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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 05, 2003, 04:23:59 PM



Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 05, 2003, 04:23:59 PM
Over in this thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=7067&start=0&postdays=0&postorder=asc&highlight=) I wrote the following:
Side note: I am disturbed, but not surprised by your suggestion of the dead body in the trunk. It seems to be a typical gamer-Emeril kick-it-up-a-notch k3wl powerz kind of thing to do. I don't mean to insult you or anything, but if a gamer had made Jaws it would not have been a shark but a shark with a laser on its head. Or such is the conclusion I have drawn. Gamers simply cannot have something simple. At least most of the ones I have met, anyway.

I have noticed this before for years now and that recent thread has me wondering what to make of it. Are gamers jaded? Are they really incapable of not having k3wl powerz or whatever? Any other theories? I'm drawing a blank.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 05, 2003, 06:26:46 PM
Well, I got some examples of play posted here with no kewl powerz. And I've played in plenty of games that do have 'em. So I can dig it both ways. Most horror games are without the powers ... supers games, y'know, tend to have 'em ...

I think it's a genre thing. But I do think that more games on the market have cool powerz to get--and I consider that a good thing. If the genre supports it: go all out.

Theories? Well, I'm not sure what the definition of "cool" is but if you look at a list of abilities and go "Cooooooool" that is, I think, by definition, a good thing, no? Like taking a bite of desert and going "Tasty!" So I think, almost by definition cool powers are great. It's when they're 'kewl powerz' that you're no longer in the market.

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 05, 2003, 07:15:13 PM
Perhaps a bit of clairification is in order. I did not mean just cool powers, per se so much as something that always brings it to the extreme. In the original thread, Roy suggested spicing up the story of me finding a dead body in the trunk of my car. Unless you work in a hospitol, how often do you see a dead body? I know I don't see one, much less would have one in the trunk of my car. That's what I'm talking about. Something that brings things to the furthest extreme of possibility or even past it.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Cadriel on July 05, 2003, 08:17:23 PM
This is actually a part of what I've been thinking of lately.

In a standard roleplaying game, there is a combat system.  This is a lovingly detailed expansion of the core mechanics into an all-out, quite frequently blow-by-blow, rendering of what occurs when people take recourse to violence.  It is taken for granted that resolving combat will take significantly more rolls and more time than resolving any other action.  This is accepted as the standard truth by game players and designers.

This reveals two underlying assumptions in roleplaying games:

1.  Combat is the most interesting form of conflict.
2.  Many problems can be solved by violence.

The first is quite blatant; after all, making cakes and riding bikes are not given resolution systems of their own.  The second is implicit in the first; if combat is the most interesting form of conflict, then the solution to many or even most problems will involve violence.  This grows naturally out of the source material, so the dicussion of the two will meet here.

Basically:  "Violence solves all problems" isn't the kind of message you can push terrifically easily in the real world, where violence tends to be messy and creates nice vicious cycles and what have you.  So, in works where the violence solves the problems nice and pat, it is dressed up in some form - say, supertechnology (whether spy style or sci-fi style), magic, swords, or even just making everything high-gloss like an action movie.  And generally, you're made quite painfully aware that the people who die deserve to die.  They are bad people, and the killing is not dwelt upon in any significant respect.  The killers are painted as the heroes because they kill the right (e.g. bad) people.  This kind of entertainment is known for big payoffs at the moment, and generally merits less afterthought than other forms.  You can attribute it to whatever you like, really.

It is this attitude, this ethos, that I think is the root of both the extreme tendencies of RPGs toward violence and those toward sharks with laser beams on their heads.  I suppose its transitory form works well for an RPG, and the demographic that games seems overwhelmingly drawn from the same pool who enjoy the entertainments I describe above.

If you're not happy with it?  Find people who are into other entertainments, and give them games sans combat systems.  I think it's what has to happen if RPGs are going to be able to show semblances of literary merit and grow out of the rather juvenile attitude I've described.

-Wayne


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: jdagna on July 05, 2003, 08:27:12 PM
I don't always bring things to the absolute extremes, but do tend to push the envelope regularly.  For me, it comes down to "Do you want to have a little ordinary fun, or a lot of over-the-top fun?"

If a gamer had designed Jaws, it would have had a laser on its head, and have been a creation of an evil organization attempting to take over the world (something the players would discover in a convenient clue when they killed it).

Of course, let's look at Jaws.  It isn't just a big shark.  It's a REALLY BIG shark (about double the largest we've seen in nature).  And they don't catch it by hiring a trawler with a big net and a sonar system - they decide to go after it in a rickety fishing boat.  Jaws could have been more over the top and implausible, but it's pretty close already.

People simply want the unusual and interesting in their entertainment even if they have to suspend disbelief to get it.  This is true of everyone, not just gamers.  It's true of non-fiction as well as fiction.

I think if a group is happy exploring more mundane situations, more power to them.  I have run several highly-successful campaigns centering on ordinary people doing fairly ordinary things (like catching petty criminals and defending against goblin raiders).  In most cases, I find it a refreshing change of pace for a while... and then remember why I usually go more over the top.  

Looking at movies, it's the same with dramas.  Name the last blockbuster drama that came out.  I know I can't, but there were these big movies with sharks that had lasers on their heads (and many more that fit the description only metaphorically).


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Comte on July 05, 2003, 09:14:19 PM
Well I think this all depends entirely on the gamers, thier past gaming experience, and what they have done with the hobby.  So in short, yeah possibly.

The problem with this question is that it is huge.  I think it goes back into the evolution of the mainstream RPG's and the way they are desighned and played.  I suppose I will use D&D as an example but only because it is a handy yardstick.

We are going back in time to second edition.  We are going to use the fighter charecter class.  Back in the early days of second edition you were happy with your pigsticker+2.  You swung around your pig sticker things died, and life was good.  

We fast foward a little bit in time to when thouse ultimate fighter handbooks started to come out.  They had charecter kits in them.  Charecter kits added all sorts of things for the fighter to do with his pig sticker.  Still all in all he was still just a guy who could swing that sword around only with options.  

Things remained like this for our fighter for a long long time.  Then one day 3rd eddition came out.  All the sudden the fighter wasn't just a man with a pig sticker anymore.  He had feats.  He could cleave people in half, deflect arrows, disarm foes, and whatever else feats do.  On top of that there were prestige classes that allow your man with a pig sticker to do all sorts of things.  The amount of cool stuff a fighter could do was roughly tripled.  He went from a man who just rolled to hit, to someone who had options.  Lots of options that are all covered by the core rules...his options grow with just about every supliment.  

D&D is the flagship of our hobby, it is the way a vast majority of people are introduced to it, and just about everyone has had some sort of expereince with the game.  Now when we look at the extrodinarly rough time line I just layed out for the warrior we see a gradual increase in power over time with a gigantic spike for third edition.  Then the gradual increase returns.  With the exeption of the lowly bard the fighter is one of the most ignored charecter classes when it comes to source material.  After all the fighter has his pigsticker and his high attack roll what more did he need?  3rd Eddition answered this question by making it so that the fighter could do all sorts of uber cool pretty things.  

Here comes the point.  This increase in power for the fighter has happened to every charecter class over time.  Even the bard.  With the feat/prestige class systems in place charecters are now able to do an impressive amount of damage.  Rangers can do things that I'm sure my game master wished were not possible, and wizards have maximised fireball.  

This isn't to cricise the 3rd eddition of D&D.  I mean thier idea worked, people love the amount of carnage that they can kick out.  Gamemasters are capable of keeping up with variouse tools at thier disposal and most people go home happyish.

So I provided a lengthy example, now it is time for the hard part.  Why the feck dose all that matter.  Well because AD&D is all about being a group of brave heros who are out to save the world.  You play brave and powerful fighters who wave thier pigstickers, wizards who can warp the very fabric of reality, moe the cleric who keeps everyone alive, and a dead bard.  Together you roam the wurld smiting evil, saveing towns, killing wumpuses, and doing the hero thing.  That is what it originaly set out to do, it is what it still dose.  Now an important thing to realize about the life of a hero is that thier lives are exciting.  I mean in most fantasy worlds there are pleasent farm people who have never seen an orc, or raised a sword in anger...while over the mountain range the pcs are out eliminating an underground eco system.  Playing the life of that farmer would be...it would be kinda like playing the sims.  Only pencil and paper style.  

So you would think the shark would be enough right?  I mean sharks are scary and stuff.  Somewhere back in our minds we remeber Tharg the warrior, a shark was nothing to him, it was nothing to Edbert the Dwarven Rigger, Quizbit the Jedi, 6 the BESM vampire hunter, anything in the rifts universe, or any of the other main gateways that we use into the hobby.  We played heroic charecters who did heroic things, sharks meant nothing.  We sit there watching Jaws and we think...man thouse pansys if Tharg were around the problem would be solved right quick.  Now when you stick a laser on that shark's head all the sudden Tharg ain't so great anymore.  The same transphers over when we look at modern rpgs.  Driving around in the desert filling up our cars with gas is boring.  NOw if we are running away from land sharks with lasers on thier heads, and their is a dead body in the trunk all the sudden it is worthy of an RPG charecter.  I didn't call off a date to play moe's average life, I wanna kill a dragon damnit.  In theory.  

Somewhere it starts to break down.  The genra of going forth and killing the whumpus is quickly beoming used up.  I mean the dungeon crawl is something that heardly ever happens anymore, people are brantching out into diffrent styles of D&D play and people are more than ever resiting the traditional GM plot lines.  The most recent AD&D game I was involved in fell apart because no one wanted to do the story.  He was honestly confused when no one wanted to go fowards to kill the god of chaos or some such nonsense.  He was postivily enraged when no one felt like going into the dungeon, and he flat out refused to let us hire someone else to do the job for us.  In general the group was extreamly well roleplayed, the problem was that our group never really functioned as a cohesive whole.  We all had fun, we were just being ram rodded into this exceptionaly lame story that no one wanted to do.  A couple of the charecters had the benifit of min-maxing so we could handle just about anything that wandered our way.  Most of the players were first time roleplayers, not hard core narrativists or people that had even experienced better.  They just knew a contrived plot when they saw one that they were sucked in with promisses of being able to do thier own thing.  When you see new players not even bothering with the traditional modle I started to realize that things are starting to change for our hobby.  

Right now we are ramming lasers on the heads of our sharkes because if at first something dosn't work make it bigger and scaryer.  The example that spawned topic actualy works here.  YOu were trying to give someone a suggestion as to how to write better.  Instead, someone can back ignoring the meat of your example and just threw a dead body in the trunk.  It is more of a stuggle to maintain the status quo then because we were jaded.  We are in the phase if something is broke make it bigger.  I think I'll let that be my conclusion.  THe hobby is in a state of transition.  The players are restless, fewer of us are satisfied crawling though a dungeon with our +2 pigstickers to kill the Baddie of the week.  They want more.  

I feel better now.  I've been inflicting random games that are fun but diffrent on my poor players.  NOw they have asked me to run a traditional fantasy game, because they think I'll make it fun again.  I've been randomly worried about this...I don't think I've answered your question but at least I feel better now.

Now a word from my alter ego.  While I was typing this up I was thinking about the movie Jaws.  I didn't like that movie, I had to see it three times before I made it though without falling asleep.  I honestly couldn't understand why people found it to be so utterly terrifying.  I mean I was hardly even entertaining for me, and I like horror movies.  So I was thinking about your laser example and smiling to myself because it is funny as hell and I realized that they did.  They put a laser on the shark's head.  It was called Deep Blue Sea, you remeber that movie?  It came out awhile about had some famouse rapper in it.  Basicly it was people trapped in a sceintifc underwater research faculty with super intelegent, super sharks.  In short it was people vs the uber jaws.  The crowning moment of that movie is when Sam Jackson got eaten.  Funnyest death I have ever seen in movie.  So considering that recently we really have put a laser on the sharks head perhaps our need for complexity is a reflection of our society.  Maybe we are running out of storys to tell and ways to tell them so we stick something in the sharks head a call it new.  

Perhaps it is combonation of the two, extrenal pressures to have bigger and better things, and a revolution of our hobby from the inside out.  Either way I think the only way this question is getting an answer will be through time.  However, I think that time is near.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on July 05, 2003, 11:03:15 PM
Hi Jack,

I don't know if I'm taking the right tact on your question -- or "issue."  Because I suspect your concerns are still being teased out as this thread continue... But let me say this.

You've touched on a debate of aesthetics that's been going on a long time.  Socrates wanted to know why anyone should be reading Homer when it was blatently a bunch of lies that lead people astray from dealing with actual, right in front of you, reality.

Cervantes created Don Quioxte in part to mock the romantic conventions that at the time had swept the reading public's imagination.  The whole story is about a deluded man who sees the equivalent of "bodies in the trunk" when in fact life is really just mundane and, more than anything else, less than what anyone would expect life to be.

The twentieth century theater nearly ruined itself by committing to plays that dealt exclusively with "real" life -- dramas about siblings arguing around the kitchen table... and not much else.

I'd offer simply this: refined aesthetics and concerns about corrupting people through crude storytelling aside, hitting the extremes sells.

I often don't see men who've been pussy-whipped by their wives to commit murder for job advancement then stand on balconies imagining they're seeing a dagger before them -- but Shakespeare was really smart when he committed that "outlandish" scene to parchment.

Walter Kerr, in his terrfic, "How Not to Write a Play," comments that people go to the theater to see the extremes of life.  It's like a car wreck, he says.  We can shake our heads and cluck knowingly at the rubes who stop and look at the disaster, but the truth is, people are drawn to the car wreck because it's an extreme moment of life -- in this case death. The what happened of it, the who was involved, the how will the lives of the survivors be affected simply draws our attention -- because a car wreck is life at the extreme.

Now, plenty of people would prefer life potrayed at its less extreme.  Some of those folks are presented above.  (Though note that Cervantes was canny enough to criticize romantic fiction while esentially folding scenes of romantic fiction into his criticism -- thus creating a best seller.)  Others would be Chekhov, the social realist film makers out Britain.  Zola. van Gogh.  And tons of critics.

But the truth is, especially of dramatic fiction and film (which I hold is the closer model of fiction for RPGs than prose fiction), the Saturday night crowd, packed, bustling and jostling, is looking for something larger than life.  They left their homes, for goodness sake, to find something more than they could find at home.

Two things: First, Comte suggests something which I think is correct.  The stakes keep rising.  Two: when the stakes become ludicrous, the "extreme" becomes hyper-realism, and people love to see things as simple as possible.  It's an ebb and flow. But, for the most part, not an equal ebb and flow.  The extreme sells tickets because the kind of people who go out to join strangers in the dark want novelty and extremes.  (I won't go so far as to say all people want this.  I'm naming a discrete, self-selecting group here.)  And I'd say that a lot of gaming narrative draws from that same tradition.

The gods toying with mortals on the sands outside Troy.  Brother knights unwittingly facing off aganist each other a few days outside Camelot and killing each other with helmets hiding their identities from each other.  Ancient chinese "heroes" who can dance on top of trees while swinging swords.  This is where the money is, always has been.

Why this should be, I don't know.

But why is becoming less and a less a concern for me these days.  I just want to make.  And so I do what my instincts tell me, which is to create the work that appeals to me -- which is at the extremes -- and thus, I assume will appeal to others.

In short, I appreciate your question, and even your concerns, but it's also a moot point.  Broadway's making money right now only because it's reviving outlandish musicals that are decades old.  This issue is larger than gamers.  It's part of storytelling -- has been for some time, and always will be.

Christopher


Title: Ill-tempered Mutated Sea Bass are kind of boring
Post by: RobMuadib on July 06, 2003, 12:01:58 AM
Jack

Well, what can I say, part of the attraction of the hobby is reflected in it's Science Fiction and Fantasy settings. Kewl Powers and sharks with fricking lasers on their head get to the gosh-wow feel of stuff. I'd say that Anime and Hong Kong style action are certainly an influence on that stuff. I like to go big with alot of things, and Anime is a big influence here.

So, as for Kewl Powerz, I guess I like the whole idea of speculative imaginative content. I want cool flashy imaginative worlds with awesome sweeping anime style grandeur and great CGI landscape shots, as it were.

As for kicking it up a notch, well RPG's are entertainment primarily. I mean if you want to experience real life issues in non-sensational way, you like have to read stuff called Literature or something.:) Things that are loud and exciting and kinetic are generally more immediately engaging than introspective play based around lengthy character development.  Then we have the fact that most old school action isn't loud, exciting and kinetic enough anymore, so now no one can like get in a fight in a movie without doing some wire-fu and bullet time action, or something., So you get people wanting to kick it up a notch in their games too, turning up the escapist volume as well.

When it comes right down to it, I'd rather be eaten by a fricking shark with a "laser" strapped to it's head than have my head bitten of by a ill-tempered mutant sea bass for gosh sakes. I mean throw me a fricken bone here. :)

best

Rob.
(Who admits his TMW game is all about getting the players to go big and whip out the CGI shots and the huge scale anime grandeur, and speculative imaginative content in the worlds they create. I mean, if all of Middle Earth was like the shire, it'd be pretty damn boring, or something:))


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Roy on July 06, 2003, 11:28:37 AM
Quote from: Comte
The example that spawned topic actualy works here.  YOu were trying to give someone a suggestion as to how to write better.  Instead, someone can back ignoring the meat of your example and just threw a dead body in the trunk.


I want to address this comment, Comte.  Jack was giving me an example of how to write DIFFERENTLY not better.  He was using his narrative to foreshadow the event of the flat tire.  My point was that the flat tire was boring by itself.  There was no conflict in the scene and you don't have a story without conflict.

I did not ignore the "meat of his example", but I did disagree with Jack's assumption that it was a better way.

Roy
roypenrod123@yahoo.com


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Cadriel on July 06, 2003, 12:27:49 PM
Quote from: Roy
I want to address this comment, Comte.  Jack was giving me an example of how to write DIFFERENTLY not better.  He was using his narrative to foreshadow the event of the flat tire.  My point was that the flat tire was boring by itself.  There was no conflict in the scene and you don't have a story without conflict.

I did not ignore the "meat of his example", but I did disagree with Jack's assumption that it was a better way.

Roy
roypenrod123@yahoo.com


To be completely fair and honest, Roy, I think you've got it backward.  There is conflict in the flat tire.  The flat tire is a problem that the narrator attempts to overcome.  It is objectively narrator vs. flat tire.  Not gripping human drama off the bat, but really...by complicating the flat tire, Jack made a really short story from the situation.

Your example with the dead body in the trunk contains no conflict.  It is a shock, to be certain.  The situation may seem more "interesting," but when it comes down to the wire, "guy finds a dead body in his trunk" is more of a Kicker than an actual scene with conflict.  It opens up possible avenues for exploration, but realistically no more than getting a flat tire would.

The fact that you dismiss the flat tire as boring is indicative of the zeitgeist that RPGs tend to represent:  this sort of "conflict must be whiz! bang! zam!" of a subculture addled by video games, action movies, and the less literary ends of the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres.  I've read it in books on writing fiction, and I disliked it there too.  (See William Noble's "Conflict, Action & Suspense" for a good example...my Amazon.com review describes it as being like having Emeril standing over your shoulder while you're writing telling you to "kick it up a notch.")

The discussion here is whether RPGs really need to be kicked up a notch; you seem to argue that conflict necessarily relies on it.  Yet, to observe how this is not true, sit back and read Romeo & Juliet.  Don't worry about the big overarching conflict of the houses, or the interpersonal duels; they're not really what people remember.  Read the love scenes.  The conflict is understated, but masterful; in Act II, Scene II, Romeo and Juliet both clearly wish to be together, but Juliet realizes that it won't be safe if he stays, and so there is conflict on several levels as she tries to make herself part from him both externally and internally.  Likewise, in Act III, Scene V, Juliet starts off wanting Romeo to stay, but her fear is quickly kindled and she makes him leave.  I would submit that these conflicts are among the most moving in the play, and yet they are not done with dead bodies or explosions or what not.  They're real, heartrending conflicts caused by famously star-crossed love.  The drama is much more palpable, and more interesting, than the various sword clashes that go on.

This is repeated over and over in works that are admired more highly than the sources for roleplaying games.  They have a sense that the gripping drama is often far more subtle, yet with even more devastating consequences, than a bomb going off.  I think it's just that the audience for RPGs is part of the desensitized modern attitude that doesn't recognize that sort of conflict as interesting or even as conflict.

-Wayne


Title: personal comments
Post by: BPetroff93 on July 06, 2003, 01:06:58 PM
I can really see where you are comming from on this one Jack.  Personally speaking I grew up on High fantasy stuff where you are always saving the universe.  I have found, as I get older, that personal level conflicts have more and more appeal to me.  Don't get me wrong, I still want something beyond the ordinary in my roleplaying, and I still enjoy the occasional global conspiracy, but my tastes have changed.  I want things a little more grounded, a little more "real" whether it be in arthurian romance or demonic servitors from dimension Y.  Still, Kewl powers and laser beams are always present.  

Conflict is THE mechanism of story, but conflict does not have to be hand to hand combat, or a shoot out.  I think it is important when designers recognise this and build with other options in mind.  However, I think the reason it is so essential to roleplaying design is that we instinctivly realise that mortal combat is the apex of the escilation of conflict.  That is where the shit hits the fan, the edge, the place where most of us have never gone, and DON'T WANT TO GO.

Nobody really wants to act heriocally, you just do what you feel you have to do.  Being a hero is SCAREY, adventure is SCAREY.   We want our heroic alter egos to be able to handle it, so we make them badass kung-fu ninja cyborgs.  Of course, they must have appropriate opponants so we have to ramp up the bad guy factor.  A mother of two children, hiding in the closet from a serial murderer and rapist, protecting her children with a screwdriver, hits a little too close to the evening news. Scarey stuff, yes.  Hero stuff.....you betcha.  Relaxing? HELL NO.   Now, a British secret agent hidding from the evil overlord's army of clones in a space station locker....still a little nerve racking so we get our adventure kick, but it hits a little lighter.  A serial killer is just not a threat to James Bond, so they need laser beams.  

At least that's my theory.  Real level threats, are for real level people. Most RPGers don''t want to play real level people, they ARE real level people, and real level people hurt and cry and get scared and usually get killed.  Cyborg ninjas kick ass.....with lasers...against sharks....who are hyper intelligent vampires....

PS: if you want to see what I consider the BEST realistic survial horror flick EVER MADE go see "28 Days Later,"  NOW!!!


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: M. J. Young on July 06, 2003, 03:19:22 PM
Quote from: I'm sure Wayne was not considering Multiverser when he
In a standard roleplaying game, there is a combat system.  This is a lovingly detailed expansion of the core mechanics into an all-out, quite frequently blow-by-blow, rendering of what occurs when people take recourse to violence.  It is taken for granted that resolving combat will take significantly more rolls and more time than resolving any other action.  This is accepted as the standard truth by game players and designers.

This reveals two underlying assumptions in roleplaying games:

1.  Combat is the most interesting form of conflict.
2.  Many problems can be solved by violence.


The first is quite blatant; after all, making cakes and riding bikes are not given resolution systems of their own.  The second is implicit in the first; if combat is the most interesting form of conflict, then the solution to many or even most problems will involve violence.  This grows naturally out of the source material, so the dicussion of the two will meet here.
But I took exception to it nonetheless. I don't think you can reach those conclusions from that information, and I think it a mistake to let that notion stand unchallenged.

Multiverser indeed devotes an entire chapter to combat. It is not the longest chapter in the book; however, it is longer than the preceding three chapters, which cover introduction, attributes, and skills. So it would seem that we have, by Cadriel's definition, designed a traditional role playing game that sees violence as the most interesting form of conflict and a good answer to many problems.

Yet I don't think we present it that way.

First, although the chapter is entitled "Combat", it is presented as illustrative of the game's core resolution mechanics in action. That is, combat doesn't have a different system from anything else in the game--it is used to illustrate how the system works, in part because it makes for clear illustrations. The same way you resolve how severely you've injured your opponent is the same way you resolve how good a cake you've baked, or how fast or how well you ride the bicycle (to cite his examples). We needed to illustrate how it works, and combat is a means of illustration that works well.

Second, right up front the chapter says that for some gamers play is very much about combat and for others it isn't. Now, you can say that about anything. For some, play is about cooking cakes or riding bicycles, or (to get into some possibilities that are more common) driving vehicles well or flying space ships or working magic. However, combat is far more a common ground than any of these other things. If we are going to cover one aspect of skill use in detail, based solely on that which is likely to get the most use from the largest number of players, that's probably going to be combat. I welcome any suggestions of skill areas which are going to be more commonly used by players, existing or future.

Third, Multiverser specifically attempts to cover everything that can be done in any other game, and there are more variations of what can be done in combat than any other area of play. Thus, for the purpose of interfacing with other games and translating concepts from them, a lot of ideas had to be put forward to show how the system works in detail, so that these things could be easily adapted. If someone wants to include weaponless combat styles, or evasive tumbling, or advanced parrying, or quick shooting, or any imaginable combat technique, the game allows that. It isn't just in combat that this is true. If you go into a demolition derby-based setting, you can learn trick driving stunts, all of which can be translated to the game. If you want to do Cocktail, you can incorporate all those fancy moves show-off bartenders use. But the vast majority of such special techniques in games have always been combat-based, and that's where we put the coverage for translation between game systems.

I don't think it has anything to do with encouraging violent solutions or thinking combat is the most interesting form of conflict. On a personal note, I find that the most common form of conflict in a lot of the games I run is debate--my players often like to argue philosophy, politics, religion, or values with the characters in my worlds, far more often than they will draw weapons. Also, when I play, I always seek a non-violent solution before a violent one. In a current confrontation I'm playing, I am attempting to escape an aggressor rather than attack. In the last situation, a villain was threatening the life of an innocent; I attempted first to deceive him into believing the police were almost upon him before (when that failed) using force to drive him away. So my personal experience doesn't support the notion that Multiverser players (including me) find combat either more interesting or the better option (although clearly some do).
Quote from: Also, consider what Brendan J. Petroff
Nobody really wants to act heriocally, you just do what you feel you have to do. Being a hero is SCAREY, adventure is SCAREY.
Now, the Multiverser system allows referees and players to compress or expand action significantly. If you're trying to make a cake, I could roll to determine how well you measure the ingredients, break the eggs, mix the batter, heat the oven, time the baking, depan the cakes, and spread the frosting--the game certainly provides the tools for me to do this. However, unless we've landed in Celebrity Bakeoff World or Betty Crocker Championship Cooking World, there's not enough at stake to be worth that kind of effort. I'll roll against your cooking skill, and determine how well you did.

Combat, though, is dangerous. It always means something is at stake. If that something concerns the player characters, then the players are suddenly interested in the details of their abilities--did I hit him, was I able to use my dodging ability to get out of the way, or my parry to deflect his blow, can I roll with the punch and so reduce the injury, will my mental force field protect me from his invisible kinetic force weapon, and a thousand other questions each of which is there because the player has something at stake and he wants to protect it. Thus, as long as the player has something at stake and is involved, detailed rolls are something he, or at least most incarnations of him, wants.

In contrast, it's quite common in Multiverser play to resolve overall combat situations of mass combat, even entire battles, with a single roll. Where the players are not involved, the detail is not so important. I've got a guy right now assisting a couple hundred men defend a castle against a few thousand undead. When he's involved directly, by acting or by telling others what to do, detailed individual actions are checked. As to the rest of the battle, a single general effects roll determines from hour to hour whether it is going well or ill, and to what degree.

In conclusion, I don't think a detailed combat section necessarily means your game is about combat or necessarily encourages violent solutions. I'm not saying it never does so, but the presence of such a section is not sufficient evidence to reach that conclusion.

--M. J. Young


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Cadriel on July 06, 2003, 05:15:42 PM
M.J.:

Not being familiar with Multiverser, I can't comment on it specifically.  But what I'm getting from your post is a lot of up-front, clearly stated intent.  This is all well and good, but I'm talking about an idea that permeates many games even though a lot of designers quite explicitly don't write systems in order to encourage violence as the most interesting and effective form of conflict.  A number of your statements indicate this tendency (pardon me if this seems terribly out of context):

Quote
That is, combat doesn't have a different system from anything else in the game--it is used to illustrate how the system works, in part because it makes for clear illustrations.

Quote
...and there are more variations of what can be done in combat than any other area of play.

Quote
Combat, though, is dangerous. It always means something is at stake.


I understand that you don't think that violence solves many problems, and that in your individual play experience there are not violent solutions to many prominent conflicts.  This is a great account of your own experience, and I seriously think:  more power to you for going that route.  But I'm not sure that your philosophy of gaming is typical, even of people playing Multiverser.

Those three quotes I pulled from your response, I think, reveal a lot of the common attitude among gamers.  From the first, we get a basic truth:  combat is rather readily grasped by roleplayers.  Most of us have gone through D&D or something similar to it, and so whatever else we've done with RPG mechanics, we've doubtless seen something made dead by way of the rules.  Fighting is an immediate, visceral reaction; it's one of the most primal things we can do, and it's a very straightforward, immediate form of conflict.  Hence, showing a fight is a very good way to showcase what a system can do.

From the second, we start to see a lot of the "most interesting form of conflict" attitude coming through in the form of an assumption.  You've assumed that, in a fight, the options are incredibly plentiful, and that there is more to do in a combat than in any other situation.  Yet, in just about any actual fight (regardless of circumstances, and using "actual fight" to mean where the chips are down and it's serious), people either react on a pure instinct level or go to rote training.  The actual circumstance will be over in a flash and an adrenaline rush; if it's a fist fight or similar, you'll just be going for whatever you can get desperately; if it's a gun fight, you'll spend most of your time trying desperately not to get shot.  The kind of combat that RPGs go for is quite similar to what is choreographed for an action movie, and I've found that it often comes off rather dispassionately.  That this is the case seems to me to be quite substantial evidence that most RPGs consider violence to be the most interesting form of conflict.

The third quote, though, is what drives it home:  combat means your life is on the line.  This, I think, is a blatant statement of why RPGs lovingly detail combat and make it central.  It's an immediate, visceral reaction, and brings the drama home right away.  But here's the irony of the whole situation:  it's a trap.

When you make combat the centerpoint of the whole equation (with the unstated assumption that combat is inherently more interesting than anything else), it means that...well...the combat system - even if it's just an applied version of the standard engine - had better earn its keep.  And most RPGs deliberately emulate genres where it can.  James Bond doesn't reason with the villain of the film, at least not successfully; he kills the man.  It's okay, because the villain is clearly demonstrated to be a bad guy.  In all of Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship never gets together a group to chat with Sauron and his minions.  We know Sauron is EVIL and the guy's got to go.  So it is with so much of action movies, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror.  The villains are either not human and therefore kill-able, or are humans so bad that killing them is not a bad thing.  Because this is where RPGs take their cues, it seems only fitting and natural that a lot of the time, the solution is to kill the problem-causer.  Which is, ultimately, saying that violence can solve problems.  (I realize that there are exceptions to this.  However, the fact remains that in any form of source literature for RPGs, there are substantial works wherein the problem is solved by somebody dying.)

Frankly, I'm bothered by this.  I don't think it's necessarily a sound moral basis, and I think that it's perpetuated by treating combat as the most interesting form of conflict (even if you don't realize you're doing as much).  Drama, for centuries, has been questioning whether violence really solves anything at all; as somebody who's more than a little bit into theatre, I guess the fact that RPGs flaunt the "sure it does" answer bugs me more than a little bit.

Please, don't take this personally; I'm glad you brought up problems with my statements, and I hope that I've made them clearer for you.  I know that responding has made them clearer for me.

-Wayne


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 06, 2003, 07:24:48 PM
The problem I've always seen with inter-personal systems (a debate mechanic, say) is that debate is all based on content.

The content of a combat can be boiled down to a series of blows of some effect.

The content of a debate can be boiled down to the argument of each side.

For the argument to be engaging to me, you have to present it.

A hypothetical system could do something like "I attack a straw man." Roll-roll-roll "67. I convince the jury." "He appeals to practical consequences." Roll-roll-roll "32. They're not swayed." And, you know, that'd be okay--but if the focus of the game was on some kind of philosophical question, I'd only really be satisfied with the *players* debating that.

And I think that's how most people feel (if you have players who'll do that sort of thing).

So combat works for the low-level-of abstraction breakdown. Dialog I'd have problems with being satisfied with a mechanic.

I'm not saying it can't or shouldn't be done (I've always felt the fixation on combat systems was fishy but that's just me)--but I think I'd feel left out in the cold if the point of the game was to address a philosophical issue/win a debate and the closest we came to it was rolling dice.

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Roy on July 06, 2003, 07:51:25 PM
Quote from: Cadriel
To be completely fair and honest, Roy, I think you've got it backward.  There is conflict in the flat tire.  The flat tire is a problem that the narrator attempts to overcome.  It is objectively narrator vs. flat tire.  Not gripping human drama off the bat, but really...by complicating the flat tire, Jack made a really short story from the situation.


Ok, I'll give you the point that there is a very weak "man vs. environment"  conflict inherent in a flat tire.  Conflict doesn't have to be "whiz! bang! zam!" to interest me, but it does have to contain something that grabs me emotionally.  You can dismiss my comments if you like, but I'm certainly not in the minority here.

Quote from: Cadriel
Your example with the dead body in the trunk contains no conflict.  It is a shock, to be certain.  The situation may seem more "interesting," but when it comes down to the wire, "guy finds a dead body in his trunk" is more of a Kicker than an actual scene with conflict.  It opens up possible avenues for exploration, but realistically no more than getting a flat tire would.


The conflict wasn't inherent in finding the dead body.  The conflict came into the scene when the cop pulled up to help the character.

Quote from: Cadriel
The discussion here is whether RPGs really need to be kicked up a notch; you seem to argue that conflict necessarily relies on it.  Yet, to observe how this is not true, sit back and read Romeo & Juliet.


Not all conflict has to be over the top, but for an interesting story it has to emotionally engage the audience.  If it doesn't, your audience loses interest.  I chose to add pop to the scene to grab my audience's attention and set up a question in their mind that they would want to find the answer to.  

I'm going to bow out of the discussion since it really doesn't interest me enough to continue.  Have fun discussing the topic.

Roy
roypenrod123@yahoo.com


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: ross_winn on July 06, 2003, 08:09:28 PM
I heartily agree. Do you have any ideas for resolutiion systems that are not violence based?

Quote from: Cadriel
This is actually a part of what I've been thinking of lately.

In a standard roleplaying game, there is a combat system.  This is a lovingly detailed expansion of the core mechanics into an all-out, quite frequently blow-by-blow, rendering of what occurs when people take recourse to violence.  It is taken for granted that resolving combat will take significantly more rolls and more time than resolving any other action.  This is accepted as the standard truth by game players and designers.

This reveals two underlying assumptions in roleplaying games:

1.  Combat is the most interesting form of conflict.
2.  Many problems can be solved by violence.

The first is quite blatant; after all, making cakes and riding bikes are not given resolution systems of their own.  The second is implicit in the first; if combat is the most interesting form of conflict, then the solution to many or even most problems will involve violence.  This grows naturally out of the source material, so the dicussion of the two will meet here.

Basically:  "Violence solves all problems" isn't the kind of message you can push terrifically easily in the real world, where violence tends to be messy and creates nice vicious cycles and what have you.  So, in works where the violence solves the problems nice and pat, it is dressed up in some form - say, supertechnology (whether spy style or sci-fi style), magic, swords, or even just making everything high-gloss like an action movie.  And generally, you're made quite painfully aware that the people who die deserve to die.  They are bad people, and the killing is not dwelt upon in any significant respect.  The killers are painted as the heroes because they kill the right (e.g. bad) people.  This kind of entertainment is known for big payoffs at the moment, and generally merits less afterthought than other forms.  You can attribute it to whatever you like, really.

It is this attitude, this ethos, that I think is the root of both the extreme tendencies of RPGs toward violence and those toward sharks with laser beams on their heads.  I suppose its transitory form works well for an RPG, and the demographic that games seems overwhelmingly drawn from the same pool who enjoy the entertainments I describe above.

If you're not happy with it?  Find people who are into other entertainments, and give them games sans combat systems.  I think it's what has to happen if RPGs are going to be able to show semblances of literary merit and grow out of the rather juvenile attitude I've described.

-Wayne


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on July 06, 2003, 08:19:22 PM
Hi all,

First, I want to offer a warm, hearty welcome to all the new posters to the Forge.

Second, I want to offer that The Forge is somewhat unique in it's thread and posting style.  There are several ways it differs from most other sites on the web.  One of these ways is that threads tend to be cleanly focused.  When people find something new they want to talk about, then they start up a new thread.

As far as I can tell, this thread has jumped the rails.  Jack started a thread about the "over-the-topness" of rpg narrative, and now we're talking about the use of violent resolution as being a "core" mechanic... or something very much like this.

I offer that if people want to discuss this further, they kick off a new thread and see if other peopel want to join the party.  This way, when and if Jack returns to the thread, he'll be able to address responses to his questions, and not get sidetracked by issues that may or may not concern him.

Hell.  I'll start the new thread.  Check it out. It'll be called, "Action, the Core Resolution or Just a Dull Habit?"

Christopher


Title: Re: personal comments
Post by: ross_winn on July 06, 2003, 08:21:41 PM
Quote from: BPetroff93
At least that's my theory.  Real level threats, are for real level people. Most RPGers don''t want to play real level people, they ARE real level people, and real level people hurt and cry and get scared and usually get killed.  Cyborg ninjas kick ass.....with lasers...against sharks....who are hyper intelligent vampires....


Dramatic situations can also be explored when the characters are forced from the mundane existence into the more heroic. I am thinking of specifically 'Unbreakable' here. I think the film does a very nice job of mixing the mundane and the heroic.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on July 06, 2003, 08:35:50 PM
Hi Ross,

I think Night's work is an excellent topic of study for this thread.

By keeping the genre elements "simmering" at a low level, the "extreme" elements get to stand out without going all crazy.  The fact that his movies exist without any CGI work I think speaks volumes about the fact that he's willing to let the camera simply pick up what's right there.  And yet, the circumstances of the stories are extraordinary.

This is what I meant about the pendulum swinging back.  While a movie like "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" (which I loved, by the way), can only make the current state of movie-making a lovely, almost mythical joke that folds in on itself in its absurdity, Night's work reclaims the ground of storytelling by calming the whole affair down.  (I think, too, this was part of the appeal of "Blair Witch."  It offered something new -- simplicity -- or, at least, new to people who grew up on post Close Encounters / Star Wars cinema.)

Christopher


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 06, 2003, 10:28:50 PM
Quote from: Roy
Ok, I'll give you the point that there is a very weak "man vs. environment"  conflict inherent in a flat tire.  Conflict doesn't have to be "whiz! bang! zam!" to interest me, but it does have to contain something that grabs me emotionally.  You can dismiss my comments if you like, but I'm certainly not in the minority here.

Not the minority, but not the only opinion, either. I just want to point out that your comment here very weak "man vs. environment"  conflict , is a value judgement. A personal opinion. One man's weak is another man's mind-blowing... well, pretty good, anyway. This whole discussion seems to be completely missing the reason for the flat tire illustration which is to point out how complications, or whatever you call it, are what makes the story go in the 'life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans' sense of it. whether you like the flat tire story or not is moot as long as you get that point.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Roy on July 07, 2003, 09:04:52 AM
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Not the minority, but not the only opinion, either.


You're absolutely correct.  I pointed this out myself and suggested that we agree to disagree.

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
I just want to point out that your comment here very weak "man vs. environment"  conflict , is a value judgement. A personal opinion.


Of course it is.  Everything I say is my personal opinion.  Anyone that tells you he can be objective is delusional.  Objectivity is an illusion because every thought is filtered through your own mind.  But THAT'S a discussion for another day. :-)  

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
This whole discussion seems to be completely missing the reason for the flat tire illustration ...
 
... whether you like the flat tire story or not is moot as long as you get that point.


I told you I understood your point even though I disagreed with the example you provided.

Roy shuffles up to Jack with his head down.  "I sorry I put the dead body in your trunk, Jack.  I didn't mean nuthin' by it."  Roy looks up at Jack and smiles weakly, seeking Jack's forgiveness.

Satisfied, Roy shuffles over to Jack's trunk and slides the dead body to the ground.  Roy turns and leaves, dragging the slightly decomposed dead body behind him.  

"I wonder if Ron's got any room for this thing," thinks Roy to himself as he shuffles off into the sunset.


Roy
roypenrod123@yahoo.com


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 07, 2003, 01:02:04 PM
Seems to me like there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who appreciate Austin Powers because we "resemble that remark"; people like me who like every Bond film ever made, and realize that we relish something that is in some ways ridiculous. And those who laugh at the laser bearing shark MKIV because they're certain that they're superior in some way to those who like the Bond films.

You think that when Lucas wrote that part about Vader being Luke's father he thought for a moment, "Nah, too over the top?" You think that Quentin Tarantino (I know, hack, right?) said, heck, I'll tone down the plot coincindences some for the movie Pulp Fiction? He'd be all over the body in the trunk idea. Note the name of the movie. Note that most RPGs cite pulp, Fantasy and Sci-Fi as amongst their main influences. Coincidence? I think not.

As always, I repeat my motto: taste is an excuse for people to be depressed that things aren't as good "as they should be". Whatever the hell that means.

Personally, I'm easy to please, and squeal with delight whenever Godzilla gets on the screen. Any version. I figure that if I can appreciate a man in a rubber suit stomping on miniature buildings, I can appreciate anything, no? I'm a happy guy as a result.

Does that mean that I'm against playing out the socio-economic plight of the seventeenth century Ukranian peasant in excruciating detail? Not at all...it's all good fun. Just quit raining on my parade for the damn energy weapon equipped chondricthyse that I relish so much. Does that mean that some people will have to suffer through the tripe that I pay for at the movie theatre? Well, they can just sit home and read Chechov for all I care.

Mike "Proud to be one of those gamers" Holmes


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on July 07, 2003, 02:15:14 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
As always, I repeat my motto: taste is an excuse for people to be depressed that things aren't as good "as they should be". Whatever the hell that means.


Mike,

You are now my hero.

Christopher


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: John Kim on July 07, 2003, 03:56:40 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
  Does that mean that I'm against playing out the socio-economic plight of the seventeenth century Ukranian peasant in excruciating detail? Not at all...it's all good fun. Just quit raining on my parade for the damn energy weapon equipped chondricthyse that I relish so much. Does that mean that some people will have to suffer through the tripe that I pay for at the movie theatre? Well, they can just sit home and read Chechov for all I care.  

Well, I agree that there is nothing wrong per se with laser-equipped sharks.  At the same time, I think that Jack's question has some merit.  If you take away the anti-shark-laser tone of it, there is still a good question about why RPGs tend toward more over-the-top genres -- especially fantasy and science-fiction.  You imply here that disliking shark lasers means that you play Ukranian peasants and read Checkov, but I think that is a straw man.  

For example, the swashbuckling genre in books and film is filled with action.   However, the author's of 7th Sea decided to go further and throw in magic, special armor, and other fantasy elements.  This is what Jack is talking about -- i.e. not just sharks, but sharks with lasers on their heads.  Even if one doesn't mind this in itself, it does make one wonder why you don't see more non-cybernetic sharks in RPGs.  

Now, one can point to a similar trend in movies (as I think Christopher Kubasik did): but it is actually a fairly recent phenomenon.  In the first half of this century, movies weren't dominated by over-the-top action -- even the period equivalent.  Fantasy, science-fiction, and martial arts were for a very long time considered inherently "B" movie material.  Top movies tended to be things like "On the Waterfront" and "Golden Earrings".  It is only in maybe the past two decades that they have come into the mainstream.  I would attribute it to improvements in special effects technology.  In a similar way, musicals were very popular in the times following the introduction of sound -- but dropped in popularity after a while.  

In RPGs, obviously, the reason isn't special effects.  So what is it?  

I have some ideas, but I'm going to leave them for another post (I'm short on time).


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Comte on July 07, 2003, 05:08:23 PM
Quote
Mike "Proud to be one of those gamers" Holmes


That post made me smile, unless something else happens it will of made my day.  BUT! I don't like Austin Powers, and I don't like Bond films.  So where do I go?  What do I do?  

Me?  I like Adaptation, I loved Magnolia, Blue Velvet is one of my favorite movies, and I am still impressed by Waking Life.  I think How to kill your neighbor's dog is the shit, and Gosford Park is my idea of a good night out.

I also like to roleplay, and I love to game master.  Artsy people are people to.  We can't help the way we are, hell I wish I could just laugh with the rest of the people when I was forced to sit through Bruce Almighty.  Hell I wish I wasn't the only person laughing duing the house of 1000 corpses.  But I am.  And I'm mystified by the need for lasers.

This may seem off topic at first but I am going somewhere with this.  The nature of the gamer is starting to change.  It is mostly due to Vampire.  People who get into the game from D&D do so with the high adventure, save the world, sort of ideals.  Many people come in fresh from reading Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter wanting to go play out some of the very same things.

THen there are thouse White Wolf games.  Games where people seem to want to live out social intruige and mystery.  It is here that people have the K3lwz P0\/\/3rrZ but they aren't allowed to use them so because of the maqurade.  It is this influx of people that cause the original question to be viable, do we need K3lwz P0\/\/3rrZ to make a good RPG?  Do we need to use our K3lwz P0\/\/3rrZ to have fun roleplaying?  These questions come wrapped in the from why do we need K3lwz P0\/\/3rrZ to happen in our plots.  Of course I hope we don't answer this question here because if we do then my future career as a lit major will be kinda usless.  But if a movie can be sucessful without any sort of extrodinary thing happening, then why not a game?

To answer my question...it can't.  Lets go back up to my list of pretension shall we?

Adaptation: Drug use, death, uncovering an affair, and a shoot out
Magnolia: Frogs fall from the sky
Blue Velvet: well the whole movie is about the horrid underworld that excists right below our own.
Waking Life: The whole movie is a lucid dream
How to kill your neighbor's dog: the death of the said dog, and becoming freinds with a stalker
Gosford Park: THe man was murdered twice

So my little clump of artistic snobbery has its own share of lasers.  Just aobut every movie dose, as dose just about every story.  It is what makes the story special, and memorable.  I mean sometimes it is these lasers that made the movie what it is ie Magnolia.  Someone above me said that this is a part of storytelling.  

As gamemasters I would like to take you back to a version of the original example.  You have five players in front of you, you say," You pull into the gas station, the car needs gas and one of the tires is low on air, almost flat".  Now how would that fly with the play group?  For the majority of the play groups I've had they would blink at me dumbfounded, pump the gas, blow up the tire and just move on wondering what that was all about.  Now I could turn this encounter into something exciting.  I could base an entire game session around this gas station and it would rock.  But I can not have this be the most exciting thing that happens during the game session.  Something has to happen during this game session that is more exciting than that flat tire otherwise the players will wander off, start making out, eating my food, and everything else.  They don't have to save to world, heck most of the PCs I've delt with just aren't capable.  But at some point they should encounter something, something that has the potenial to change thier lives compleatly otherwise why would you be playing?  

Either you do it through combat or through clever planning but something has to happen that will both threaten the players, and cause them to rise up to the occation.  We need more than a simple flat tire conflict in our game sessions because if anything we need to fill the time and be entertained.  No matter if the conflict is interpersonal (a warden and inmate), or extrapersonal (a robbery, or a cop) or supernatural (a bear with a laser on its head), we still need more than the tire.

THe trick is not if we need it or not.  The trick is how much should we give.  In a given situation is the flat tire enough to keep the players entertained?  No?  Well what would entertain them...a robbery?  Well billy over there has a level 46 wizard with the kill alll robbers in a 1000mile radius spell so no.  Hmm maybe a couple of bears, at the very least they could spend the rest of the game session trying to figgure out where they came from.  Or we can take it the interpersional rout, Billy could see a snickers wrapper sticking out of Zack's back pocket when he bends over to check the tire.  That was the last snickers bar that billy wanted...now we have a conflict that is starting to build up.  Of course my exmples are rediculouse but I mean we need more than the tires.  Sometimes we need more than the sharks, and sometimes sharks with lasers just won't do it.  The key to storytelling to a group of people is finding the right tools for the job, so that the players go home happy, eager to return the next week.  And remeber as the old pervert said variety is the spice of life.  We can't always have sharks running around, and we can't always have interpesonal conflicts.  Welll I guess thats all I have to say about that.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Roy on July 07, 2003, 06:14:51 PM
Quote from: Comte
Of course my exmples are rediculouse but I mean we need more than the tires. Sometimes we need more than the sharks, and sometimes sharks with lasers just won't do it.


All of these are just trappings that can change with the setting.  

If you want your gamers to consistently enjoy your roleplaying games, you've got to grab their interest with emotionally engaging conflict between interesting and dysfunctional characters.  That's what separates good fiction (in any form) from marginal fiction.  

Roy
roypenrod123@yahoo.com


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: John Kim on July 07, 2003, 08:28:57 PM
Quote from: Roy
  If you want your gamers to consistently enjoy your roleplaying games, you've got to grab their interest with emotionally engaging conflict between interesting and dysfunctional characters.  That's what separates good fiction (in any form) from marginal fiction.  

While this is true if interpretted broadly enough, it also becomes so vague as to be useless.  For example, you can analyze "My Dinner With Andre" such that it is between the conflict of interesting and dysfunctional characters.  However, at this point you have gotten so vague about conflict that I don't see how it is a useful tool.  

In any case, I don't think this is related to the original topic.  A story can have "engaging conflict" in a broad sense without putting lasers on shark's heads.  Jack's complaint is that RPGs seem to be dominated by the latter (i.e. why add magic and monsters to swashbuckling for 7th Sea, why add gunpowder to Rome in Fvlminata, etc.).  As an individual choice there is nothing particularly bad or strange about this, but it is a definite trend for all RPGs -- and that brings up the question of why.  

One thought I have is the amateur nature of tabletop RPGs.  That is, you develop stories but they are portrayed by amateur or even indifferent actors.  Thus, more subtle forms of comedy and drama are less engaging than in professional media.  However, I don't think this is sufficient to explain the tendency.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: M. J. Young on July 07, 2003, 09:18:44 PM
I'm going to have to cut Wayne's post up a bit to answer him, and this is still a bit off topic so I'll try to keep it as brief as I can.
Quote from: Cadriel
A number of your statements indicate this tendency (pardon me if this seems terribly out of context):....
Quote
...and there are more variations of what can be done in combat than any other area of play.


...From the second, we start to see a lot of the "most interesting form of conflict" attitude coming through in the form of an assumption.  You've assumed that, in a fight, the options are incredibly plentiful, and that there is more to do in a combat than in any other situation.  Yet, in just about any actual fight (regardless of circumstances, and using "actual fight" to mean where the chips are down and it's serious), people either react on a pure instinct level or go to rote training.  The actual circumstance will be over in a flash and an adrenaline rush; if it's a fist fight or similar, you'll just be going for whatever you can get desperately; if it's a gun fight, you'll spend most of your time trying desperately not to get shot.  The kind of combat that RPGs go for is quite similar to what is choreographed for an action movie, and I've found that it often comes off rather dispassionately.  That this is the case seems to me to be quite substantial evidence that most RPGs consider violence to be the most interesting form of conflict.

I'm sorry that I wasn't more clear on that point.

Multiverser provides a comprehensive rules system in the sense that if you can do it in any other game, you can do it in Multiverser.
Quote from: When I
there are more variations of what can be done in combat than any other area of play.
I specifically meant that, given all the role playing games that are in print and what they include within the rules, there are more variations of combat techniques, equipment, skills, and adjustments out there than any other aspect of games. Several games include weaponless combat styles; a player character visiting such a game world can learn such styles, and when he leaves that world those styles must become part of Multiverser. Many games include protective armor, but some include ablative armor, and both must be covered by Multiverser so that if someone brings either type of armor into the game there's a way to make it part of play. Some games have absolute defenses to specific attack forms, such as Star Frontiers' hush field against sonic weapons, so such absolute defenses must be possible. Area attacks, attacks on cover, non-physical damage such as pain, crippling attacks, subduing attacks--if it's possible to do in any game, it can be translated to Multiverser. That's what I meant about the number of things that can be done.

Arguably, there are many things that can be done in a game that's about driving, and all of them can be translated to Multiverser as well. However, far fewer games have contributed far fewer variations to this area of play. That's covered in the text, a lot more quickly than the massive amount of variation in combat skills and equipment.

I'll concede that there are more things covered by Multiverser's rules related to combat than related to driving or cooking, and that this reflects something generally true about the gaming hobby (that most gamers relate to games with combat in them), but I wanted to distinguish that point. A player can do as many or more things in other areas as he can in combat, if he wishes. The support is there. Combat requires special attention because of the massive amount of material generated in relation to it by so many other game systems.
Quote from: Wayne also

Quote from: again quoting what I
Combat, though, is dangerous. It always means something is at stake.

...The third quote, though, is what drives it home:  combat means your life is on the line.  This, I think, is a blatant statement of why RPGs lovingly detail combat and make it central.  It's an immediate, visceral reaction, and brings the drama home right away.  But here's the irony of the whole situation:  it's a trap.

When you make combat the centerpoint of the whole equation (with the unstated assumption that combat is inherently more interesting than anything else), it means that...well...the combat system - even if it's just an applied version of the standard engine - had better earn its keep....
Wayne goes on to make some good points about how most RPG settings are of a sort in which violence is easily justified.

I'm not going to say that Multiverser play is non-violent; it would be silly if I did. I am going to say that combat is not the centerpoint of the whole equation, and that a lot of play is not about violence. For some players, it will be--but even when it's violent, it has to be smart most of the time. Many of the worlds we publish have a lot of issue-oriented play involved. Sure, we do fantasy adventures, spy thrillers, science fiction battles, horror, war. We also do confrontations with racism, issues of human rights, philosophical and religious debate, whodunits, and other less violent situations. Of course, some players can turn a peaceful sit-in at Kent State University into a blood bath; there are others who can turn an intergalactic war into a debate on the morality of conflict. So players matter a great deal; but the system doesn't make combat more important than any other thing.

In general, though, you're right that RPGs tend toward potentially violent situations, and attempt to provide justification for the violence through the nature of the setting. Sometimes Multiverser does this, but not always. I've known players who when faced with unavoidable combat have allowed their characters to be killed, on the theory that as a verser they'll wake up in another world, but if they killed their attacker he would be dead. That's a peculiarity of Multiverser--life and death on the line is certainly something at stake, but not to the same degree as it is in other games.

--M. J. Young


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on July 07, 2003, 10:36:08 PM
Hi all.

I'm now confused.

A page back Jack wrote:

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Perhaps a bit of clairification is in order. I did not mean just cool powers, per se so much as something that always brings it to the extreme. In the original thread, Roy suggested spicing up the story of me finding a dead body in the trunk of my car. Unless you work in a hospitol, how often do you see a dead body? I know I don't see one, much less would have one in the trunk of my car. That's what I'm talking about. Something that brings things to the furthest extreme of possibility or even past it.


Now.  We seem to be twirling around kitchen-sink-genre mixes in RPGs (elves! and spaceships! and dinnerware emporiums!).  But Jack in the quoted post seems more concerned with the extremes narratives take in RPGs.  (Instead of a flat tire, we get a body in trunk.)

Now, these two matters might be related. But they're clearly two different things.

Jack?  Which one are we talking about?

Christopher


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 08, 2003, 06:12:03 AM
I was obviously (I hope) being hyperbolic in the last post. By the whole "Ukranian Peasant" thing, John, I mean to say that you can look at any situation from the cheerfully unrealistic, to the dreadfully real, and it's still valid. There's lot's of room in between these corners of the chartable territory, obviously. My point was that where you play on that chart is completely a matter of opinion, and none is better than the other. So the argument sorta becomes "why not sharks with laser beams"?

But I agree that there's a lot of goofyness in RPGs that would exceed the goofiness level of alternate forms of entertainment. So why does this phenomenon occur?

Well, I see two variables.

First, the media itself. RPGs are slow to provide feedback in general terms. That is, in an hour of play you'll probably see less plot than you would in an hour of TV in general. To go off on a tangent for a moment, the reason that salad is presented first traditionally, followed by the main course, and then by desert is that you start with the least flavorful (and therefore calorifically low) substances while you're still hungry, and work towards the more flavorful as you combat the feeling of fullness. That is, the traditional meal structure was designed in days when obesity was not a problem in order to ensure that people could confortably eat as much as possible of the available perishable goods, so that they'd better be able to survive lean times.

Same goes with RPGs. There are typically long, dull down times in RPGs. Lulls in the action. As such, in order to keep people's attentions, the high points have to be more punchy. As such, designers, I think, throw in the most stimulating ideas they can think of.

The other variable is the players themselves. People who play RPGs are typically escapists like myself. As such, I think that on the whole they tend to be more predisposed to fantasy and sci-fi literature, comics, and the like. This makes sense with the material produced, no? This may be because the first RPG was a fantasy RPG, but I think as likely the format lends itself to escapism, meaning that the two were destined to collide. In any case, it seems to me that the average RPG player is an escapist, and therefore will take to the novel more readily than the mundane.

But this is all moot. People should play what they want to play. I like Chechov (I like everything), and would readily play the Cherry Orchard RPG. I've been quoted as saying that I won't play Nicotine Girls, but that's probably some sort of subconscious fear of latent homosexuality or fear of things feminine than something that can't be played because it lacks photonic armaments (OK, it's because I'm an escapist and want something less mundane, I'll admit it). And it does represent the sort of game we're talking about here. Down-to-Earth role-playing with no "spicy" elements tossed in for kicks. So they do exist, and ought to be played by those who find them more interesting.

So is there a problem? On the far end of specualtion, I suppose that one could say that RPGs as long as they are mainly represented by games that feature aquatic fauna bearing Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation devices, that they will tend to alienate that part of the market segment who think that dragons are for kids. Same problem that comics have had forever. Well, I'm not too concerned. I've never been an advocate that we needed them anyhow. In any case, dragons and superheroes have become more prevalent in mainstream media, and I believe that the rest of everyone is coming over to our side slowly anyhow.

So, from the POV of the guy that likes dragons and superheroes (four color, if you please), it's all good. There are RPGs for everyone, IMO, with more coming soon. I mean how close is Heartquest to closing in on the Romance Novel RPG genre that I've been waiting for?

Mike


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 08, 2003, 07:17:25 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
I was obviously (I hope) being hyperbolic in the last post. By the whole "Ukranian Peasant" thing, John, I mean to say that you can look at any situation from the cheerfully unrealistic, to the dreadfully real, and it's still valid. There's lot's of room in between these corners of the chartable territory, obviously. My point was that where you play on that chart is completely a matter of opinion, and none is better than the other. So the argument sorta becomes "why not sharks with laser beams"?

But I agree that there's a lot of goofyness in RPGs that would exceed the goofiness level of alternate forms of entertainment. So why does this phenomenon occur?

Well, I see two variables.

First, the media itself. RPGs are slow to provide feedback in general terms. That is, in an hour of play you'll probably see less plot than you would in an hour of TV in general. To go off on a tangent for a moment, the reason that salad is presented first traditionally, followed by the main course, and then by desert is that you start with the least flavorful (and therefore calorifically low) substances while you're still hungry, and work towards the more flavorful as you combat the feeling of fullness. That is, the traditional meal structure was designed in days when obesity was not a problem in order to ensure that people could confortably eat as much as possible of the available perishable goods, so that they'd better be able to survive lean times.

Same goes with RPGs. There are typically long, dull down times in RPGs. Lulls in the action. As such, in order to keep people's attentions, the high points have to be more punchy. As such, designers, I think, throw in the most stimulating ideas they can think of.

The other variable is the players themselves. People who play RPGs are typically escapists like myself. As such, I think that on the whole they tend to be more predisposed to fantasy and sci-fi literature, comics, and the like. This makes sense with the material produced, no? This may be because the first RPG was a fantasy RPG, but I think as likely the format lends itself to escapism, meaning that the two were destined to collide. In any case, it seems to me that the average RPG player is an escapist, and therefore will take to the novel more readily than the mundane.

But this is all moot. People should play what they want to play. I like Chechov (I like everything), and would readily play the Cherry Orchard RPG. I've been quoted as saying that I won't play Nicotine Girls, but that's probably some sort of subconscious fear of latent homosexuality or fear of things feminine than something that can't be played because it lacks photonic armaments (OK, it's because I'm an escapist and want something less mundane, I'll admit it). And it does represent the sort of game we're talking about here. Down-to-Earth role-playing with no "spicy" elements tossed in for kicks. So they do exist, and ought to be played by those who find them more interesting.

So is there a problem? On the far end of specualtion, I suppose that one could say that RPGs as long as they are mainly represented by games that feature aquatic fauna bearing Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation devices, that they will tend to alienate that part of the market segment who think that dragons are for kids. Same problem that comics have had forever. Well, I'm not too concerned. I've never been an advocate that we needed them anyhow. In any case, dragons and superheroes have become more prevalent in mainstream media, and I believe that the rest of everyone is coming over to our side slowly anyhow.

So, from the POV of the guy that likes dragons and superheroes (four color, if you please), it's all good. There are RPGs for everyone, IMO, with more coming soon. I mean how close is Heartquest to closing in on the Romance Novel RPG genre that I've been waiting for?

Mike


Mike,

I love ya for the bit about everyone coming over to our side. RPG's aren't Mainstream? Wait 'til my kid grows up watching Lord of the Rings and reading the complete set of Harry Potter. Dungeons and Dragons galore there. And Massive Multi-player online RPGs? The man on the street might not know what Everquest is--but wait 5 years and ask again.

I do think Checkov qualifies as "as mundane" as Nicotine Girls, tho ... so check out the feminine thing ;) (and I'd run Nicotine Girls set in New Mexico with a sublte back-drop of Carlos Castenada Yaqui Indian mysticism so it might even be *less* mundane that some of the stuff you otherwise pay ... *sigh* Paul probably wouldn't approve ... ;) ).

But while most games I play in do tilt towards the extreme in the end, they begin with fairly mundane characters doing reasonable things--I think the impetus for the extreme does come from a group-dynamic of building a sense of drama.

When a character in a story gets a flat tire the author doesn't have to worry about him quitting the narrative.

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 08, 2003, 08:54:03 AM
There's a reason for the laser on its head that's often overlooked among folks analyzing gaming: the level of detail in the game.

In any sort of comparison, there's a threshold of similarity below which you (or your instruments, or your audience, or whoever/whatever counts) cannot distinguish differences: two notes close enough together, two shades of the same color close enough together, two different patterns of tile in a mosaic, and so on. And most of the time, we are more comfortable when the distinctions we're trying to work with aren't crowding that threshold of recognition. We like to feel confident, most of us, most of the time, that we know what's X and what's Y and that we can tell them at a glance.

In gaming, we get distinctions which matter a lot more on paper than in play: the difference between 2d6 and 2d6+1, between 8 dice in a pool and 9, between 35% and 40%. You have to be exercising whatever feature is measured by those numbers quite a bit for a consistent pattern of difference to emerge. On the other hand, some distinctions manifest themselves quite easily: between 1d6 and 4d6, between 3 dice and 10, between 30% and 90%. It's not that the first set of pairs has no difference, it's that it's unwise to count on it consistently mattering without a great many rolls. "Stat inflation" and the like exist partly to overcome all the complications - how often you roll dice, whether the dice and rolling surface are in fact in good shape, and so on - that keep the underlying intent that B be better than A from showing up in play.

The same principle applies to descriptions and to things we describe qualitatively rather than quantitatively. A novel or a screenplay can go through multiple drafts, and a play or TV show can get rehearsals, and a film can get multiple takes. Furthermore, they can all get professionals. We can't. At least most of us can't. We're stuck with whatever talent for description we've got ourselves, and it's hard to make relatively small changes come out clearly.

In a movie, I can show you a regular shark and a really big shark and it's pretty clear. In a game, I may try the same thing, but raw measurements ("it's half again as long") or efforts to be evocative ("it looms over the other shark like a big looming thing") only go so far. On the other hand, "it's got a laser on its head" is clear. This shark got gun. That shark don't. Gotcha. No ambiguity here. "This newspaper reporter is tougher and asking better questions than the other" is ambiguous. "This guy's got mind control" is not. Special powers and weird gadgets at all allow easy recognition. They increase participants' confidence that they're sharing an understanding of the distinctions to be drawn, and that usually leads to greater enjoyment.

This is the big reason, I think, that "mundane" subjects for roleplaying aren't more popular. An excellent artist can paint with five shades of blue and make something rich and distinct. I will get a muddy wash with smears. Likewise, a highly focused group who share the necessary assumptions can draw out the distinctions that characterize everyday life, but most just get stuff and then other stuff. One of the challenges, therefore, in trying to make the relatively routine and realistic interesting is to make the distinctions in it clear enough for folks to grasp even when they're not the world's greatest roleplayers and simulators at that moment.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 08, 2003, 09:06:52 AM
Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
Jack?  Which one are we talking about?

I think John Kim phrased my position much better than I did even with my original post. It's not that there's sharks, it's that they have frickin' lasers on their heads.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on July 08, 2003, 09:11:23 AM
Got it.  Thanks.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 08, 2003, 09:28:06 AM
Bruce makes an interesting point. In an odd tangent, it makes me think of Magnum PI. Part of that show's gimmic is that he was psychic. Well, sort of. He was often talking about his "little voice" which may have been a psychic ability, may have been his detective instincts. It may or may not have been paranormal. In an RPG, that little mystery would not have been since it would be right there on the character sheet.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 08, 2003, 09:54:15 AM
Well ... maybe (I see your point, but there is the counter example):

ME: "Make a detective character that hears little voices."

JACK: "Is that a trait?"

ME: "Uh ... no."

JACK: "Is it ... good or bad?"

ME: "Yes."

JACK: "Do I have to do what it tells me?"

ME: "It's been right before."

Mystery preserved.

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 08, 2003, 12:31:25 PM
Quote
(and I'd run Nicotine Girls set in New Mexico with a sublte back-drop of Carlos Castenada Yaqui Indian mysticism so it might even be *less* mundane that some of the stuff you otherwise pay ... *sigh* Paul probably wouldn't approve ... ;) ).
And then again, knowing Paul, maybe he would... ;-)

I totally agree with your point about the tire. Characters in a novel do what the author wants no matter how mundane. Players often want more for whatever reason. You have to cater to that in some way.


Quote
("it looms over the other shark like a big looming thing")
"Death and Plague stalk the land like two giant stalking things." -Blackadder the Third.

Exactly the point I was trying to make about food flavor, Bruce. Vision works the same way - see GURPS for how penalties only increase with a doubling of range. :-)

RPGs are like novels in that you can't see the action. But you're right that unlike novels, where the author has time to make simple things seem dramatic ("As he stood despondently looking at the flat considering that he was missing the company of the sultry masseuse Lena who he's made a date with last night, the heat of the malevolent late-afternoon Mojave Desert sun poured relentlessly down on Raul like some carcaradon mounted beam weapon") the GM and players have to play relatively quickly. This is why I've said in the past that cliches are the RPG players best friend. Yes it's a degenerate art when you play that way, but it's easy and fun, IMO.

Mike


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 08, 2003, 12:56:03 PM
Hey, there are reasons second-rate fiction/movies/etc. often provides the best gaming inspiration. (Really first-rate work is, among other things, thoroughly integrated. It all hangs together. You get that with editing and revision. It doens't happen extemporaneously. Loose dangly bits provide paths of approach. *pause* "The game with nae trews on!" Nah.)


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: John Kim on July 08, 2003, 03:55:13 PM
Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
 We seem to be twirling around kitchen-sink-genre mixes in RPGs (elves! and spaceships! and dinnerware emporiums!).  But Jack in the quoted post seems more concerned with the extremes narratives take in RPGs.  (Instead of a flat tire, we get a body in trunk.)

Now, these two matters might be related. But they're clearly two different things.  

Actually, it depends how you categorize them.  I don't think that laser-headed sharks is solely genre-mixing.  That is, I don't see RPGs which mix comedy and mystery, for example (like Without a Clue).  As an alternate example, Vampire: The Masquerade largely stays within a single genre, but it still has the kitchen-sink phenomenon (IMO).  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
  I was obviously (I hope) being hyperbolic in the last post. By the whole "Ukranian Peasant" thing, John, I mean to say that you can look at any situation from the cheerfully unrealistic, to the dreadfully real, and it's still valid.  

Well, my issue is that your hyperbole implies a false assumption.  It's like saying "There is a range of styles from powerful drama to drooling over big-breasted women in chainmail bikinis, and it's all valid".  That is liable to be objectionable even though I say that it is valid, because of how it categorizes the range.  Rather than a Ukrainian peasant, you might have said Sherlock Holmes, or the Three Musketeers, or Jeeves & Wooster, or Magnum P.I., or tons of others.  My point is that all of those examples are genres that have been largely neglected by RPGs.  

Quote from: Mike Holmes
  So, from the POV of the guy that likes dragons and superheroes (four color, if you please), it's all good. There are RPGs for everyone, IMO, with more coming soon. I mean how close is Heartquest to closing in on the Romance Novel RPG genre that I've been waiting for?  

Well, it's closer than most previous RPGs.  However, I don't think that's saying much.  In short, no, I don't think that there is a very wide variety in current RPGs.  Again, there is nothing wrong with dragons and superheroes -- just as there is nothing wrong with Simulationist and Gamist RPG designs.  But while we're here I personally would like more variety.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
  ...(RPGs) will tend to alienate that part of the market segment who think that dragons are for kids. Same problem that comics have had forever. Well, I'm not too concerned. I've never been an advocate that we needed them anyhow.  

Well, I guess I would advocate a similar shift in indy role-playing that happened in indy comics.  My favorite comics like "Strangers in Paradise" only happened because there was a successful effort to reach new audiences with comics -- and from my limited knowledge, this was largely because of indy producers.  Again, nothing wrong with dragons -- but I already have tons of choices for RPGs with dragons.  As a consumer, I would like to see more variety.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 08, 2003, 10:45:46 PM
A couple interesting angles have shaken out of this discussion.

First off, there is nothing wrong with sharks, or dragons for that matter, with lasers on their frickin heads. Trouble is that in RPGs it's rather difficult to find sharks without the lasers. There appears to be a group here who prefers sharks with the lasers (HORRORS!!) and that's fine, but that kind of misses the point. It isn't about personal preferences. Hell, I can go for a shark-mounted laser every once in a while. It's about the prolifferation of them that bothers me a bit.
Quote from: Mike Holmes
I totally agree with your point about the tire. Characters in a novel do what the author wants no matter how mundane. Players often want more for whatever reason. You have to cater to that in some way

I find this statement to be stretched at best because it seems to assume that everybody wants something more than the mundane, or that they would even call such things mundane.

A similar sentiment is here:
Quote
the GM and players have to play relatively quickly. This is why I've said in the past that cliches are the RPG players best friend. Yes it's a degenerate art when you play that way, but it's easy and fun, IMO.

Perhaps and it may have been so in the past and present in many RPGs. I'm just saying it don't have to be.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 08, 2003, 11:04:41 PM
I've got a lot of thoughts and notes toward "mundane" games - by which I mean games about interesting people well within the range of human potential. I'd feel really pleased if I could pull of a Law & Order/CSI game, for instance. But it really is hard to make this kind of thing work, for several reasons.

First, like I said above, degree of distinction. It is not trivial to represent the difference between an okay lawyer and a great one and have it be reliable and clear in both setting and mechanics.

Second, expertise. Really entertaining drama often hinges on points of specialized knowledge, which many gamers lack. I, at least, don't game with people who can produce suitable legal citations or chemical analyses on short notice, and trying to fake it feels like treknobabble. One of the reasons combat-oriented games do well is that the range of basic maneuvers is usually pretty finite - if it's over a dozen or so, it's an unusual game. So you've got this set of stuff you can grasp and apply in various combinations. A legal drama is either going to have to come up wtih some way of getting beyond bare-bones "you make the roll, so you produce the right citation" (which is not very satisfying, in the absence of detail or meaning), or move on to...

Third, personality. One of the things that makes for compelling drama is the uncertainty of social engagement - can I persuade you of this lie, will you compel me to tell you the truth, and so on. Many gamers don't wish to submit their judgment of the character's reactions to mechanics in this regard. Obviously they're right to do so if the alternative would be un-fun for them. But it also closes off the option to get at much of what makes human-scale drama interesting, when one of the characters gets a built-in immunity from persuasion, deception, manipulation, coercion, and the like. Contests of will are engaging when there's the risk of failure, and many gamers don't want to run that risk when it comes to their characters' thoughts and emotions.

Solutions to these and other issues nealry always, in my experience, end up being specific to the group, and end up with a lot of handwaving to take player agreement on the desirability of the goal to smooth over potential trouble spots. I'm in favor of that, a lot. But it doesn't scale up very well. A game that I want any significant number of people to play without having me around to answer questions will have to have more definition and exposition, and the challenges are not trivial.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 08, 2003, 11:07:25 PM
I also speculate that there simply is no significant constituency for games where neither the characters nor their antagonists have lasers on their heads. I'm wildly unsure about this, but it may be that the impulse to game in anything like the way we do it correlates fairly strongly with the desire for escapism. To want to immerse yourself in the co-creation of the events in the lives of more ordinary people without the benefits of craft that come from revision and editing may simply be too rare to constitute a commercial audience. That'd leave the field open to games where the commercial motive does not loom large in its creation.

Edit: That is, it may be that in general, if you want "mundane" characters and circumstances (including the really cool ones, this isn't about boring tedious-type naturalism), you want it with either more polish - someone else's craft that you don't have to futz with - or more control - you writing your own fanfic or whatever.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 09, 2003, 12:09:52 AM
Interesting point, Bruce. One comment before aI have to go to bed. Funeral tomorrow and all.

I've been thinking about escapinsm a bit and I have come to the, at this time, rather shaky conclusion that one who engages in escapism ironically is wallowing in their own doubts and stresses rather than truely getting away from them. Maybe the laser on the shark's head is an all-too-chilling alegory for their overprotective mother. I don't know.

I feel like I'm repeating myself but I agree that typically RPGs have catered to the escapist crowd, but they don't have to.

Another thought about the degree of distinction. I'm actually starting to wonder about that. I mean, it is possible for in actual play for two warrior types, one with a combat stat of 5 and another with a stat of 10 and the 5 has been twice as effective, consistently. It good be a better stategic play or it could be just lucky dice rolling, ridiculously lucky, but possible.

What I mean here is that regardless of the numbers on the sheet, it's the final results that matter. So I'm thinking that for, say, a lawyer game, you'd really wouldn't bother with stats of that nature. I mean how do you judge if someone is a better lawyer or not? If they win cases. That's how most people judge it, anyway.

Thewre's a seed of an idea there, I'm sure of it


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 09, 2003, 12:36:57 AM
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
I've been thinking about escapinsm a bit and I have come to the, at this time, rather shaky conclusion that one who engages in escapism ironically is wallowing in their own doubts and stresses rather than truely getting away from them.


I don't. I think that taking time to have a portion of one's attention focused purely and solely on what one finds enjoyable is in fact profoundly healthy and desirable. A life lived honorably has a lot of duties and responsibilities in it. These take a toll. Without time to set that aside and renew one's self of self as a creative person having a good time, it's terribly easy to burn out. The principle is the same one that C.S. Lewis addresses in his essay "Learning In Wartime": there is always something serious demanding our attention, but if we sacrifice all of life to the pressing duties, we become something less than fully human, and in the end collapse. A healthy society depends in part on the people doing not obviously essential things, and the same is true of individuals.

Part of this is my experience as someone who has very severe and very unobvious handicaps. If you meet me on a public occasion, you see an overweight guy with some geekish tendencies and a basically upbeat nature. It's easy to think that I don't have much to escape from - after all, I get paid to make up stuff for gaming, and like that. You don't see me wrestling with seizure-like disorders, or chronic depression, or chronic pain, or the degenerative loss of function in joints and limbs, or the countless restrictions I face because of a thrashed immune system. My life is way short on fun, even though what the world sees of me has a lot of fun in it.

Now, my circumstances are extreme and rare, fortunately. But then I look at my regular players. Here are people who've lost beloved relatives, who have been unemployed for many months despite excellent skills because of the sucky economy, who've undergone horrible betrayals by loved ones and confidants, who try to deal lovingly and fairly with self-destructive relatives...a lot. Being a good parent, brother or sister, and child, being a good boss and employee, a good friend and neighbor, all this takes effort. Sometimes a lot of it. Their time to go be an elf or a centurion or a member of the US Customs Service's Art Recovery Team with psychic powers or a vampire or whatever is important to them. They claim the time and protect it against incursions, and it is our shared time to enjoy each other's company and the activeity for a few hours before getting back to our lives.

I used to have a lot more condescension than I do now about people having what I'd consider relatively mindless fun. As I learn more about they do and what rewards it has for them, I find that on the existential, emotional level, it's a lot like what my often-highbrow games provide for me and my friends. It just manifests differently because of their different personal circumstances.

No doubt there are people out there who really have such untroubled lives that they don't need any breaks. But I would be deeply loathe to say that of anyone I didn't know quite well. And I think that time spent not engaging in the problems is as important as, say, proper sleep and good nutrition in preparing the body and soul for the work of engagement.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: M. J. Young on July 09, 2003, 02:37:04 AM
Hey, Bruce, if you don't have enough problems already, in one of my early Game Ideas Unlimited articles I suggested that there ought to be a DSM-III classification for people who quote C. S. Lewis. It's good to see others in that category, at least.

You've raised a lot of good points on this; but I'm not sure about the notion that there is no market for mundane play. What is The Sims, if not a MMORPG in which ordinary people play ordinary people? Perhaps people use it to be and do things they can't in their own lives, but they don't become superheroes or anything.

I don't know anyone who plays, but I remember that it was incredibly successful at some point (I don't know the current status, but with all the problems companies have had making money online I doubt that even total failure would indicate a lack of market for the concept).

--M. J. Young


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 09, 2003, 03:31:55 AM
Okay, I know I'm going to rambling a little here, but try to bear with me...

It's not just RPG's: it's games in general, especially computer games. It seems that interactive narratives necessarily tend to be more simplistic ans sensationalistic than non-interactive ones. Partly it's presentation (in order to allow players to start playing, more complex, textured set ups require more preparation than the player may be inclined to undrgo). Partly it's fear of constraining the player (it's very hard to enforce tragic inevitability in a game... but by no means impossible), railroading if you will. Partly it's that improvising at any level below "turning it up to eleven" is difficult, and even a little scary at times. Good heavens, you could reveal your real self to the guys round the table.

That's been my experience of RPG's, computer games, and even impro acting (especially with newly formed groups).

And before anyone says it, yes, I am saying it's sharks with lasers versus deep human emotion. In my experience, most gamerswill take the sharks any day. Role-playing games tend to the level of melodrama.

Now, since I'm not addressing most gamers today, but only the discerning connoisseur, we can look at ways of either broadening the dramatic range of games, or at least reducing the laser sharks.

IN This RPG net thread  (http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?s=&threadid=55640&highlight=healer) there are some excellent ideas for including the tropes of medical dramas in the resolution mechanic of Hero Wars when running healer based campaigns. I'm sure a quick (and enjoyable!) survey of the tropse of legal and police dramas could produce an equally useful list of "plot elements" to throw into the appropriate campaigns, without expert knowledge of legal systems or police procedures. Maybe (probably) some of these bits are in GURPS Cops. My point (if I have one) is that most viewers of Ally McBeal or NYPD Blue don't have expert knowledge of the real world situations they supposedly represent, any more than viewers of ER know about emergency surgery: what they instinctively know about is the rhythms of drama, and what they have been schooled in is the tropes of those genres, through countless other TV series. No Laser sharks required.

TV and movie writers (and I'm talking about the group as a whole) can produce gripping drama without necessarily invoking laser sharks. It took that thread above to alert me to the possibilities of taking their stuff (without killing them) for direct use in an RPG.

And as for the whole "escapism" thing... NYPD Blue, Ally McBeal and ER are escapist fantasies in their own way. If I could run a game, or play in one, where playing a character inside them wasn't just a run of checks against Law or Medical skills, that would rock.

And before anyone gets me wrong, and thinks I'm doing down melodramatic, fantastical gaming... my current project is converting "Escape to Victory" into a Gloranthan Trollball adventure. If that ain't lasers on shark heads, I don't know what is

Pete

"Look out smithers: it's a rogue elephant... WITH A FLICKNIFE!" - Gary Larson


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 09, 2003, 07:23:13 AM
Quote from: pete_darby
And before anyone says it, yes, I am saying it's sharks with lasers versus deep human emotion.


My experience doesn't bear this out. Some of my best roleplayers...I should take an example.

I've run for Rebecca Borgstrom a few times. You can read Nobilis and see that she is keenly aware of and interested in the whole spectrum of intellectual and emotional engagement. (One can see this even if one doesn't care for Nobilis as a game - the point is that she's got a lot to say about "deep human emotion", and thinks it important.) She is also one of the most astoundingly nitpicky point-crunchers and pursuers of relative advantage I've had in a game since high school munchkin days. She likes high power, and she likes stuff that's exotic in terms of its setting. If one were to just see her at chargen, one might well conclude that one has seen the legendary Lady Munchkin at work. It's just that in play all of those goodies turn to the service of brilliant characterization, with depth and nuance for her individually and with cooperation and support for the other players' efforts.

That's true of other folks who've played in my games over the years as well. A significant fraction of the really hands-down best characterizers and roleplayers are right up there in the ranks of folks yearning for powerful crunchy bits.

Conversely, I've seen too many games where lack of character competence is equated with characterization or depth. This is precisely the same thing as characterization via powers, just glorifying absence rather than presence.

I think that enjoyment of the cerebral laser varies independently of enjoyment of rich and passionate characterization.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 09, 2003, 07:38:38 AM
Damnit, somebody beat me too it already. But I'm still going to post this. Remember that scene in that one Bond film where he and his nemisis are psychoanalyzing eash other...

Quote
... one who engages in escapism ironically is wallowing in their own doubts and stresses rather than truely getting away from them. Maybe the laser on the shark's head is an all-too-chilling alegory for their overprotective mother.


The villain responds:

Quote
Oh, come now, Mr. Bond, I could as easily say that all the vodka martinis and women were to silence the voices of all the people that you've killed.


I mean, I could say that those who don't engage in flights of fantasy are an all-too-chilling allegory for overbearing fathers who told you that fantasy was for children.


John, good point about the variety thing. My attempts at snarky levity muddled the issue. There is a very wide range of potential. Bruce brings up some potential problems with some of the range, but that doesn't mean that the games ought not get made (Jack, what I meant was merely that you have to consider your auidence's opinions, and that might include SWLOH in some cases). I totally agree with you John.

Hey, in a little bout of self-promotion, I might proffer my Synthesis system as a generic game that can be used well, I think, to do the more mundane sort of game. That is, it's only unique idea is that of looking at how changes to a character are accepted or rejected by the character, mentally. I think that would lend itself well to the sort of game we're discussing. That said, the examples are all of fantastic things on the assumption that players would want such. But that, as we see here, is not a completely valid assumption. Hmm. Maybe I ought to put in some more mundane examples...

Mike


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 09, 2003, 07:58:46 AM
What can I say, our experience has differed. Come to think of it, I've had players take both presence and lack of kewl powerz as signs of emotional depth... and both were wrong, in those instances.

I think my point was that, looking to add drama to a game, most players reach instinctively for laser sharks purely as laser sharks, not tools to better characterisation.

Is it worth trying to make a distinction between consistent, in game, high powered crunchy bits, and gratuitous laser sharks?

And you've got me talking about laser sharks, and I think I need more examples of what people consider to be Laser Sharks for a specific game.

Looking at previous posts, Lace and Steel has been cited for including half-horses and magic in an otherwise fairly standard swashbuckling europe. Would L&S be a decent game without them? Yes. Is it damaged by them? Not in my opinion. Does it make for better (by whatever definition you want) games? I think so, for my style of games. Are they laser sharks then? Not to me, but there you go.

Is adding any fantastic elements to a historical setting laser sharking?

But again, we're veering from the point, which seems to be... Is there an audience for games without Laser Sharks? Like an independent gaming magazine, it's something everyone seems to want, but not enough people want enough to make it viable.

And once you got sharks in your game, it's so damn easy to put lasers on them. Then say to players "Hey! If you don't like the lasers, you can easily ignore them!"

But... there's lasers on the sharks.

Okay, my self appointed task is to seek and enjoy games where the sharks have no lasers, there aren't fairies at the bottom of the government, and if we have six-guns, we don't have zombies.

And long term, come up with a list of dramatic stuff for lawyers and cops like the one for medics... and thence to the full blown games!

Pete

Remembering sadly how he predicted that Sims Online players would be RP'ing Ally McB off their own bats...


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 09, 2003, 08:38:20 AM
Quote
laser sharking
That should become part of the lexicon. :-)

Mike


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 09, 2003, 01:32:08 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
My attempts at snarky levity muddled the issue.

Usually does. I have been seeking therapy myself and can find you a reputaple clinic ;-)


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: komradebob2 on July 09, 2003, 08:41:38 PM
Theoretically, how lasersharky does something have to be to be lasersharky?

One of my fav games was Gangbusters, an early TSR Prohibition Era RPG.

Since every PC in that game was a non-superpowered human, what might constitute LSharkiness? Gangsters with HMGs? Or would it require going to something outside of the scope of the game's original intent? Say, throwing a Golden Age Superhero type In?

BTW, if you can get your hands on it, GB is worth checking out, even if only for an example of an early attempt at Protagonist oriented adventure structure. I'm not talking about the modules that were made. I'm referring to the criminal class ( yes, it was made that early- it had character classes in a modern setting...). The rule book itself states from step one that criminal characters must make their own breaks- "What do you want to do now?" truly means it for those characters.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on July 09, 2003, 09:05:35 PM
Quote from: komradebob2
Theoretically, how lasersharky does something have to be to be lasersharky?

Hrms. Been considering this a bit lately and it appears to be a very subjective judgement. Subjective, but a few examples can be rather well arguemented. e.g. there's Gangbusters, and there's Gangbusters with Cthulhu mythos thrown in and Cappone was a cultist etc.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 10, 2003, 01:48:21 AM
Working examples:

Dust Devils: Wild West
Deadlands: Wild West with Laser Sharks

GURPS WWII: WWII
Godlike: WWII with laser sharks

Gurps Swashbucklers: Swashbucklers
Lace & Steel: Swashbucklers with Laser Sharks
(See also: 7th Sea)

Spycraft: Espionage
Strikeforce Archer: Espionage with Laser Sharks

Jane Austen: Georgian/napoleonic
Flintloque: Georgian/napoleonic with Laser Sharks

Gangbusters: 1920's Gangster
Midway City: 1920's Gangster with Laser Sharks

Of course, with historic / contemporary games, laser sharking's a lot easier to indentify than in Fantasy or SF. But I think that once you've got a definable world, Laser Sharking can be seen (common magic in LotR? The abundance of Jedi in Star Wars games?)

Hmmm: how about this for the Lexicon:

Laser Shark(n.): an additional element in a game setting that takes the game setting beyond it's parent genre. Usually a fantastic element in an otherwise recognisable historical or contemporary genre. Examples include the undead and magic in Dealands: Weird West, Magic and Graeco-fantastic creatures in  Lace and Steel, and cyberpunk technology in Midway City. Most laser sharks can be removed from the game system to provide a playable mundane / historical game.

Laser Sharking (vb): The act of placing Laser Sharks (cf) in a game.

I think the acid test for Laser Sharking is: if we remove the laser sharks, have we still got a recognisable game setting?

Take the zombies out of Dealands, you've still got the western game there. Take the ghosts out of Inspectres... you've got csiscop: the skeptic.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 10, 2003, 02:26:53 AM
But in a bunch of those cases you've got a perfectly well-established genre for what you're describing as genre + laser-sharking.

Deadlands is solidly in the macabre Western genre pioneered by folks like Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman, with precedents back at least to "Texarcana" and other works by Jax Jaxson. (I know I spelled his name wrong.) And the proximate trigger as a painting by Brom, who's been doing that kind of thing for a long time.

Godlike simply applies modern reconstructionist approaches to supers to the Golden Age, building most obviously on the deconstructive work of James Robinson and Paul Smith, but on other work as well, in comics and in prose. I don't have Godlike handy, but isn't David Brin's "Thor Meets Captain America" a fairly direct inspiration? The combination of great power and surrounding detail is well-known in the prose and comics literature.

Fantasy swashbuckling goes back to Dunsany and Merritt at least, and you find it all over Vance and Lin Carter and like that. Swashbuckling as an alternative to big guys in heavy armor has featured prominently in the literature of female-authored swords & sorcery since before I was born. This is territory that won't be surprising to any reader of Andre Norton, or early Anne McCaffrey, or early Mercedes Lackey, or for that matter the Stinz stories of Donna Barr. (Barr's work is more distinctive for its different epoch and her gonzo love for and rendering of military matters. "He can't ride a horse, so of course he's in the infantry." But I digress.)

Supernatural spy action...Barbara Hambly's done it with Those Who Hunt The Night and sequel(s) I'm not remembering; Katherine Kurtz and someone or other have the Lammas Night series; und so weiter. There's always been a supernatural element in the pulps, of course, sometimes quite vivid and strong. The ongoing success of Hellboy is a more recent example of something closely related.

I don't think Flintloque is doing anything much different from what L. Sprague de Camp, Fritz Leiber, and H. Beam Piper were doing half a century ago. A bit closer to the present, there's the Janissaries books by Pournelle and then Pournelle and Green, and Leo Frankowski's Conrad Starguard, and Saberhagen's Dread Empire series, and like that. Glen Cook's Black Company books have a lot more grit and a different perspective, and then of course there's Mary Gentle's book Grunts.

Midway City I'm not familiar with, but the pages Google offers for my consideration immediately remind me of the original Trek episode "A Piece of the Action", and the retro-futures of Dark City, Dean Motter's marvelous The Return Of Mister X and Terminal City, Blade Runner, and Alan Rudolph films like Trouble In Mind and Equinox. Fedoras, double-breasted suits, and rayguns go together like biscuits and gravy.

Of the games that I actually know much about on your list, Deadlands is perhaps the most thoroughly inventive, but in every case I know of or can quickly find precedents. So I think that in this case "laser sharking" isn't marking an innovation you disapprove of but a tradition you disapprove of. And that's quite different. This isn't about bolting an intrusion onto a poor helpless genre; this is about precisely the same process of genre fusion and redefinition that gives us the Matter of Britain, the differences between John Ford Westerns and Sergio Leone Westerns, and the Great Vowel Shift. You may prefer to do without some elements, and that's cool - have fun with what you have fun with. But I would object very strongly to a definition that implies greater legitimacy for what is simply less exotic or colorful or whatever.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 10, 2003, 02:56:41 AM
Maybe I didn't make it clear, but I guess I need to, since I've changed my position on this twice a day since the thread started (and thrice on Sundays).

Laser Sharking isn't a bad thing. It's just nice to see games where the sharks don't have lasers.

The other point is, I'm not saying that laser sharked games are a new phenomenon, or even that they're a intrusion onto an otherwise "pure" genre, or that the addition of Laser Sharks to a game world can't make for a wonderful, excellent game in their own right: I tried to choose exapmles in my previous post that higlight the more excellent laser sharked backgrounds.

Laser Sharking is a grand old tradition, but it seems too often it's seen as, not even a necessary design choice, but an expected element of RPG's.

(Crud, could I sound more patronising? I mean, it's like saying "hollywood directors seem to always want grand sweeping soundtracks on everything, can't we have an emotional moment in silence for once?")

(While posting on a Hollywood Directors bulletin board)

(While you're working in Blockbusters)

And really, I'm struggling with a definition of Laser Sharking that doesn't sound "snooty."

My initial push to join the thread was a recent conversation where someone asked for a recommendation for a swashbuckling game, and I immediately said "Lace & Steel." A friend nearby chipped in that it's got "oh, brilliant centaurs, and a great sorcery system..." and the damage had been done, the laser sharks had chased the potential buyer away, despite my protestations that those bits are peripheral to the wonderful systems supporting the genre. Someone's going to prove me wrong in a cold minute, but I can't think of a great swashbuckling game without it's share of laser sharks (GURPS: Swashbucklers was far too tactical for my tastes).

And this problem regularly crops up on RPGnet, where someone asks for a recommend for non-gamers who have an allergic reaction to fantasy and sicence fiction for a good game to get them into the hobby; the most common reply is along the lines of "They like a perfect storm? Get Laser Shark, but take out the rules for lasers."

Bah. I blame Shakespeare. If he hadn't Laser Sharked MacBeth by putting them witches in... and as for that Homer with his "lets give Achilles invulnerability!" What a munchkin...


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on July 10, 2003, 03:06:10 AM
Quote from: pete_darby
I think the acid test for Laser Sharking is: if we remove the laser sharks, have we still got a recognisable game setting?

Take the zombies out of Dealands, you've still got the western game there. Take the ghosts out of Inspectres... you've got csiscop: the skeptic.



A better test would be: if I remove the laser shark, would I play this game? Anything can be a game setting.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 10, 2003, 03:21:18 AM
Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
Quote from: pete_darby
I think the acid test for Laser Sharking is: if we remove the laser sharks, have we still got a recognisable game setting?

Take the zombies out of Dealands, you've still got the western game there. Take the ghosts out of Inspectres... you've got csiscop: the skeptic.



A better test would be: if I remove the laser shark, would I play this game? Anything can be a game setting.


Well, I was trying to eliminate as much personal bias as possible, but one mans laser shark is another mans genre trope, it seems.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Ian Charvill on July 10, 2003, 04:24:42 AM
Quote from: pete_darby
Bah. I blame Shakespeare. If he hadn't Laser Sharked MacBeth by putting them witches in... and as for that Homer with his "lets give Achilles invulnerability!" What a munchkin...


The thing about Homer and Shakespeare was that they weren't messing about: it was entertain or starve.  They didn't have the luxury of artistic purity.

The public wants laser sharks, the public gets laser sharks.

And Shakespeare gets to be the greatest playwright who ever lived.  And I don't believe there's any coincidence.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 10, 2003, 04:26:14 AM
I just have the very strong feeling, reinforced but not created by myself helping with some relatively "mundane" games and watching the efforts of friends in this regard, that games sans laser sharks aren't necessarily objects that can exist in the real world. It's like people who start to crusade for the removal of all "special interests" as sources of influence in governance and then find their own causes suffering as a result - they aren't thinking of their particular concerns as "special", even though in terms of structure and function they are. Or like the particular blind spot that affects certain kinds of believers - some televangelists, the ultra-reactionary wing of the Roman Catholic church, dogmatic atheists like Ayn Rand and Richard Dawkins, and so on - who don't see themselves as having a belief or a conviction but simply knowing The Truth.

In my head, there are games which I regard as possessing an organic wholeness and integrity. But when I try to put them into practice, I find that others feel there are arbitrary inclusions and exclusions. And they're right, because I as an individual do not have complete objectivism. Stuff ends up in or out for no particularly strong justification except that it suits my sense of how it should go, and if I start making claims about having the consistency I imagine, others are quite right to call me on it.

It's a lot easier to get some group of folks to agree on what they don't like than to agree on what they do. On the macro level, this is where interest-group theories of politics come from. On the micro level, it gives us the shared desire to do cool games that make stuff within the range of normal human potential exciting and rewarding but not a consensus on how to go about that, nor about how to accommodate stuff outside that range, nor any of the other issues that good design needs to addres. And when someone assays a game of this sort, it hits and bounces because it's ended up being as arbitrary in its ways as the cephalolasers are in theirs.

(I'm assuming for purposes of this post that nobody here actually wants to assert that tedium and routine are superior to exciting action. If so, I laugh at you. I'm proceeding on the view that a bunch of us like drama and action and intrigue and comedy and romance about relatively real people in gaming and would like to make it work. The question for me then becomes, why doesn't this desire translate into cool games nearly so readily as others seem to? So that's my agenda.)


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 10, 2003, 04:49:31 AM
I think this is going to turn out one of those "impossible till someone does it" propositions... I didn't think I could run with a healer /medic based campaign till I saw that RPGnet thread.

I'm talking myself into writing Lawyer Quest, aren't I? Or writing Dogme 2003: the rpg...

Bugger


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 10, 2003, 05:42:18 AM
Quote from: Ian Charvill
Quote from: pete_darby
Bah. I blame Shakespeare. If he hadn't Laser Sharked MacBeth by putting them witches in... and as for that Homer with his "lets give Achilles invulnerability!" What a munchkin...


The thing about Homer and Shakespeare was that they weren't messing about: it was entertain or starve.  They didn't have the luxury of artistic purity.

The public wants laser sharks, the public gets laser sharks.

And Shakespeare gets to be the greatest playwright who ever lived.  And I don't believe there's any coincidence.


Yes, but... Plenty of modern popular entertainment does fine without laser sharks. Cop shows, medic shows, lawyer shows... while vampire cops, space-medics and magical lawyers (and please don't let Angel get cursed by this becasue of a plot twist) get cancelled.

Not all people want laser sharks, but laser sharks is pretty much all we're getting in RPG's.

Pretty soon I'm going to have to differentiate between artistic and commercial success, then I'll disappear up my own aesthetics.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 10, 2003, 07:19:20 AM
Quote from: pete_darby
I think this is going to turn out one of those "impossible till someone does it" propositions...


Lots of things are. I'd be totally unsurprised if this is one of them.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 10, 2003, 08:28:26 AM
Part of the problem with making a non-patronizing definition of Laser Sharking is that it's a term derived from a parody of the phenomenon that it describes. I mean if you want a politically correct term it ought to be something like "spicing up", or somesuch.

But as Bruce points out, this is a phenomenon that exists in all sorts of media, and we all know that what we're talking about is the "cheaper" attempts to spice things up by simply throwing in novel elements. I'm personally fine with this, but understand that for others it's occasionally problematic. Hence I'm fine with the term Lasersharking because it's accurate and hilarous. That all said, I'm sure that it will fall into some use as a derogative at some point, but I'm OK with that, too. As long as we retain Mike Meyers self-efacing attitude, we'll be OK.

Bruce also makes some good points about how one man's Lasersharking is another man's Faulkner. What does that imply? That we make the "mundane" games (also a derogatory term, see), as people see them, and see what happens.

Interesingly, there was a big old thread on the subject of why the classic TV standards (Cops, Lawyers, Hospitals), have not been made into RPGs:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=932
Many of the problems are technical rather than problems with demand. But, holy cats, if someone can make a playable Law & Order RPG, they're going to be rich.

Mike


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: John Kim on July 10, 2003, 08:36:39 AM
Quote from: pete_darby
  Laser Shark(n.): an additional element in a game setting that takes the game setting beyond it's parent genre. Usually a fantastic element in an otherwise recognisable historical or contemporary genre. Examples include the undead and magic in Dealands: Weird West, Magic and Graeco-fantastic creatures in  Lace and Steel, and cyberpunk technology in Midway City. Most laser sharks can be removed from the game system to provide a playable mundane / historical game.  

I don't think this accurately captures the essence.  By this definition, say, games like Teenagers from Outer Space and Exalted are not laser-sharky, while Fvlminata is.  

This is exactly the opposite of what I would say, and I am one of those who says that I would like more non-laser-sharky games.  In my mind Fvlminata is actually much closer to what I want than Exalted.  To me, laser sharks refers to over-the-top fantasy, science fiction, and other superhuman elements.  From this view, say, Exalted, Feng Shui, and TFOS are all highly laser-sharky.  Games which come closer are those where the fantasy/sci-fi elements are less over-the-top and intrusive, like Fvlminata.  

Just for the record, I don't care about genre purity per se.  Good authors will bend, break, or even re-define genres.  While genre mixing just for the heck of it is bad, genre mixing can certainly be done to good effect.  In general, variety is good.  That's actually the whole point.  There's nothing wrong with monsters, spells, superheroes, or even sharks with lasers -- and people have pointed out many good uses -- but for variety it is nice to have more non-laser-sharky choices as well.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 10, 2003, 08:51:42 AM
Quote from: pete_darby
I think this is going to turn out one of those "impossible till someone does it" propositions... I didn't think I could run with a healer /medic based campaign till I saw that RPGnet thread.

I'm talking myself into writing Lawyer Quest, aren't I? Or writing Dogme 2003: the rpg...

Bugger


Maybe I'm missing something: aren't Soap and Nicotine Girls two non-sharky games? What about Alma-mater?

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: John Kim on July 10, 2003, 09:19:51 AM
Quote from: Marco
  Maybe I'm missing something: aren't Soap and Nicotine Girls two non-sharky games? What about Alma-mater?  

Sure.  The point is that these are under-represented, in my opinion.  To compare, suppose there was only one 24-page superhero RPG and one free RPG that covered fantasy.  Would I then be able to point to these and thus still any complaints about lack of coverage?  

There are actually plenty more examples.  From what I understand, GURPS WWII is straight historical, as is Swashbuckler from Jolly Roger Games.  I would tend to say that James Bond and Spycraft are over-the-top and marginally sci-fi (after all, the laser-shark phrase did come from a James Bond parody).  But Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes is pretty straight mystery/action.  However, the list still seems pretty thin.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 10, 2003, 09:36:54 AM
Quote
However, the list still seems pretty thin.

It's funny, but I think the list keeps growing, actually. We keep coming up with more and more examples as we go. I think that they're there in some quantity, actually, but not well supported. Probably because of lack of popularity.

Take Boot Hill for example. Very straightforard, and not any more over-the-top than most Westerns. Certainly not genre mixed in any case. Is that Lasersharked at all? I'd say not. But it died a greusom death due to unpopularity. Mostly bad design, I'd agree. But if we look at the lengthening list of mundane games that have turned out to be less than successful for the most part, I think we see that the "traditional gamer" market seems to be full of lasershark loving escapists.

So I think we're merely seeing a reaction to the gamer market in terms of what's available. That said, there's a considerable number of "mundane" games available. I'm personally looking foreward to Jake Norwood's "La Famiglia" as an example of another in the pipeline.

Mike


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Ian Charvill on July 10, 2003, 09:48:52 AM
Quote from: pete_darby
Yes, but... Plenty of modern popular entertainment does fine without laser sharks. Cop shows, medic shows, lawyer shows... while vampire cops, space-medics and magical lawyers (and please don't let Angel get cursed by this becasue of a plot twist) get cancelled.

Not all people want laser sharks, but laser sharks is pretty much all we're getting in RPG's.


I'm not sure if that's true, certainly the big US shows that do well over here in the UK (all I have to judge American TV by) have elements of lasersharkyness.

ER: Not just doctors but doctors with drug habits/brain turmors/parkinsons
Ally McBeal: Not just lawyers but lawyers with functional schizophrenia
West Wing: not just US presidential politics but a president with MS

(I'm ignoring the complete lasersharkiness of, frex, 24)

The shows that I can think that are fairly pure - say Homicide, Life on the Street  - have an insanely good quality of writing and acting.  You're just not going to get that quality around a gaming table.

Here's a challenge (and I'm gonna allow entries from any US show in the last twenty years):

Name a single successful (meaning popular not critically acclaimed) lasershark-free TV program that didn't have insanely good writing and acting, far beyond what an average gaming group could achieve.

At its best, gaming offers cheap poetry - and the magnets for cheap poetry are the magnets for cheap poetry, lasersharks and all.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Lxndr on July 10, 2003, 10:04:12 AM
Hmm.  Would you consider Sliders a "laser-sharked" show?  It had a relatively normal crew of misfits, who just happened to bounce around from alternate universe to alternate universe.

Sure, the concept itself is a bit odd, but not over the top.  The show eventually JUMPED the shark, but I'm not sure it ever laser-sharked anything.

In general, I agree with you - laser-sharking is, generally, what the public wants. Or at least likes in comparison to good writing, or when good writing can't be found.  Look at the popularity of many summer blockbuster movies.  Was Pirates of the Carribean, which I saw last night, a good movie with exciting characterization?  No.  Was it a good movie with action and SFX?  Yes.

Look at SOAP operas, which earlier was said aren't laser-sharked.  Under Ian's commentary, they all, pretty much, are.  It's "not just normal people, but normal people with levels of intrigue and deception simply unavailable to the average watcher."


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 10, 2003, 10:15:25 AM
Well, there's GURPS and Hero. No Land-Sharkyness there. Yeah, I guess that *wasn't* what you were looking for either, huh?

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 10, 2003, 11:09:00 AM
GURPS and Hero? The preeminent supers game and the "everything in a basket" game? (Not in that order.) GURPS will do "mundane" stuff, though not to my taste very well; Hero doesn't.

And I don't mean to get a snark going when I point out that games that sell a few dozen copies a year are not really a completely valid rebuttal to the idea that these normals-level genres are left untapped. At least not the way I'm thinking of it, in terms of what people can go into a game store and expect to find or buy. It's true that some of this stuff will turn up if you go browsing the web for it, but most of it isn't easy to find without direct referrals, and something that moves maybe 50 or 100 copies a year is totally lost in the noise. It may work great for the people who play it, and that's certainly a kind of success. It's just not something that has effect at all on the market. If we're talking about what gamers at large play, we're looking at the games that move thousands rather than dozens of copies.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 10, 2003, 11:13:41 AM
I think that's a good point. Generic systems work just fine for most "mundane" games. That is, they won't do anything special for you in terms of exploring anything in particular, but they'll be there as a backdrop for play.

And there's always Freeform. Personally it seems to me that the My Dinner With Andre RPG would have the following rules: Two player game. Both go to a restaurant, and sit at a table. They assume personas and simply have a conversation as though they are the persona in question. This continues unbroken until you leave the building.

Similar to the game Elevator, really. Very simple. That's not to say that you couldn't or shouldn't have really complicated published rules for something like this (La Famiglia ought to be a good example). But there does exist a means to accomplish these sorts of play that's well known.

If you have no superpowers to explore, you need no rules for them.

Mike


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: SFEley on July 10, 2003, 11:26:00 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
And there's always Freeform. Personally it seems to me that the My Dinner With Andre RPG would have the following rules: Two player game. Both go to a restaurant, and sit at a table. They assume personas and simply have a conversation as though they are the persona in question. This continues unbroken until you leave the building.


Ah, nostalgia...  Used to do this in high school.  My girlfriend and I would go to a restaurant and pretend we were entirely different people, meeting for the first time.  Flirtation would begin anew (or it wouldn't if the people didn't like each other).  Lots of fun, though a little nerve-wracking too.  I wonder why I haven't done that with anyone else since?

(Not counting the gaming group time that we all went to dinner as our Shadowrun characters...)


Have Fun,
 - Steve Eley


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 10, 2003, 11:26:06 AM
Quote from: Bruce Baugh
GURPS and Hero? The preeminent supers game and the "everything in a basket" game? (Not in that order.) GURPS will do "mundane" stuff, though not to my taste very well; Hero doesn't.

And I don't mean to get a snark going when I point out that games that sell a few dozen copies a year are not really a completely valid rebuttal to the idea that these normals-level genres are left untapped. At least not the way I'm thinking of it, in terms of what people can go into a game store and expect to find or buy. It's true that some of this stuff will turn up if you go browsing the web for it, but most of it isn't easy to find without direct referrals, and something that moves maybe 50 or 100 copies a year is totally lost in the noise. It may work great for the people who play it, and that's certainly a kind of success. It's just not something that has effect at all on the market. If we're talking about what gamers at large play, we're looking at the games that move thousands rather than dozens of copies.


Bruce,
I hears ya bro--but consider this:

1. The average gamer can walk into a store and pick up GURPS. Although not to everyone's taste, you concede that it does do mundane stuff. And if it's everything in a bucket, well, so be it. Mundane is in the bucket too.

2. What HERO does or doesn't do is pretty foggy. I mean, what you said is why we switched to GURPS from Hero but still ... pretty foggy. I mean, it's a matter of taste to a large degree. I could run ER in Hero, I think.

Now, I'm not, y'know, just arguing with you. I know that's not what John K. was lookin' for--I said so. BUT: One reason why I'm skeptical of tightly bound system-setting mixes is *because* the settings I want to play don't exist commercially. And if they did, it might ruin the surprise factor. Or they wouldn't be done the way I'd do them. Or any number of make-it-great-for-you, ruin-it-for-me type scenarios.

I'm not claming the games I play don't laser-shark, they do (I guess, or they're in genre for some weird genres ...) but they MUST do the mundane stuff ... and huge amounts of it ... and well ... and then I want it to turn around and go all laser-sharky on me. But that's just me.

The fact is, for my tastes, the generic real-world emulation systems *do* provide me what I'm lookin' for on that count. In a way that nothing else presently does. And they do it well. We've played games where everyone's a band memeber for a rock band--did it in Hero. And it was plenty mundane (we sucked) for as long as the mundane part lasted (quite a while). I think that's saying *something.*

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 10, 2003, 11:28:54 AM
Quote from: SFEley

(Not counting the gaming group time that we all went to dinner as our Shadowrun characters...)


Have Fun,
 - Steve Eley



OOOooooo ... guts. I like that!
-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 10, 2003, 11:50:30 AM
Quote
If we're talking about what gamers at large play, we're looking at the games that move thousands rather than dozens of copies.


Well, actually I thought that we were talking about the games available to a player like John or Jack. I'm sure that they can find all of the games mentioned if they look hard enough.

If you're saying that the mass of gamers out there doesn't want non-Landsharked games, I'm right with you. But that's never stopped us here from making a new game to cover a niche demand. The only real question is whether the niche making the demand will really play such games. They seem to be earnest about it.

Mike


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: contracycle on July 10, 2003, 01:14:22 PM
Twilight 2000 arguably, Recon, possibly Top Secret, Milleniums End.  It is true however that none of these are runaway commercial successes.

I've run perfectly mundane western games, some Intel/Counter-Terrorism, a little bit of Vietnam stuff, and a Miami Vice game for quite significant periods and they worked fine.  Probably mundane gaming constitutes 50% of things I've run.

The mundane games that can work conceptually are those that revolve around the kind of conflict resolution RPG provides by default, i.e. interpersonal violence.  I too think there is a gaping hole were the procedurals should be, partly because the experience of those mundane games made me aware of how little I knew about, say, police procedures in all sorts of little ways.  The problem that GURPS-like games encounter seems to be that they essentially hand-wave this stuff away; it is not that they are not discussed, it is rather that they are not mechanically incarnated and hence there are no strutural rewards for even bothering with them.

Secondly the RW context of most hitherto achievable mundane games, such as the military, impose severe restrictions on character action and/or require a cast of thousands that is pain to track but threatens plausibility if you don't.  The very mundanity bites you in the butt, and there is no mechanical support for that sort of situation.  This problem faces linear fiction too, and it incorporates some laser-sharkiness conceit frequently.  Frex, the fact that in Miami Vice the main characters are under cover as drug dealers and hence get to live an extravagent lifestyle.

I find it striking that even the heavily combat oriented systems we have today would be mostly useless even for describing even trauma injuries suitable for ER, becuase the process of bodily healing and the technicalities of injury are abstracted.  Most games don't even distinguish between first aid and surgery as distinct processes, most don't have realistic healing times, most don't tell you whats really wrong or present you with any meaningful problems to discuss and think about.  None discuss non-trauma conditions in any depth at all.

Hence it seems to me the problem is primarily technical.  I think it should be possible to "systemitise" the procedures in the procedurals, at least sufficiently for dramatic action.  What they would have to do, however, is procide sufficient detail that the players do not need themselves to become subject matter expects, that puts the barrier to entry too high.  They have to themselves provide the details as to, say, cancer of the pancreas, and what it means and how it can be addressed, and locate this in structural context that provides reason for action.  This is a tall order both becuase the writer needs at least access to subject matter expertise, and partly because the mechanisms that would structure the game do not yet exist IMO.

This, it seems to me, would be the purpse of exploring game systems in their own right and without context, becuase I think we need to break out of a model in whioch each resolution is discrete, as in most contemporary systems, and instead look to a mechanical model that is itself procedural - that, I guess, goes through stages and requires different tupes of tasks in sequence.  That at any rate is how I think it will eventually be done - the extension of our resolution from ones that give discrete results but instead serves as stepes in a sequence.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: John Kim on July 10, 2003, 01:46:22 PM
Quote from: Ian Charvill
  ER: Not just doctors but doctors with drug habits/brain turmors/parkinsons
Ally McBeal: Not just lawyers but lawyers with functional schizophrenia
West Wing: not just US presidential politics but a president with MS

(I'm ignoring the complete lasersharkiness of, frex, 24)

OK, I don't watch any of these shows, but this seems incredibly exaggerated to me.  A lawyer with functional schizophrenia seem pretty different to me than superpowers and magic.  Now, obviously there is a range of over-the-top-ness: some shows might be a little exaggerated, while others are totally over-the-top.  The point is, though, that RPGs are almost all clustered on the laser-shark end of the spectrum.  Even if you consider E.R. to be a little bit laser-sharky, wouldn't you agree that it is far less laser-sharky than most RPGs?  

When I refer to non-laser-sharky, I am comparing to the traditional RPGs.  In my mind, these are characters like like Sherlock Holmes, the Three Musketeers, Magnum P.I., and so forth.  For example, I would love to see a heist caper RPG.  It seems to me

Quote from: Ian Charvill
 Here's a challenge (and I'm gonna allow entries from any US show in the last twenty years):

Name a single successful (meaning popular not critically acclaimed) lasershark-free TV program that didn't have insanely good writing and acting, far beyond what an average gaming group could achieve.  

I'm not sure what the point of this is.  I mean, I would think that any popular TV show will have better writing and acting than the average gaming group.  Your implication is that laser-sharky shows (like, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) get by with poor writing and acting.  OK, now admittedly I know very little about what is popular on TV, but is this really true?  I certainly think that Buffy has writing and acting just as good as other TV shows I like such as Law & Order or The Sopranos.  

In any case, RPGs don't have to have mainstream popularity to be successful (thank goodness).  Indy games like Sorcerer, say, can be reasonably considered successful, I think.  I'm not saying that the whole RPG market can or should change.  I just think it would be nice if there were a few more viable choices which are low on laser-sharkiness.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 10, 2003, 01:56:12 PM
Quote from: Marco
Quote from: pete_darby
I think this is going to turn out one of those "impossible till someone does it" propositions... I didn't think I could run with a healer /medic based campaign till I saw that RPGnet thread.

I'm talking myself into writing Lawyer Quest, aren't I? Or writing Dogme 2003: the rpg...

Bugger


Maybe I'm missing something: aren't Soap and Nicotine Girls two non-sharky games? What about Alma-mater?

-Marco


Soap , afaics, pretty much falls into the category of comedy games... if you could point me at a game which took Soaps more seriously, then I'd be fine with that. I think Laser Sharks could easily slip into Soap (aline abductions, re-runs of the V;tM series...) wihtout violating either the letter or the spirit of the game.

It's not replicating a mundane drama, it's mocking it. I know, I never said it had to take it seriously, but still, I'm not interested in it as a model for what I'm after.

Nicotine Girls... is the anti-LaserShark.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 10, 2003, 02:12:24 PM
Quote from: Ian Charvill

I'm not sure if that's true, certainly the big US shows that do well over here in the UK (all I have to judge American TV by) have elements of lasersharkyness.

ER: Not just doctors but doctors with drug habits/brain turmors/parkinsons
Ally McBeal: Not just lawyers but lawyers with functional schizophrenia
West Wing: not just US presidential politics but a president with MS

(I'm ignoring the complete lasersharkiness of, frex, 24)

The shows that I can think that are fairly pure - say Homicide, Life on the Street  - have an insanely good quality of writing and acting.  You're just not going to get that quality around a gaming table.

Here's a challenge (and I'm gonna allow entries from any US show in the last twenty years):

Name a single successful (meaning popular not critically acclaimed) lasershark-free TV program that didn't have insanely good writing and acting, far beyond what an average gaming group could achieve.

At its best, gaming offers cheap poetry - and the magnets for cheap poetry are the magnets for cheap poetry, lasersharks and all.


I'm really looking for a roll eyes icon here... people with problems are laser sharks?

Homicide: not just cops, but cops played by ex- stand up comics!

I think you're starting to equate laser sharks with plot developments.

To me, the essential quality of a laser shark is that it ups the power of either the protagonist or the antagonist; all these examples were problems for the protagonists.

HWat I'm looking for, I think, at the moment, is games like Nicotine Girls, Dust Devils, those bits for a medic campaign, that actively enofrce the dramatic conventions of their source, rather than break them with sensationalism.

And again, one mans tragic plot twist (a president with MS) is anothers laser shark, but there you go.

If the West Wing had a President with psychic powers, that would be a laser shark. If ER had a doctor who had powers of faith healing, that woudl be a laser shark. If Ally McBeal's fantasies were shown to be leaking into reality, that would be a laser shark.

I think part of the appeal for me of Smallville is that it's Superman with the laser sharks stripped down.

And of course, damn good writing and acting.

And as for your challenge... well, you've pretty much defined Laser Sharks as virtually any dramatic device available, so it's kind of hard.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 10, 2003, 02:20:05 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
But, holy cats, if someone can make a playable Law & Order RPG, they're going to be rich.

Mike


Rich.... from a big license RPG?

Sorry, you've lost me there.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 10, 2003, 02:24:22 PM
I'm less interested in power as such than I am in the ability to explore out consequences of choices - including what choices are constrained by forces within the character but outside the scope of rational consciousness - which means that I find a fair amount in common between, say, Pendragon and Wraith. I suspect that this is part of why the generic games aren't setting the world on fire when it comes to playing focused dramatic genres like crime and medicine despite the existence of excellent resources like GURPS Cops, even though few players would articulate the difference this way. The generic games offer little support or structure for the interior life which is the lynchpin of that kind of drama. A sort of "universal passion-driven system" would suit me great, and is what I'd build on/toward for this kind of project.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 10, 2003, 02:39:17 PM
hmmm... spawning a new thread on mundane RPG ideas.

Laser Sharking as a term sucks, don't it?

How about Uppers?


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 10, 2003, 03:27:47 PM
Ally McBeal ranged from the semi-plausable to theater of the absurd. I know. I had a Tivo and an Ally fan in the house. I saw plenty of it. And believe me: Ally had a laser on her forehead.

Dunno about ER.

I think "Law and Order the RPG" would likely only be vaguely recognizeable as an RPG (I don't watch the show so that's based on other court-dramas I've seen). I have yet to see a case that a resolution system like we see in traditional RPG's could be satisfying for court-room drama outside of being a high-level of abstraction strategic game (which is counter to what's usually enjoyable in a court room drama, IME).

I think Laser Sharking is a good term tho. It captures the over-the-top nature of the charge. It just needs a boundary that's fairly firm.

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: John Kim on July 10, 2003, 04:21:13 PM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
I think that's a good point. Generic systems work just fine for most "mundane" games. That is, they won't do anything special for you in terms of exploring anything in particular, but they'll be there as a backdrop for play.

And there's always Freeform.

I don't agree with this.  Consider some analogies with more common rules.  For example, vehicles and martial arts are both purely mundane -- but they tend to involve significant new rules when a game focuses on them.  I think there is a reason for that.  You can try to run a martial arts game just by using a standard system and just adding in the martial arts description as color.  i.e. A martial arts game using just the GURPS Basic Set.  However, I would say that it doesn't work so well.  

I would say the same thing is even more true of most mundane dramas.  The basic GURPS rules have at least closer to handling martial arts than they are at, say, police procedural or medical conflicts.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 10, 2003, 07:31:28 PM
Well, there's GURPS Martial Arts and GURPS Cops. I haven't read GURPS Cops--but I bet it does a pretty good job of discussing the procedure. It might even talk about the genre.

A universal system's extension, I'd think, is quite legitimate for handling that stuff. GURPS Russia would be a handy thing to have for a Cherry Orchard game, no?

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: M. J. Young on July 10, 2003, 08:53:30 PM
Quote from: Bruce Baugh
(I'm assuming for purposes of this post that nobody here actually wants to assert that tedium and routine are superior to exciting action. If so, I laugh at you. I'm proceeding on the view that a bunch of us like drama and action and intrigue and comedy and romance about relatively real people in gaming and would like to make it work. The question for me then becomes, why doesn't this desire translate into cool games nearly so readily as others seem to? So that's my agenda.)

I'm thinking about my Multiverser players.

You see, in Multiverser, everyone starts as an ordinary person with ordinary abilities thrust into an extraordinary situation.

What intrigues me at this moment is that some of those ordinary people begin to exploit the game's offering of extraordinary abilities--find someone to teach you magic, learn to use a kinetic blaster, become the greatest swordsman in this world, discover how to use your mental powers, stuff like that--and some remain ordinary people, doing what they know and maybe improving a bit over time.

My impression is that for a lot of us who game, there is this fantasy about being more than we are, and that's at least one of the things that at some level attracts us to gaming. I'll admit that I'm one of those who attempts to build up impressive abilities in my Multiverser characters when I play. Part of that is certainly that the referees who run the games in which I play tend to throw challenges at me, so I make every effort to rise to them--but part of it is that I like to imagine myself more capable than I am. Players who are truly comfortable with who they are and what they can do, who don't feel a need to make the world a better place or save every poor soul they encounter, tend to stick to being who they are.

Now, I don't know whether this means that most people are less than fully satisfied with who they are and like to fantasize about being something more powerful, or whether it means that gamers are a self-selected group in which there is a higher concentration of people for whom that is true, but I think either way it may explain why we like to up the levels in our games.

--M. J. Young


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: M. J. Young on July 10, 2003, 09:42:35 PM
Quote from: Ian Charvill
Here's a challenge (and I'm gonna allow entries from any US show in the last twenty years):

Name a single successful (meaning popular not critically acclaimed) lasershark-free TV program that didn't have insanely good writing and acting, far beyond what an average gaming group could achieve.  

O.K., I'll make a stab at this. Forgive me if some of these are outside the twenty-year mark, as I don't watch that much television and am really terrible at dating events.

Magnum P.I. was a fairly long running show, so it must have been successful. Probably the guy who played Higgins was the best actor, and he was terribly limited in what he could do on the show. Selleck isn't really a bad actor, but particularly at the beginning I think he was there more for the hunk factor than anything else. The writing was very stock in trade detective stuff, no surprises there. Maybe it's older than twenty years, but otherwise I think it qualifies.

I'd like to say Babewatch--er, Baywatch. I know that David Hasselhoff is very popular in Europe, but I don't know that they think he's a great actor. I remember some comedian say that this show is the one that has more people who "just happen to be clicking through it" than any other--no one would admit they watched it, but everyone had seen enough of it to know something about it. I'll admit that I watched maybe three or four episodes, sporadically. I seem to recall that it was in syndication at a time when there was nothing else on my television, so I tried it a few times. Scantily clad bodies in motion was, I am sure, the selling point. I remember Jackie Chan once saying that in his early martial arts films, the scripts existed solely to tie the fight scenes together. That's Baywatch: the scripts were an excuse to put a lot of swimsuit models on the screen and give them something to hack through that resembled a story so that people could pretend they weren't there for the view. It was certainly successful, and nothing unusual happened that I ever saw or heard. My hesitation is solely because I didn't watch more than a few episodes, so I can't say whether any of the lead characters were ever abducted by aliens or warped to a strange parallel universe where David Hasselhoff was a really good actor or anything like that.

Diagnosis Murder is recent enough. I know Dick Van Dyke is a great actor, but the writing was all hack work, really (I remember seeing the same plots almost exactly in other detective shows) and he's much better at comedy than drama, which of course the show mostly avoided. It stayed on network for several seasons, and is still on cable in reruns, so that sounds like it's successful. Father is chief of staff at a hospital, son is a police detective, everything seems pretty ordinary to me. No laser sharks.

I'd like to name Matlock. Now, maybe it's because it was a lawyer show and I'd just finished law school and kept wanting to jump up and shout, Objection, your honor whenever he did anything, and maybe it was because my mother was an inveterate fan of Perry Mason so I really thought courtroom drama could be better done, but I rarely felt the writing or acting was anything to write home about. Bringing Don Knotts on board really weakened it drastically. I liked a couple of the supporting actors, but in the main everything hung on Griffith. I've seen him act well, but not particularly in that series. That also had a long run and is still on cable.

Some of the others that come to mind were really erratic. That is, Angela Landsbury was very good in Murder, She Wrote, and often had good supporting cast and good scripts, but sometimes the guest stars were overrated names that did very poorly so the episodes are sometimes pretty bad but other times very good. I'm afraid that I tended to gravitate toward shows that either did have good writers and good actors (Seventh Heaven) or were laser sharky (Love and Curses, Seaquest) or both (Buffy, Angel). So I don't really know what's out there now. But four successful laser-shark-free mediocre shows should demonstrate that they are out there.

--M. J. Young


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 10, 2003, 10:15:49 PM
Darned useful post, M.J. I was, like others, mostly thinking in terms of excellent source material, and it's good to be be reminded of mediocre options. I don't mean that in any sneering way, either - I genuinely think that second-rate inspirations often lead to great gaming, and it's not necessary for a game to match the utter heights to be satisfying at capturing a style of experience.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 11, 2003, 12:36:34 AM
Errrmmm.... about to reply about mediocrity, but I feel it would be another thread again.

Oh well, I'm sure you'll let me know!

In Keith Johnstone's Impro, he talks about three fears that will lock an actor up from improvising: psychosis, obscenity and mediocrity.

Fear of revealing your insanity (or even any part of your psyche), or your filthy mind (which is really a subsection of the previous), or that you're "not good enough" shuts down the spontaneity that is the delight of good impro.

If you create a supporting atmosphere where it's acceptable to express crazy, dirty, even apparently dull stuff, the floodgates open.

Johnstone emphasizes that, especially for psychotic or obscene thought, the actor should always have the option of saying "I'm not saying that!" What he was fighting against was the syndrome where people would say "I can't think of anything" where they meant "I daren't say what I'm thinking."

Getting kind of back to the thread, when people get worried that they can't play "The West Wing RPG" because their ability to improvise dialogue isn't as good as the TV writers... so what? You've got a spontaneity and involvement with the dialogue that the writers and actors on The West Wing will never have. WW writers manage to capture the feel and emotion of people in written scripts that have to be memorised by a different person, then cut about by another... since the only audience role players have to satisfy is the writer/actors, they can indulge themselves in spontenaiety and involvment to a level that TV writers and actors would be jealous of.

So yeah, if it helps to loosen people up, don't think "It's got to be as good as ER!", just "I'll be happy if we beat the level of Shortland Street..."

And it's irking me that people are still claiming that a level of authenticity that they don't demand from combat in action adventure games is needed from courtroom and medical dramatic systems...


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 11, 2003, 02:00:12 AM
Quote from: pete_darby
And it's irking me that people are still claiming that a level of authenticity that they don't demand from combat in action adventure games is needed from courtroom and medical dramatic systems...


Yeah, I agree with this a lot. I suspect that anyone who makes a good human-scale drama game that captures atmosphere without straining for all the technicalities is going to have to do a lot of telling some people to buzz off. :)


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 11, 2003, 04:12:16 AM
Quote from: pete_darby


And it's irking me that people are still claiming that a level of authenticity that they don't demand from combat in action adventure games is needed from courtroom and medical dramatic systems...


Hmm...

I'm *not* claming that--but I am claiming that the content of each session needs to be at roughly the same level of abstraction to engage me. That means that if you can describe your great feint and spin and stab move, I'm cool with it, even if it's unrealistic.

If you roll some dice and say "surprise tactic at the bench" I'm not.

In a classic court-room drama, where the court actions are the focus of the story, the drama comes the clever way the defense finds the defendant innocent despite appearing overwhelmingly guilty at first. It comes from showcasing the defense's conviction and so on.

If 12-angry men happens without the conversation there's nothing there. If it happens with the conversation, you don't need dice (IMO).

Not the same for medical stuff (IMO as well)--but the focus of the drama in medical shows comes from questions of competence and risk taking (doctors) and survival (patient) so that'd do pretty well with a standard resolution system (IMO too, yeah?).

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Ian Charvill on July 11, 2003, 04:18:34 AM
Quote from: Bruce Baugh
Quote from: pete_darby
And it's irking me that people are still claiming that a level of authenticity that they don't demand from combat in action adventure games is needed from courtroom and medical dramatic systems...


Yeah, I agree with this a lot. I suspect that anyone who makes a good human-scale drama game that captures atmosphere without straining for all the technicalities is going to have to do a lot of telling some people to buzz off. :)


I have a real suspicion that the trick here is to permit players to improvise details of law and have them made true by the roll.

"But your Honour, I refer you to O'Flaherty vs Mednitz"
[roll]
"Objection dismissed"

In general, if we're dealing with fantastic rather than sensationalist elements (and I was definitely focussing on sensationalist elements before) then I would say cop, law and medic shows are strong candidates for non-lasered shows.

[As an aside, I wouldn't denegrate the quality of writing on Buffy or Angel, but Mutant X...]


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: contracycle on July 11, 2003, 04:55:39 AM
Quote from: Ian Charvill

[As an aside, I wouldn't denegrate the quality of writing on Buffy or Angel, but Mutant X...]


Thats OK, I'm here to do it.

Quote

"But your Honour, I refer you to O'Flaherty vs Mednitz"
[roll]
"Objection dismissed"


Nope. This is dead in the water IMO - of what significance is O'Flaherty vs. Mednitz?  Did I have to think about it?  Was I cunning?  No - I thumbsucked and rolled dice. Dull dull dull.  It seems to me that you are describing is merely motion, not conflict.  If this was a movie scene, we would see the heroes poring over their reference library or ringing up old contacts who might be able to point them in the right direction.  Thus, when they finally pull O'Flaherty vs. Mednitz out of the bag in actual court, it has the quality of being a triumph, an expression of the characters and player prowess and ability.  Anything else and its just fluff.

Perhaps I've been a bit strong; I could imagine a situation in whch the ability to do what you describe is one of several tools available to the player and is a known part of the action, but only when set in a context in which some significant decisions are already established as framing the exchange.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 11, 2003, 05:13:29 AM
Quote from: contracycle
Quote from: Ian Charvill

[As an aside, I wouldn't denegrate the quality of writing on Buffy or Angel, but Mutant X...]


Thats OK, I'm here to do it.

Quote

"But your Honour, I refer you to O'Flaherty vs Mednitz"
[roll]
"Objection dismissed"


Nope. This is dead in the water IMO - of what significance is O'Flaherty vs. Mednitz?  Did I have to think about it?  Was I cunning?  No - I thumbsucked and rolled dice. Dull dull dull.  It seems to me that you are describing is merely motion, not conflict.  If this was a movie scene, we would see the heroes poring over their reference library or ringing up old contacts who might be able to point them in the right direction.  Thus, when they finally pull O'Flaherty vs. Mednitz out of the bag in actual court, it has the quality of being a triumph, an expression of the characters and player prowess and ability.  Anything else and its just fluff.

Perhaps I've been a bit strong; I could imagine a situation in whch the ability to do what you describe is one of several tools available to the player and is a known part of the action, but only when set in a context in which some significant decisions are already established as framing the exchange.


Uhuh, because "I refer m'lud to  etc. etc. prima facie coitus interruptus" happens in real life law all the time, but rarely on the screen. I'd go as far as to say that on TV, 90% of law is decided by passion, not legal precedent.

The other 10% is decided by dirty underhanded backrom deals...


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 11, 2003, 05:38:09 AM
Quote from: Marco
Quote from: pete_darby


And it's irking me that people are still claiming that a level of authenticity that they don't demand from combat in action adventure games is needed from courtroom and medical dramatic systems...


Hmm...

I'm *not* claming that--but I am claiming that the content of each session needs to be at roughly the same level of abstraction to engage me. That means that if you can describe your great feint and spin and stab move, I'm cool with it, even if it's unrealistic.

If you roll some dice and say "surprise tactic at the bench" I'm not.

In a classic court-room drama, where the court actions are the focus of the story, the drama comes the clever way the defense finds the defendant innocent despite appearing overwhelmingly guilty at first. It comes from showcasing the defense's conviction and so on.

If 12-angry men happens without the conversation there's nothing there. If it happens with the conversation, you don't need dice (IMO).

Not the same for medical stuff (IMO as well)--but the focus of the drama in medical shows comes from questions of competence and risk taking (doctors) and survival (patient) so that'd do pretty well with a standard resolution system (IMO too, yeah?).

-Marco


As with any genre, their comes a time when you realise that, say 12 Angry Men and Ally MacBeal are from entirely different sub-genres, and any particular session should decide which one they're playing in...

And 12 Angry Men is a freeform, no arguments. But in a standard court drama, where the arguments are used to sway the Jury, and the law is just one tool in the box.

I'm looking probablyat more of a toolkit for games rather than a standalone game. The toolikt being staging tips and rules for, in this case, trial by jury, taking US/UK legal dramas as points of reference.

(thinks: there's a webpage of "trials for writers" with just tha tsort of stuff somewhere, I'm sure... I know there's one for autopsies, so wh ynot surgery...)

So the GM, and possibly the players, would go in with a general idea of what should and should not be permitted in a court room, but the drama is not in the interpretation of the law, in the same way the drama of, say, a lightsaber battle isn't about the technical skill of the combatants (which has increased in the Star Wars movies as time has progressed) as much as the battle of wills between the duellists (which, as I lose sympathy with the characters, becomes dramatically trivial). It's a battle for the hearts and minds of the jury, with the judge allegedly seeing fair play.

Now, going back to my favourite system, Hero Wars seems to have just the right rules set to deal with this (extended contests, player nominated aims, enhancements from supporting traits), which should be supported, as in combat, with colourful descriptions.

And in lawyer shows, only about 10-20% of each show is taken up with the actual trial: the rest is office politics, preliminary hearings, arbitration, a whole host of different sorts of contest, each of which can have a material effect on the outcome of the court scene, handled in Hero Wars with long term effects of defeat in quick contests.

Example: early arbitration scene between litigants. Say it's a nasty divorce case.  Now, I'm pretty sure that, on TV, no-one ever settles in arbitration. Not permanently, anyhow. So it's a straight one side against the other contest. Each side may have greatly differing desired outcomes (He wants her money from the business she runs, she wants to see him in court to drag his name through the dirt), the bargaining / persuasive skills of each sides lawyers are the acting skills, and enhancements come from passions on either side, technical expertise, intimidation skills, carry overs from previous relevant contests (Has our heroine lawyer just been screwed in her divorce settlement? Guess she'll have to use that to enhance the ex-wife's case; pity her client's the husband...), even, if you're feelling old fashioned, the relative merits of each position in law, however we're interpreting that in this weeks' episode.

As with most enhancements in Hero Wars, creative use of traits for enhancement is rewarded, and it's the justificaitons from players that make for a lot of the fun of the game.

Simple contest, after enhancements are done, one roll. If the loser suffers complete defeat, they settle, or cave before the court hearing. anything less, it's see you in court with another chunky modifier for the court extended contest...


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 11, 2003, 05:47:50 AM
Sure. Roll some dice. Get an outcome--no problem. But if that's the *exciting* action of the game, I'm going to want more content there. A lot of Ally McBeal (and I've seen more of it than ... well ... anyway ...) wasn't about court-room manipulation.

But when it *was* the *content* was based on the speeches the characters made. They'd draw a clever analogy or make a surprising point. That isn't captured in losing persuasion points (you can say getting run through the chest with a sword isn't captured by losing damage points but being run through doesn't require the person doing the describing to be clever).

12 Angry Men is an extreme case, perhaps Reversal of Fortune is too. But if you replaced Ally McBeal's *on screen* action with a voice over that said "and then he pulled a clever move and the judge dismissed the case" I think one can reasonably argue that it wouldn't be the same.

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 11, 2003, 05:50:35 AM
Quote from: Ian Charvill
Quote from: Bruce Baugh
Quote from: pete_darby
And it's irking me that people are still claiming that a level of authenticity that they don't demand from combat in action adventure games is needed from courtroom and medical dramatic systems...


Yeah, I agree with this a lot. I suspect that anyone who makes a good human-scale drama game that captures atmosphere without straining for all the technicalities is going to have to do a lot of telling some people to buzz off. :)


I have a real suspicion that the trick here is to permit players to improvise details of law and have them made true by the roll.

"But your Honour, I refer you to O'Flaherty vs Mednitz"
[roll]
"Objection dismissed"

In general, if we're dealing with fantastic rather than sensationalist elements (and I was definitely focussing on sensationalist elements before) then I would say cop, law and medic shows are strong candidates for non-lasered shows.

[As an aside, I wouldn't denegrate the quality of writing on Buffy or Angel, but Mutant X...]


I think the trick will be remembering that, on TV law cases are arguments with lots of rules of engagement, but most can be reduced to simple principles.

Like no leading questions, no speculation from the witness, basically nothing too sneaky. At least make it look like you're sticking to the facts.

And another thing... remember that the jury always hears the stuff that gets objected to and sustained. It certainly affects them. But it can also the reduce the credibility of the lawyer indulging in these tactics, and pisses off the judge, who can have you removed for contempt...

In Hero Wars terms, abuse of court rules is a high bid. very risky, but if you can pull it off...

I think those details, precedents, etc. can be dealt with in pre-trial scenes, the results feeding into bonuses which can be increased if introduced at the right time.

But IIRC, isn't all this precedent stuff what happens in the pre-trial hearing to see if a trial goes ahead anyway? And this is TV Law... there's always a trial.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 11, 2003, 06:02:18 AM
Quote from: pete_darby


I think the trick will be remembering that, on TV law cases are arguments with lots of rules of engagement, but most can be reduced to simple principles.

Like no leading questions, no speculation from the witness, basically nothing too sneaky. At least make it look like you're sticking to the facts.

And another thing... remember that the jury always hears the stuff that gets objected to and sustained. It certainly affects them. But it can also the reduce the credibility of the lawyer indulging in these tactics, and pisses off the judge, who can have you removed for contempt...

In Hero Wars terms, abuse of court rules is a high bid. very risky, but if you can pull it off...

I think those details, precedents, etc. can be dealt with in pre-trial scenes, the results feeding into bonuses which can be increased if introduced at the right time.

But IIRC, isn't all this precedent stuff what happens in the pre-trial hearing to see if a trial goes ahead anyway? And this is TV Law... there's always a trial.


There's no question you could model it. Sure--but would it have the same appeal as a combat system modeling combat? For me, I think it would not.

I think for most gamers, Combat Systems a reasonably good job of adjudicating a sword fight with some sort of mental imagry at a low level of abstraction (individual blows or a flurry of parries and then a strike for damage). Even when the imagry somewhat fuzzy, the content of the strike ("I lost 8 hp. I have 12 left") is pretty concrete.

In the case of a trial, your simulation might show a give and take of advantage and disadvantage--but that's not (for me) what made it interesting to watch. It was how *I* reacted to the points the characters were making.

A simulation like Hero Wars will not make those points for the player. And if those points are made the system isn't really necessary (IMO).

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: pete_darby on July 11, 2003, 06:14:37 AM
Quote from: Marco

There's no question you could model it. Sure--but would it have the same appeal as a combat system modeling combat? For me, I think it would not.

I think for most gamers, Combat Systems a reasonably good job of adjudicating a sword fight with some sort of mental imagry at a low level of abstraction (individual blows or a flurry of parries and then a strike for damage). Even when the imagry somewhat fuzzy, the content of the strike ("I lost 8 hp. I have 12 left") is pretty concrete.

In the case of a trial, your simulation might show a give and take of advantage and disadvantage--but that's not (for me) what made it interesting to watch. It was how *I* reacted to the points the characters were making.

A simulation like Hero Wars will not make those points for the player. And if those points are made the system isn't really necessary (IMO).

-Marco


Well, it looks like we're at the "agree to disagree" stage until I can put up some actual play on this... I just like to say that the drama, for me, is in the give and take of the argument, and how it affects the protagonists. What ideas are presented are interesting mostly in how they affect the drama, not in and of themselves.

To go back to combat again, the loss of hit points is, in itself, fairly undramatic, and, I would say, more abstract than concrete. A loss of 12Hp is a loss of 12 Hp. A swingeing blow to the head is pain.

We've got into the habit of either assigning the colour ourselves, or living wihout it.

The magic is in the colour and, as you say, if you can describe the combat, why do you need a system?

And to take combat further, in games like Dust Devils and TRoS, we've got combat enhanced so that it means something dramatically in realtion to the characters. The same goes for Sorceror and magic. I'm proposing to give it a whirl to do the same for interpersonal verbal conflicts.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 11, 2003, 07:39:26 AM
The kind of disagreement we're seeing here - is it a matter of picking maneuvers and rolling dice, is it a matter of allowing players to create references, etc. etc. etc. - is precisely what always scuttles this kind of venture, in my experience. The Forge's collective willingness to bull ahead and do what someone finds interesting regardless may prove a real asset in getting anywhere. (No insult there - it takes that willingness when everyone agrees on the problem and/or desirable thing but not how to get there.)


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 11, 2003, 10:11:27 AM
Well said, Bruce.

Quote
And to take combat further, in games like Dust Devils and TRoS, we've got combat enhanced so that it means something dramatically in realtion to the characters. The same goes for Sorceror and magic. I'm proposing to give it a whirl to do the same for interpersonal verbal conflicts.


I think this sounds like a valid model.

In a medical game, I've seen enough ER to be able to randomly spout "I need a CBC, chem seven, and a chest x-ray, stat!" I have no idea if any of that would pertain to the wound the GM had rolled before me, but if, like in ER, it didn't really matter what the wound was (and it matters less to me as an RPG player because I've no medical professionals in the audience to ameliorate), but instead what the resolution meant in terms of my character's SA Destiny: to become chief surgeon, well, I think we have a game there.

Might not be a game for Marco, but it might well satisfy Jack and John.

Mike


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 11, 2003, 11:01:25 AM
No no--that would satisfy me just fine. What I don't want is an *argument* decided by the dice and tables or whatever when the subject of the argumet in the point of the game.

If we're trying a case I don't care if the game follows protocl much at all. But I if the action is to resemble a standard court drama, my interest isn't in the tactical positions of each side but the arguments they make.

The prosecutor gets up and and makes a cast-iron case.
The defense shoots it full of holes.
The prosecutor brings in a perfect wittness.
In a brave move the defense discredits him.

But if the above is all there is, I don't care. For that kind of action the "how" is real important to me.

Not so for a medical game. I don't care "how" they save the patient--just give me a visual and I'm cool.

But for debate and persuasion, I wanna hear the argument.

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: John Kim on July 11, 2003, 11:29:47 AM
Quote from: Marco
  Not so for a medical game. I don't care "how" they save the patient--just give me a visual and I'm cool.

But for debate and persuasion, I wanna hear the argument.  

Actually, I'm in agreement with Marco.  I think one of the key differences is that legal arguments often have moral and ethical meaning.  It might be obscured by technicalities, but frequently there is a basic ethical choice which underscores legal disagreements.  For example: how do we weigh the rights of individual citizens vs protecting the general public?  

Now, certainly, moral and ethical issues also come up in medicine.  And it is equally true that I wouldn't want them abstracted away.  Particular medical procedures, though, usually don't have such implications as part of how they operate.  On the other hand, judges and juries are swayed by meaning and morals, not just technical issues.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 11, 2003, 11:34:54 AM
Hello,

John and Marco, it seems to me that the principle of Fortune-in-the-middle addresses all these concerns, given a willingness for Fortune to be involved at all. You guys seem to be stuck in a kind of "the dice say it all" vs. "the dice are irrelevant" outlook, in this discussion. (Or maybe I'm not reading you guys right, I dunno.)

However, the Hero Wars (now 'Quest) system offers a phenomenal opportunity for both to be involved, dynamically. We played many an Orlanthi legalistic wrangle or Orlanthi-Lunar status-wrangle using its Extended Contest system, which as far as I can tell, captures the best sides of both committed emotional role-playing and the "jumping bean" element of Fortune.

Best,
Ron


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Marco on July 11, 2003, 12:09:49 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hello,

John and Marco, it seems to me that the principle of Fortune-in-the-middle addresses all these concerns, given a willingness for Fortune to be involved at all. You guys seem to be stuck in a kind of "the dice say it all" vs. "the dice are irrelevant" outlook, in this discussion. (Or maybe I'm not reading you guys right, I dunno.)

However, the Hero Wars (now 'Quest) system offers a phenomenal opportunity for both to be involved, dynamically. We played many an Orlanthi legalistic wrangle or Orlanthi-Lunar status-wrangle using its Extended Contest system, which as far as I can tell, captures the best sides of both committed emotional role-playing and the "jumping bean" element of Fortune.

Best,
Ron


Fortune in the middle is probably a good way to do it. But look at the source material. The turning points in legal dramas come from revelations or arguments of gravity. If those arguments aren't made, I as a player am not engaged in the "debate" part of the exercise. I might be engaged in the tactical part of the exercise, sure.

But if you're going to run me through a legal game where I'm expecting to have the same appeal that I see in the movies, those arguments and counter arguments will need to be presented to me ... and then I'll need to decide.

I mean, throwing dice for waht a jury decides is not an unreasonable (although perhaps unfufilling) way to look at it. But I don't see how fortune in the middle will make up for a lack of the idea content. Maybe if I saw it played out ...

-Marco


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: John Kim on July 11, 2003, 12:33:26 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
John and Marco, it seems to me that the principle of Fortune-in-the-middle addresses all these concerns, given a willingness for Fortune to be involved at all. You guys seem to be stuck in a kind of "the dice say it all" vs. "the dice are irrelevant" outlook, in this discussion. (Or maybe I'm not reading you guys right, I dunno.)

I've started a new thread to address this, since I think it is rather more specific and separate from the general sharks-with-lasers thing.

cf. http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=7146


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Ian Charvill on July 12, 2003, 01:29:25 AM
Quote from: contracycle
Quote from: Ian Charvill

[As an aside, I wouldn't denegrate the quality of writing on Buffy or Angel, but Mutant X...]


Thats OK, I'm here to do it.

Quote

"But your Honour, I refer you to O'Flaherty vs Mednitz"
[roll]
"Objection dismissed"


Nope. This is dead in the water IMO - of what significance is O'Flaherty vs. Mednitz?  Did I have to think about it?  Was I cunning?  No - I thumbsucked and rolled dice. Dull dull dull.


My point is this: if your require the players of the game to become knowledgable about legal (or medcial or whatever) minutiae your audience will be vanishingly small.  It will be a legal drama rpg played by three people in Islington.

The only functional approaches would be to ignore legal jargon altogether and lose a huge amount of colour or to allow the legal jargon to be improvised, possibly having some rules to substantiate the validity of the improvisation.

Quote
It seems to me that you are describing is merely motion, not conflict.  If this was a movie scene, we would see the heroes poring over their reference library or ringing up old contacts who might be able to point them in the right direction.  Thus, when they finally pull O'Flaherty vs. Mednitz out of the bag in actual court, it has the quality of being a triumph, an expression of the characters and player prowess and ability.  Anything else and its just fluff.


In at least one model of filmmaking you'd see a pretty content free research montage, but I'm guessing you wouldn't see jack about O'F vs M until the crucial moment of revelation in the courtroom.  The research montage would give dramatic credibility to the usage.

And bear in mind here I'm talking about a single instance within the entire trial - with a similar relationship as between a sword blow and a fight.

Quote
Perhaps I've been a bit strong; I could imagine a situation in whch the ability to do what you describe is one of several tools available to the player and is a known part of the action, but only when set in a context in which some significant decisions are already established as framing the exchange.


That's like arguing that the only way a fight scene functions within a game is if it's dramatically significant: it may be so for certain modes of play but not for all.

I could certainly imagine a gamist rpg where the point of play is: create fine sounding legal dialogue to win legal discussions.


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: M. J. Young on July 12, 2003, 04:48:59 PM
I'd like to attempt to derail a lot of the argument about legal dramas so we can get to the point.

I would wager that I could create a list of not more than ten rules which, if you learned them, would enable you to fake being a judge well enough that no one could tell who wasn't at least a first year law student or experienced law enforcement officer (or maybe a habitual pro se participant).

For the moment, take my word for it that the core principles are easy enough that a referee could act as judge, and the players could present arguments in such a way that the decisions were being made very similarly to how they are made in court.

If it's really a big deal, maybe I'll write it up as an article and offer it to RPGnet; I owe them something anyway, and I haven't written a law and gaming piece since--well, no, I wrote the three parter for Places to Go, People to Be a few years back, but I just did something on the right to remain silent for Game Ideas Unlimited, so I guess I just did write something on law. Still, this could be done.

Please get beyond the problem of whether you could adequately incorporate modern law in a game. It's not as difficult as you suppose.

Thanks.

--M. J. Young


Title: Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads!!
Post by: Bruce Baugh on July 12, 2003, 05:26:53 PM
With all due respect, it's a lot easier to suspect that something is easy than to do it. If you can produce such a list, I would be delighted to see it. Heck, if it were to help me materially along toward the crime game I keep wanting to do, I'd pay you good money for reprint rights. I have myself tried things like it over the years and failed miserably, and seen a bunch of other failures. I want it to be feasible.