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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Matt Wilson on September 16, 2002, 07:31:05 AM



Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Matt Wilson on September 16, 2002, 07:31:05 AM
One of the stronger presences at the Forge is that of developing good narrative-focus games. Good. Most big games out there seem like the anti-narrative to me. I think the game I'm working on will be highly narrative.

So what to do about rules for this game? I took a cue from Yoda (you must unlearn what you have learned) and started backcycling. Eventually I asked myself, "why have a system at all?"

Seems like a cool idea for a thread. Whether or not there are fundamental reasons for having a rule system, I came up with a few for narrative games. I'm stealing some ideas from improv theater experience, which I think has a lot to do with narrative games.

1. To facilitate interaction between players. In improv theater, they used to tell us "don't deny the scene." If another actor creates a premise, you build on it rather than dismiss it. I've seen this one in a few games, mostly directed at the "GM," telling him/her not to reject players' attempts at authoring scenes, as in:

player: I'll grab that torch off the wall.
denying GM: there's no torch there. What are you talking about?


2. To make it easier to tell a long story. Has anyone done this? Ever seen an improv skit that was longer than a couple minutes? I think about scenes in games that can sometimes drag along, and wouldn't it be great to play an interrupt card and cut to another scene? Maybe the current scene was stalling because the GM's well was running dry, or who knows. Maybe you could play another token/card to jump back to it.

3. To make it easy to resolve conflict. Do you need rules to resolve conflict? No, but you might want rules that make it easier to do so. Maybe the narrative subset of this is actually "to keep the conflict feeling as much like a story as anything else." If you have to look up on charts to see if you convinced the guard to let you pass, it takes away from the story feel.

Anyone have any others? Those of you who are creating or who have created narrative-focus games, what did you set out to achieve?


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Matt Machell on September 16, 2002, 07:56:44 AM
Well, I'd add "encourage the exploration of a theme" to that list. That way you're creating a story with meaning, rather than just having a series of cool events.

-Matt


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Matt Wilson on September 16, 2002, 08:20:20 AM
Quote from: Matt
Well, I'd add "encourage the exploration of a theme" to that list. That way you're creating a story with meaning, rather than just having a series of cool events.

-Matt


Good call. Kind of a sister category to "telling a longer story." Any examples of how you'd do this with a set of rules?

-Matt (also)


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 16, 2002, 11:14:24 AM
To create information interesting and pertinent to play. Presumably, the Rolemaster crit charts are considered good by certain people (such as myself) because, they create information in use that helps us imagine the in-world events. Often by giving us a description of therm.

The arbitrariness of mechanics, such as this quality exists in a system, helps engender a feeling that the world imagined has a more than completely ephemeral existence. Not that it's real, but it may feel less false because of this effect.

Lot's of other reasons for system, IMO.

This is actually a very old question, that we've never brought up here at the Forge. It's been asked and answered a lot on other sites (check Usenet).

Mike


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Matt Machell on September 17, 2002, 01:40:45 AM
Quote from: itsmrwilson

Good call. Kind of a sister category to "telling a longer story." Any examples of how you'd do this with a set of rules?


Well, there are a number of ways, usually involving the carrot and stick method of rewards. For example, with my own game Covenant, players have plot points which power use of their edges (anything that gives an edge in a conflict). You get bonus plot points for choosing to resolve a conflict in a way which emphasises the story's theme. The more the players play to the theme, the more they get to use their funky edges.

-Matt


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: simon_hibbs on September 17, 2002, 03:26:52 AM
Quote from: itsmrwilson
Quote from: Matt
Well, I'd add "encourage the exploration of a theme" to that list. That way you're creating a story with meaning, rather than just having a series of cool events.

-Matt


Good call. Kind of a sister category to "telling a longer story." Any examples of how you'd do this with a set of rules?


If I can chip in, there are a few good examples out there, and they generaly rely on special rules that encourage or impose appropriate behaviour. The sanity rules in Call of Cthulhu, for example. Force Points in Star Wars (WEG).

Another way is to provide the GM with apropriate tools, such as advice how to structure adventures (Paranoia), the kinds of rewards the characters get and why they get them. The best example of the latter I can think of is again in CoC. Spells are only found in dusty tomes, which are only (ok, usualy) found in the private libraries of sinister occultists, and reading them drains your sanity. Carrot, stick and genre trope all in one package!


Simon Hibbs


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 17, 2002, 05:35:03 AM
I think by "Meaning" Matt was probably referring to mechanics more like Sorcerer's Humanity, or the Animus mechanics in Paladin. Some mechanic that forces the characters to address some interesting issue.

Mike


Title: Looking Back Over the Archives
Post by: Le Joueur on September 17, 2002, 06:29:30 AM
Quote from: itsmrwilson
"Why have a system at all?"[list=1]
  • To facilitate interaction between players. In improv theater, they used to tell us "don't deny the scene." If another actor creates a premise, you build on it rather than dismiss it.
  • To make it easier to tell a long story. [add "encourage the exploration of a theme"]
  • To make it easy to resolve conflict. Do you need rules to resolve conflict?[/list:o]
Talk about receiving on the same wavelength.[list=1]
  • You might want to check out the following threads: Communal Language (or perhaps Lingua Illudo) (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=797) and Validating Conflicts (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2018) where we discuss exactly these two points.

  • While it may not sound like it, I think this is really an issue of consistency.  If you lose consistency, a 'longer story' probably can't be told.  (As far as 'exploring a theme,' I'm afraid you can quite easily game without doing that; Narrativist or thematically Ambitious (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2142) play with possibly an accent on the Auteur Approach (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1662) may need it, but gaming overall?)  Having everything down 'on paper' supports consistency; every Approach to play (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1662) benefits from consistency.  My thoughts on how to have consistency are contained in Scattershot's Emergent techniques of Sine Qua Non (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2009) for characters and Genre Expectations (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2043) for games.

  • I certainly think you do.  What most people miss (in my opinion) is that the actual act of resolution isn't between characters; it's between real, live people playing the game.  (For example, if both characters belong to a single person, like the gamemaster, no resolution is really necessary.)  This gets back to my ideas on Who's in Charge (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=27415&highlight=objectivity#27415) and objectivity.  In some ways conflict is the only thing that makes a game interesting.  Why do you need resolution mechanics?  To support the feeling of fairness; who'd play a game that treated them unfairly?[/list:o]

    As far as Mike's additions...
    Quote from: Mike Holmes
    [list=a]
    • To create information interesting and pertinent to play.
    • The arbitrariness of mechanics, such as this quality exists in a system, helps engender a feeling that the world imagined has a more than completely ephemeral existence. Not that it's real, but it may feel less false because of this effect.[/list:o]
    [list=a]
  • I'm inclined to agree.  We went to a great deal of effort to include something very like this in Scattershot's Creating Detail (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3309) Technique.

  • And this one goes right back to #2 above.  His manner of playing is much more 'world-based' (I think) and therefore his stress on consistency has more to do with it.[/list:o]I'm not sure why he's said, "that we've never brought up here at the Forge;" it seems like that's all Pale Fire's been on about lately (and consistency goes way back).

    I hope some of these archives stimulate more of your thinking.  As you can see across several of these references, we've really been wanting to discuss these kinds of 'meaty issues' for some time.  Please continue.

    Fang Langford


Title: Re: Looking Back Over the Archives
Post by: Matt Machell on September 17, 2002, 07:11:37 AM
Quote from: Le Joueur
As far as 'exploring a theme,' I'm afraid you can quite easily game without doing that; Narrativist or thematically Ambitious play with possibly an accent on the Auteur Approach may need it, but gaming overall?)


Perhaps I should have been clearer on the theme thing, I mentioned it because the original post seemed specifically interested in narativist play. I wasn't implying that it was a necessity of every play style, merely that for heavily narativist play it is a definite advantage.

-Matt


Title: Re: Looking Back Over the Archives
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 17, 2002, 08:30:59 AM
Quote from: Le Joueur
I'm not sure why he's said, "that we've never brought up here at the Forge;" it seems like that's all Pale Fire's been on about lately (and consistency goes way back).


What we haven't brought up here at the Forge is the age old debate between whether or not system has any merit at all. Many Freeformers will tell we "traditional" gamers that system is not at all necessary and only gets in the way. They have a point, but it's one of preference, IMO.

We here seem to prefer system to no system almost universally. I doubt that we'd have a reason to debate the topic.

Mike


Title: Re: Looking Back Over the Archives
Post by: Le Joueur on September 17, 2002, 08:40:37 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Quote from: Le Joueur
I'm not sure why he's said, "that we've never brought up here at the Forge;" it seems like that's all Pale Fire's been on about lately (and consistency goes way back).


What we haven't brought up here at the Forge is the age old debate between whether or not system has any merit at all. Many Freeformers will tell we "traditional" gamers that system is not at all necessary and only gets in the way. They have a point, but it's one of preference, IMO.

We here seem to prefer system to no system almost universally. I doubt that we'd have a reason to debate the topic.

Good point, and right again.

Perhaps the reason we're on about system is because it's hard to design or sell nothing.  (Not that some are not above that.)

Fang Langford


Title: Re: Looking Back Over the Archives
Post by: simon_hibbs on September 17, 2002, 08:52:10 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
What we haven't brought up here at the Forge is the age old debate between whether or not system has any merit at all. Many Freeformers will tell we "traditional" gamers that system is not at all necessary and only gets in the way. They have a point, but it's one of preference, IMO.


Except that freeforms 9at least the one's I've been in) quite definitely do have a system and game mechanics. They're lightweight, but definitely there.

Resolution is commonly of the rock-scisors-paper variety and I suppose it could be claimed that this is virtualy systemless, but in fact there's more to it than that. The type of contest allowed in the game (combat, chases, seduction, repartee, etc) do consititute game system design. The special ability cards and how they are used are another example of system, as are special powers or privileges given in character sheets. If you added up the resulution mechanics with descriptions of all the ability cards and special rules in a typical 40 or 50 player freeform you'd end up with a lot of text, all of it effectively game mechanics.

The illusion of freeforms is accomplished by distributing this matrial very thinly across the players, and employing minimalist mechanics in each case. Nevertheless there are conventinal RPGs with equaly trivial game mechanics. Prince Valiant for example (coin tossing), or Amber (highest ability wins, except when they don't). In fact Amber is often used for either regular, or freeform modes of gaming.


Simon Hibbs


Title: Re: Looking Back Over the Archives
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 17, 2002, 10:21:04 AM
Quote from: simon_hibbs
Except that freeforms 9at least the one's I've been in) quite definitely do have a system and game mechanics. They're lightweight, but definitely there.


Oops, terminology problem, here. The English and Aussies use Freeform to mean what we call LARP. While we on the Forge (and many Americans) use Freeform to mean systemless (or, actually, near systemless) play, mostly performed online via PBEM or Forum play, etc.

In the debate in question, those playing LARP-Freeform would be at least a bit on our side. There are a considerable number of people who play entirely without rules otehr than Social Contract notes (they say stuff like be good to the other players, and post xyz often, etc). It is some of these folks who see system as nothing but a hinderance.

Then you have people like me who can see value in both. There are people on the other side too who aren't aganst traditional RPGs. They just prefer the other sort.

Fang has a point. Systemless play often occurs in well established universes. For example, people play inthe SW universe a lot. As such they only need to have seen the movies. No sourcebooks are neccessary as you do not need stats. Just use the primary sources. As such, no system, no setting... not much to publish.

OTOH, some do make money with subscription fees. But few, if I understand these things correctly. Hey Lance, do I have this all more or less right?

Mike


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: lumpley on September 17, 2002, 10:46:27 AM
There was this thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1509), which I drifted pretty aggressively into system/non-system play.

-Vincent


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 17, 2002, 10:52:32 AM
Hello,

A comment on this thread in general: I'm pretty sure the original post is not referring to what we call Narrativism. In fact, I think this thread would be improved a lot if itsmrwilson would clarify exactly what he means by "narrative-focused games." What would such a thing be or look like during play?

People have said some good and interesting things so far as statements & replies, but reading the thread from the beginning, frankly, the actual discussion itself isn't focused on anything.

As for why system itself is an issue in role-playing, I think Vincent nailed it.

Best,
Ron


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Matt Wilson on September 17, 2002, 11:02:25 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hello,

A comment on this thread in general: I'm pretty sure the original post is not referring to what we call Narrativism. In fact, I think this thread would be improved a lot if itsmrwilson would clarify exactly what he means by "narrative-focused games."


Sorry, I don't clarify things. I work in marketing.

Seriously though, my intention, however occluded, was to hear reasons for game designers out there as to why they included rules and what kind of rules. Mike posted reasons on another thread about why/why not to have any kind of rules in a game. What are the grounds, so to speak?"

By narrative-focused games I meant games where the mission of everyone involved is mostly to tell a good story. If that's what you set out to do, why do you need to have rules? Just start tellin' the story.


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: M. J. Young on September 17, 2002, 10:46:09 PM
Quote from: It's Mr. Wilson
By narrative-focused games I meant games where the mission of everyone involved is mostly to tell a good story. If that's what you set out to do, why do you need to have rules? Just start tellin' the story.

Let us suppose that we're going to cooperatively write a story. I read one of these once, an experimental mystery that was created by having one famous mystery writer do the first chapter then pass it to another, and another, and another. The list included Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, and several other names that have slipped my mind. Some of the chapters were terrible; the writer had his or her own favorite detective walk through the scene and look around, and then vanish from the book thereafter without having contributed anything to the story.

But that's not exactly the sort of collaboration we have going on here. What's happening here is that each collaborator has his own character, or maybe several characters, and through their interaction they're going to tell the story. So we get to the climactic moment, and as Luke Skywalker veers off and leads Darth Vader deeper into space, Han Solo swoops in and delivers the payload that destroys the death star.

That's not what happened in the movie; and I would not argue that this is a better ending. On the other hand, if Han Solo is my hero character and Luke Skywalker is yours, why should I think it a better ending for your hero to save us and mine merely to get the assist? And it doesn't necessarily have to be the case that we're running these characters independently. Even when I write a book on my own, I find that there are moments when I like one character or another and want him to be the hero, whether or not that makes good sense in the story. If we were collaborating, you and I might like very different characters and see a very different outcome to the story as desireable. Now, we could discuss and debate and try to reach an agreement as to what works best (which is what we would probably do were it a book). But if we have a storytelling game, it makes more sense for us to have a way of resolving the outcome which, because it follows the rules, will help us settle the dispute quickly and fairly.

Now, maybe we want to get rid of the idea that anyone has any favorite character, or that this would influence anyone's perception of what constitutes a desireable outcome in play. But then, there is a degree to which the story which we are telling doesn't surprise us. I just started writing my third novel; although there's a lot that I don't know about what is going to happen in it, I've got a very good idea of how it is going to end. I enjoy creating the stories in the novels; but it is not at all the same experience as creating stories in the game. The game takes twists and turns that surprise me, precisely because there are rules to it that force the unexpected upon me. It doesn't go exactly as I expect, even if I know how I want it to go, because the rules interrupt to some degree--whether by giving control of the story to another player at a critical moment, or by tossing in a turn of events, or by blocking an expected success. And in this, surprise is created.

You see, I might be able to write a story that will surprise you; and you and I together might be able to write a story that would surprise everyone else. But even working together, it is very difficult for you and I to create a story that surprises us--and if it doesn't surprise us, it's going to be boring.

That's why, I think, you need a system.

Now, maybe someone else has a different reason; but this works for me.

--M. J. Young


Title: Re: Looking Back Over the Archives
Post by: simon_hibbs on September 18, 2002, 03:48:07 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
Oops, terminology problem, here. ...


Ok, I see what you mean, my appologies.

Quote
Fang has a point. Systemless play often occurs in well established universes. For example, people play inthe SW universe a lot. ...


This is something I've been boring my frinds with for a while - if a setting has a rich enough set of common assumptions and tropes then that can itself constitute a 'system'.

years ago (around about '94 or so) there was a guy at the local gaming club that ran occasional systemless Star Trek games. It was a series of episodic one-offs very much in the style of the Next Generation series, and many of us played the same chgracters throughout the series of games. No game mechanics were used, the Gm described the situation and you described your actions - then he described the outcome.

It was a bit railroady, but then that's pretty much in the style of the series too. There were occasionaly some real decissions, and you could make a difference to the progress of the plot. After all, command of a starship gives you a lot of resources to throw at a problem, and a lot of options sometimes. However the development of the personality of the characters, their growing relationships and transformations due to their experiences was also very involving.

Star Trek is a good example of a setting that is widely familiar, so everyone knows how it works. So long as everyone is willing to accept the genre conventions at face value, it almost becomes it's own game system.

Take combat for example. Star Trek combat isn't about who's the best shot, or has the best combat skills. It's about why you're fighting, and what that means to you. It's not realy about 'can I kill him?', it's about
'should I kill him?, What are the consequences of my actions?'.


Simon Hibbs


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: simon_hibbs on September 23, 2002, 02:50:50 AM
Quote from: itsmrwilson

By narrative-focused games I meant games where the mission of everyone involved is mostly to tell a good story. If that's what you set out to do, why do you need to have rules? Just start tellin' the story.


I suppose it's because when most writers sit down to write a story, they already have a reasonable idea of what they will be writing about. They may have already imagined several key scenes in some detail, and have an overall story plan. Roleplaying is a social collaboration, and so to compenaste for the lack of a shared story plan of this kind, we need to have some kind of shared 'storytelling infrastructure' that we all understand. Without that, there is little scope for collaboration.

People who know each other well may be able to do with less formal infrastructure, but only because they have already formed an informal social infrastructure to compensate.


Simon Hibbs


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: GB Steve on October 04, 2002, 04:00:02 AM
In the discussion about 'what does a system do' my point of view is that if the system is bringing something extra to the game then it's not worth the overhead in metagaming, OOC concerns or just time.

Game, btw, is a term that I use to refer to what happens in the make believe world. It's a bit like the what 'story' means.

For example, the SAN system in CoC is fine for a basic idea but in the games I've played in recently the players have been responsible for just roleplaying their descent into horror. This allows for much more player expression, a wider variety of responses and more finesse. No system was used at all, just personal judgement and, the big one, trust.

I think in many cases systems are a replacement for trust.

Similarly in a recent game of Dying Earth I ran, the players had taglines but they were already playing in the DE style, and were coming up with better lines anyway. The tagline rule (placing your tagline and getting a laugh is the only way to get XPs) was redundant so I just ignored it.

Another case in point was a systemless game I ran about 10 years ago. It was mostly for 2 players but on one occasion just one player. It was a modern magic/horror game.

The PCs had becomed involved in the magic(k) underground (in this case actually based in the London Underground - damn that Neil Gaiman). They had each acquired a magical power that they had chosen and a concomitant geas that I had imposed on them.

One of the players' gift was being able to always be able to get what he needed, his geas was to never refuse anyone who asked him for something. There were no rules as to what these two statements actually meant. This is how they were expressed in the game so they had to be explored in the game. As it was the only question a PC had was, 'What happens if I break my geas?' to which the answer was, 'What d'ya mean? You just don't, alright.'

Thus the character of the game was actually enhanced by not having some metagaming construct to refer to.

Obviously this does tie in with my predeliction for prizing the character role in the game, but isn't that what rpgs are about? Roles?

GB Steve


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: simon_hibbs on October 04, 2002, 05:09:14 AM
Quote from: GB Steve
For example, the SAN system in CoC is fine for a basic idea but in the games I've played in recently the players have been responsible for just roleplaying their descent into horror. This allows for much more player expression, a wider variety of responses and more finesse. No system was used at all, just personal judgement and, the big one, trust.

I think in many cases systems are a replacement for trust.


That's exactly what I mean by social infrastructure. It's all based on trust, but it also relies on a common understanding of the genre and acceptable behaviour, both as a game player and in-character.

I agree it's much preferable to roleplay things like SAN, but the rules do serve a purpose. When I first started playing CoC, they were a constant reminder that this is an important part of the genre. I've also found taglines an interesting and fun thing to play with, but once you 'get it' the game mechanical aspects should definitely be deprecated.


Simon Hibbs


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 04, 2002, 07:09:49 AM
Simon makes a good point. The rules are informative. They tell the player what they should be doing in the game. If that can be conveyed successfully without rules, then the rules are redundant as Steve points out, except insofar as people just like rules (some people just do).

That said, I think that a bit of framework goes a long way to ensuring that players are on the same sheet to the extent that Trust can exist more easily. Systems have their place.

Mike


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Jeremy Cole on October 04, 2002, 08:38:40 AM
Quote
'What happens if I break my geas?' to which the answer was, 'What d'ya mean? You just don't, alright.'


This is a rule.  Its not written down or defined in terms of 'humanity' or 'power loss' or whatever, but it is a rule.  If this was published as a game, this would be written down, and everyone would say it is a rule in the system.  As non-crunchy as it gets, but a rule.

The same thing goes for unwritten Star Wars and Star Trek, the basic world understanding people have is really a set of rules.  If the GM said 'the stormtrooper hits you', the player's understanding SW would be breached, same as if the GM ignored a rule from the book.

I'm not saying its better to have things written down, but the examples given are not rule-less games.  I just thought it was important to look at these examples as unwritten rules, or loose rules, or crunch free, diceless, but not rule-less.

Jeremy


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Jonathan Walton on October 04, 2002, 12:47:35 PM
I think, to some extent, the system is just a part of the social contract that forms the basis of the game.  Everyone agrees, before the game starts to abide by a certain set of norms, whether they are behaverol, govern how to roll dice, are written down in the rulebook, or are just plucked out of the air.

A good point was made that all conflict is inter-player conflict at the core.  Systems are about how to make compomises.  You can win now because the results are random and I might win later.  Or you can win now because it serves the purposes of the story.  Or you can win a little and I can win a little.  Or we both lose.

Ultimately, there are no fundamental differences between a GM and a player.  They are both participants in the story.  It's just written into the fabric of most social contracts that the GM is given more control over the story than the players are.  This need not necessarily be the case, of course, as umpteen billion games have now proved.  The GM is usually charged with overseeing the application of the social contract and making sure everyone follows through with their agreement, but this needn't be the case either.

So basically, the system vs. no-system vs. lots of system vs. minimal system discussion is all about trust, as it has been mentioned.  How much can you trust everyone to abide by the social contract?  Do the tenants need to be written down?  How clearly does everyone understand what they've agreed to?  How much freedom are individuals willing to give up for the good of the story?  Or, more often, how much freedom are players expecting (and maybe even WANTING) to give up to the GM?  How much responsibility are people able to handle?  How much can you trust people with the responsibilites that have been assigned to them?

This, in my mind, is what we do when we create games: we write social contracts that allow people to tell stories.

If you think of it that way, the ultimited options of how that can be done become quite clear (and included everything from computer RPGs to LARP to collaborative storytelling to playing make-believe).

Thoughts?

Later.
Jonathan


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 04, 2002, 01:12:43 PM
Hi Jonathan,

Absolutely. This is precisely what Vincent's driving at in the concurrent rant thread: all of the process is social and human; rules are means by which we apportion who gets to say what, when.

That also matches with GNS, in which the largest or most all-inclusive portion of the model is the social interaction level among real people.

The only quibble I have with your phrasing is the use of the term "story," which as I've explained in my essay is far too proprietary and vague for people to get much out of, when comparing views. I'd substitute "in-game content" or "imaginary events" - in which case even role-playing for which "story" is almost entirely irrelevant gets to be included in your construct.

Best,
Ron


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: GB Steve on October 04, 2002, 01:28:46 PM
Quote from: nipfipgip...dip
Quote
'What happens if I break my geas?' to which the answer was, 'What d'ya mean? You just don't, alright.'

This is a rule.  Its not written down or defined in terms of 'humanity' or 'power loss' or whatever, but it is a rule.  If this was published as a game, this would be written down, and everyone would say it is a rule in the system.  As non-crunchy as it gets, but a rule.

It's not a rule. It's a social norm for the game world. It doesn't tell you what happens if you break your geas. It just says 'try not to', and it says this to the PC not the player.

System rules are metagaming constructs. We're talking about different things here. It's about as much a rule as the real world "That shalt not steal". That doesn't tell you anything about how the world actually works, it just makes a recommendation as to your conduct. The character may have still broken the norm, that's not something that you can do with a system rule. PCs don't have direct access to the rules.

Game world social norms are always better expressed through the game rather than in a rule book, if possible. I mean you'd probably need to read some background as to how the game society functions but if things are played then you get something that seems much more real to the players.

After all, if you are in a real new situation, you hardly ever get a handbook saying, 'These are the rules, follow them and you'll be fine'. You get maybe some explanation but it's mostly by trial and error and through observation that you establish what you think the rules are.

Jonathon:I don't see why PC conflict has to be Player conflict. In fact the opposite can be true. The players may be using the PC conflict to serve the needs of the game. This happened in the Delta Green game I played recently at GenCon. The players recognised the conflict that would arise between the characters and played on this to make the game work. And it did, excellently.

That said, the rules do formalise the way the game world functions to avoid player conflict, to make sure that the physics of the game world work in an equitable fashion. If you have the trust between the players and the GM that everyone will be treated equally then the rules become less important. That said, if you run the kind of game where inter PC conflict is common, or if there is some element of player competition, then rules do provide a common framework that can avoid nastiness between players.

Then you get rules lawyers ...


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Anthony on October 04, 2002, 11:30:19 PM
I think one reason for rules that they are a valuable aid for the weaker player.  Maybe in your gaming group everyone is a great person who plays amazingly and in that case, yah, the rules might be useless.  Personally I happen to like some rules no matter what, although I find myself attracted to simpler systems these days.

Generally a simple set of rules can help a novice player get a handle on what they can and cannot do.  No rules and things can be indimidating and the player won't do anything, or they can go hog wild and be unintentionally disruptive.  Now if the rules get too complicated they tend not to help much.  After all the player is trying to get a handle on this here roleplaying thing, and all these strange terms and ways of rolling dice and what exactly does this mean here? adds a real barrier to entry.  But for instance Over the Edge has a great set of simple rules you can explain in a few minutes but give some grounding on what could be done.  

As has been mentioned before rules also help even out the quiet and louder players.  Yes the louder and more boisterous players will get more play attention time, that is a fact of life.  But rules can be effective.  The quiet player gets a chance to use the rules to use a skill, or make some sort of attempt, and then the focus is on them.  It gives them a chance to speak, to be heard, and hopefully do more than just roll the dice and say "aie, I failed!"  Similarly when a player is being loud and wont dorp sometihng, having some rule that says, no you didn't do it, please be quiet and let the other players do stuff is an effective way to move on without hurting feelings.


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Alan on October 05, 2002, 04:41:13 AM
Hi Forgers,

Even when we think a game has no rules, it does.

One branch of anthropology that looks at culture as a collection of unwritten rules or guidelines for different social interactions in different contexts.  The details of the rules in a given context depend on the values of the cultural group and the purpose of the interaction.

In particular, an RPG is a subset of a kind of social interaction called a "game" which sets out to create excitment and tension in a social "safe" way - usually by creating a fictitious conflict.  A game has some basic assumptions and objectives: that participants are there to have fun, that every player has equal opportunity to play, and so on.

Central to the play of an RPG is the creation of shared imaginary events.  Rules, both written and unwritten exist for negotiating who gets to add content, when, and what kind.

In the example in a previous message of the game where Sanity is player "without rules" - well, rules actually do exist, agreed on by social negotiation, they just haven't been made explicit.  

The rules (written and unwritten) of an RPG shape the social interaction of the players, the player's relationship to content, and the style and kind of content.  Players will usually discover that they enjoy the results of one set of rules over another.  

To reproduce these results, an RPG author has to write down all the key rules, including those that have been "unwritten" up to that point.  An elegant set of written rules presents only those rules that "frame" the game enough to give it the distinctive elements developed by the designers.  The frame has to leave players enough room to play a field, while also providing the tension that makes the game fun.


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Jonathan Walton on October 05, 2002, 07:26:10 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
The only quibble I have with your phrasing is the use of the term "story," which as I've explained in my essay is far too proprietary and vague for people to get much out of, when comparing views. I'd substitute "in-game content" or "imaginary events" - in which case even role-playing for which "story" is almost entirely irrelevant gets to be included in your construct.


But "story" is such a great word!  It's one of the most beautiful concepts in the human imagination.  Okay, until I go read your GNS essay (which I've been planning to do for weeks), I guess I don't have any grounds to object to the less evocative "imaginary events" substitution.  Maybe I'll have to start a new thread about how we can reappropriate the word "story"...

Quote from: GB Steve
Jonathon:I don't see why PC conflict has to be Player conflict. In fact the opposite can be true. The players may be using the PC conflict to serve the needs of the game. This happened in the Delta Green game I played recently at GenCon. The players recognised the conflict that would arise between the characters and played on this to make the game work. And it did, excellently.


I think we're talking about two different things.  I suppose I'm not talking about conflict in the "emotionally-invested disagreement" sense, but more in the literary sense.  I'm talking about the conflict that drives story (or, if Ron insists, "imaginary events"), more of a "tension between story elements".  Now, if the players can easily agree on how the tension will be resolved, then the social contract doesn't really need to deal with that conflict (as in the Delta Green example you gave, or if the GM is describing the tension between two NPCs).  This, in effect, isn't really conflict at all.  However, in a RPG, more often you have some tension between one player & another player (often the GM, who is basically just an empowered player), which is not so easily resolved.  

"Can this character really climb up a cliff?"  The character's player thinks he probably can and wants to try.  The GM, on the other hand, doesn't want the characters to be able to climb cliffs all the time, at least not without having to go through some hardships, but also doesn't want to tell the players that it just won't work.  This is inter-player conflict.

This is when the social contract steps in (the system, the rules, the game background, etc.) and helps govern how things are worked out (roll dice, spend coins, bid traits, etc.).

Obviously, the "emotionally-invested disagrement" brand of conflict is one that most RPGs try to avoid, by having the social contract make everything seem fair and just, so people have no reason to get angry.  Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that player atagonism could be cultivated in a way that's incredibly beneficial.  Think of games like Diplomacy or Paranoia, where everyone knows the other players are out to get them.  Thinking about Jason's Incarnate game has also made me believe that a game with strong Player-GM atagonism would be great as well, as long as it was constructed in a supportive way.

Later.
Jonathan


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Emily Care on October 10, 2002, 11:12:47 AM
the following is edited for conciseness:
Quote from: Alan

Even when we think a game has no rules, it does.

In particular, an RPG is a subset of a kind of social interaction called a "game" which sets out to create excitment and tension in a social "safe" way - usually by creating a fictitious conflict.

Central to the play of an RPG is the creation of shared imaginary events.  Rules, both written and unwritten exist for negotiating who gets to add content, when, and what kind.


So a game may be mechanicless (have no written rules) but by definition it has rules, so it cannot be systemless.

The third paragraph is an excellent summary of the "Vincent's Rant" thread about credibility that Ron mentioned earlier.

Quote

To reproduce these results, an RPG author has to write down all the key rules, including those that have been "unwritten" up to that point.  An elegant set of written rules presents only those rules that "frame" the game enough to give it the distinctive elements developed by the designers.  The frame has to leave players enough room to play a field, while also providing the tension that makes the game fun.


I'd like to quote this paragraph over at the System and Credibility thread.  What's the nettiquette involved in that?

--Emily Care


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 10, 2002, 11:34:35 AM
Quote from: Emily Care
So a game may be mechanicless (have no written rules) but by definition it has rules, so it cannot be systemless.

I would say that system is the complete set of mechanics. So a game can be systemless, but still have rules. This would refer to those games that people play where the "rules" are that you just describe what you want, and try to be kind to the other players in terms of not trammmeling their characters, etc. (which has been termed Freeform occasionally).

Mike


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Seth L. Blumberg on October 11, 2002, 07:19:18 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
I would say that system is the complete set of mechanics. So a game can be systemless, but still have rules.

That is not the conventional definition of "system" here on the Forge. Emily's definition is closer to the sense used in the GNS essay.


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 11, 2002, 08:18:49 AM
Quote from: Seth L. Blumberg
Emily's definition is closer to the sense used in the GNS essay.


True, Ron's definition is something like "The means by which in-game events are decided". But I've never really liked that. As soon as we got into the discussion of "Freeform" that defintion started to fall apart. I started having to say, "Freeforms are games where the system is composed of nothing but the Social Contract mechanisms".

But I think it's easier to think of these games as "systemless". The only rules are the social contract ones that all RPGs have. It gives value to the term system as something not quite synoymous with rules.

I'm fine either way, however. I could say, "mechanicless", perhaps.

Mike


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Emily Care on October 11, 2002, 10:28:24 AM
What's the definition of a mechanic?

Or is this drifting into a new thread?


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Seth L. Blumberg on October 11, 2002, 02:51:33 PM
I actually tend to adopt a rather extreme position, which is that "the game" is a social event. Any published material or formally adopted rules are a tool for the facilitation of the social event. As such, "rules," "system," and "mechanics" are all synonymous, and refer to the social rules applying to the event in question. There is no difference between a rule that says "Roll 2D6, add your skill, and compare the result to the target number" and a rule that says "The other players pay for the GM's pizza"; both are part of System.


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 11, 2002, 10:16:58 PM
While I agree sorta philosophically, Seth, there would seem to be a division in use. That is, some people like what is commonly called mechanics to be included as part of the rules of the game, and some do not. So, in order to make a distinction between these preferences, I'd like to have some sort of term that covers these things.

And mechanics surely does not refer to strictly speaking social agreements. That is, if we agree between us players not to use profanity, that's not a mechanic, is it? So, yes, mechanics fall under the set of "rules" agreed to by the participants, but they are a particular sub-set.

Further, I also make distinction between what I refer to as "Hard" and "Soft" mechanics. The previous mening a mechanic in which some actual arbitrary action is taken in response to a set of particular circumstances. For example, if a system calls for a roll when the GM says that there is a task needing to be resolved, that is a "Hard" mechanic. As opposed to a mechanic that says something like "The GM should monitor players during CharGen and ensure that they only create appropriate characters." Which is more suggestive than specific, and hence "Soft".

Mike


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Jake Norwood on October 12, 2002, 02:33:03 PM
Okay, I joined in *really* late and confess to reading about 1/3 of the posts and skimming the others, so if what I'm saying has been covered, shoot me.

I think that some of us--or at least me and mine--have systems because we like them. It's part of what makes it "a game." Storytelling is fun, but it isn't "a role-playing game" *to me.* It might be to someone else, and that's another thread.

To me the rules, the system, the character sheet, the dice, the tables and all the trappings are bells and whistles on a storytelling machine. They make it more fun (if they don't, then we throw them out). I know I'm not being too specific here, but that is the merit of a system to me. Does it make what I'm doing more fun? There'a wee bit of a gamist in me (Ron says I'm competive all the time) and I love a simulationist-style game engine (if it's "well done," which is, of course, completely arbitrary), and I love "narrativist" gaming...it's the camp I'm most firmly devoted to. But I have feet in other areas, and the system that a game has caters to these different areas in different amounts and ways. That's why we play lots of games and not just "our one favorite game"--because we hunger at times for degrees of those other areas that we may or may not know we actually like.

I think that a lot of us here are good examples of this kind of gamer. Mike and Ralph wrote Universalis--which seems to have very narrativist-minded goals, but love Rolemaster charts and Pendragon and sponsor Gamist Iron Chef contests.

We need it all, I think, in different amounts, and the system measures it out for us in large degree. We find a "favorite" game when we find the one that measures it the way we want it to without much tweaking...at other times we'll binge on what sounds good at the moment.

Okay, so I ranted.

Jake


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on October 12, 2002, 06:39:27 PM
Don't feel bad, Jake. I'm starting even later and I didn't even read your post. Gee I hope I'm actually adding something useful. But this struck me just now and I remembered this thread and thought it might be of interest.

To me, it seems that one of the purposes of rules/system/mechanics/whichever, I'm not going to untangle that knot, is when a player is unmotivated or otherwise not actively participating, the system carries them along anyway. At least this appears to be one of the purposes. A player can just mechanically roll whatever dice they're told and not think too heavily on what they're doing or even what they want their character to be doing.

I don't think this is at all what any game designer intends to happen when they write an RPG, but it is something that can and does happen, moreso in some games than others I suspect. It may have something to do with what some call a slavish attention to detail which covers every base so there's little left for the players to do. Well, maybe it's that. It could be other factors like maybe the GM's boyfriend should just watch the ball game in the other room like he wants instead of trying to play an RPG like he doesn't.

The effect, as I see it is a lot like movement on the Monopoly board. The pieces all move in one direction, so the players have no choice there, and how many spaces it determined by dice rolling, so there's no choice there either. The overall effect, in my mind makes the players redundant, unnecessary. A single person could move all of the pieces arounf the Monopoly board just as easily, rolling the dice and moving each piece in turn. There is, of course, more to playing Monopoly than that and hopefully there's more to playing an RPG as well. But I can see how it's easy to just mechanically throw dice, quickly make the decision to buy the property or not (or pay the rent) and pass the dice to the next player.


Title: Contra Seth
Post by: M. J. Young on October 12, 2002, 09:30:49 PM
Quote from: Seth L. Blumberg
As such, "rules," "system," and "mechanics" are all synonymous, and refer to the social rules applying to the event in question. There is no difference between a rule that says "Roll 2D6, add your skill, and compare the result to the target number" and a rule that says "The other players pay for the GM's pizza"; both are part of System.

Mike has already noted some of the distinctions that this blurs; I'm going to add that it eliminates the distinction between system and setting. There is a sense, certainly, in which "this game takes place on star ships in another galaxy" and "events in this game occur in medieval kingdoms" are rules; but they are a different kind of rules from the mechanics, and we tend to call them setting in contradistinction to system.

Further, even without the generic and universal systems, there is a tacit recognition among gamers that you can divorce a system from a setting, using the setting with another system or the system with another setting. Even D&D provided multiple settings, beginning with Greyhawk and Blackmoor, expanding to Krynn and Forgotten Realms, and then exploding into Planescape, Ravenloft, and many others. Many players buy game books to extract the settings for use with their preferred system. The distinction clearly exists. It may be difficult at times to find the dividing line ("Elves exist in the forests"; "Elves live from one to two thousand years"; "Elves are +1 with swords and bows"; "Elves may not be paladins"; "Elves may not advance beyond level six as fighters" are progressively more system and less setting), but this difficulty does not negate the fact that the distinction has meaning.

--M. J. Young


Title: the purpose of system/rules
Post by: Seth L. Blumberg on October 15, 2002, 11:14:50 AM
Quote from: M. J. Young
Mike has already noted some of the distinctions that this blurs; I'm going to add that it eliminates the distinction between system and setting. There is a sense, certainly, in which "this game takes place on star ships in another galaxy" and "events in this game occur in medieval kingdoms" are rules; but they are a different kind of rules from the mechanics, and we tend to call them setting in contradistinction to system.

Nah. Procedural vs. declarative information. Easily distinguishable, and in fact they appear to be processed in different areas of the brain.