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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Mark Johnson on March 21, 2003, 07:37:15 PM



Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
Post by: Mark Johnson on March 21, 2003, 07:37:15 PM
How much redundancy is necessary in writing game text?


Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
Post by: greyorm on March 21, 2003, 09:20:09 PM
Could you clarify what, specifically, you are talking about in regards to redundancy? That is, what elements do you see needing to be repeated?


Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on March 21, 2003, 09:28:38 PM
Pending Mark's answer to Raven's question, I will state, personally, that any key point should be stated at least twice in the text and rephrased to make sure it is understood.

The problem lies in defining a key point.


Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
Post by: Mark Johnson on March 21, 2003, 10:31:02 PM
Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate

Does a game need to spell out many possible uses of a vanilla basic core mechanic or simply allow the players to deduce it on their own?  

Should there be game play examples and visual representation if there are already concise and clear rules?  

Should game text be tutorial or reference?


Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
Post by: Tar Markvar on March 21, 2003, 11:03:00 PM
Personally, I like to read examples of play, just to get an idea how the designer pictures the flow of the game, especially for games that differ greatly from my mental picture of how a game is played.

The first time I read Sorcerer (with apologies to Mr. Edwards), I was scratching around everywhere I could look for examples of play, simply because I didn't really grasp quite how the game played. Same for Trollbabe. Both games were really different from the stuff I'd played before, and just didn't work within the paradigm I'd set up for myself.

The groups I've played with would have suffered greatly without examples and more precise rules, simply because I grew up as a gamer with games that took care of the crunchies for you.

On the other hand, if the system is simple and well-explained enough (everything is a permutation of one simple dice system, and it's clear the system isn't made to cover all little details like length of rope, etc.), I'd think it's fine to let the rules speak for themselves.

I think I would write just as much as I need to to get across the flow I'd like my game to take. If you think your game is fun the way you play it, then put in enough detail and reinforcement to help other players play it that way if they want.

In a way, I see game rulebooks as recipes that show me how to reproduce the game experience the way the designer intended, with notes on how I can customize it to suit my own tastes.

Jay


Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
Post by: greyorm on March 21, 2003, 11:10:39 PM
Thanks for the clarification, Mark!

Quote from: Mark Johnson
Does a game need to spell out many possible uses of a vanilla basic core mechanic or simply allow the players to deduce it on their own?

It is always best to provide examples of every situation in which your core mechanic is used.
Note I said is, not can be; but that goes along with the idea that one should make clear, concise rules that do what they are supposed to do.

However, this is difficult to answer precisely without actual examples of what you refer to as a "vanilla basic core mechanic." Would you refer to a situation you've encountered to which this problem applies?

Quote
Should there be game play examples and visual representation if there are already concise and clear rules?

Without a doubt. Some gamers can parse rules and apply them appropriately, others parse examples well and fail to get rules-only text (I am of the latter type).

In any case, it is always a good idea to use examples in your text to showcase the proper use of the rule in question as it will only increase clarity.

As well, I must point out that what one individual considers "concise and clear" writing may not be viewed as such by another.

Quote
Should game text be tutorial or reference?

Both. If necessary (and it usually is), seperate the two methods in some fashion, either spatially or with formatting.


Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
Post by: Mark Johnson on March 22, 2003, 12:14:03 AM
Quote from: greyorm
However, this is difficult to answer precisely without actual examples of what you refer to as a "vanilla basic core mechanic." Would you refer to a situation you've encountered to which this problem applies?


My current game uses a basic conflict resolution mechanic to resolve the conflicts as delineated in seventh grade English class: man vs man, man vs nature and man vs self.  The game revolves largely around the last conflict.  To what level of detail do I need to show how the system applies to examples of the first two conflicts: surviving an avalanche, seducing a rival's wife or engaging in combat given that these events can occur, but are not the focus of the game?


Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
Post by: Mark Johnson on March 22, 2003, 12:41:28 AM
Quote from: Tar Markvar
The first time I read Sorcerer (with apologies to Mr. Edwards), I was scratching around everywhere I could look for examples of play, simply because I didn't really grasp quite how the game played. Same for Trollbabe. Both games were really different from the stuff I'd played before, and just didn't work within the paradigm I'd set up for myself.

The groups I've played with would have suffered greatly without examples and more precise rules, simply because I grew up as a gamer with games that took care of the crunchies for you.


My gut reaction was that an indie rpg would require less redundancy because its audience would have already had extensive experience with rpgs (i.e. a sophisticated audience would require fewer explanations.)  However, you seem to imply that if a game flies in the face of the expectations of most experienced gamers that more explanation and redundancy is needed, not less.

Regardless, I imagine the following are redundant in most indie RPGs:
    What Is An RPG? ("its like cowboys and indians with dice")
    The History of RPGs ("Gary Gygax.."),
    Good Gamemastering ("all stories have a begining, middle and an end")
    Basic Terminology ("the plural of die is dice and they come in many shapes and sizes")
    Equipment ("you can get a D37 at any well stocked game store")
    Sample Solo Adventure ("turn to entry 10 to attack Bargle, entry 22 to run away.") [/list:u]
    Or are they?


Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
Post by: Jason Lee on March 22, 2003, 06:40:13 AM
Despite any personal opinion on the game, look at D&D 3rd edition from this angle.  It makes excellent use of repetition, particulary with the multiple different ordered lists of the spells: alphabetically, by cleric domain, by level, etc.  Whenever you've got a chunk of info that the players may need to access in different ways at different times repetition can really slim in-game book searching time.


Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
Post by: ethan_greer on March 22, 2003, 07:49:31 AM
I'm of the opinion that manuscripts should be "playtested" along with the game itself.  In other words, show the manuscript to people you trust to give an honest evaluation, and respond to the criticisms you get - it will have a definite positive impact on issues such as redundancy, grammatical errors, overall clarity of the rules, and more.

Another thing to do would be to look at other games and what they do, as Cruciel suggests.  I personally feel that PHB3E isn't the best example of good organization, but it obviously works for some people.  Compare a few game texts from your collection, indie and otherwise, and base your own work on what you feel is good use/non-use of redundancy.


Title: A Little Saturday Soap
Post by: Le Joueur on March 22, 2003, 10:17:47 AM
Hey Mark,

<mode="soapbox">You've got some good points, but your making some arcane assumptions.  See the problem is that you are naming 'redundancies' that are actually traditions.  Furthermore, I have to say they are traditions so far out on the edge of what gaming could be that hewing to them hides a lot of fertile ground.

Let's take it by the points:
Quote from: Mark Johnson
Regardless, I imagine the following are redundant in most indie RPGs:
    What Is An RPG? ("its like cowboys and indians with dice")
    The History of RPGs ("Gary Gygax.."),
    Good Gamemastering ("all stories have a begining, middle and an end")
    Basic Terminology ("the plural of die is dice and they come in many shapes and sizes")
    Equipment ("you can get a D37 at any well stocked game store")
    Sample Solo Adventure ("turn to entry 10 to attack Bargle, entry 22 to run away.")[/list:u]Or are they?

    What Is An RPG?
      Thinking in Context (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=1662), with friends╣.[/list:u]
      The History of RPGs
        The most well-known I can think of is battlefield reenactments, but any kind of 'talk it out' practice is (not just the kids stuff).[/list:u]
      Good Gamemastering
        Play
      with the other participants; share.[/list:u]
      Basic Terminology
        The plural of gamer is friends, dice and rules are
      optional.[/list:u]
      Equipment
        The most important resource is people, which are everywhere.[/list:u]
      Sample Solo Adventure
        "Let's go to the mall and pick out our prom gear."  "We can't afford anything."  "We can dream, can't we?"[/list:u][/list:u]It's this myopic view that
      Dungeons & Dragons is somehow the ideal of gaming, rather than an arcane, not terribly representative, example of gaming.  Ron Edwards touched off a huge realignment of thought (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=4223) by making the rather obvious point that "D&D Fantasy" is the alternative and that designing games very like it and calling them mainstream squarely faces our backs to the rest of everyone.

      The 'roots of gaming' are every flight of fantasy and that goes all the way back to prehistory.  Role-playing games are doing this with friends.  People play all different kinds of things other than 'magical medieval fantasy' games; it's long past time to try some of those.

      Brothers!  Throw off the shackles of the past!  Embrace your friends, your neighbors, let everyone in!  Accept the reenactors!  The Ren Festies!  The Murder Hosts!  Turn finally towards the mainstream.</mode>

      Ahem....

      Fang Langford

      ╣ I'm so done with the 'cops and robbers,' 'all gaming is child's play' explanation.  It's like saying, "Hi!  I'm immature 'cuz I still play children's games!  Geek me!"  Another myth that should bite the dust.


      Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
      Post by: Ron Edwards on March 22, 2003, 11:18:00 AM
      Hi there,

      Much as I liked Fang's point, appreciated its reference to me, and most especially enjoyed the Face of the New Fang, whose passions are right out in front, I think the point of the thread is wandering a little. Mark, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think your examples of redundancy fall into two categories, one of which is so broken in itself that it prompts (e.g.) responses like Fang's.

      Category #1: actual redundancy, stating Point A over and over. I think the text of Alternity is my best pick for this. "SKILLS. A skill is a learned or trained ability or area of expertise, reflecting how well a character performs when attempting tasks of the given type. The better the skill rating, the better the character's chance to perform, within the definitions of the skill being employed. The following list of skills represents the training and learned activities that are available to characters." Then add to it whole paragraphs per skill to explain what (e.g.) Climbing is. This is all paraphrase, but I'm not kidding. The whole book is like this. Guaranteed to elicit instant confessions from war prisoners.

      Category #2: simply wrong and misleading text that's included out of habit and imitation. Most of your categories, Mark, fall into this one, I think, which is why Fang felt the need to beat one of them with a baseball bat. (Forge motto: when well-established fallacy emerges, give it extra whackety-whacks. Then wait, then hit it again to be sure.)

      So, I'm thinkin', maybe we aren't talking about redundancy at all. Maybe we're talking about things like utterly nonsensical "what is role-playing" sections, in which case, I think the consensus is, "Lose it," without much need for debate, or, "Replace it with novel and relevant text which unfortunately seems to have no pre-existing model in games so far."

      On the other hand, if we're talking about redundancy, then it's a really interesting issue. Redundancy plays a very important role in teaching, and RPG texts are teaching texts whether we like it or not. But effective, pedagogic redundancy is different from mere repetition (as in the Alternity text), and nailing just what can work best (as I imagine there's a range) would be a worthwhile topic. I hope that this thread can do that, but your examples so far seem more oriented toward the second category.

      Best,
      Ron


      Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
      Post by: Mark Johnson on March 22, 2003, 11:31:32 AM
      Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
      Pending Mark's answer to Raven's question, I will state, personally, that any key point should be stated at least twice in the text and rephrased to make sure it is understood.

      The problem lies in defining a key point.


      If the game is rather focused with very little extraneous, most points are probably then key.  The problem I am encountering is that in such a situation, a 16 page PDF quickly becomes twice that size.  At which point it is highly obvious that the redundant material is redundant.

      Game examples seem more the way to go according to some here as it is qualitatively different than rules.  

      Quote from: cruciel
      Despite any personal opinion on the game, look at D&D 3rd edition from this angle. It makes excellent use of repetition, particulary with the multiple different ordered lists of the spells: alphabetically, by cleric domain, by level, etc. Whenever you've got a chunk of info that the players may need to access in different ways at different times repetition can really slim in-game book searching time.


      My guess then is that complicated rules systems require complicated presentation with a mass of redundancy.  Simpler systems require the opposite.  Without D&Ds robust spell list, the Player's Handbook would be more lithe.  

      (I am not advocating that D&D change one iota.  I think its pervy, broken spell system is actually a large part of its appeal).

      Quote from: ethan_greer
      I'm of the opinion that manuscripts should be "playtested" along with the game itself. In other words, show the manuscript to people you trust to give an honest evaluation, and respond to the criticisms you get - it will have a definite positive impact on issues such as redundancy, grammatical errors, overall clarity of the rules, and more.


      I have found much information on the Forge regarding mechanics, but less regarding presentation (other than a few threads regarding use of art and formating).  I suppose that many of the same principles apply that apply to any other type of technical writing.  However, there is one important difference:  if I am writing for, say, a professional physics journal, I can assume a certain level of knowledge in my peers.  I do not need to make redundant presentations if the implications of my work are clear.  

      Quote from: Le Joueur
      You've got some good points, but your making some arcane assumptions. See the problem is that you are naming 'redundancies' that are actually traditions. Furthermore, I have to say they are traditions so far out on the edge of what gaming could be that hewing to them hides a lot of fertile ground.


      What sort of presentation can be made to explain what is going on to the potential gamers of which you speak?  I am not sure that loads of redundancy helps as I would think a large redundant manual actually would raise the barriers to entry.  As one who has introduced a few to RPGing, the best way is to for an experienced gamer to sit down and play the game without the novice ever having read the game manual.  My experience may be atypical though.

      I am still reading your suggested threads.  I will follow up later.


      Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
      Post by: Mark Johnson on March 22, 2003, 12:03:00 PM
      Quote from: Ron Edwards

      On the other hand, if we're talking about redundancy, then it's a really interesting issue. Redundancy plays a very important role in teaching, and RPG texts are teaching texts whether we like it or not. But effective, pedagogic redundancy is different from mere repetition (as in the Alternity text), and nailing just what can work best (as I imagine there's a range) would be a worthwhile topic. I hope that this thread can do that, but your examples so far seem more oriented toward the second category.


      We crossposted.  My original intention was to address actual redundancy.  I addressed the second topic because I am limited in space and want the text to be tight as possible yet still useful.  I had already eliminated the extraneous material ("What are RPGs," etc.) I had mentioned, but the fact that you and Fang agree so strongly makes me feel better about the decision.  My only concern was RPG novices; but I semi-addressed that in my comment to Fang.

      One area ripe with redundancy is repeating definitions within the text.  Do players find that a glossary in the back (or in the front) necessary or sufficient?  How about defining important terms in sidebars?


      Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
      Post by: szilard on March 22, 2003, 12:12:26 PM
      Quote from: Mark Johnson

      One area ripe with redundancy is repeating definitions within the text.  Do players find that a glossary in the back (or in the front) necessary or sufficient?  How about defining important terms in sidebars?


      For shorter texts (say 24 pages or under), I prefer sidebars. For longer texts, I prefer sidebars with a redundant glossary - or (even better) a good index that specifically notes the location of definitions - in back.

      White Wolf has an annoying habit of putting glossaries toward the front of their books. I don't know that anyone wants to read through a glossary as if it were text, particularly without having any context for the terms. Also, sticking it towards the front like that makes it difficult to find later.


      Stuart


      Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
      Post by: Mark Johnson on March 22, 2003, 12:26:35 PM
      Stuart,

      Is a glossary necessary if the index notes the page on which the definition occurs?

        Ex.

      Skills  3, 17-18, 42-46

      On page 17 there is either a sidebar or some other sort of formatting that offsets the definition clearly.[/list:u]

      At what length of document does an index become necessary?


      Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
      Post by: szilard on March 22, 2003, 12:53:49 PM
      Quote from: Mark Johnson
      Stuart,

      Is a glossary necessary if the index notes the page on which the definition occurs?

        Ex.

      Skills  3, 17-18, 42-46

      On page 17 there is either a sidebar or some other sort of formatting that offsets the definition clearly.[/list:u]


      Not for me. The index with good notation and offset definition in the text is actually my preference.

      Quote
      At what length of document does an index become necessary?


      I think a lot of that will depend upon formatting. Densely packed text makes the need for an index much greater. An increased frequency of clear subheadings with a good table of contents decreases that need.

      One way of doing things with shorter texts that may not deserve a full index would be to have a short index of definitions.

      Stuart


      Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
      Post by: M. J. Young on March 22, 2003, 02:38:38 PM
      I'm always saying that a game text needs to be exactly as long as it needs to be, and no longer; and must include what is necessary and not more. But this question is very telling: how do you know what is enough and not too much?

      Most of the important aspects of play should be presented at least twice, in two different ways. Those could be by description and by example, but there are other possibilities. If an aspect of play could be easily confused with something else, present it thrice. Be certain that whatever is essential to play is going to be understood by whoever reads it.

      For example, Multiverser uses what we call "relative success" to create a single-roll hit and damage system: whatever you roll on your attempt to hit is the number on which your damage is based. Although not unique in gaming (I first saw something like it in Zebulon's Guide to the Galaxy, a supplement for Star Frontiers, in the mid 80's) it's unusual enough that players often are looking for what die to roll for their damage. When we explain relative success (which applies to all skill use, not just combat) we mention that it applies to damage as well; when we explain attack rolls, we again explain in brief that the number rolled is the basis for the damage; and we have a section on damage where we go into detail on how to find the damage from the attack roll. In this way, we assure that anyone looking for how damage is determined will understand that there is not a second roll, despite the ingrained assumption from so many other games that such a second roll is necessary.

      That's a case of redundancy used to overcome presuppositions, and that's an important category.

      Another area for its use would be in the relationship between general principles and specific applications. We have a section in which we explain how resistances reduce damage in general; we also have sections in which specific skills are presented that reduce damage, and we reference the section in which the general explanation appears as well as illustrating it in the particular case. The redundancy works because when the reader reaches the specific cases they've already been given a preliminary understanding of the general rule, yet there is enough explanation of the general rule at this point to call it back to memory.

      You provided one excellent example of part of your concern, though,
      Quote from: when you
      My current game uses a basic conflict resolution mechanic to resolve the conflicts as delineated in seventh grade English class: man vs man, man vs nature and man vs self. The game revolves largely around the last conflict. To what level of detail do I need to show how the system applies to examples of the first two conflicts: surviving an avalanche, seducing a rival's wife or engaging in combat given that these events can occur, but are not the focus of the game?
      Ah, here we're getting at something solid: how clearly must you explain the peripheral elements of play?

      The core answer is, well enough that users can figure out how to use them. What that means in your case may take a bit of consideration.

      You suggest that there is one generally applicable mechanic that resolves everything, but which is used primarily for "man against self" conflicts. It might be that all that is necessary is a simple paragraph explaining something like
      Quote
      Sometimes the conflict will be against another man, and sometimes it will be against the environment. In the case of man against man conflicts, resolution is determined the same way but that in place of the Internal Resistance attribute the other character's Will Power is used. If the conflict is man against the environment, such as a survival situation, Internal Resistance is replaced by a value determined by the referee, representing the difficulty of overcoming this obstacle, where simple tasks range from five to ten, mediate tasks from ten to twenty, and difficult tasks from twenty to forty.
      On the other hand, if the differences in application are greater than merely what number to use for one value, you might need considerably more text to illustrate how the mechanic works in those less-common situations.
      Quote from: You also
      Is a glossary necessary if the index notes the page on which the definition occurs?
      There are certainly too many variables to answer that definitively. Multiverser has a table of contents, and outline of the rules, a glossary, and an index which distinguishes definitive, illustrative, extended, and general entries. However, it's a large core rule book; we determined to do everything we could to assist referees in locating materials. With a 16-page PDF, you could easily end up with more pages telling you where to find things than you have of core rules.

      Someone once told me that PDF files support internal hyperlinks; I've never attempted that, but if so you could save yourself a great deal of effort by utilizing this. Also, PDFs are searchable. Do you need an index for a searchable format? Yes, if it's to find the definitive use of words that are used frequently in application; but no if it's merely to point people to materials they can find easily enough through the table of contents or a simple word search. (Of course, a lot of people assume that PDF means you're going to print it; that depends much more on whether the rules must be at the table during play. It might be that play only requires two pages of reference materials once the rules have been read and understood, so consider that as well. In any event, if you've got charts or tables that will be referenced in play, it is usually wise to extrapolate these to their own section which can be printed separately from the full game, to be used in a manner analogous to screens.)

      I hope this helps.

      --M. J. Young


      Title: At What Point Is Redundancy Redundant?
      Post by: Bruce Baugh on March 23, 2003, 01:58:32 PM
      You've got enough repetition when a few more people tell you "this seems redundant" than "I wish there'd been more examples and explanations". You probably can't get a perfect balance, so you want to err on the side of a bit more exposition than is strictly necessary than a bit less. Statisticians refer to type I and type II errors - finding something there when it actually isn't and missing it when it actually is there, or "false positives" and "false negatives". In gaming writing, type II errors are the ones that lead folks to give up on your game; type I errors generate brief annoyance, usually followed by comforting thoughts like "...but less enlightened souls than myself might find that handy." :)

      In some cases - a lot of them, actually - you can reduce the need for repetition by choices of grammar and style. Simple present tense and active voice seem to help a lot of gamers pick up on stuff, simple present because it helps with the sense of "you are here and now", active voice because the variety of verbs and emphasis on identifiable entities doing he actions break up monotony and connect the reader to the sort of people and events you're describing in your text. (There are, of course, exceptions. There are always exceptions. I'll defend these as valid generalizations without trying to say that they are always and everywhere appropriate.)

      I strongly agree that we should think of manuscripts as getting playtested just like rules. Until such time as we beam pre-verbal concepts directly into the brains of players, the text (like the layout and art) is as much part of the game as the intellectual content of the rules.