policed by the others and possibly barred from using Traits. In others, such policing is considered rude or impossible for some reason, and the play experience suffers accordingly.
To me, unless the rules grant them the ability to police, those 'others' are cheating or bullying, like scowling and posing if I took their queen in chess. This is why I asked about the 'Dave' invoctation in the tentacle city playtest (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27227.0). And if play would suffer, then play suffers when played by the rules.

Although a hybrid would be interesting - certain rules/traits must be used within the fiction, while another type of trait is, by the rules, free of fictional restraint. So if your Bobba Fett trait is of the first type, you can only use it 'when it makes sense'. But if your Bobba Fett trait is actually of the second type, everyone just has to suck it up and fit their imagination around it. Anyone complaining that it doesn't fit is just a whiner or attempting to bullycheat. Same trait, very different mechanical power. Though I'll note, rather than needing to make sense, the human mind has limits on what it can absorb (that's why I've talked about number nine syndrome). With the second type of trait, I'd put a limited number of uses on it, make it cost something, whatever to thin it out a bit. This isn't to make it 'make sense' (for me, roleplay has made those two words SO bogus), this is to stop it driving people mad (like number nine, number nine, number nine...hehe).

Ok, hope it's not too much/over the top.


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 18, 2008, 07:55:37 AM
I have no idea what you're talking about in the first half of your post. Either your thoughts are racing ahead of your typing-fingers, or you're babbling. Or I'm stuck in some viewpoint-paradigm that renders me incapable of processing your insights. You know my standard response: ground your point in some instance of actual play so I can understand it.

 The second half, to me, brings up some interesting ideas about rules and participation, and as far as I can tell, you're agreeing with all of my points about trait rules, not disagreeing.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Legends of Alyria] Traits! Traits!
Post by: GreatWolf on December 18, 2008, 08:09:05 AM
Seth, you were saying you weren't sure if you've ever played After Traits. I assure you that you have. It's only that once you think deeply about Before it's hard to snap the mind over to the completely-opposite option. I bet when we discuss After in detail, you'll be saying, "I can't imagine playing Before."

I'll be looking forward to that discussion

At this point, I think that it's time for this thread to wrap up. We've wandered a bit far afield from the original Legends of Alyria discussion.

So, unless folks have more to say on Legends of Alyria, let's close up this thread.